Chilean Wines: Not Just Cheap and Cheerful Anymore


Chilean WineMore often than not, when we think of Chilean wines, we think of cheap, easy to drink stuff that won’t break the bank. For a greater majority, this is still true. But there is no denying that Chile’s reputation as a fine wine producer is slowly being built. Of course, like its other New World counterparts, Chile has had to deal with issues of terroir and history when it comes to convincing the world to cough up more money for even their finer reds. However, some of Chile’s winemakers are slowly but surely making their way to world recognition by investing in soil research and discovery of other wine making regions within the country.

Chile is known for its native red grape variety, Carmenere. And it is this grape variety that is found in most of the bottles that people buy. It is either vinified on its own or blended with other international grape varieties, similar to that of Bordeaux.

But Chile’s ability to grow excellent international varietals cannot be ignored, too. Recently, at a seminar on Chilean wines conducted by Santa Rita, Australian consultant Brian Croser said that the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is even more distinctive than it’s Napa Valley counterpart.

Apart from Carmenere and the usual Bordeaux varieties, there are other Chilean wines that are now starting to make a name for themselves:

Carignan– This red grape variety has made the Southern part of Chile its home for over a century. Those that are produced in the Maule Valley are known to have a freshness and crisp acidity to them that make them go well with roasts and barbecues.

Sauvignon Gris– This is a relatively unknown grape variety that made its way into Chile in the late 1800s. It is related to the Sauvignon Blanc grape but is fuller and richer on the mouth than the former. It is a low yielding grape but is definitely one that wine drinkers should look out for because it makes some of the most interesting and aromatic whites out there right now.

So before you turn down that bottle of Chilean wine, make sure you check out some of the fine wines this country has to offer. Chances are, they will knock your socks off. Here are some from a report filed by Rupert Millar for The Drinks Business in September of 2012:

Errazuriz, Viñeco Chadwick
This is Errazuriz’ flagship wine. The 32-acre vineyard is located at Puente Alto in Maipo with plantings dominated by Cabernet Sauvginon, some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The wine is named after the famed polo player Alfonso Chadwick Errazuriz (a notable figure in Chile’s wine industry). Today it is Alfonso Chadwick’s son who mans the estate and the vineyard is planted on the old polo pitch. The very first vintage (1999) was sold in 2002 and there has been no turning back since. Its 2006 and 2007 vintages scored 97 points, the 2008, 96 and the 2005, 95. The biggest winner of all was the Vinedo Chadwick 2000, which bested all wines during the Berlin Tasting that year.

Concha y Toro, Carmín de Peumo
Rich and powerful from the Rapel Valley, this wine is supposed to “faithfully reflect its origin, the terroir of Peumo.” Definitely one of its claims to fame is the fact that it has been rated as the best wine in Chile by reputable organizations such as the Wine Advocate for several years. It’s 2003 and 2005 vintages were exceptional, garnering a score of 97 points.

Von Siebenthal, Tatay de Christabal 1492
Another Carmenere dominant bottle, this flagship wine from the von Siebenthal estate was matured for 21 months in 100% new French oak. The wine has been named after Christopher Columbus’ continent discovering voyage. Its 2007 vintage scored 97 points. It would be nice to taste one of these but chances are pretty slim with production limited to roughly 3,500 bottles a year.

Viña Seña, Seña
Not Cheap and CheerfulThis is another wine from Errazuriz made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Sena began as a collaboration with California’s Robert Mondavi. After Mondavi’s death, Errazuriz’ Eduardo Chadwick took over and brought the wine to even greater heights. It has managed to upset some of Europe’s finest wines during several blind tastings. The Sena 2001 nudged Lafite 2000 into third place, during the Berlin Tasting, while the Sena 2000 booted the Margaux 2001 off the top 4.

Errazuriz, Kai
Kai is a Carmenere dominant blend with some Syrah and Petit Verdot. This wine is from some of the best plots of land from the Don Maximiano Estate in Panquehe. This wine made caused a stir when it beat Haut-Brion and Opus One at a blind tasting in New York in 2010. Not bad for a Chilean native, right? It’s 2006 vintage scored a hefty 96 points.