Looking for quality and value in red wines – don’t forget Chile…………
As a wine producer Chile is gaining in reputation now that the investment in both vineyard and winery has meant consistently good quality wines at all price points. It is interesting to note that Chile is no longer the source of the cheapest wines as the costs of production including labour, and developments in the wineries and vineyards cost money. As a result of the latter especially, wine quality is increasing with soil mapping ensuring that grape types are planted in the areas most suitable for them in terms of climate and soils.
The climate in Chile in the central valleys that run east to west in this long thin country is ideal for grape growing with long hot summers and low rainfall but plentiful water supply from the meltwaters of the Andes. Vines are usually planted a few hundred metres above sea level to benefit from cooler night time temperatures. The grape varieties planted were brought with European settlers in the nineteenth century and include the ubiquitous Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter is the most widely grown red variety in Chile.
Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grow well in the Maipo and Rapel Valleys producing good fruit in abundance and also in Colchagua and Apalta. There is a distinct Chilean character to Cabernet with its delicious blackcurrant notes balanced with a garrigue mix of dried herbs and pepper and makes it an ideal accompaniment to many barbecue meals.
If you’re looking for something different from Chile there are two grape varieties in particular, Carignan and Carmenere that are worth trying. Carignan makes dark robustly fruity wines and that from a noted producer such as Odfjell makes a great example. The Orzada Carignan is an elegant mature wine with complex aromas of leather, liquorice and mushrooms and vanilla and blackcurrant on the palate with ripe tannins giving a long complex finish. It is more often in red wines from the South of France that are blends of different grapes including Carignan.
Carmenere based Chilean wines have spicy red fruit aromas and a concentrated juicy velvety palate. It was only formally identified as grape variety in 1994 in the vineyards of Chile. For many years it was confused with Merlot and many vineyards had mixed plantings. Now the quality of wine Carmenere can make is being recognized at all quality levels and producers take a pride in labelling them as such and it is becoming Chile’s signature grape variety.
Malbec and Syrah are also worth seeking out on shelves of Chilean wines. They are not usually among the cheapest wines but offer great value. Stylish Malbecs with the expected juicy fruit notes plus balancing ripe tannins and acidity make them delicious vibrant food wines. Syrah, too is often grown to make fine wines with good oak aging potential and the luscious briary blackcurrant fruit gains a lovely creamy smoky layered overtone in time.
There are still developments being made in Chilean wines as new vineyard areas in the north and south in Leyda and Bio Bio are particularly suited to Pinot Noir. The wines from these areas or the cooler Central Valley high altitude vineyards are seeing extended plantings of Pinot Noir. The burnt rubber notes of the past are long gone and the current Pinots such as that from Ventisquero aromas of blueberries, plums and raspberries and the palate has juicy black fruit flavours and balanced acidity, together with soft, well-rounded tannins and soft French oaky notes.
Chilean wines have a very bright future with great quality potential.