A look at Chilean wines.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers October 7, 2008
Chile’s 13 different wine regions benefit from the Andres Mountains in the east and the cooling ocean breezes coming inland from the west. Each district has a distinctive geology and micro-climate. The northernmost Elqui Valley, at 6,500 feet above sea level, has long hot sunny days, while the southernmost Bio Bio and Malleco valleys run the risk of frost and heavy rains. In between are wide variations in daily temperatures, maritime influences and soil conditions. Truly delightful wines result when the specific location is matched with the appropriate varietal.
Cheap land and inexpensive labor propelled the growth of the Chilean wine industry during the past several decades. Continued investment and careful attention in the winery have resulted in significant improvements in the quality of Chilean wines, particularly the red varietals. As quality has increased, so have their prices — although many bargains are still available.
One of Chile’s leading wineries is Casa Lapostolle. Founded in 1994, most of its wines are sourced from several prime sites, then transported to its Cunaco winery in the Rapel Valley south of the capital Santiago. Its flagship premium wine Clos Apalta is a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, produced exclusively in its six-story winemaking facility built into the hills of the Apalta Valley. The peach scented Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Atalayas Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 ($25) expresses the characteristic Chilean minerality along with pear, vanilla and hazelnut flavors and a bit of butterscotch and toasty oak at the end. The Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2006 ($20) is excellent; it has dense plum, chocolate currant and anise notes.
Carmenere remains Chile’s signature red grape. Several notable new releases include the well-structured spicy Vina Casa Silva Carmenere Los Lingues Gran Reserva 2006 ($19) that has black plum, mint, coffee and vanilla flavors. Containing 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ventisquero Carmenere 2006 ($17) has rich dark fruit, coffee, red cherry notes and a bit of tobacco in the finish. Made with a splash of Petit Verdot, the gorgeous, full-bodied Montes Purple Angel 2005 ($56) is deep and intense, and has dark plum, black fruit and chocolate flavors.
Chile’s many fine choices for Cabernet lovers include the Haras de Pirque Excellence 2003 ($47), blended with 5 percent Syrah. Coffee, cassis and smoky dark fruit flavors predominate in this medium-bodied effort. The value-priced Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere 2007 ($13) is very good; it has plum, spicy red cherry and strawberry notes with vanilla oak during the finish. Two other affordable offerings are the Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($19) with black fruit, currant, cherry and licorice flavors, and the cherry and black plum flavored Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($15).
Syrah is planted in only 4 percent of Chilean vineyards, but it is clearly a varietal to watch. The Montes Alpha Syrah Apalta Vineyard 2005 ($25) has 4 percent Viognier that gives it a slight floral aroma along with its beautifully rich black cherry, strawberry and cassis flavors. The Kingston Family Bayo Oscuro Syrah 2006 ($28) is spicier, with big blackberry, plum and currant notes. The Cono Sur Syrah 2007 ($10) is a terrific bargain with dark plum, anise and a bit of tobacco, while the Santa Rita Shiraz Reserva 2006 ($14) has mint combined with its pleasant licorice and black cherry flavors. Also good is the spicy plum, blackberry and vanilla flavored Luis Felipe Edwards Family Selection Shiraz 2006 ($14).