Wine recommendations from my recent visit to Chile.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers May 18, 2005
One of the nicest people to share a bottle of wine with is Alfredo Bartholomaus, founder of Billington Imports. His generous nature and depth of knowledge impressed everyone on a recent wine writer’s trip he led to Argentina and Chile.
The gregarious poetry lover with a warm smile and an easy manner emigrated from Chile 20 years ago to establish a company dedicated to bringing South American wines to the U.S. market. His portfolio now includes wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain and New Zealand. He searches for high-quality, value-priced wines, and both new and established wineries seek his guidance.
Carmenere, a grape long thought “lost” in France, has gained prominence in Chile and is often blended into red wines to add structure. Interestingly, most of the white wines we tasted had a slightly mineral note, probably the result of the indigenous soil. While some Chilean wines are expensive, most cost between $10 and $20.
The first wines Bartholomaus introduced into the U.S. were from Chile’s Cousino-Macul Winery, an idyllic 100-acre oasis of old trees, gardens, streams and vineyards surrounded by urban sprawl. Several years ago, Cousino-Macul purchased property, and starting from scratch, planted vineyards and built a new winery in the southernmost part of the Maipo Valley near the town of Buin. Topographical mapping is used to plant the vines, and the “massal” technique of propagation best preserves the vines’ characteristics.
Recommended are the Cousino-Macul Sauvignon Gris 2004, with mild spicy apple and citrus flavors, and the Dona Isidora Riesling 2004, with a floral aroma, and grapefruit and peach flavors. Also consider the blackberry-scented Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 that has deep red fruit flavors and a soft long finish, and the very good Finis Terrae 2003, a 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot blend that is dark and rich with cassis and berry notes, and has a long, smooth finish.
Located in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, Veramonte Winery has one of the country’s largest vineyards. Winemaker Rafael Tirado and his staff have identified discrete subclimates within the property that produce grapes with distinctive individuality.
The value-priced Veramonte Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2003 has tropical fruit and banana scents with vanilla and papaya notes. A blend of three separate vineyards, the Veramonte Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is a lovely apple- and citrus-flavored wine with nice acidity and mineral notes. Another excellent wine is the Primus 2003, a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere blend that has dark fruit aromas and balanced dark berry and cassis flavors with soft tannins and a smooth finish.
One of the most exquisite properties in Chile is the Santa Rita Winery, which features a guesthouse, beautiful gardens and a Neo-Gothic Chapel still used for weddings. The wines are made from grapes grown in four different locations — the Casablanca, Maipo, Lontue and Rapel valleys — where each individual climate has a unique effect on the grapes.
The Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2004, reminiscent of a Sancerre, has a tangy, lemon citrus flavor and a bright, slightly grassy finish. Another good value is the Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 with jammy, berry and cherry flavors. The most expensive wine is Triple C 1999, produced from 55 percent Cabernet Franc, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Carmenere. It has dark fruit flavors with a firm body, round tannins and a long finish.