Chile, like California, is so diverse that the country can produce just about any type of wine. Cool coastal areas are the sources of interesting chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs; warmer areas produce intriguing carmenere, a red variety regarded by some as Chiles signature variety. (Nearly all of the worlds carmenere is grown in Chile.)
But I think youll find the most consistent value among cabernet sauvignon by far the most widely planted grape variety and the workhorse of the industry and sauvignon blanc.
Sometimes it seems that Chile is trying to shake its image as a source of good-value wines. Theres no question that the countrys vintners both the small, artisanal ones and the big guys like Concha y Toro are making some outstanding higher-priced wines, and Chile is trying to get the word out. But the lower-priced cabs and sauvignon blancs can be real finds for consumers hunting for bargains for everyday drinking.
There arent many $12 to -$15 California cabernet sauvignons that offer the kind of quality youll find in that price range from Chile.
A good example is the 2010 Cono Sur Bicicleta Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), from a winery that every year puts more of its large vineyard holdings under organic certification. The wine is plump, round and easy to drink, with bright cherry, a slight peppery note and medium tannins. Other bargains include the 2010 Calcu Cabernet Sauvignon ($14), which offers lively black fruit with a note of cracked pepper and very firm tannins, and the 2010 Casa Silva Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($13), with its red cherry and spice flavors. From the Apalta sub-region of the Colchagua appellation, home to famous wineries like Montes and Lapostolles Clos Apalta, comes the very affordable 2011 Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), which displays lively black cherry fruit, accented by spicy and smoky notes.
As for sauvignon blanc, Chile is the best source I know of for some tremendous values. Although there is some lackluster stuff from the warmer areas, the cool-climate wines from areas like the coastal Casablanca and San Antonio valleys can be really delicious, especially considering their modest prices.
For example, the 2012 Penalolen Sauvignon Blanc ($13) from Limari, an up-and-coming area better known for chardonnay is bright, citrusy and slightly grassy. The 2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc ($14) from San Antonio Valley is fresh and persistent, with pink grapefruit flavors, while another San Antonio Valley wine, the 2012 Cono Sur Organically Grown Sauvignon Blanc ($14) offers more herbal flavors. And the 2011 William Cole Columbine Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($16), from Casablanca Valley, is bright, herbal and pungent, with citrus and tomato stem and a long finish.
Pick of the week
Four Vines 2010 Biker Zinfandel ($25)
Four Vines is no longer a local winery, but it still produces this Paso Robles zin. The wine offers plenty of lively berry, with notes of tobacco and spice. The tannins are quite approachable.
Laurie Daniels column is special to The Tribune. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.