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 Chile’s signature variety. (Nearly all of the world’s carmenere is grown in Chile.)
But I think you’ll 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. There’s no question that the country’s 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 aren’t many $12 to -$15 California cabernet sauvignons that offer the kind of quality you’ll 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 Lapostolle’s 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.