With new wineries setting up monthly in Chile, Patricio Tapia recommends some of the best, who are producing great Chilean wines with a real sense of terroir.
Over the last few years, Chilean wines have proved themselves to be a reliable buy, offering value, fruitiness, simplicity and fun, and the country has succeeded in positioning itself in the international market for wines up to £10.
But more recently, this has not been enough for Chilean winemakers who, determined to compete with international quality wines, have moved into the medium to high price range, producing very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère and Syrah for the over £10 market. There are currently some particularly good buys from the Maipo and Aconcagua valleys.
As wine moves up the price scale it also needs its own identity; a sense of terroir. From approximately 100 wineries in Chile that export their Chilean wines, only a handful offer a product stretching beyond the usual generous Chilean fruit. The members of this group have succeeded in adapting Chilean wine varieties to their terroir, they have taken a considerable step forward in terms of winemaking, and they are managing to produce wines that smell and taste like Chile – Chilean wines that could not have come from any other country. The following are, in my opinion, the members of this group presented in alphabetical order:
This joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Château Mouton Rothschild) and Concha y Toro is based at El Tocornal estate, in the foothills of the Cordillera de Los Andes. It is one of the most prestigious vineyards of the Maipo valley and is a Mecca for all admirers of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lots of spice, menthol and juicy black fruit – typical of the Maipo – can be found here. But there’s also lots of concentration, showing a great harvest, and lots of elegance thanks to an assertive job in the winery, so nothing in this wine is aggressive. A classic Maipo with a French touch. Keep: +/–10 years
£49.99–54.99; NLW, Pgn, Wmb
Biodynamic winery owned by Alvaro Espinoza, one of Chile’s most talented winemakers, producing 3,000 bottles per year with a vineyard area scarcely stretching to 10 hectares. A Chilean version of a garagiste.
The mature, soft, fruity Carmenère joins with the spicy hints of Syrah and the firm tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, all blended in the warmth of the Central Maipo, far from the Andes. It is voluptuous, amiable and also relaxed. Not aristocratic, more of a hippy kind of wine. Keep: +/–5 years
You can spot immediately Michel Rolland’s hand in these wines. In this case, the French Marnier-Lapostolle family and the Chilean Rabat family hired him to wring out what he could of the old vines from Apalta in the Colchagua valley, wherein lies the secret of this winery’s success. Without Apalta, not even Rolland could have done it.
Clos Apalta 1999
A voluptuous, caramel-like wine, with a powerful mouthfeel thanks to Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of tannic roundness from Carmenère, which also contributes to the wine’s sweet and approachable side. A mature wine, a loyal representative of the best of the warm Colchagua valley. Keep: +/–10 years
£45; F&M, Har, Sel
Clos Quebrada de Macul
Ignacio Recabarren – another of Chile’s greatest talents – grows his Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the traditional Macul area, on the pre-Cordilleran hills of the Maipo.
Domus Aurea 1998
In a complicated year, dominated by the caprices of El Niño, this 100% Cabernet-based Domus is as juicy and menthol-like as it is full of acidic black fruits, with a strong but elegant body. A Macul wine in its full expression. Keep: +/–7 years
Concha y Toro
Chile’s biggest winery and also the most daring one. Oenologists Marcelo Papa, Enrique Tirado and Ignacio Recabarren have really made their mark, from Casillero del Diablo through to Don Melchor.
Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc 2001
It would have been easier to write about Don Melchor, the classic from this winery. Nevertheless this white’s loyalty to Casablanca is such that, when you drink it, you can almost feel the cold Pacific breezes brushing your face. Pure freshness, crisp acidity, and a strapping body. The future of Casablanca lies in this variety, no doubt about that. Keep: +/–2 years
£7.99; Bot, Odd, Thr, WRa
If you’ve heard about Chilean Pinot Noir, it was probably from Cono Sur. Adolfo Hurtado took this heritage and led it beyond the expected using Casablanca’s fruit, some tips from Burgundy and by obsessively reducing yields. There is also an excellent Merlot (Carmenère) and a Cabernet 20 Barrels.
20 Barrels Limited Edition 2000 Pinot Noir
By far the best Chilean Pinot Noir, this wine captures the freshness of Casablanca’s fruit, expressing it in floral notes, raspberries and strawberries, all topped with that spring-like touch so typical of the valley. Keep: +/–4 years
Pioneers of the Aconcagua valley – north of Santiago – this winery has got better in the last few years, gaining varietal diversity thanks to some serious work with Syrah and Sangiovese.
Don Maximiano Founder´s Reserve 1999
There’s a strong hint of Aconcagua’s terroir and its fresh air in the spiciness of this Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine. Black ripe fruits and menthol contribute to a strong body featuring firm, well-structured tannins. Elegant and mighty. Keep: +/–8 years
The mature vines of Apalta have allowed Aurelio Montes to change the image of his company, by designing wines with a strong sense of, but also with a marked commercial spirit.
Syrah Folly 2000
Montes has drastically reduced yields to create a concentrated red wine, firm, somewhat wild, full of extra-ripe fruit, cinnamon and black pepper.
Oenologist Pablo Morandé experiments with varieties as well as new areas and winemaking techniques, usually with outstanding results. Pinot Noir from Casablanca, Carignan from Maule, ice wines…
Golden Harvest 2000
From 100%-botrytised Sauvignon Blanc, this shows Casablanca’s possibilities. The aromatic complexity adds to the fresh taste of grapes from one of the coldest areas of the valley. Sweetness and crunchy acidity are blended in a wine that Pablo Morandé says is one of the best he has ever made. Keep: +/–10 years
From its Floresta range to the Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon, this winery proves that quality is a wine’s best selling point, over and above marketing strategies and hype. And quality wines is something oenologists Cecilia Torres and Andrés Ilabaca have always taken care of brilliantly.
Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
This wine summarises the quality offered by the Maipo. Amiable and complex, it is full of spicy notes plus ripe black fruits and coffee-like aromas. It’s pure concentration in the mouth, elegantly held down by tannins, which also support a strong and voluptuous body. When you talk about Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, you can’t forget this one. Keep: +/–10 years
£18.99–20.50; BWC, Sel