Talk to Chilean winemakers and marketers, and they’ll tell you that Chile makes world-class wine, that the finest vintages in their country can hold their own with anything from France or California. But mention their inexpensive wines, such as their wonderfully distinctive $8 sauvignon blancs, and the conversation becomes almost strained.
We’re tired of talking about those wines, they say. We’re past that — almost as if they’re embarrassed to be caught making wine that won’t get them on the cover of the wine magazines. And that’s too bad.
Yes, Chile produces outstanding cabernets (Concha y Tora’s Don Melchor, for example), and its leading wineries are working feverishly to develop pricey Chilean-style blends featuring the merlot-like carmenere grape. Its industry is also targeting the $12-$20 range, sensing a business opportunity overlooked by Australia and California.
But its true genius is in its popularly priced wines. Taste Chilean wine — a lot of Chilean wine, as I did recently — and that becomes obvious. Anyone can make another overpriced, incredibly burly red wine, but how many can produce well-made, even sophisticated, wines that almost anyone can afford? The Chileans do, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Much of the Chilean wine available in this country for $12 or less is at least worth tasting; a good proportion of it is worth drinking regularly. The following made an impression among the three dozen or so bottles I sampled:
• Sauvignon blancs from Santa Rita, Montes, and Veramonte. All less than $10, and all uniquely Chilean in taste and style. The Veramonte compares favorably with $15 sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and California.
• Los Vasco’s chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. This is the Rothschild family’s Chilean venture (the Bordeaux Rothschilds, of course), and the wine — especially the very fresh tasting, $10 chardonnay — is first rate.
• Cousino-Macul’s Finis Terrae. This is a red, French-style blend (cabernet and merlot) that is fancy enough to serve at a formal dinner, but costs just $20.
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