I had an unprecedented number of exciting wines on my recent trip to Chile, several of them made from Carmenère, a grape I once described as a “second division variety”. I’m starting to change my mind. This list of 21 of my favourites includes a couple of Carmenères, but shows the new diversity of the Chilean wine scene.
2009 J Bouchon Las Mercedes Barrel-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Maule
French consultant Patrick Valette has really upped the quality of the wines at this large Maule estate. This barrel-fermented style wouldn’t look out of place in his native Bordeaux, with fresh, citrus-like acidity, a hint of vanilla sweetness, some grapefruit pith and a long, satisfying finish.
2009 Luis Felipe Edwards Roussanne, Colchagua
LFE, as it’s known in Chile, is a pioneer of new varieties in Chile, typified by this value-for-money Roussanne. It’s pale, yet intense, with subtle oak and flavours of pear, nutmeg, honeysuckle and wild herbs. Makes a welcome change from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. More, please.
2009 De Martino Chardonnay, Limari
Exemplifies the quality of the Chardonnays being produced in the Limari Valley. It’s quite oaky when first poured, but that dissipates in the glass. The chalky, almost Burgundian minerality is enhanced by subtle tropical fruit notes of mango, peach and guava. Long and very fine.
2010 Cono Sur Reserva Riesling, Bio Bio
There’s a lot of fuss (some of it justified) about the Pinot Noirs from this large Chilean winery, but its cool climate Rieslings are just as exciting in my view. This is just off dry and tastes like a cross between Rieslings from Alsace and Austria, with a hint of bitter “phenolics” and lemon and lime fruit.
2010 Laberinto Sauvignon Blanc, Maule
The quality of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is improving at a dramatic rate, but this one, sourced from a beautiful vineyard on the edge of Lago Colbún, is really special. Intense citrus and mineral notes are reminiscent of a top Sancerre, with vivid acidity, good underlying ripeness and amazing palate length.
2009 Koyle Carmenère, Colchagua
Cristobal Undurraga is making some really smart wines at this new venture in Colchagua. A little Malbec and Carmenère add to the complexity of this elegant, mid-weight red, with fresh cherry and plum fruit and a spicy finish, allowing it to carry its 14%+ alcohol with ease.
2008 Via One, Maule
Proof that someof Chile’s best reds are made from a blend of grapes, this cuvee of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère and Petit Verdot from the up-and-coming Maule Valley is dense, rich and very serious with flavours of mocha, blackberry, dark plums and bitter chocolate.
2007 Miguel Torres Cordillera Cariñena, Maule
There’s a little bit of Merlot and Syrah in this Maule blend from the innovative Catalan company, brining some softness to the normally rustic edge of Carignan. It’s a scented wine, with violets and mint on the nose and flavours of berries, blackberries and damsons. The fresh finish is delicious here.
2008 Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard, Colchagua
Why doesn’t Chile plant more Malbec? On the evidence of this wine from Colchagua, they should do. It’s very perfumed, with aromas of orange zest and fruitcake, stylish oak and voluptuous plum and blackberry fruit, all off set by a zesty, refreshing finish. Argentina watch out?
2008 Garage Wine #17 Carignan, Maule
Derek Mossman is one of the key figures in MOVI, a group of small independent producers, and he’s certainly leading by example. This Carignan-based blend is savoury and slightly funky with complex notes of clove spice, red fruits and balsamic vinegar. Yet another great wine from Maule.
2009 Louis-Antoine Luyt, Huasa de Coronel, Maule
The French owner of Clos Ouvert lost some of his top 2009s in the earthquake earlier this year (and was trapped himself for a while), but this pure País is still a really unusual, deliciously savoury wine. It’s almost Pinot Noir in its delicacy, proving that this much-maligned grape is capable of great things if treated well.
2008 Veranda Grande Cuvée Millerandage, Bio Bio
This is the best Pinot Noir I’ve had yet from Bio Bio, a wine that wouldn’t look out of place in Volnay. It’s elegant and fine with restrained cherry and raspberry fruit, well handled oak and a refreshing, dry finish. As the vines get older, the wines from Corpora are going to get better still.
2009 Viña Leyda Pinot Noir, Single Vineyard “Cahuil”, Leyda
Winemaker Viviana Navarrete makes a number of good Pinots, yet this is the one to buy. It’s quite a concentrated style – there’s more than a hint of Central Otago here – but there’s opulence and freshness in equal measure, with toasty oak, some wild strawberry and a stylish, blackberryish finish.
2008 Loma Larga Malbec, Casablanca
Very different in style from the riper style of Viu Manent, this cooler climate Malbec is meaty and more reductive in style, but with layer upon layer of fruit, interwoven with sweet, vanilla oak and fresh, balancing acidity. This needs another year in the bottle, but is very promising indeed.
2007 Altaïr Sideral, Rapel
A big, bold blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Syrah that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. It’s certainly a powerful wine, but it’s very Chilean at the same time, with mint and blackcurrant fruit flavours, classy, polished oak, fine tannins and the structure to last for another five years or more.
2008 Ventisquero Grey Merlot, Apalta
There aren’t many good Merlots in Chile (and by that I mean real Merlots, as opposed to Carmenères) but this is the real deal. It’s quite oaky, but there’s enough flesh and texture to soak up the barrel staves and plush, liquorice, cassis and blackcurrant fruit. Definitely a wine to lay down.
2007 Emiliana Coyam, Colchagua
There are some brilliant reds emerging from this biodynamic estate, but this well-upholstered blend of syrah, carmenère, merlot, petit verdot and mourvèdre is the best of the lot. Rich, aromatic, textured and concentrated, with well-integrated oak and a lovely core of sweet fruit. One of Chile’s great bargains.
2007 Falernia Carmenère Reserva, Elqui
All the reds from this brilliant, Italian-owned winery are first class, so take your pick. My favourite (just ahead of the Syrah) is this intensely aromatic, peppery, clove-scented number, with its fresh acidity, balance, length and impressive poise. More than any wine, this has changed my mind about Carmenère.
2008 O Fournier Centauri, Maule
This Spanish-owned operation is making some very smart wines in South America, but this blend of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot may well be the best of the lot: dense, tightly wound and well structured, but with impressive balance, concentration and ageing potential.
2008 Aristos Cabernet Sauvignon, Cachapoal
This had only just been bottled when I tasted it, but it was showing brilliantly. It’s a very ambitious wine – low yields, 24 months in new oak – but it succeeds. The tannins are polished, the fruit is dense yet refreshing, the elegance and complexity highly impressive. A contender for Chile’s best Cabernet.
2008 Matetic EQ Syrah, San Antonio
To me this is consistently Chile’s best Syrah and arguably its best value red wine. A dark, concentrated, aromatic red with judicious oak ageing, remarkable freshness and palate length and flavours of liquorice, Asian spices, pepper and ripe berry fruit. A wine that should scare the culottes of growers in Hermitage.