For the second installment of my ongoing series featuring the best wine values of the world, I decided to tackle one of the most challenging wine-producing countries of all: Chile. What makes Chile such an interesting country to cover is its plethora of delicious wines at reasonable prices. Lately I have had the good fortune to sample some remarkable wines that offer a very high quality-to-price ratio and are readily available in the marketplace.
Bordered by more than 2,500 miles of Pacific coastline to the west and the Andes mountains -- creating a natural border with Argentina -- to the east, Chile is a very narrow country with a very rich history of winemaking.
Winemaking began in earnest there in the mid-16th century after European missionaries introduced grapevines to the region in order to supply wine for religious ceremonies. In the latter part of the 18th century, wine exports from Chile increased dramatically following the introduction of traditional European varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and chardonnay. The foreign vines adapted quickly to the climate and soils of Chile, particularly in the Mapio and Casablanca valleys. Today, many of these vines are thought to be the only pre-phylloxera specimens that exist in the world today. (Phylloxera is a virulent agricultural pest that destroyed the vast majority of the vineyards in Europe in the late 19th century.)
Today, the focus of Chilean winemakers has shifted from making mass-produced wines for domestic consumption to crafting high-quality wines for export. Many of these artesian wines offer a substantially better value than some of their European counterparts. Here are a few of my favorites. Retail prices are approximate.
The 2011 Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay ($12) from the Maipo Valley offers a refreshing break from typical overly oaky-tasting chardonnays. This beautiful white wine features bright scents of apple, pear and banana which are repeated on the palate where they are joined by flavors of green melon and tropical fruit. The finish is fresh and crisp, with just a hint of toasted butter. QPR 9.5
Pinot noir is usually associated with growing regions such as Burgundy, France, and Willamette Valley, Ore., but the 2011 Ventisquero Pinot Noir ($13) from the Casablanca Valley is looking to change that. The fragrant bouquet offers up graceful scents of dark strawberry and cherry. Elegant flavor of black cherry, dark plum and baking spices are heightened by subtle notes of vanilla, thanks to the time the wine spends aging in barrels. The clean finish is enhanced by soft tannins and solid acidity. QPR 9.5
Cabernet sauvignon is beginning to find its voice in Chile and the 2010 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve ($14) from the Colchagua Valley is hitting all the right notes. Remarkably smooth and elegant, it offers a mouthful of flavors toward the blackberry end of the spectrum, with notes of dark plum and cassis in supporting roles. Hints of cedar and tobacco blend in on the pleasant finish, providing depth associated with wines two or three times the price. QPR 10
I am a fan of red blends, and the 2010 Canto de Apalta ($19) from the prodigious Chilean producer Lapostolle, is one of my favorites from South America. Made from carmenere, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, it sports a beautiful bouquet of spices and baked cherry complemented by hints of tobacco and cocoa. Fruit-driven flavors of red cherries and blackberries lead the charge upfront while subtle notes of tobacco, licorice and pepper round out the long finish. QPR 9.5
The 2008 Oveja Negra Lost Barrel ($25) from the Maule Valley, Chile, is a syrah-based wine made from a collection of barrel selections from the best hand-harvested fruit from the estate. It is rich and powerful in the mouth with structure and depth of wines found at twice the price. Jammy black fruit and mint seduce the nose while lush flavors of ripe black cherries, black plums and creme de cassis coat the tongue upfront. Prominent notes of vanilla and mint complete the elegant finish. QPR 10
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.