Chase wine expert DAVID CLAY discovers the many delights of South American tipples.
WHEN I look at supermarket shelves Chilean wines are taking a back seat to many other countries but are probably the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world.
This long, slim country has everything a winemaker could ask for.
Surrounded by the Atacama DeseArt in the north, the Andes to the west and the Pacific to the east, this is probably the only country that didn’t suffer from phylloxera and so the only part of the world where vines are planted on their own rootstocks and virtually free of the problems associated with grafted vines.
It has mainly a Mediterranean climate, being as far south from the equator as many European areas are to the north.
The climate does not change north to south but east to west through the coastal range to the warm central valley and the cooler Andean foothills.
Winemaking in these Andean foothills is helped by the nightly masses of cool air descending from the peaks of the Andes, producing high grape acidity and good concentration of fruit, and the influence of the Humboldt current of cold water from Antarctica up the small valleys which go inland through the coastal ranges.
Winemaking is concentrated in the narrow strip below and above Santiago, around 1600 miles, all with a similar climate except for those small valleys like Casablanca open to the sea which is ideal for white wines and Pinot Noir.
In the rain shadow from the Andes irrigation is needed from the hundreds of boreholes.
The big Central Valley and Maipo was the first well-known area, good for Cabernet and Merlot.
But most of the excellent Merlots turned out to be Carmenère which is Chile’s new star variety, with its lush black cherry palate and savoury, coffee background.
Carmenere is an old French variety that died out after the phylloxera epidemic because of it needing a very long growing season. No problem in Chile.
One of my easy reds is Santa Rita 120 Carménère 2018 Central Valley 13.5pc (Majestic £8.99, £7.49 mixed 6). Soft and supple texture, bright brambly fruit and subtle notes of spice and tobacco leaf, and a hint of vanilla. Great with simple pasta dishes, grilled lamb chops or simply on its own.
A bit more serious is Santa Rita Medalla Real Carménère 2017 Colchagua Valley 14pc (Majestic £11.99, £10.79 mixed). From sites in the Marchigüe and Apalta regions. this wine offers the nose and palate an array of blueberry, plum and oak-softened cassis fruit, with some coffee and dark chocolate aromas.
Goes well with steaks, as well as something a little gamier.
MontGras Reserva Carmenere 2017 Colchagua Valley 13.5pc (Waitrose £8.99) is a nice plummy red.
The Society’s Exhibition Colchagua Carmenere 2016 (The Wine Society £11.95). Made by Koyle, has intense flavours of black fruit with some black pepper.
Even better is Koyle Cerro Basalto Cuartel G2 Carmenere 2016 (The Wine Society £16). With a small amount of Cabernet Franc, this is ripe, cedary and fresh. Delicious.
Besides Carmenere Chile has a terrific range of grape varieties. Here are a few good ones:
From the Central Valley - Exquisite Chilean Reserve Merlot 2017 (Central Valley £5.99). This Reserva Merlot is deep purple in colour with lush aromas of plums and blackcurrants and subtle coffee bean notes. I prefer Chilean Carmenere to Merlot but this Merlot is good for the price. Spicy, soft, round and supple.
Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Franc 2016 Central Valley 13pc (Majestic £8.99, £7.49 mixed 6). As well as being a constituent of many Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc is the classic red variety of much of the Loire region, particularly Saumur and Chinon. A medium-bodied, ruby red wine, offering aromas of ripe red berries, wild herbs and tomato leaf. The palate delivers ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, with both fresh acidity and rounded tannin. A great partner for soft cheeses and fresh tomato pasta dishes.
Taste the Difference Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Vina Indomita 13.5pc (Vina del Maipo £9). Lovely fruity and rich wine with its black fruits and some sweet spice. Great with steak.
On to the cooler river valleys - Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 13.8pc Casablanca Valley (Morrisons £14 Tesco £16). This is a great Pinot Noir. Its rich red berry flavours are topped off with a warm, smoky hint, upping its deliciousness. A top tipple with roast chicken, pork or a good cheese board.
A little further south is the San Antonio Valley and Cono Sur Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2017 14pc (Morrisons £9.50). The frequent cool sea breezes combined with red clay soil and intense sunlight give a mineral, intense and fruity wine and notes of raspberries and blackberries.
The ‘in’ regions are probably the Aconcagua and Colchagua Valleys.
The Aconcagua Valley has the huge Errazuriz vineyards and many new ones designed both for wine production and tourism.
Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Aconcagua Valley 14pc (Waitrose £12.99) is one of the old favourites. With a little Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, this is rich, firm with sweet, spice.
Again from Errazuriz, Morrisons’ The Best Pinot Single Vineyard Noir 2015 13.5pc (£10). Aged for ten months in French oak barrels this is a deliciously complex, elegant, strawberry-scented wine. Colchagua Valley’s modern winemaking facilities have been constructed with wine tourism in mind and as a result Colchagua Valley is enjoying a growing reputation as Chile’s ‘Napa Valley’.
LFE900 2013 Colchagua Valley 14.5pc (Majestic £16.99, £14.99 mixed 6). Big, fruity, smooth, delicious. This wine is a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre from a high altitude vineyard resulting in a wine with ripe, dense black fruit flavours, structured by muscular yet velvety tannins.
There is plenty of good Syrah in the valley. Montes Alpha Syrah 2016 Colchagua 14.5pc (Coop £10). This is almost Rhone-like. A sweeter Crozes Hermitage?
Root 1 Vina Ventisquero 13.5pc Colchagua Valley Non Vintage (£7.50 Morrisons) is made up of 85pc Carmenere and 15pc Syrah. This has ripe aromas of blackberries and warm spice. Full-bodied and fruit-forward with plum, cherry and a hint of smoke. Smooth tannins and good structure create perfect balance and a powerful finish with notes of vanilla. Good with pork or barbeque ribs or with rich cheeses like camembert or brie.
A good Syrah/Shiraz from the Limari Valley is Tesco Finest Limari Valley Shiraz 2017 14.5pc (£9). An elegant red with aromas of sweet berries and cherries, and hints of toasted oak, chocolate and spice. Aged in French oak barrels for 11 months to add complexity. Great with peppered steak, other red meats or cheese.
Finally, to add to the diverse range of grape varieties, try these two:
De Martino Cinsault 2016 Itata 12.5pc (£11.99 Waitrose). If you want a lighter, less alcoholic style, this is all raspberry and cranberry.
Co-op Irrisistable Malbec (£8) from probably the most southern Chilean area, the Bio Bio Valley. Chocolate and coffee - a real treat.
Whoops! I’ve run out of space and not got to the great Chilean whites. Some other time.