Say what you will about Chilean wines—some say they offer good value but the reds wines can lean too herbal, or that the whites generally aren’t age-worthy—but there’s one thing you cannot say about Chilean wineries and their winemakers: They are homebodies.
This past October, the busiest month of the year in terms of international winemakers coming to the U.S. to show their stuff to tastemakers, I was stampeded by Chilenos.
Veramonte, Undurraga, Santa Carolina, Almaviva and Viu Manent were among the Chilean wineries that visited my home town of New York on fall marketing missions. And because it’s my job to meet with them in order to better report on what’s happening in Chile, I got my fill of restaurant meals, Carmenère and excuses for the bad sportsmanship shown by the national soccer team during the 2015 Copa América, which Chile hosted and won.
What I also got was a chance to taste some of Chile’s best wines, and not blind in our tasting room but in the manner that most consumers drink wine: on a table with food.
Here are some of the key take-aways from my meetings along with advice on what to drink from Chile.
Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte and Neyen and I spoke in depth about Chile’s ongoing difficulty producing world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Soto, who spent several years working at Benziger in Sonoma County, said Chile needs more time to determine proper clones and for vineyards to mature. I countered that, saying Chile has had plenty of time to master these varieties and still something isn’t clicking. Then we tried Neyen, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère blend from the Apalta Vineyard in Colchagua. This is the type of wine that Chile does best: Spicy, balanced, lush, structured, herbal but not too much. The ripe 2012 is the current vintage (92 points; $50).
Rafael Urrejola makes the wines for Undurraga. His best bottlings are called T.H., which stands for Terroir Hunter. Over the years, my favorite T.H. varietals have been the Sauvignon Blancs from various coastal communes (Leyda, Lo Abarca and Casablanca), but also some Pinot Noirs. In light of my chat with Soto, this is encouraging. Try the 2013 T.H. Pinot Noir from Leyda (90 points; $24).
Andrés Caballero is head winemaker for Viña Santa Carolina, Wine Enthusiast’s New World Winery of the Year for 2015. He came to discuss Luis Pereira, a new icon Cabernet Sauvignon named after the 140-year-old winery’s founder. Caballero pointed out that this wine ($150 for the inaugural 2012; not yet rated) is “made the way wine was made in Chile 50 years ago, using slow fermentations and aging in large casks called foudres, and with alcohol of only 12.8%.”
Michel Friou makes but one wine, Almaviva, but this Cabernet blend has been one of Chile’s star wines since it was first released in the late 1990s. We tasted through a vertical of five vintages, culminating with the current 2012 (not yet rated). What I learned is that cool vintages like 2010 and 2011 can be beneficial to a normally burly wine like Almaviva. The ’11 (93 points, $180) is in terrific shape, with the ability to age for another decade.
Patricio Celadon has been the winemaker for Viu Manent since 2010, and his fingerprints are becoming more noticeable, particularly on the winery’s San Carlos Single-Vineyard Malbec from 80-year-old vines. Once a heavily extracted Malbec, the 2012 (91 points; $25) remains ripe, toasty and full of black-fruit flavors, but earlier harvesting is resulting in more freshness and elegance.