Chile’s Red Blends are Having a Moment

Toasting with red wine
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Ever since Chile began to climb the global wine ladder in the 1980s and ’90s, it has been varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and, to a lesser extent, varietal Carmenère that have fueled the country’s ascent. But when you take a closer look at what’s happening west of the Andes these days, it is Chile’s blended red wines that have emerged as its best wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère remain dominant players in the overall blend, but often Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Carignan and Malbec along with even more obscure grapes including Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot are included.

That’s right, Chile is in the midst of a red-blend moment, and why not? Bordeaux has long been about blends, as has ­the southern Rhône. In the New World, Australian winemakers are known as big-time blenders, while across the Andes in Argentina, blends consisting of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red grapes often outperform varietal Malbec.

What a good blend offers is aromatic harmony, textural balance and greater depth and complexity of flavors 

What a good blend offers, potentially more so than a varietal wine, is aromatic harmony, textural balance and greater depth and complexity of flavors. Think of a soup with salt as its lone seasoning versus one with generous dashes of various herbs and spices: That’s the core difference between varietals and blends.

Among the best-scoring blended wines in this report is Ventisquero’s 2014 Carmenère and Syrah blend called Vertice. It expresses the ripeness and power common to wines from Apalta, but it’s also silky smooth and balanced to a tee. Casa Donoso’s 2015 Sucesor Blue is as solid as a brick house but ideally structured and complex. From Cachapoal Valley come two top-tier blends: Santa Carolina’s 2014 VSC, made from mostly Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Malbec, and Viña Vik’s 2014 Milla Cala, composed mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, with Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot filling out the roster.

Behind the Bottle with South American Sommeliers

Chile’s red blends to look for

Ventisquero 2014 Vertice Apalta Vineyard Carmenère-Syrah (Colchagua Valley); $30, 94 points. Ventisquero may make more expensive wines but none are better than this version of Vertice Carmenère-Syrah, from the winery’s best slopes at Apalta in Colchagua. Foresty aromas of cool underbrush, mint, menthol and blackberry feed into a palate with steely acidity, which this full-bodied red needs. Cassis, blackberry, mocha and tobacco flavors wind down on an appealingly oaky finish. Drink through 2030. Austral Wines. Editors’ Choice. —Michael Schachner 

Casa Donoso 2015 Sucesor Blue Limited Release (Maule Valley); $47, 93 points. Bold black currant and wild berry aromas are made complex by oaky tobacco scents on a nose that’s clicking at all levels. In the mouth, this Carmenère blend is lush and powerful, but balanced like a brick house. Blackberry, coffee, vanilla and mocha flavors finish warm and spicy. Forget about bashful; this is a flamboyant red wine to drink through 2026. The Imported Grape LLC. Editors’ Choice. —M.S.

Santa Carolina 2014 VSC (Cachapoal Valley); $50, 93 points. Despite a saturated black color and deep aromas of raisin, fig and chocolate that push the level of acceptable ripeness to the hilt, this is a delicious multigrape blend to drink now. A fleshy, voluminous palate holds ripe flavors of blackberry, black plum and prune. Coffee and chocolate flavors are more than background notes on a smooth finish with silky tannins. Carolina Wine Brands USA. Editors’ Choice. —M.S.

Vik 2014 Milla Cala (Cachapoal Valley); $45, 93 points. Ripe, spicy and elegant from the start, this Cabernet blend captures the essence of what Vik is doing in the Cachapoal Valley. Blackberry, prune, cedar, cigar tobacco and chocolate flavors are all noted, while this finishes with good clarity and body along with latent coffee, tobacco and oak flavors. Drink through 2024. Guarachi Wine Partners. —M.S.

Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 2015 Le Dix de Los Vascos Estate Grown Red (Colchagua Valley); $65, 92 points. Complex aromas of mocha, oak grain and chocolate boost scents of berry fruits and cassis. The jammy palate offers several layers of blackberry, chocolate and spice flavors. A steady finish with no peaks or valleys keeps this tasty number on path. Drink through 2025. Cellar Selection. —M.S.

Oveja Negra 2015 The Lost Barrel (Maule Valley); $27, 92 points. A sizable but controlled nose smells minerally and stony on top and fruity like cassis and berries below. A saturated, flush palate is bulky and generous, with flavors of blackberry, fig and chocolate. A smooth, oaky finish will lose no friends. Drink this blend of Carignan, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot through 2024. Old Bridge Cellars. —M.S.

P.S. Garcia 2014 Facundo (Maule Valley); $35, 92 points. Ripe black fruit aromas are tarry and lean toward prune on a nose that falls squarely on the dark end of the aromatic spectrum. A muscular palate is tannic and blazing with tartaric acid, which makes this Cabernet-led blend robust and fruit forward. Rubbing tannins create roughness on a powerful finish. Drink through 2025. Vine Connections. —M.S.

Valdivieso 2014 Caballo Loco Grand Cru (Sagrada Familia); $35, 92 points. Foresty, herbal aromas include notes of balsamic vinegar and black olive. This blend is heavy on Malbec, and the palate feels jammy, plummy and bumpy. Blueberry flavors are a touch gummy and sweet, while this is sappy, chewy and thick on a saturated finish. Drink through 2024. El Catador Corp. —M.S.

Viña Chocalan 2014 Vitrum (Maipo Valley); $29, 92 points. Cool, dense aromas of raisin, blackberry and chocolate are relaxed and in a fine state. Acidity is lively on the palate, so there’s angularity and jolt to this Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Tangy currant and plum flavors are accented by coconut and spice notes, while this is still a bit wild and jumpy on a finish that tastes of mocha and ripe black fruits. Drink through 2030. Chocalan USA. —M.S.

Conde de Velázquez 2014 Capa (Aconcagua Valley); $50, 91 points. Spicy cherry and coffee aromas drive a traditional dry nose. Choppy tannins pull the palate inward, while this tastes of cassis and cherry, with savory spice and maple notes picking up steam on the finish. This Bordeaux blend is in good shape but will continue to age well through 2026. WTWM Imports. —M.S.

Published on June 14, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings
About the Author
Michael Schachner
Spanish and South American Editor

Reviews wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain.

Michael Schachner is a New York-based journalist specializing in wine, food and travel. His articles appear regularly in Wine Enthusiast, where he is a longstanding contributing editor responsible for South America and Spain. Schachner reviews more than 2,000 wines annually for WE and regularly travels to Chile, Argentina and Spain to keep abreast of the constantly changing global wine map. Email: mschachner@wineenthusiast.net.



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