There's been a stampede on the part of importers to offer Chilean wines.
The reason is simple: they often don't cost very much and our local wineries have
abandoned most of the "Under Ten Buck" segment of the wine market.
While it's been true that many Chilean wines are cheap, it's also true that
many Chilean wines taste cheap, too. Frankly, we have a small selection of Chilean
wines. There is a more forgiving segment of the market which grew up on Chilean
wines. This segment of the market has been willing to purchase inferior wines with
famous labels. Happily we're seeing an improvement in the overall quality of
Chilean wines and there are some producers who attempt to make serious quality wines which
can compete on an international basis.
We are presently seeing a number of "deluxe" bottlings from
Chile. Some of these show evidence of superior wine-growing and
high-caliber wine-making. The question is, of course, will the market pay
attention to these premium bottlings? Some, indeed, are of an
international standard. Many only aspire to be great, falling short in
delivering the goods. Caveat emptor.
Chile has long been producing wine, though it's only relatively
recently that American wine drinkers have been introduced. The
Spanish were amongst the first to settle and engage in wine growing. Spain
was a leading recipient of Chilean wines and the "mother country"
attempted to control the "kids" by imposing taxes on wine imports to
Spain and vineyards in Chile. This, naturally, didn't meet with great
enthusiasm on the part of those in the "new world."
Chilean history is commemorated on some wine bottles. Santa Rita makes a
line of wines called "120," in honor of the 120 soldiers who had fled
with General Bernardo O'Higgins in a skirmish with Spanish forces. Teaming
up with an Argentinean general, O'Higgins returned with the 120 team, plus four
or five thousand more and were victorious in further battles with the
Spanish. In 1818, O'Higgins became the head of the new republic of Chile.
A few years after, French scientists and vineyard people made their way to South
America. They often brought cuttings from home, typically Bordeaux
Exports of wine became very important in the 1880s and into the 20th
century. Europe was under siege: the root louse phylloxera was a
major disaster and Chile was able to supply quantities of wine. To
this point, Chile remains untouched by phylloxera.
Things deteriorated with the replanting of vineyards in Europe and exports fell
off significantly. The government in Chile even imposed limits on
production. Then, the Allende government nationalized many vineyards,
taking them from their owners. The Pinochet regime, starting in the
mid-1970s, wasn't much more helpful, restricting exports. A
significant percentage of Chilean vineyards were uprooted during this
period. The winds of change began blowing in the late-1980s and have been
increasing to hurricane status ever since! A somewhat stable democracy has
encouraged foreign investment and today you'll find French, American and other
concerns investing in vineyards and wineries.
Chile is something like the 12th largest wine producing country in
the world. There are approximately 271,000 acres of vineyards there. Well
north of the capital city of Santiago are vineyards devoted to producing table grapes and
grapes intended for distillation rather than winemaking. It is from these vines that
the famous Chilean white lightning comes from (it's called Pisco).
Fifty miles north of Santiago is the Aconcagua Valley. This
region lies about 150 miles due west of Argentina's famous Mendoza area. It is a
small and rather dry region, with about 979 acres of vines, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.
South of Aconcagua and west of Santiago is the Casablanca Valley. Some
say this is prime Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay territory having some marine-influenced
climate due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. It has about 4000 acres
planted as of the most recent statistics.
South of Casablanca and southwest of Santiago is the Maipo Valley. It
comes under the "Valle Central" appellation and is a bit warmer;
apparently Cabernet and Chardonnay thrive here. There are some 15,000 acres of
vineyards in the Maipo.
South of the Maipo Valley (and 80 miles south of Santiago) is the Rapel Valley,
also part of the "Valle Central" designation. A well-regarded sub-region
of Rapel is the Colchagua Valley. Both Merlot and Cabernet do well there. The
Rapel has vines spread over slightly more than 30,000 acres, approximately 60% in red
Also in the "Valle Central" area is the southerly Curico Valley, an
area where Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc do well. This was only recently given its own
designation, as it used to be considered a sub-zone of the Maule. Temperatures here
vary greatly, meaning you can get sun burn during the day and the fifty-degree drop at
night puts the "chill" in "Chile." Twenty-eight
thousand acres of vines
live in this area.
The Maule is 160 miles south of Santiago and it's a big region, with
acres. The money varieties are planted here, so you'll find lots of Sauvignon Blanc,
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Southern Chilean features the "Valle del Itata," Some
11,000 acres of vineyards are there. The region has been the home of
rather ordinary grape varieties and only today are a couple of firms starting to
cultivate more noble grapes. Just south of Itata is the Valle del Bío-Bío. This is a difficult viticultural area, it being prone to spring
frosts and early autumn precipitation. Early-ripening varieties such as
Pinot Noir and Riesling may have a future in Bío-Bío.
Not even "on the map" is the Valle de San Antonio. There are but
a few new vineyards in this region, some 75 kilometers east of Santiago, but the
early results are quite promising. Most of this region features relatively
cool climates, so planting varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Syrah
might be a good idea.
One curiosity about Chile's exports. They've been sending a lot of
"Merlot" to foreign markets, but it seems the Merlot is not Merlot at all! There
has been a variety called "Carmenere" which used to be more widely cultivated in
Bordeaux. According to Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean fellow who has interests in California
as well as South America, the variety was brought to Chile along with Cabernet and Merlot
back in the 1850s. He says it is difficult to grow, thus it faded out of the Bordeaux
scene in France. The Chileans, he says, simply call it Merlot. Or used to call it Merlot.
Now they're selling loads of Carmenere wines here in the U.S. We've tasted a
number of these and, to
this point, have found them to be, from time to time, pretty interesting wines.
- Don Miguel
Viu Manent's family originated in Catalonia (some people call that part of the world
"Spain," much to the chagrin of the locals). In 1966 he purchased the San Carlos
de Cunaco winery but it took until 1990 for them to seriously make wine. We used to have
some lovely wines of theirs under the "San Carlos" label. However, either some
of our customers thought the wine came from just south of Belmont/just north of Redwood
City or the family figured the name was too easy for Americans to pronounce, so let's put
our name "Viu Manent" on the bottle and really confuse those people. Whatever.
All their wines come from estate vineyards.
Anyway, they make a really remarkable Colchagua Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Well, it's
remarkable wine which we sell for five bucks. Deep purple in color, it has a really nice fragrance of
berries and cassis. I don't think this wine sees any oak...how could they afford to put it
in wood? We sale price it as a "lost leader" so people will flock
to the shop looking for the best six buck red in the Bay Area...and they
The Malbec is a remarkable wine for seven bucks. Deep in color, this was bottled
unfiltered after a six month cycle in wood. This vintage reminds
us more of a Zinfandel, as the wine shows some spice notes. It is
quite different from the preceding vintage.
Sauvignon Blanc, now from the 2012 harvest, is a delight. It's mildly
citrusy and easily identifiable as Sauvignon. Dry. No oak.
Impressive at this price and no California vintner offers this quality at
A Special Selection of Malbec is very nice. Here's a wine that's
comparable to a good level of Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet which has evidence
of ripe fruit and cedary oak. Though it's a young wine, you can
certainly drink it now.
- Currently available: 2011 Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Sale
Viu Manent Malbec Sale $6.99
Viu Manent "Reserve" Malbec $9.99
VIU MANENT GRAN RESERVA CHARDONNAY $9.99
VIU MANENT RESERVA SAUVIGNON BLANC Sale $6.99
- This winery was founded in 1988,
Señor Montes having the idea of making
"good" Chilean wine instead of the prevailing custom of making
really "cheap" Chilean wine. What a concept!
It turns out this fellow is on the right track, though.
We've rarely found the mainstream wines of Chile to be "world
class." Typically they're more
Montes has caused a bit of a change in Chile. Winemakers are seeing it
is possible to establish a brand in foreign markets if you have
The really stunning fine bottle is called Montes Alpha
Here's a wine from Apalta, a sub-region of the Colchagua Valley.
Anyone tasting this wine and not saying it's, at the least, in the realm of
"damned good" to "excellent" simply has steel wool for a
palate. The wine comes from vineyards just 18 miles from the
coast. Cool nights allow for a retention of acidity in the
fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 80% of the blend, the rest
being Merlot and Cabernet Franc. French oak. The fine-grained
tannins allow for this to be consumed in its youth. With pleasure.
This Montes black label wine is remarkably good. It's a 2009 vintage
blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The wine comes from the
Colchagua Valley and is matured in American oak.
We really like this exceptionally appealing wine...it beats the hell out of
anything we've found from California in this price category.
Winemaker Aurelio Montes had experimented with various percentage blends,
finally deciding the 70% Cabernet and 30% Carmenere was the best. He
sure hit that nail on the head!
Currently in stock:
Montes Alpha "M" Vintage Please inquire
Montes 2010 Cabernet/Carmenere $12.99
- CASA LAPOSTOLLE
- With French ownership, the property owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family is
making, to our tastes, some of the finest wines in South America. Alexandra
Marnier-Lapostolle is the young visionary behind this large firm. The winery is located in
the Rapel Valley. The firm owns more than 700 acres of its own and then leases another 400
to produce more than 100,000 cases annually.
Having tasted their "regular"
wines, including the Sauvignon Blanc which is touted frequently in The Wine Advocate, we
have not been impressed by the initial efforts here. The current bottling,
2004, is more interesting than its
predecessors, though. I found it brighter and showing more fresh
In 1998 we included a bottle of their Cuvée Alexandre in a
blind tasting of Chardonnays from around the world. If I had been handicapping the
tasting, this surely would have been picked to finish in last place. After all, it was
pitted against Jacques Seysses' "Druid" (Dujac) Puligny-Montrachet, Kumeu River
from New Zealand, Pierro from Australia, Torres' "Milmanda" from Spain,
Beringer's Sbragia Chardonnay, as well as a Peter Michael from Sonoma. Well, surprise,
surprise! As we unveiled the wines, last place to first, the Chilean wine hung in
there....it finished one lone point behind the Puligny-Montrachet! We don't conduct our
blind tastings to "sell" wine. But we sold a bunch of Casa Lapostolle as a
result! The wine comes from the Casablanca region and it's entirely barrel-fermented in
French oak. When one vintage (I think it was the 2003) got a high
numerical score someplace, the wine became rather unobtainable.
Since then, customers are supposed to buy the wine based upon its fame and
reputation...we do not have any in the shop and I have not bought a bottle
to evaluate it.
The Cuvee Alexandre Merlot demonstrates French globe-trotting winemaker Michel Rolland's
mastery of this grape, whether in his native Bordeaux or elsewhere. It is difficult to
obtain and allocated. Like the Merlot, their Cabernet for the Cuvee Alexandre designation
comes from the Colchagua area of the Rapel Valley. Both are from 60-year-old vines. Both
spend 12 months maturing in French oak. If you want to taste Chilean wine made with
intelligence and passion, these are not to be missed.
is their deluxe blend. The first vintage or
two were primarily Merlot. More recent vintages have featured Merlot
and Carmenere. It's been quite a good bottle of wine over the years
and the marketing people love to hoard this. They view it as a
'reward' to customers who purchase their other wines.
A new, exciting Syrah debuted with the 2001 vintage. We have had a few
vintages of this wine, but since it's become so popular, apparently, we have not
been allowed to buy even a single bottle to taste and evaluate, much less to
have wine in the shop for sale.
A curious blend is a recent addition to their portfolio. It's called
Borobo. "Bordeaux, Rhone and Bourgogne." I bought one of
these and could not understand what they were trying to achieve by blending
Pinot Noir with Carmenere, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet. The current
vintage wholesales for more than $50 a bottle...What are they thinking???
- Currently available:
Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay (Special Order Item: $19.99)
Cuvée Alexandre Merlot $19.99
- "APALTA" Please inquire...
history of this winery goes back to about 1880, but the winemaking has been
rather "modern" for quite a while.
In the early days of Chilean wines arriving in the U.S. market, we often
found the Santa Rita wines to be bright, fruity and balanced. No
"off" elements were noted in their wines and the prices were
usually quite reasonable.
We didn't carry the wines for years because their U.S. importer would unload
the wines to a chain store which would retail them for about the same
price as the wines cost from the Santa Rita wholesaler. Why this
distributor in California permitted this practice, I will never
understand. The winery, however, changed importers and we are able to
offer the wine at a competitive price and one which is sensible, given the
I bought a bottle of their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from their
"120" line of wines. This number has special significance in
Chile's history. It refers to the 120 "freedom fighters" who
waged battle against the Spanish army in the early 1800s. This band of
soldiers was given refuge in what is the Santa Rita hacienda where they
regained their strength in Chile's fight for independence.
The fruit comes from Chile's Valle Central. Most of the wine was
retained in stainless steel to preserve the fruity aspects of this
wine. Only 10% was barrel aged and only for 8 months. You won't
find this to be a huge, deep, complex red wine and it won't compare in
intensity to a big Napa or Australian Cabernet. On the other hand,
it's selling presently for less money than you'll pay to taste two or three
sips of wine at most Napa wineries. We find a nice, fruity, cherryish
aspect to the fruit character. Maybe a hint of plums, too. Not
much in the way or wood or tannin, so this is drinkable immediately and best
at cool cellar temperature. It's not intended for cellaring, so enjoy
it when it's young and fruity.
We look forward to tasting their other wines...
I bought a bottle of their "Casa Real" Cabernet, a wine selling
for $50 a bottle. Can't say it was exceptional, though it was big,
deep and rather leathery.
Currently in stock: Santa Rita "120" Cabernet
Sauvignon Sale $6.49
More Chilean Selections