On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from - The Chilean Wine Fair – Oct. 4, 2006

03 Jan 2007
I like to call this venture “Checking on Chile” … another of my reports where I look in on other countries (“the competition”) to see what they’re doing. Now I’m sure you’ve read, somewhere on this site, that Chile is where my love for red wine started. I have never been to Chile, but would love to go (I’ll even squeeze into your suitcase if need be); but many years ago I was out for dinner with a friend, who claimed she loved Chilean Merlot, not wanting to appear daft or contrary I said I like them too. We each got a glass and my love for red wine, and especially with Chilean Merlot, began. So to attend this show was an enormous thrill for the palate.

Chilean wine is some for the best value wine you can find. It’s still one of the few countries still making top-notch wine for under $10, and some of the greatest deals happen between 10 and 15 dollars. Here are some of my top finds at this year’s show:

Best Value Wines: Chile is one of those country’s that really doesn’t have to worry about their weather, cause it’s pretty must the same every year, therefore they do not have to rank their vintages like we do here in Canada (or in France for that matter). This means that their consistency year-to-year is pretty much the same, but my palate still has to like it and I still pay close attention to the year on the bottle. Tarapaca has been one of those wineries that sits just below my radar, some of their wines are great, some are ust shy of excellent, while others are take it or leave it. That said, the two best value wines at the show were both from Vina Tarapaca, their 2005 Merlot: smooth, easy drinking, delicious yet still ageable, while their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is lovely and smooth with great red fruit and chocolate notes … both wines are a steal at $9.45 and $9.50 respectively. Having tried both the ’04 and ’05 of both wines (4 wines in total) those are my recommendations … so pay attention to the vintage date.

Other wines of note:
I’ll start with the runner up for the best value wine, Cono Sur 2006 Pinot Noir is light and lively with a sweetness on the palate that is quite enjoyable ($10.95 – available now at the LCBO).

Best Packaging of the Day goes to Vina Camina Real Los Portones de San Francisco 2005 Merlot – it’s gonna be general list at the LCBO soon and retail for about $10.05 … you’ll recognize it by the burlap sack it’s wrapped in.

Vina Cousino Macul who consistently make great low priced wine ($11 – $14 bottle) has a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend called Finis Terrae 2003 coming to Vintages at $24.70, which is worth the price.

Dropping down the price ladder: Vina La Rosa’s La Capitane Merlot has great chocolate notes and is available for $15.95 at Vintages now.

Vina Morande’s Vitisterra Merlot 2004 was the best Merlot of the day … a reasonable $17.95 and it should also be seeing LCBO shelves soon.

Carmenere has become Chile’s signature grape, so every winery makes at least one, but for my money some of the best wines are blends, which include this grape in the mix. From the northern part of Chile in the Lamari Valley, there’s Vina Tabali 2004 Espeical Red Reserva. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Shiraz (35%), Carmenere (9%) and Merlot (6%) great mouth-feel and taste, fabulous nose and it’s $21.95 price tag will seem like a steal once you lay it down for a few years and it matures. Vina Veramonte’s 2004 Primus ($20.00 - Carmenere/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) is quite impressive tasting, with some tannin that scream “lay me down”. This should see Vintage’s shelves around April or May. Alright, how about one last blend recommendation, with no Carmenere added: Via Wines, coming March 2007, have a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah blend that’s a perfect every day quaffer and at $12.95 you can make it you every day wine.

Chile continues to impress with good quality and reasonable prices; although with quality and recognition comes the inevitable price increase. But to raise prices from under $10 to $15 isn’t that huge a jump – I just hope it remains gradual. Chile remains one of the biggest competitors to our homegrown wines. I have heard on many occasions people ask “Why would I buy an Ontario Merlot for $20 when I can pick up a Chilean one for $12”, and I, instead of getting into some kind of socio-economic discussion, answer simply “personal taste”. What Yours?

If your interest in the wines and regions of Chile goes beyond tastings in your own backyard, check out this little trip being planned by fellow wine writer Edward Finstein: www.winedoctor.ca - click on the Special Events section.

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