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The Successful Collector – Chilean wines: so many choices ~ by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A great nation for winegrowing:

Rightly or wrongly, the subject has by now been beaten to death: over the past twenty years, winegrowing in Chile has never been better. More importantly, there appears to be no end in sight, with the best Chilean wines getting finer and finer with each passing vintage. A far cry from the late-eighties, when most Chilean wines were meant for everyday drinking; and with most of it sold domestically to a largely undemanding audience, who would have thought the reputation of premium Chilean wines would ever reach world class status?

And yet, here we are, twenty years later, and very much in agreement about both the present and potential quality of the Chilean winegrowing industry. Definitely a long time coming, if you ask me, as Chile has actually been producing wine for over four hundred years, the first vines being planted by Fray Francisco de Carabantes around 1550. Little did the first settlers realize that they were planting in such an awesome viticultural oasis, a part of the ‘New World’ where the dreaded phylloxera louse has never appeared, where sunlight is just as reliable as a newborn crying, where daylight-nightlight temperatures are unusually wide (great for clarity of fruit flavours), and where irrigation is amply provided for by the magnificent, primordially overhanging Andes Mountains.

Hence, there is virtually no excuse for bad winemaking in Chile, though this hasn’t stopped underripeness and monotony from being a problem for many of the ‘entry range’ brands, such as those found throughout the General Listings section of LCBO stores. More often than not (and I’m sure we’ve all experienced this), these wines (especially those crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère) tend to give off way too much cassis and currants for their own good – a sure sign of excessive yields and probable underripeness. While such wines are still certainly agreeable and flavourful to drink, offering really solid fruit intensity, structural soundness, and balance, the result is a very great reluctance on the part of producers to improve overall quality and lessen the monotony of their ‘entry range’ offerings.

Thankfully, for the more premium bottlings on offer, this problem seldom exists; and when it does, you can be sure some self-aggrandizing wine commentator (as opposed to yours truly) will be harking on and on about it. Indeed, when examining the finer Chilean wines produced nowadays, one is seldom left unamazed at the level of quality that so many winegrowers have achieved, particularly with regard to full-bodied red wines. Often uniquely (and fully) flavoured, well structured and layered, and carrying all sorts of deliciously ‘dark’ aromatics, such wines are unquestionably worth seeking out.

For collectors, the choices over the past several years have spiralled from just a handful of offerings to dozens upon dozens of exceptional bottlings. In large part, the reds (as hinted at previously) are the ones most typically worth purchasing, particularly top-end Bordeaux blends (with Carmenère usually only playing a partial role – though there are exceptions) as well as Syrah. At present, the best Chilean wines (I would argue) come from a handful of excellent (and expanding) winegrowing regions, most notably the Maipo Valley (particularly for premium Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelais blends), the Colchagua Valley (especially the stupendous Apalta subzone, home to some of the greatest wines in the country – not to mention one of the most important hotspots for gastronomic appreciaton and tourism), and the Aconcagua Valley (the original source for some of the best Syrahs in the nation).

Ultimately, however, what is mentioned here represents only a minor, fractional handful of premium winegrowing regions in Chile. Indeed, there are plenty others now home to some really superlative wines, from the cool-climate, more coastal region of Casablanca (great for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) to the fast-growing, high-latitude Valle de Limarí in the north (surprisingly well-suited for all sorts of different varietals). Indeed, the choices for premium collectors (as well as casual wine lovers) are fast becoming inestimable.

To see a few gems for collectors from the 5th March release click here .

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