Chile – Bordeaux-style in South America?

The upcoming 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is having Chile as the feature country and I was fortunate enough to be invited to a preview of some of the wines — and wineries — that will be featured.

Chile is a conundrum to me from a wine perspective. When I first encountered it over 20 years ago, it was THE source of great value, ripe, fruit forward wines. Conch y Toro, Cousino Macul, Santa Rita, Errazurriz — all were making nice every day drinking wines, many for ~$10!

But then, as the years went by, something changed. Too much success, overharvesting, under ripeness, more oak and wood — whatever it was, the style changed. For the reds, there was more of a Bordeaux style, with greater emphasis on cedar and herbs than fruit. And for whites, higher acidity meant leaner wines, perhaps designed to go better with food.

And so we get to today. I was curious going in to the tasting — what would the wines be like?

Well, the short answer is pretty much like my most recent experience, more Bordeaux than California/Australia. But it also reminded me how important style is in wine.

First, a few wine notes. There were 3 whites, all Sauvignon Blancs, and 2 of 3 were great, and great value. The ’10 Reserva by Santa Carolina is a lot of wine for $12.99, with classic grassy, herbal aromas and lush, citrus fruit. The ’09 by Mont Gras is lighter and fresher, and still good value at $16.99.

Of the 9 reds, there were only 2 made in my style. The best was the ’09 Ocio Pinot Noir by Cono Sur, a beautiful, California-style Pinot full of ripe cherry fruit with nice vanilla and earth overtones. But…at $64.99? No way!

Not quite as good, but a way better value, was the ’09 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet. Dark, with classic Cali vanilla covered black currants, it was a bit tannic, but with enough fruit to carry it through. And $19.99…that’s more like it!

For the remaining mixture of Cabs, Carmeneres, and Syah Blends — well, I had trouble finding the fruit, even in perennial ’90 pt’ wines like the Cousino Macul Antiguas Reserva Cab and the Santa Rita Medalla Real Cab.

But while they weren’t my style, it seems everyone else in the room just loved them! Even discounting the presenters (as a professional PR person, I am always suspicious of spokespeople who can only say good things!), the supportive comments for the cedar, graphite, lead pencil, even greeness was…amazing! And there were some heavy hitter wine writers in the room.

So somebody obviously loves this style of wine…and that’s a good thing! Because if we all loved the same things, then life would be pretty boring.

But at the same time, when it comes to wine – just like music, food and other of life’s pleasures – it’s important to know the style you like. But just don’t force it on somebody (like me!) who likes something completely different!



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