Check out Chile for value sauvs and chards
Wine Adviser Paul Gregutt says that in tasting after tasting of Chilean wines, the sauvignon blancs and chardonnays are standouts.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Mercer Estates 2010 Chardonnay; $14
COMPLETING A quartet of excellent white-wine releases from Mercer Estates, this lively, balanced chardonnay comes on a bit sharp and steely. Chalk it up to youth; it's clean and textural, with a mix of citrus flesh and rind, apple and melon. (Distributed by Noble)
IN SEARCH of the best value wine regions in the New World, I've profiled wineries in Washington, Australia and, now, Chile. Each of these large, thriving wine-producing places can make a credible version of just about any type of varietal wine or blend. However, each has indisputable strengths.
In tasting after tasting of Chilean wines, the sauvignon blancs and chardonnays are standouts among the whites, while the carmenère-based reds always seem to show more character and typicity than the others — with one surprising exception, which I'll get to in a moment.
As regular readers know, I am quite partial to good sauvignon blancs — the sort of mineral-driven, lightly grassy, crisp styles found in wines from France's Loire Valley and (sometimes) New Zealand. But these are not always priced affordably.
But from Chile, you will find exciting, racy, mouth-cleansing sauv blancs at prices considerably lower. The Cono Sur "bicycle label" 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($12) is one surefire example. In the most recent vintage, it remains bright and grapefruity, with some pétilance from CO2 intentionally left in the bottle. The spritz gives it sizzle, while the relative lightness of the alcohol keeps it from weighing you down.
Another fine bottle is the William Cole 2011 Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($16). It's deeper and more complex than the Cono Sur, intensely herbal with grapefruit and abundant minerality.
A less expensive choice, made from organic grapes, is the 2011 Natura Sauvignon Blanc ($11, imported by Banfi). Citrus and pineapple fruits combine here in a soft, accessible style.
There are many other options; it's hard to misfire with Chilean sauv blancs.
A light, spicy, slightly herbaceous Natura chardonnay ($11) is fine for everyday quaffing. Better still is Cono Sur's 2011 Organic Chardonnay ($14), again putting the emphasis on citrus, especially grapefruit flavors.
Carmenère is the most herbal, stemmy and chewy of the red Bordeaux grapes, but in Chile it has found its perfect home.
The Apaltagua 2011 Carmenère ($12) is a good example, showing plenty of stem and herb, but also excellent concentration and length. A rich, smoky, grilled piece of meat would be the perfect companion.
I rarely find a Chilean merlot or cabernet sauvignon to recommend at any bargain price, but more and more examples of pinot noir are worth investigating. The Cono Sur 2011 Pinot Noir ($12) is a good one: tart and varietally-correct, with just enough ripeness to overcome the herbaceousness.
Another one to look for is the Apaltagua 2011 Pinot Noir ($12), light, forward and fruity.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.