In the quest to bring you the best of Chilean wine, a group of 7 people recently tasted our way through some lighter Chilean red wines. We were looking for wines that can be served slightly chilled in warm weather and that pair well with turkey and other dishes often served for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other festivities. Our tasting panel bravely tasted its way through 8 different Chilean wines made from 4 different grape varieties. Below are the full details of all the wines we tried and at the end I will reveal which two wines were the panel’s favourites.
For decades País was relegated to an underdog role by Chile’s biggest producers who bought the grapes at rock-bottom prices to bulk out other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon when making Chile’s cheapest red wines. But lately Chile’s third most planted variety has been experiencing a renaissance, with producers experimenting with different wine styles with País in the starring role. País wines tend to be light, easy-drinking reds with some fruity aromas. We tried two brands.
Bouchon País Salvaje 2018. Maule Valley.
Retails around CLP$10,000. 12.5% ABV
Family firm based in Maule, making a range of wines from grapes grown in Maule. This particular wine is made from grapes from País vines that have self-seeded and run wild, climbing trees. The grapes are destemmed using a zaranda. Fermented in cement vats with native yeasts. 50% underwent carbonic maceration. This wine is unfiltered.
Tasting note: A fresh, fruity, pale-coloured wine; very easy-drinking.
Bouchon’s Pais Salvaje website
Cacique Maravilla 2019. Yumbel, Itata, Ñuble Region.
Retails around CLP$6,000 12.2% ABV
This is a very long-standing family vineyard that is proud to still be making wines from the old vines and using the traditional methods that have passed down through the family. This wine is made with 100% País grapes.
Tasting note: rather denser than the País Salvaje with rustic tannins, medium acidity and red fruit flavours.
Cacique Maravilla’s website
Cinsault is light-skinned with soft, fruity aromas and is widely used in blends in southern France and a few other warm climate areas around the world. If the vines are allowed produce too many grapes, the wines can be boring. But when yields are low – for instance when the grapes come from old vines, like the ones in Itata – it can make deliciously fresh, tasty wines with lovely aromas of red fruit and wild herbs. We tried two different Cinsault wines.
Pedro Parra Imaginador 2017. Itata, Ñuble Region.
Retails around CLP$15,000. 14% ABV
Pedro Parra is a highly respected Chilean expert on terroir (finding the ideal place for growing wine grapes). This is his own family project in his home area. He has sourced grapes from 4 different local vineyards. These are all old vineyards with old vines, trained in a bush or gobelet form and dry-farmed (not irrigated). The wine has been fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and cement vats (no oak) to retain freshness and fruity aromas.
Tasting note: Fresh, crunchy red fruit profile with an intriguingly smoky note. Mineral and taut red fruit flavours with light tannins. Delicious!
Pedro Parra’s website
Dagaz Cinsault 2018. Itata, Ñuble Region.
Retails around CLP$15,000. 13% ABV
Like the Pedro Parra wine, this is made from bush-trained vines in dry inland areas of Itata. This wine has had 6 months’ ageing in a mixture of stainless steel vats and neutral, used oak barrels.
Tasting note: Also fruity but overall a denser wine than the Pedro Parra with more tannins and body, most likely reflecting heavier extraction techniques and the use of oak. A pleasant, fruity wine.
Dagaz Wines’ website
- Grenache (Garnacha)
Grenache is widely planted in Spain and France, where, like Cinsault, it has traditionally been used in blends. It is a tricky grape to get right but if you do, it can make an exciting and seductive red wines. There are just a few being made here in Chile and they can be hard to get hold of – the Perez Cruz we tried is probably the most widely available.
Perez Cruz Grenache 2018, Maipo Andes, Metropolitan Region.
Retails around CLP$15,000. The bottle label says 14% ABV but online info suggests it’s actually 14.9%!!
85% Garnacha, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre. 14 months’ ageing, 100% in French oak, half new and half second use, so this wine should have a notable oak influence (aromas of spices, toast) and a smoothness in the mouth.
Tasting note: Beautiful strawberry and chocolate nose and smooth palate with medium tannins and just enough acidity to keep it interesting. Very delicious and moreish.
Perez Cruz website
- Pinot Noir
Another fiddly variety that is difficult to get right. People seem to either absolutely adore it or else detest it. Given that the styles of wine it can make can vary hugely, as can the pricetag, then perhaps that is no surprise. In Chile, you can find everything from rich and mouthfilling Pinot Noirs with aromas like strawberry jam and toast through to subtle and lighter-bodied wines with a whole myriad of aromas ranging from mushrooms, through leather, damp leaves and game, through to a downright farmyardy manure-type odour. There are around 4,000 hectares of Pinot Noir in Chile but a lot more are being planted, mostly in coastal, mountainous or southerly regions, as Pinot Noir does best in cool climate conditions. We tasted three Chilean Pinot Noirs.
Aquitania Sol de Sol Pinot Noir 2012, Malleco, La Araucanía Region.
Retails around CLP$20,000. 13.5% ABV
This project was at one time one of Chile’s southernmost but now there are increasing numbers of wineries moving south as the climate gets warmer and drier and because cool-climate wines are fashionable around the world. This wine has had 12 months’ French oak ageing.
Tasting note: A supple, smooth wine with high acidity and a subtle red fruit profile.
Montesecano Refugio Pinot Noir 2018, Casablanca Valley.
Retails around CLP$14,500. 12% ABV
This is a small vineyard recently planted in the Casablanca area where they are making very natural wines with no sulphur and no oak. The wines are aged in cement eggs.
Tasting note: Slightly cloudy. The nose reveals medicinal spice and red fruit, as well as a mineral note. Crisp and fresh and just a little bit funky.
Koyle Costa Pinot Noir 2014, Colchagua Costa.
Retails at CLP$15,000. 14% ABV
Koyle is a small family winery led by Cristóbal Undurraga and based in Colchagua Alto, following biodynamic and sustainable principles. These grapes are brought from vineyards nearer the coast. The grapes are harvested in 2 different lots from 2 different plots with different solar exposure to get a different flavour profile. Ageing: 50% in barrels, 50% concrete eggs for 12 months.
Tasting note: Sophisticated nose of red fruit, mineral notes and a hint of toast. Slightly bitter note in the mouth but overall very pleasant, with fresh acidity and fine tannins.
Tasting panel favourites:
Perez Cruz Grenache 2018 was the universal favourite and Pedro Parra’s Imaginador 2017 came out the strong second choice. Both delicious wines, well worth trying.