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Chile Continues to Punch Above Its Weight

Amidst all the romance and storytelling in the wine world, it’s easy to lose sight of one of the most important aspects of wine: value for money. I’m certainly guilty of overemphasizing the latest tiny producer making wines in minute quantities that are difficult to obtain. While such wines are fascinating and exciting and often have great stories behind them, they don’t relate much to the everyday drinking goals of many people who enjoy wine.

Sometimes you don’t need a wine with an incredible story behind it. Sometimes you just want a $20 wine that tastes like a $50 one.

While the sommeliers on Instagram gush over “unicorn wines” — wines that are so rarified or obscure that you’re lucky if you ever get to open a single bottle in your career — sometimes it can feel like great wine values are equally as scarce, especially from California, the source of 80% of the domestic wine consumed in America.

I’ll be honest. For under $20 there’s not a lot of great wine being made in California these days, and that’s doubly true if you’re talking about red wines made from the most popular grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Merlot. I most acutely run into this problem when friends ask me to select some California wines for a local wedding. Their budgets rarely allow for wines priced over $25 and and while they would love a great Napa Cabernet or Sonoma County Pinot Noir, that price point mostly relegates them to California wines that you’d find on the supermarket wine shelf.

All of which is why, if you want the best value for your money when it comes to wine, you’d best look outside the United States, where even though you’re paying for the import taxes and the cost of shipping the wine overseas, land and labor costs (not to mention exchange rates) are all working in favor of the budget-contained wine lover.

corralillo_cabernet_matetic.pngTo wit: out of the recently published 100 Best Values under $15 by Wine and Spirits Magazine, a mere 7 of them were from California, and only 25 were from the United States (quite a good showing from New York Finger Lakes by the way).

There are number of places to look for great value in the wider world of wine, and amongst the very best of them you will find Chile.

Chile has always been associated with value when it comes to wine. For the last 20 years they’ve been selling massive quantities of $8 to $10 Sauvignon Blanc to thirsty wine lovers all over the world. In the process, the country has become a victim of its own success, and now that’s pretty much the only thing most people think about when they think about Chilean wine.

But value in Chile doesn’t just exist at the level of $10 wine. It extends quite a ways up the price scale. And this represents great news for American wine lovers, especially those who are looking for a great bottle of wine, but would prefer something a bit more mainstream instead of, say an $18 bottle of something they’ve never heard of, like Savatiano.

The punchline: if you want to spend $25 and get a killer bottle of Cabernet or Pinot Noir, Chile has you covered.

In fact, that’s where I just spent a week wandering around the country courtesy of a press junket organized by Wines of Chile. I didn’t go to focus on Cabernet and Pinot Noir — I think Chile has more exciting things to offer right now — but I couldn’t help tasting a bunch while I was there and I kept having the same experience over and over again.

I’d taste a glass of wine, think to myself, that it was pretty darn good. And then I’d ask what the retail price was in the United States, and constantly find myself with my jaw hanging open when someone told me a price point that was at least 30% lower than I was expecting.

As a wine industry, Chile feels stuck in a rut. The country’s reputation for great, cheap wine has become its Achilles Heel, and now the country is having a hard time getting people’s attention anywhere outside the lower shelves of the supermarket wine aisle.

But the sheer quality to price ratio of many Chilean wines is staggering, and anyone willing to pay $20 to $25 for a good bottle of wine will find themselves richly rewarded if they go searching for great wine from Chile.

Here are some of my favorite wines from my recent trip that punch way above their weight. Listed in order of preference.

2015 Matetic “Corralillo” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry fruit with a hint of tobacco leaf. In the mouth, really juicy flavors of cherry and green herbs are draped in a gauzy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit super juicy and fresh, while minty notes of herbs linger in the finish. Delicious and very light on its feet and drinkable. 14% alcohol. 1500 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2016 Matetic “Corralillo – Winemakers Blend” Red Blend, San Antonio Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of white pepper and black cherries. In the mouth, beautiful white pepper and black cherry and cassis flavors have a wonderfully smooth texture and a nice tension thanks to excellent acidity and taut, fine-grained tannins. Elegant and poised. A blend of roughly 25% Cabernet Franc, 40% Syrah, and 35% Malbec, fermented separately and then blended after 6 months of aging. 14% alcohol. 3000 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2017 Errazuriz “Aconcagua Costa” Chardonnay, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
Near colorless in the glass with a paleness of gold, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon zest. In the mouth, lemon peel and lemon pith flavors mix with white flowers and deep stony minerality. Lean, angular but very nice. Fantastic acidity and length. Whole cluster fermented with ambient yeasts. About 1/3 of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2016 Matetic “Corralillo” Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pure, sweet raspberry fruit with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy and bright raspberry fruit has a gorgeous purity and berry freshness that is undeniably appealing. Only the faintest of tannins and really nice length and balance. 13.5% alcohol. 3500 cases Score: around 9. Cost: $ 26 . click to buy.

2015 Matetic “Corallillo” Syrah, San Antonio Valley, Chile
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, a tight skein of fine grained tannins wraps around a core of blackberry and black cherry with a hint of black pepper. Excellent acidity and a faint hint of salinity round out a mouthwatering package. Delicious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2018 Tinto de Rulo Malbec, Bio Bio Valley, Chile
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and boysenberries. In the mouth, very fresh and bright and slightly salty flavors of blueberries and blackberries are zippy and mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderful underlying minerality comes through the wine. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2015 Chilcas (Via Wines) “Red One” Red Blend, San Rafael, Maule, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black plum. In the mouth, rich black plum and black cherry flavors are draped in a gauzy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and nice balance with nary a trace of new oak. Very pretty with cigar box notes in the finish. A blend of 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere, 10% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. Ages in oak barrels, of which roughly 30% are new. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2016 Koyle “Royale” Syrah, Colchagua, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and cassis and flowers. In the mouth, blackberry and herbs have a stony, slightly smoky aspect. Tight, muscular tannins seem stretched taut across the palate. Excellent acidity keeps the wine incredibly fresh as the stony qualities emerge over time. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 Errazuriz “MAX” Chardonnay, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, lemon pith and grapefruit. In the mouth, zippy flavors of lemon peel, grapefruit juice and lemon curd have a wonderful vibrant brightness thanks to excellent acidity. No trace of oak amidst the juicy citrus sunshine. Delicious. 50% of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation. Only 10% new oak. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Errazuriz “Aconcagua Costa” Pinot Noir, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors have a nice herbal greenness to them. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh with flavors of herbs and earth lingering in the finish. Faint tannins nudge in after some time, but are barely perceptible. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2016 Errazuriz “Aconcagua Costa” Syrah, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black olive and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, slightly saline flavors of blackberry, cassis and black olive have a nice crisp freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery tannins coat the mouth but take a back seat to the savory fruit. Hints of green herbs linger in the finish. 10% of the wine was aged in concrete eggs. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2017 Errazuriz “MAX” Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco with hints of green herbs. In the mouth, cherry and tobacco and green herb flavors mix with cola and a touch of earthiness. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh, and fine grained tannins gently tighten their grip on the palate. Contains 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Ages for 12 months in 25% new oak barrels. 13.5% alcohol. 65,000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Matetic “Corralillo” Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio, Chile
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of passionfruit and green apple and kiwi. In the mouth, flavors of green apple and passionfruit mix with a touch of herbs and some jalapeño notes that linger in the finish. Good acidity and brightness. Contains 4 clones of Sauvignon Blanc, cold soaked and then fermented at low temperatures in steel tanks. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 15k cases Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2017 Matetic “Corralillo” Chardonnay, San Antonio, Chile
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of melted butter and lemon curd. In the mouth, cold cream and lemon curd have a wonderful floral quality and nice acidity with a faint mineral backbone. Hints of pineapple linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 3000 cases made Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
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2015 Chilcas (Via Wines) “Las Almas” Carmenere, Lolol, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty cherry and toasted oak. In the mouth, spicy cherry and toasted oak flavors mix with mulling spices and a bit of dried and green herbs. Peanut-buttery tannins linger for a while along with the spicy notes. Excellent acidity. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Miguel Torres “Cordillera” Sauvignon Blanc, Osorno Valley, Chile
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and cat pee. In the mouth, intense green apple and passionfruit flavors have a green grassy note as well. Excellent acidity and a remarkably silky body with a hint of a chalky texture on the finish. 12% alcohol. 600 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2016 Miguel Torres “Cordillera” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet black cherry fruit. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis flavors have a faint graphite and espresso note to them and excellent juicy acidity that keeps the wine fresh and mouthwatering. Faint notes of minty herbs enter the finish, with plush, cotton-ball tannins. Spends 12 months in 30% new French oak. 13% alcohol. 3000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2016 Koyle “Royale” Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors have a buoyant brightness thanks to excellent acidity which keeps the fruit juicy. Hints of green herbs linger in the finish. There’s a pretty underlying minerality to the wine as well, with chalk-dust tannins that gain strength over time. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2016 Koyle “Royale” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua, Chile
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis and wet stone. In the mouth, a tight fist of fine-grained tannins wraps around a core of black cherry and cola and a deeper earthy rumble. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh with hints of herbs in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 De Martino “Legado” Carmenere, Maipo Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and black cherry and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, juicy plummy black cherry flavors are dusted with fine grained tannins. Hints of green herbs mix beautifully with the plummy fruit. Excellent acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 De Martino “Legado” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green bell pepper and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright sweet cherry flavors have a touch of green herbs to them, but much less than you would expect from the nose. Excellent acidity makes the wine quite fresh and faint tacky tannins give texture to the wine. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2017 Veramonte “Ritual” Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and citrus pith. In the mouth, crisp and bright flavors of citrus pith and grapefruit juice mix with candied lemon peel. Excellent acidity and little or no trace of oak make this a refreshing and delicious mouthful. 14% alcohol. Fermented in three equal thirds — oak, cement, and stainless. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2016 Veramonte “Primus, The Blend” Red Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cocoa powder and cola. In the mouth, cherry and cola and plum notes are round and lush and shot through with a faint hint of cedar and cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and balance. Still one of the wine world’s great values. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Veramonte Rosé of Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Pale pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, bright citrusy berry flavors have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp and clean. This rosé used to be made of Syrah, but the winery has recently switched to using Pinot and the wine is better for it. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and green grass. In the mouth, silky green apple flavors with a hint of grass and kiwi have a nice clean snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. Faint chalky textures linger in the mouth. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.

2016 Veramonte “Ritual” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberries and a touch of earth. In the mouth, sweet raspberry and cranberry fruit mixes with dried herbs and a touch of floral notes. Good acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.