Two of the more interesting, under-$20 wines I’ve tasted in recent months come from Chile, one white and one red, and both are from off the beaten track.
Among reds, cabernet franc is a minor player in Chile, with far less of it planted than cabernet sauvignon, merlot or carmenère. But the grape, which is mainly used in Bordeaux-style blends, whether in France or elsewhere, is stunning on its own in Viña Peñalolen’s 2009 Cabernet Franc from the Casablanca Valley north of Santiago.
I try to hold hyperbole in check, but looking back at my notes I noticed that I used the word “gorgeous” twice as I tasted this wine. It’s big yet balanced with luscious yet bright fruit that comes alive with its underlying acidity. Tastes of cassis, raspberry and blackberry are accented by cinnamon, cocoa and subtle herb notes.
The wine demands red meat and will pair beautifully with steak or leg of lamb. I was convinced that I was drinking a $40 dollar wine. In fact, the suggested price is $19 and I have seen it on the web for a couple of dollars less. It’s one of my favorite reds of the year. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Calif.
In terms of white wines, sauvignon blanc is Chile’s best-known variety. There is also plenty of chardonnay and some riesling and viognier is grown as well. And then there is the grape known as Pedro Ximenez, which is planted in small quantities in Chile’s northernmost wine growing area, the semi-arid Elqui Valley. There, it is more commonly used to make the brandy known as pisco, but a few wineries make a dry white wine from it as well.
One of them is Viña Falernia, whose 2011 Pedro Ximenez is as impressive as the 2008 vintage I reviewed a few years ago. This fresh, steel-fermented wine has subtle complexity that emerges as it warms up a bit. It has pear, apricot, fig and lemon-lime tastes along with a touch of brown sugar and crisp minerality on the long finish. It was a perfect match for flounder fillets broiled with white wine, lemon and a touch of paprika. It’s also a bargain, listed on Wine-Searcher at $10 or so. Imported by Empson USA, Alexandria, Virginia.
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