Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos by the producers and importers
Chilean wines that I like.
The Chilean wine industry has grown tremendously since the 1970s, when I first became aware of how good Chilean wines could be.
I was lucky to have, at the time, the national airline of Chile (LANChile) as a client of my NYC based travel marketing company. I had to fly to Santiago twice a year to present to the executives there the US passenger marketing programs; one program for spring/summer and one for autumn/winter. Also, another yearly program for their cargo services that had started becoming very important to the airline's bottom line, based on extensive exports of fresh fruits, vegetables, cultured fish, canned goods and wines, to the US.
That meant that, after all the meetings and conferences for the day, me and the US passenger sales manager of the airline that was born and bred in Santiago and we had become friendly, would go to one of his favorite Santiago restaurants like La Jacaranda or El Parrón, one of the city’s oldest charcoal-grilled-meat restaurants, and have a tasty meal and drink great wines.
The Andes form a natural barrier between Chile and the Atlantic and the valleys on the Pacific side of the Andes offer natural protection against cold air coming from either the North or the South. They create a mild climate, ideal for grapevine growing.
Even winery owners from other prominent viticultural countries like France, Spain, and Italy have gone to Chile, purchased vineyards and now produce exceptional wines for the world market. But, the native Chilean wine makers are not resting on their laurels… every year they bring to market exceptional wines from mostly five grape varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère.
The Chilean wine industry has gotten much more quality-focused since my early forays to Chilean vineyards, and more and more of Chile's wines have become distinctive, interesting, and delicious. Both monovarietal bottles and blends of the 3 reds that form the backbone of winemaking in Chile can now be found in US wine stores, most in the $15 to $45 range and a few in the $75 to $125 range. There are still a number of producers offering wines in the $8 to $10 range that are drinkable, but not particularly exceptional.
Good Chilean reds pair beautifully with charcoal grilled beef, so if you are a confirmed carnivore like me, you should have a few of these bottles resting in your cellar. I always keep Concha y Toro Grand Reserva, Serie Riberas, Cabernet Sauvignon from Colchagua and the Central Valley and Don Melchor from Maipo, to have with my steaks.
For everyday libations, I have in my cellar from Maipo Alto, Echeverria’s Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Syrah and 5% Carmenère and from Miguel Torres, a notable Catalan wine family with a winery in Chile, their Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon, a fruity juicy monovarietal red. Both are outstanding with beef and lamb dishes, especially grilled lamb chops or chunked beef or lamb shoulder cooked in a tasty tomato and paprika sauce over a smoky eggplant purée, known as Hüncârbeğendi (The Sultan’s Delight), a classic Ottoman dish from Istanbul that I frequently cook.
I also like to age bottles from Viña Aquitania, the Old-World styled monovarietal Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon, and from Los Vascos, Cromas Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are from exceptional Chilean wineries. I have visited Los Vascos in Colchagua, which has been under the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) management, and I like their elegant Cromas line and Le Dix de Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon blend, enhanced with 10% Carménère and 5% Syrah.
The above, were all wines made in the same vintage year by very good winemakers and kept in my cellar under the same conditions. Yet the differences in the nose and palate are remarkable. So, the style of winemaking and the different soil in the Chilean valleys where the grapes grow, make each wine very distinct. If you like Chilean wines as I do, find a producer whose style you like and follow them through the years. You will be rewarded by a consistency in flavor and taste and good pairing with dishes you like, whether you make them in your kitchen or are eating out.
Finally, there was a surprising pairing of a red wine with seafood; it was Chilean Machas a la Parmigiana with Maquis Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. I have been always surprised as to how pink Chilean razor clams pair beautifully with a very traditional red wine. I guess, the salty cheese and heavy cream used in the seafood recipe somehow works with the ripe, tannic red. I have to admit that, one time, sitting at a seashore restaurant in Valparaiso, I had 3 dozens of the machas a la parmigiana all by myself!
To your health!
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