Advertisement
Food & Drink

Wine, etc.: Cost, perceived quality align in tasting of Chilean cabernets | COMMENTARY

The geography of Chile is truly unique among the family of nations. Squeezed between the towering Andes Mountains to the east and the frigid Pacific Ocean to the west, this pencil-shaped country spans about 2,700 miles north to south and has a width varying from about 10 miles to 220 miles. Climate varies from extremely arid hot desert in the north to a barren frigid landscape in the south, which is only 400 miles from Antarctica. In between these extremes lies the Central Zone where temperatures and rainfall are more moderate and is home to the majority of the 20 million Chileans and a thriving wine industry.

Two of the most important wine growing regions in Chile are the Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley. The Maipo Valley surrounds and extends to the south of Santiago; the Colchagua Valley lies about 80 miles south of Santiago and is the source of about 65% of Chilean cabernet sauvignon.

Advertisement

Cabernet sauvignon — about 20% of the country’s vineyards — is the most planted grape in Chile. Grapes have been planted on their own rootstock; the late 19th century scourge of phylloxera was avoided largely due to Chile’s geographical isolation.

Chile is known for providing an ocean of value-oriented red and white wines priced in the teens that offer outstanding values for cost-conscious consumers. Brands such as Concha y Toro and Santa Rita consistently market inexpensive, very drinkable table wines often sold for under $10. However, Chile has also produced midpriced and ultra-premium wines that consumers are just starting to discover.

Advertisement

We recently tasted six cabernet sauvignons priced $20 to $40 from these two growing areas and found a strong relationship between cost and perceived quality. Following are our impressions.

From the Colchagua Valley, the 2018 Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) offered a pleasant fruity round wine with plum and cherry notes and a whiff of eucalyptus. It is a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah and 5% carmenere.

From the Maipo Valley was the 2016 Echeverria Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). It is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (85%), syrah and carmenere grapes. A hint of bell pepper was present along with cherry and plum notes.

Our favorite of the tasting was the 2017 Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) from the Maipo Valley. It is made entirely from cabernet sauvignon grown on old vines 2,300 feet in the Andes. Ripe fruit notes are present with some spice notes in a very elegant smooth rich presentation. The quality is readily apparent.

We also tasted the 2018 Miguel Torres Reserva Especial Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo ($20), the 2018 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Maquis Colchagua ($20) and the 2018 TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua ($20) all of which we found were very drinkable and for their price, reasonable values.

For a real treat from Chile, buy the 2015 Lapostolle la Parcelle 8 ($125), a true definition of the quality cabernet sauvignon that can come from a prized vineyard. The vineyard, tucked in the Apalta Valley, is one of the oldest in Chile. Intense aromas of dark fruit, spices and herbs are followed by black berry, plum and spice flavors. The tannins are soft and fine in this inaugural edition.

Hirsch Vineyards

Hirsch Vineyards is in the Fort-Ross Seaview district of the Sonoma Coast wine growing district, a cool area only 3 miles from the cool Pacific Ocean. Pinot noir and chardonnay thrive here. Neighboring vineyards are owned by super star wineries Flowers, Martinelli and Marcassin, among others.

Advertisement

Hugging the Pacific coast at 1,500 feet elevation, these rolling hills once were covered by redwood trees. After the trees were harvested over the past 150 years, the bare soils eroded to the valleys below. Now, a thin layer of soil covers sandstone rocks and sand and clay subsoil. It’s an area of extremes with torrential rainfall during the fall and winter with almost 80 inches falling annually, and an arid span from April through October. In comparison, Maryland averages about 44 inches per year and Florida receives 40-60 inches annually.

Lurking thousands of feet below is the San Andreas Fault where two tectonic plates are grinding against each other and occasionally unleashing chaotic earthquakes all along the California coast.

David Hirsch planted the vineyards in 1980 and is recognized for championing the production of high-quality pinot noir in the area. Hirsch farms is about 66 acres pinot noir and 4 acres of chardonnay grapes.

Hirsch farms features an amazing 60 discrete blocks of grapes with each block consisting of rootstocks that match the prevailing soil.

We recently tasted several current vintage offerings from Hirsch and were very impressed with their individuality and quality. Following are our impressions.

Dish Baltimore

Dish Baltimore

Weekly

Get the scoop on that new restaurant, learn about chef changes and discover your favorite new recipe. All your Baltimore food news is here.

Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Estate 2020 ($65). A very expressive chardonnay featuring an opulent nose and flavor notes of apple and lemon with a medium bodied elegant cream like finish.

Advertisement

Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Bohan-Dillon 2019 ($35). A great entry point for this vineyard but be patient. We found cherry cola notes to dominate in an elegant presentation but sensed two to four years would add complexity and allow this wine to open up.

Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir San Andreas Fault Estate 2019 ($60). A hint of wild cherries in the nose with ripe and wild cherry notes in the mouth in a very smooth, rich and elegant presentation. A very complex and interesting pinot noir.

Wine picks

Chappellet Las Piedras Winemaker’s Blend 2019 ($85). The name behind this luxurious wine is winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus. A blend of all five Bordeaux grape varieties, it has a firm structure but a rich mouthfeel. With blackberry and oak-inspired clove and vanilla notes with hints of anise and spice.

Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District 2019 ($82). From the estate’s Poetry and Twin Peaks vineyards, this wine — blended with a little merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot — is rich and long in the finish with a velvet mouthfeel, ripe blackberry flavors, a touch of mineral and fine tannins.

Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Martinenga Langhe DOC 2019 ($26). This producer has a couple of nebbiolos that are worthy of attention. We liked this version for its spirited, fresh strawberry and black cherry notes. Medium in body, it will do well against pasta, burgers and other simple dishes.


Advertisement