Friday, September 11, 2009

Terra Andina - Great Values from Chile

No matter how many distinguished, expensive wines I get to try in my travels (as well as not-so-distinguished, expensive wines), I always look forward to tasting moderately-priced wines from any number of countries. Quite often, I select wines like these for my my dinners, as these wines play up to food rather than overpower it. To me, that’s what winemaking is all about – making offerings that are about balance and not power.

Some countires offer more great values than others; much of this has to do with the image of the country or wine region. It’s difficult to find value wines from Napa Valley these days, but go to Monterey, and you’ll discover many more reasonably priced wines. The question in not quality, rather it’s with the perception of quality. Napa has been praised for decades as one of the world’s greatest wine regions, but it hasn’t been that way for Monterey, despite the first-class wines crafted in that region.

For several reasons – for which we can be thankful - Chile has remained a haven for value-oriented wines. There are some incredible red wines (and even a few whites now) that are world-class, but the media tends not to focus on these wines as much as their counterparts from California or France. Thus Chile is viewed as a country that produces some very nice wines at moderate prices. While this is an incomplete picture, at least it’s a positive situation for consmuers.

All of this leads me to some of the most attractive, value-oriented wines from Chile I’ve had in some time. Terra Andina is a producer with a variety of white and red wines, most of which are priced at $12.99 retail (these are from the Reserva line) and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. What’s nice is unlike some labels where each red wine tastes pretty much the same, with Terra Andina, the wines have very good varietal character, so the Carmenere isn't a carbon copy of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The winemaker is Oscar Salas (pictured left, Photo ©Tom Hyland), who has done an admirable job with these wines, as each is balanced with good ripeness and character with minimal winemaking intervention. Salas has the advantage of sourcing grapes from some of Chile’s finest viticultural regions. Thus the Sauvignon Blanc hails from the cool Leyda Valley, less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, while the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the famed Maipo Valley, home to many of the country’s finest examples of that grape, while the Carmenere is from the Rapel Valley.

For me, the two best wines in the lineup are the Carmenere and the Cabernet Sauvignon. Vintners in many parts of Chile have been trying to craft better bottlings of Carmenere over the past few years and are succeeding, as they are finding warmer sites to highlight the grape’s fruit and limit its green tannins and sharp acidity. The 2007 Terra Andina has deep color (a beautiful bright purple hue) and attractive aromas of black plum with notes of pepper and clove that emerge from a well-made example of Carmenere. This has plenty of fruit for the price and sports a flavorful, nicely balanced finish. This can be enjoyed now or over the next 2-3 years and will pair well with foods ranging from roast chicken to duck to sirloin. This is something you shouldn’t miss!

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has pure black currant aromas and flavors and elegant tannins, so this is a well-rounded wine that is a natural with food. There is plenty of character throughout and the wine has an elegant finish with gentle tannins. Enjoy this now or over the next year or two with just about any red meat.

Also recommended is the 2007 Altos, a blend of Carmenere and Carignan. The latter grape has flavors of raspberry and red currant that are a nice contrast to the black fruit of the Carmenere and has very good acidity, which gives the wine a nice balance. Slightly spicy, this will accompany game or vegetable dishes such as eggplant extremely well. This is priced higher than the other Terra Andina wines but even at $18.99, this is a relative bargain.

Congratulations to Oscar Salas and his Terra Andina team for crafting such flavorful delicious wines at sensible prices that the everyday consumer will want to enjoy!

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