Thursday, September 1, 2011

Value and Character - the Chilean Way

After a hot July and August, I've returned to trying wines again. A number of reasonably priced Chilean wines have come across my desk lately and I've been especially impressed with two - one white and one red.

The white is the 2010 William Cole Sauvignon Blanc "Columbine Special Reserve" from Casablanca Valley. This wine region has become one of the leading in Chile for production of cool climate varieties, especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But other varieties, such as Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are also playing an important role here as well.

I've always liked William Cole's wines and have especially loved his price points, which are generally in the mid-teens. I can't say that I've always been wild about the wines, as some of them are pleasant, if a bit straightforward. But with this Sauvignon Blanc, Cole has really delivered a lot of character for not a lot of money. The wine has beautiful varietal aromas of freshly cut hay, so you immediately know it's a Sauvignon Blanc that plays it straight ahead; this is not a Sauvignon Blanc pretending to be a Chardonnay.

Medium-full and aged only in stainless steel, so as to highlight the grape's fruit character, the wine has tangy acidity and notes of fresh lime in the finish. I've enjoyed it with everything from pork fried rice to sautéed shrimp and think how perfect this would be with a fish preparation with lime sauce, such as ceviché! Best yet, the US retail price is $15 and believe me, there's an awful lot of character for the money. This is a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc that many producers in Chile make so well- the acidity keeps the wine fresh and overall the wine has a delicate feel on the palate, while still displaying nice texture. Well done, Mr. Cole!

The second wine is the 2010 Meli Carignan from Maule Valley. Maule is located further south in Chile and there are plenty of old vines here planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere, although white varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also an integral part of this landscape.

Meli produces a Carignan, a grape most commonly associated with Southern France. What's distinctive about this wine are not only the moderate tannins (especially compared to Cabernet Sauvignon), but also its currant and red plum flavors - this is not a big, super ripe jammy red that is too often produced around the world these days. Rather, this is a subdued red, medium full with a light peppery note in the finish and good acidity, meaning the wine has a freshness and edge that makes it a wonderful food wine. Pepper steak would be a perfect match, as would lighter game birds or even something as simple as a chicken or pork taco or empanada. The price on this wine is also $15.

Both wines are imported by Global Vineyard Wine Importers of Berkeley, CA