True or False: Chile annually exports more wine to world markets than does the United States.
The answer is true and, quite frankly, amazing. At the close of 2018 Chile ranked No. 5 with $2 billion in global exports, according to a recent Wine Advisor report. The U.S. was No. 6 at $1.4 billion. (France was No. 1 with $11 billion.)
In recent years, Chilean bottled wines have stayed below the radar even though they’ve improved dramatically in quality while remaining inexpensive. For those two reasons alone, Chilean wines deserve a closer look from consumers.
Recently, I sampled three Vina San Pedro estate wines and I was floored by the clarity, consistency and taste of the brands: 1865 Single-Vineyard Chardonnay ($16.99); 1865 Single-Vineyard Carmenere ($16.99); 9 Lives Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99).
First, a bit of background on the winery. Vina San Pedro, founded in 1865 by the pioneering Correa Albano brothers, is celebrating its 155th anniversary in 2020. The Albanos were among the first to bring Old World varietals to the Curico` Valley, and their experimentation has continued to inspire San Pedro’s winemaking for decades. Now one of Chile’s leading exporters, Vina San Pedro produces 10 brands that are sold in 80 markets across five continents. Their high-end premium wines, including Cabo de Hornos, Tierras Moradas and 1865 Limited Edition, have received critical acclaim. (Note: 1865 refers to the year of the winery’s founding.)
1865 Chardonnay 2015 – The La Chinchilla Vineyard is located on the banks of the Elqui River, about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean which has a cooling maritime influence on the vines during hot summer months. Jagged rocks, stones and clay loam make up the soils. Grapes were harvested in March. Now here’s the key part: The crushed juice is fermented in three equal parts – concrete vats, unroasted foudres (1,000-liter wood barrels) and used oak barrels. This combination yields a 100 percent Chardonnay that is full-bodied, soft in texture, and with crisp minerality throughout. The core apple and citrus flavors get a well-integrated touch of honey. Wine Enthusiast gave it 88 points.
1865 Carmenere 2017 – Not far from the Maule River, which feeds into the Pacific, sits Las Moradas Vineyard in the valley’s foothills where this wine gets its grapes. The alluvial soils are thin and rocky. In 2016, “El Nino” brought heavy rains in the winter and high temperatures in summer, and the vines reacted by bearing fruit much earlier than usual. Despite an early April-May harvest, the 100 percent Carmenere I tasted exhibited a keen cherry and violet fragrance along with good blue- and red-fruit flavors. The overall impression was smoothness. Carmenere has often been described as Chile’s Merlot, and to a degree there are similar traits. Overall, this deeply red-colored wine has come through a challenging growing season with good character.
9 Lives Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – Now where do you get a decent Cabernet for $9.99? Here’s an every-day drinking version that’s medium in body and alcohol (13.5%) but far from being mediocre. I enjoyed the break from big and bold punch-you-in-the-mouth flavors to mellow, layered, and balanced fruit tastes. Red currants and berries hit the mark, and nine months of oak aging provide a soft vanilla sweetness to the finish. Tacos, pizza, pasta and burghers will go well with 9 Lives, named for the black cats that roam Central Valley vineyards. You might also find 9 Lives bearing the “Gato Nero” tag on the label.
While consumers might find Vina San Pedro wines in small retail outlets, the best way to obtain them is via direct shipments from online distributors. For instance, wine-searcher.com lists five U.S. outlets selling 9 Lives for less than $9 a bottle.