Chile first exploded on to the international stage in the late 20th century with wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. They were followed swiftly by merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. The wines were fresh and full of juicy, ripe fruits. They were also far more reasonably priced than their rivals from Europe. The cabernets offered a real alternative to Bordeaux.
While much of the focus in recent years has been on carménère, Chile’s signature grape, and the carignan, país and cinsault being produced in the south, cabernet sauvignon remains the most widely planted red grape and the driving force behind the industry.
It is not a recent arrival to Chile. Wealthy landowners had planted cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties in the mid-19th century, and the industry boomed in the late 1800s when the rest of the world was suffering from phylloxera (Chile is largely disease-free thanks to its isolation from the rest of the world). The industry then went into decline for much of the 20th century before re-emerging in the late 1990s.
In style it falls between the leaner, more elegant cabernet-based wines of Bordeaux and the opulent ripeness of a Napa Valley cab. Typically, it has bright aromas and flavours of blackcurrants, red peppers, spice and herbs, with some drying tannins on the finish.
Chile now covers all bases when it comes to price. There are plenty of inexpensive, easy-drinking cabernets, as well as a range of mid-priced wines that can offer great value for money. At the super premium end, the Maipo valley is recognised, as well as Colchagua and Aconcagua, as producing some of the finest cabernets, wines that rank alongside Bordeaux and the Napa valley.
Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Central Valley
13%, €12.50 (reduced to €8-€9 on promotion)
Smooth, rounded ripe blackcurrants overlaid with vanilla. Drink it by itself or with a burger.
From: Tesco, SuperValu and other supermarkets
Terra Mater Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Maipo Valley
Classic Chilean Cabernet with fresh red and dark fruits, and a touch of red peppers. Try it with grilled lamb chops or grilled garlicky portobello mushrooms.
From: Searsons, Cashel Wine Cellar
Schwaderer Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Maipo Alto
Maturing medium-bodied Cabernet, with notes of tobacco, broad red cherry and plum fruits and light tannins. Roast lamb with rosemary and garlic would be a good match.
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Colchagua Valley
Full-bodied, with classic smooth blackcurrant fruits, tobacco and toast. A rare rib of beef would go well.
From: Avoca, The 1601, Ely Wine Store, World Wide Wines, wineonline.ie, Eldons, Clontarf Wines, Bradleys, Baggot Street Wines