$n$ Chile's wines still hot for quality, value

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Though the intense interest in the wines of Chile has somewhat cooled, the country's industry continues to evolve, and among the vast array of imports are some exceptional values.

Some oddities are in the mix, too, such as the six-pack of wines in aluminum cans marketed under the elkan brand.

Included are a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, ros of cabernet, cabernet, merlot and carmenre -- all vintage 2010. Snap the pop top and out comes a more-than-respectable glass or two of wine. Each can holds a half bottle, and the recent vintage --remember that harvest is six months earlier in Chile than here -- ensures freshness.

Some tasters may pick up a hint of a metallic flavor, but the convenience factor is a big plus.

Sold individually for $4, the cans can be tossed into a backpack or loaded in the cooler for a tailgate party. The sauv blanc and the ros?® are especially good. Cordon distributes.

Cono Sur, imported by Vineyard Brands, distributed by Noble, produces some four-dozen wines grouped in several tiers. The Bicycle-label wines, finished in screw cap, sell for around $9. The two stars of this lineup are the cabernet sauvignon -- light and tart, with berry and cassis fruit and earthy tannins -- and the carmenre -- nicely done, with leaf, bell pepper and a hint of tobacco. The vision series features single-vineyard selections and sells for $13.

Most impressive is the pinot noir. Chile is not especially well known for that grape, but Cono Sur has made it a priority, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better pinot from anywhere at this price. Also recommended is the sauvignon blanc: intense, herbal and spicy, with a suggestion of residual sugar.

Viu Manent is another expansive operation, family-owned, also offering fruit-driven wines from estate-grown grapes, and sealed with a screw cap. It's simply hard to believe that wines of this quality can be produced thousands of miles away, run through the three-tier system of distribution, with each tier taking its markup, and still sell for as little as $6. But they do, and you will surely find an everyday favorite or two on this list.

Viu Manent 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; $6. A serviceable, crisp, stainless-steel-fermented white wine, showing some green-pea flavors and a hint of residual sugar.

Viu Manent 2009 Secreto Malbec. The Secreto wines, $10, sport colorful, cartoonish labels, this one a Picasso-like rendering of a woman. Sharp berry-fruit flavors, wrapped in vanilla and tobacco. The Viu Manent 2007 Secreto Syrah is firm and cab-like, with roasted-berry flavor, earthy tannins, a sturdy spine.

Viu Manent's reserve wines, also $10, include an excellent 2007 Reserva Malbec, showing more oak-barrel influence than the comparably priced Secreto. It's stiff and tannic, a bit unyielding at first, but ultimately more authentic and well-suited for beef dishes. The Viu Manent 2007 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon is structured upon firm cassis and berry fruit, earthy tannins and a hint of ash.

A toast to the winners

Congratulations to these Washington wineries whose wines made the Top 100 list of the Wine Spectator: Owen Roe, No. 23, Goose Ridge, No. 41, Columbia Crest, No. 43, Waterbrook, No. 46, Tamarack, No. 49, Doubleback, No. 54,.

And to these 10 Washington wineries whose wines made the Top 100 list of the Wine Enthusiast: Poet's Leap, No. 7; Rulo, No. 9; Woodward Canyon, No. 29; McCrea, No. 37; Buty, No. 40; Abeja, No. 63; Sineann, No. 70; Fielding Hills, No. 77; Dowsett Family, No. 82; and J. Bookwalter, No. 93.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries'' is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. E-mail: paulgwine@me.com.

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