When it comes to making their wine selection for the night, many people think of options from France, Italy and the USA. But the South American country of Chile produces wines which are some of the most pleasant, consistently tasty and good values available.
The history of wine in Chile dates back to the Spanish Conquistadors who began establishing vineyards there in 1548 as a way of supplying sacramental wines for their local churches. Thus, the Spanish gave birth to Chilean wines, but the French furnished them with most of their character. In the mid 1800’s, French wine makers from Bordeaux arrived with the traditional vines of their region: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc., along with their winemaking traditions. Due to this fortuitous timing, the region ended up having its own, geographically isolated stock of prime vines before the scourge of phylloxera, the dreaded vine louse, devastated much of the rest of the world’s vines later that century. With the Pacific to the west, the Andes to the east, deserts to the north and the Antarctic to the south, Chile remains in the enviable and rare position of being a phylloxera free wine region.
Now for the fun part, matching some favorite Chilean wines to Jennifer’s Mexican Holiday Dinner Menu. While Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends dominate Chile’s production, the white wines can be real charmers. Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay, 1997 ($10.50) comes off as a very classy, sophisticated wine, performing well beyond what should be expected for its moderate price. A smooth, toothsome, nicely balanced wine, it exhibits a creamy acidity, well integrated oak, and fruit reminiscent of baked apples. It plays off the sweetness of the raisins and richness of the almonds in the empanadas nicely.
Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997 ($8.30) is typical of a well-made Cab from the region. Redolent of fresh, ripe fruit, very clean and smooth, with light tannins, it is almost thirst quenching. It is a very easy wine to like, especially for Merlot lovers. The fruit is accentuated by the pomegranate seeds on the rellenos, and its lower alcohol content allows it to work well the spiciness of the chilies.
An example of a bigger Chilean Cab can be found in Santa Rita’s Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon, 1996 ($12.80). With a great nose of roasted veal bones, it packs a mouth-filling punch of chewy tannins and lots of very forward red fruit. It has a long, pleasantly herbal finish, and is squeaky clean, in the style of many California wines. It brings out the sweet, rich flavor of the pork picadillo, while the pork mitigates the wine’s tannins.
For something a little different, try Cousino-Macul’s Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997 ($12.80). It is much more in the style of a Bordeaux, with a classic “Band-Aid” nose, and a real sense of goût de terrior. This wine is spicier, has more concentrated fruit, and generally has more character than most of its neighbors. It is a great match for the grits soufflé with cumin.