Wine, etc. : Cost, perceived quality align in the tasting of Chilean Cabernets
The geography of Chile is truly unique among the family of nations. Wedged between the towering Andes mountains to the east and the freezing Pacific Ocean to the west, this pencil-shaped country stretches about 2,700 miles from north to south and has a varying width of about 10 miles at 220 miles. The climate varies from an extremely arid hot desert in the north to a frigid and arid landscape in the south, just 400 miles from Antarctica. Between these extremes is the central zone where temperatures and rainfall are more moderate and home to the majority of Chile’s 20 million people and a thriving wine industry.
Two of the most important wine regions in Chile are the Maipo Valley and the Colchagua Valley. The Maipo Valley surrounds and extends south from Santiago; the Colchagua Valley is about 80 miles south of Santiago and is the source of about 65% of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon — about 20% of the country’s vineyards — is the most widely planted grape variety in Chile. The grapes were planted on their own rootstock; the phylloxera plague of the late 19th century was averted largely due to Chile’s geographic isolation.
Chile is known for providing an ocean of value-oriented red and white wines at teen prices that offer exceptional values for cost-conscious consumers. Brands such as Concha y Toro and Santa Rita regularly market inexpensive, highly drinkable table wines often priced under $10. However, Chile has also produced mid-priced and ultra-premium wines that consumers are just beginning to discover.
We recently tasted six Cabernet Sauvignons priced at $20-$40 from these two growing areas and found a strong relationship between cost and perceived quality. Here are our impressions.
From the Colchagua Valley, the 2018 Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) offered a pleasant, round, fruity wine with hints of plum and cherry and a whiff of eucalyptus. It is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 5% Carmenere.
From the Maipo Valley was the 2016 Echeverria Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Syrah and Carmenere grapes. A hint of bell pepper was present along with hints of cherry and plum.
Our favorite from the tasting was the 2017 Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) from the Maipo Valley. It is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grown on old vines at an altitude of 700 meters in the Andes. Notes of ripe fruit are present with some hints of spice in a very elegant rich and smooth presentation. The quality is eye-catching.
We also tasted the 2018 Miguel Torres Reserva Especial Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo ($20), the 2018 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Maquis Colchagua ($20) and the 2018 TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua ($20) which we all found very drinkable and for their price, reasonable values.
For a real treat from Chile, buy the 2015 Lapostolle la Parcelle 8 ($125), a true definition of quality Cabernet Sauvignon that can come from a prized vineyard. The vineyard, nestled in the Apalta Valley, is one of the oldest in Chile. Intense aromas of dark fruits, spices and herbs are followed by flavors of blackberries, plums and spices. The tannins are supple and fine in this inaugural edition.
Hirsch Vineyards is in the Fort-Ross Seaview District of the Sonoma Coast Wine District, a cool area just 3 miles from the cool Pacific Ocean. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive here. The neighboring vineyards belong to the super star vineyards Flowers, Martinelli and Marcassin, among others.
Skirting the Pacific coast at 1,500 feet above sea level, these rolling hills were once covered in redwoods. After the trees were harvested over the past 150 years, the bare soils eroded down to the valleys below. Now, a thin layer of soil covers sandstone rocks and a sandy and clayey subsoil. It is an area of extremes with torrential rains in the fall and winter with nearly 80 inches falling each year and an arid period from April to October. By comparison, Maryland averages about 44 inches per year and Florida receives 40 to 60 inches per year.
The San Andreas Fault lurks thousands of feet below, where two tectonic plates rub against each other and occasionally trigger chaotic earthquakes all along the California coast.
David Hirsch planted the vines in 1980 and is credited with championing the production of high quality pinot noir in the region. Hirsch Farms represent approximately 66 acres of pinot noir and 4 acres of chardonnay grapes.
Hirsch Farms offers 60 discrete blocks of grapes, with each block made up of rootstocks corresponding to the prevailing soil.
We sampled several current vintage offerings from Hirsch recently and were very impressed with their individuality and quality. Here are our impressions.
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Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Estate 2020 ($65). A very expressive chardonnay with an opulent nose and flavor notes of apple and lemon with an elegant creamy medium-bodied finish.
2019 Hirsch Vineyards Sonoma Coast Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir ($35). A beautiful gateway to this vineyard but be patient. We found the cherry and cola notes to dominate in an elegant presentation, but felt two to four years would add complexity and allow this wine to open up.
2019 Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Estate Pinot Noir ($60). A hint of wild cherries on the nose with hints of ripe, wild cherries on the palate in a very smooth, rich and elegant presentation. A very complex and interesting pinot noir.
Chappellet Las Piedras Winemaker’s Blend 2019 ($85). The name behind this luxurious wine is winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus. A blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties, it has a firm structure but a rich mouthfeel. With hints of clove and vanilla inspired by blackberry and oak with hints of anise and spice.
Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District 2019 ($82). From the estate’s Poetry and Twin Peaks vineyards, this wine blended with a little Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is rich and long on the palate with a velvety mouthfeel, ripe blackberry flavors, a mineral touch and fine tannins .
Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Martinenga Langhe DOC 2019 ($26). This producer has some nebbiolos that deserve attention. We liked this version for its fiery notes of fresh strawberry and black cherry. Medium bodied, it will go well with pasta, burgers and other simple dishes.
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