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Chile brings excellence to the everyday

Wine country: organic practices in Chile’s Colchagua Valley give pure fruit and expressive wines

At 840,000 acres, our world’s most planted wine grape, cabernet sauvignon, easily bests the 657,300 acres occupied by second-place merlot.

By the time we get to pinot noir in ninth place, we find only 285,000 acres.

Although Napa Valley and Bordeaux are perfect for our most popular grape, it does settle down very well in many areas and today I would like to feature Chile.

This beautiful land is fascinating in that it averages a mere 100 miles east to west, but go the other way and you travel about the distance of a flight from New York City to San Francisco.

Often the wines of Chile are considered inexpensive, but we must not take this on its own as an indicator of lesser quality as we need to compare other factors.

Vineyard costs in Burgundy can set you back as much as $2 million an acre for the most prestigious; Napa Valley $150,000. The Colchagua Valley in Chile will max out at roughly $31,000 an acre for the finest sites.

At 34 degrees south, it lies around the same distance from the equator as we do.

One bit of information out of Chile suggests that the average worker’s salary is $675 a month. You can rest assured that a vineyard employee in California is not working for this, even the folks from further south that come in as much needed seasonal helpers.

Los Vascos wines blend Château Lafite tradition from Bordeaux with the unique terroir of Chile to create elegant wines that bring excellence to the everyday. The acquisition of Los Vascos by Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in 1988 was the result of a careful search among more than 100 Chilean wines for one that could meet the Rothschild criteria for excellence.

Los Vascos was chosen after careful review of existing vineyards, soils and climates and was the first French viticultural investment in modern Chile.

Since then, a comprehensive modernisation and investment programme has been undertaken, orientated towards the production of fine wine using and adapting the viticultural experiences of Bordeaux and other areas where the group is present.

For many years we imported Los Vascos wines, but a few years ago they became unavailable; now, happily, we have them back. We have recently brought in the Los Vascos Colchagua Valley 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, that is a balanced and elegant wine bursting with black cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavours.

Critic James Suckling puts it this way: “A firm and silky red with blackberry and blueberry with hints of chocolate and spice. Medium body. Fine tannins. Delicious now. 91/100.” $19.65.

Los Vascos 2015 Grand Reserve is a blend of 87 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 10 per cent syrah, 2 per cent cabernet franc and 1 per cent carmenère, and the wine is characterised by the complexity and persistence of its bouquet of cherries and blackcurrants (cabernet sauvignon), strawberries (Malbec), raspberries (syrah) and plums, with notes of bay leaves and black pepper (carmenère). It is a benchmark in Chile for elegance and finesse. $27.60.

Although I cannot technically call the next wine a cabernet sauvignon, let’s go to a vineyard with history whose pre-phylloxera vines from imported French roots continue to produce high-quality fruit year after year.

The 100-year-old plants have a deep root system, which requires minimal intervention. Both the volcanic granitic soils from the mountains and the silty soils from a river allow for natural drainage. These conditions, along with a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, result in mature grapes that produce balanced, elegant wines. We are in the Apalta Vineyard in Colchagua Valley and, due to organic practices, the healthy soils give us pure fruit and expressive wines.

With only 40 per cent cabernet sauvignon, Primus 2014 The Blend, cannot be named for this grape. The rest of it consists of 24 per cent merlot, 23 per cent carmenère, 10 per cent petit verdot and 3 per cent cabernet franc. Wine Spectator listed it on their Top 100 Values of 2016 and critic James Suckling gave it 91/100. $20.55.

Veramonte 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley is 100 per cent cabernet with aromas of ripe black fruit, leather and vanilla and there are hints of cassis and spice on the soft finish. The grapes are organically grown and native yeasts are used for fermentation. It rates a “Best Buy” and a score of 87/100 from Wine Enthusiast magazine. $17.20.

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon won gold in The International Wine and Spirit Competition, an event where more than 400 global experts tasted wines from over 90 countries over a seven-month period. It also won a trophy for the best wine in its category. Seven per cent syrah and 2 per cent carmenère finish off the blend that is extremely aromatic, along with cherry, raspberry, cassis, white pepper, spices and hints of ash. $32.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm