Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is Fruity Yet Sophisticated

Chile, initially known for its well-made under-$10 wines, has entered the upscale market with bottlings in the $60-plus range, such as Almaviva, a joint effort of Bordeaux’s Mouton Rothschild and Chile’s Concha y Toro, Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, and Vinedo Chadwick. These excellent wines upstage many comparably priced Californian cabernets.

But I think where Chile really stands out is with its red wines in the $11-$20 category, which usually deliver far more than their price suggests.

The modern Chilean wine industry traces its roots to Bordeaux, which explains why it excels with wines blended from grapes traditionally grown in that area of southwestern France. The Chilean aristocracy imported winemakers and raw materials, such as vines, from Bordeaux in the mid-19th century as a status symbol. The result was the beginning of a tradition of fine red wine.

In 1856, the Cousino family purchased the established Macul wine estate in the Maipo Valley, just outside of Santiago and home to many of Chile’s best cabernet-based wines. The Macul estate, now a part of Santiago, as that city expanded, remains an important source for Cousino-Macul’s cabernet. But Santiago’s surrounding urban sprawl prevented vineyard expansion and forced them to look elsewhere. In the mid-1990s the family tripled the size of its estate by purchasing another 600 acres of vineyards in Buinv, an area farther south but still within the prized Maipo Valley. The vines there are now sufficiently mature to produce high-quality grapes for their top-of-the-line wines.

In 1927, Cousino-Macul introduced Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon as its flagship wine, selected from its best lots. No longer its flagship Finis Terrae assumed that mantel in 1992 it remains an outstanding wine and an astonishing value. Breaking with the Bordeaux tradition of blending wines made from several grapes, including cabernet sauvignon and merlot, Cousino-Macul’s Antiguas Reservas Cabernet is made entirely from cabernet sauvignon. The 2003 has plenty of fruit flavors, as you would expect from a New World cabernet, but its finesse and complexity scream fine Bordeaux. It’s the best of both worlds.

Cousino-Macul Cabernet Sauvignon Antiguas Reservas 2003 (about $15). Distributed by M. S. Walker, 800 -238-0607.

October 20, 2005