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Andrew Campbell: New world and old vines combine for some fabulous wines

Chile has massively raised its game over the last decade through progressive, quality-conscious producers

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell

Last year I carried a poll of readers to see which country they thought was producing the best value wines.

The results were resounding with Chile securing more than half of the votes followed by Argentina and Italy came second and third.

The result was no surprise. Chile has massively raised its game over the last decade through progressive, quality-conscious producers such as Luis Felipe Edwards, Concha y Toro and Errazuriz.

That's not to say all Chilean wines are excellent but with the help of overseas experts and investment the South American country straddling thousands of miles between the Andes and the Pacific is producing many stunning wines at very affordable prices.

In the decade up to 2005 the number of wineries increased from 12 to 70 and Chile is now the world's fifth largest wine exporter and ninth largest producer – second in South America after Argentina.

For years, merlot and cabernet sauvignon were the red grapes of choice but other – mainly French – varieties including pinot noir, syrah and malbec are gaining prominence and then there's carmenere.

The grape – originating from France's Bordeaux region – was thought to have been  wiped out by a vine plague in the 19th century. Carmenere was particularly susceptible to the tiny sap-sucking Phylloxera aphid but imported vines survived under the radar in Chile thanks to its geography. – protected from the disease by distance, mountains and the ocean.

Not that Chilean producers realised what they had – they thought their carmenere vines were merlot until DNA testing proved otherwise.

The grape is still rare in France but is now grown in small pockets of north east Italy, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It is Chile however that's made the variety almost its own.

So how good is carmenere?  I turned to two of Chile's best known makers to compare a low and mid-price version of the wine.

Cambucha Carmenere 2011 , from Valle Central, is reduced to £5 at Tesco until May 22.

Made by Concha y Toro's Vina Maipo , it's an easy-drinking version of the variety – relatively low in alcohol (12%), and light in colour and style. The bright nose includes aromas of dark and red berries, plum, herbs and a touch of green pepper.

Flavours of bramble dominate at first quickly giving way to plum with a hint of pepper, cream and vanilla. On first opening I found this wine a touch acidic and unbalanced but left a day it was much softer, juicier and, frankly, better suggesting it's worth decanting a couple hours before drinking.

Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Carmenere 2011 , from the Colchagua Valley, is a totally different beast – higher in alcohol (14%), darker and with a brutish heavyweight presence.

Priced at £9.99 in my local Tesco, the  International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) silver medalist packs a powerful punch in the nose and in the mouth and is one of those wines that does pretty much what it says on the label. Rich fruit and vanilla aromas act as a precursor to flavours of bramble and dark cherry jam with a peppery, spicy finish. The fruit is underpinned by vanilla in a complex, heady mix.

If you like your wines light and fruity, you'll prefer the Cambucha's style and price but both are decent wines.

Concha y Toro's ubiquitous Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva is reduced to £5.99 at Tesco until May 22. Some time ago, while extolling the virtues of the excellent 2010 I described Conch y Toro as ‘ever-dependable’.

Unfortunately the 2011 is a shadow of its former self. There are some blackcurrant aromas and flavours but the taste is dominated by spice – pepper and cloves – with an unwelcome bitterness. To me, this is not a good vintage – but it's all a matter of taste.

The next wine jumps to Concha y Toro's defence – albeit in a different year.

Their Serie Riberas Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2010 is another IWSC silver winnerwith a blackcurrant packed nose complemented by creamy oak aromas. Flavours of blackcurrant dominate leading to plum and a warm spicy finish.

At £9.99 in Tesco it's good but utterly dwarfed by a truly great wine that I tried this week.

Wine is subjective and like anyone I have my favourites – great Burgundys, top-end Australian shiraz and high-quality chiantis and super-Tuscans among them.

I found Querciabella Chianti Classico 2006 reduced to a super-bargain price of around £15 at York-based Field and Fawcett a few months back.

The sangiovese- dominated red is in a different league with an intense cherry nose plus added aromas of flowers, chocolate and pencil shavings. The taste is beautifully rich and balanced with flavours of cherry and plum, fine tannins, just the right amount of acidity and a deep long finish.

No longer available at Field and Fawcett, the wine can be bought online at less than £20 – making it a wonderful addition to a special occasion.


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