hile the chatter these days in
South American wine leans
toward Argentine Malbec, on
the other side of the Andes,
Chileans have been making their best Cab-
ernet Sauvignons in history. In multiple
regions. In a range of useful styles. Though
not flashy even in comparison with Chile’s
own Carmeneres and red blends, these Cab-
ernets are quietly providing both quality and
value, up and down the price spectrum.
Chile grows a lot of Cabernet—twice
as much as the next two most-planted
grapes (Merlot and Carmenere) combined.
It thrives in diverse valleys, notably
Aconcagua, Cachapoal and Colchagua,
but especially in Maipo, the birthpace
of Chilean wine 150 years ago. Most
importantly, within this sprawling region,
the Alto Maipo has separated itself as the
premier zone, capable of world-class quality.
In the elevated foothills of the Andes, not
far southeast of Santiago, the “Upper
Maipo” has established itself as home
to many of Chile’s very best Cabernets—
Almaviva, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor,
Cousiño-Macul’s Lota, Santa Rita’s Casa
Real and Errázariz’s Viñedo Chadwick, to
name a handful.
Critical acclaim of Alto Maipo is
Chile’s well-deserved ticket to the consider-
ation as one of the best places on earth to
grow this noble grape. And with each pass-
ing vintage, the Alto halo casts its glow on
the rest of Maipo, particularly as vineyards
continue to be replanted to Cabernet.
Grape, Time, Price
Another sign of maturity is the degree to
which Cabernet has become the most
important grape in so many wineries’ ar-
senals. Yes, exciting things are happening
with Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Carmenère,
blends… but stop and think: If a Chil-
ean winery today makes multiple wines,
more often than not Cabernet Sauvignon
(or a Cab-based blend) is among its best.
Moreover, among wineries that now make
multiple expressions of varietal wines—
e.g., single vineyards, reserve level wines,
blends—they extend more often into Cab-
ernet than others grapes.
Quietly, over the past decades, practi-
cally every winery in Chile has expanded
and enhanced their Cabernet programs,
and the fruits are being reaped at every
price point. It’s easy to heap praise on
dense, concentrated icon wines, but the
under-$15 crowd has never been better.
Personal favorites include Los Vascos, Ech-
everria, Root: 1, De Martino, Santa Rita
120, Casillero del Diablo, Emiliana and
Montes. In turn, with the bulk of Chile’s
Cabernet at the modest end of the price
spectrum, the nation is poised to reap the
benefits of America’s post-2008 apprecia-
tion for value.
TOP ROW PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF WINES OF CHILE
Comes of Age as Chile’s All-Star Grape
BY W. R. TISH
Grown widely in Chile,
thrives both in the
Montes, below left—
and Maipo valleys.