The fruits of Chile’s vineyards have never ranked high on my personal list of the world’s most desirable wines. The region gained fame in the U.S. from the 1980s onward, but their initial market niche was the “fighting varietal”---wines designed to compete with $5-10 bottles on the supermarket shelf. It was a good way to get a volume footprint in the export market, but from a quality standpoint it was a poor start.
In recent years, Chile has been turning out wines on the high end of the scale that compete with some of the world’s best. The Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha Y Toro ($80) is a single-vineyard bottling that is remarkably consistent from year to year; Almaviva ($120), a joint venture between Concha Y Toro and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, is a compelling blend of Cabernet and Carmenere. The Cuvée Alexandre series from Casa Lapostolle, notably Clos Apalta ($80), is particularly outstanding.
The problem is that it’s not extraordinarily difficult to make good wine that sells for $80-120, and the world is awash with it. At that price level you have access to the best vineyards, the most modern winemaking equipment and the top winemaking talent. Wine selling for three figures is expected to be pretty good, and most of it is.
Now we have a middle ground: the Ritual wines from Veramonte. The brand is overseen by the Agustin Huneeus family and Veramonte winemaker Rodrigo Soto, with a helping hand from superstar consultant Paul Hobbs. The vineyards are located in the Casablanca Valley, an area located between the Pacific Coast and the Andes Mountains that is ideally suited for growing cool climate grape varieties.
The 2011 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc ($20) reveals appealing aromas of grapefruit and fresh herbs on the nose, along with mouthwatering acidity. The wine explodes on the palate with luscious flavors of citrus and ripe melon; the acidity frames the fruit gracefully, and plump melon notes reverberate on the finish. This would be a dream with oysters as well as a variety of fresh-caught fish.
The 2011 Pinot Noir ($18) has a complex nose of dried red fruits, forest floor and hints of baking spices, very reminiscent of Burgundy. The wine is just as interesting in the mouth, displaying good acidity, spicy flavors of red berries and rustic earth notes. It has just enough tannin to provide structure, and the finish is long and resonant. While it may not appeal to fans of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, it’s a significant value and a great match for game dishes of all sorts.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.