|Raise a Toast to Chile’s Chardonnays|
|Written by Bill Citara, BT Contributor|
Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less
Scholars thirst for knowledge. Politicians thirst for money. Con men thirst for suckers.
Wine drinkers thirst for Chardonnay.
It’s true. Chardonnay is the world’s most popular wine, outselling every other varietal by a wide margin. It’s planted everywhere, New World and Old. It hits many different price points, from the cheap, mass-produced plonk best suited to flushing out your car’s radiator to the extraordinary and breathtakingly expensive white Burgundies.
Most important, though, is that Chardonnay can be made in just about any style a wine drinker could like, from the steely, mineral Chablis to fruit bombs with the texture of creamed spinach and the flavors of oak-infused mango juice. And just about anything you’d like in between.
At the price point where Vino (and most of us) lives, Chardonnays aren’t going to scale the heights of the great white wines of Burgundy. But just because we can’t drop a cool mill on a nuclear-powered Bugatti Veyron or rinse our mouths out with Puligny-Montrachet doesn’t mean we have to settle for insipid wines that insult the very real pleasures of a good Chardonnay.
Best known are the moderately priced Chardonnays from California, which is pretty much a cross between Ground Zero and Mecca for quality and affordable Chardonnays. But for some of the best Chardonnays for the money, just look farther south. To Chile, in fact, where cooler-weather coastal plains and mountain regions offer ideal conditions for producing Chardonnays that deftly walk the tightrope between ripe fruit and crisp acidity.
That tightrope walk was, in fact, the real takeaway of this month’s tasting. While modestly priced wines from every country often ping-pong from syrupy and cloying to harsh and puckery, even our least-favorite wines here showed an enviable balance.
Definitely not our least-favorite Chardonnay was the 2014 Chateau Los Boldos from the cool-weather Cachapoal region. Channeling the taut, bracing, citrus-green apple acidity and stony minerality of Burgundy, this was a delightful, food-friendly wine that with a little time in the glass revealed a bit of ripe apricot fruit and the crisp pineapple character typical of cooler-climate Chilean Chardonnays.
Another cool-climate Chardonnay was the 2014 Porta, which hails from the Bío Bío Valley in far southern Chile. It’s a wine that tries to fool you with rich tropical fruit aromas that quickly take a back seat to scents of pineapple, green apple, and citrus, all of which carry over to the palate and end in a long, lemony finish. An excellent seafood wine, and at eight bucks a bottle, a terrific deal.
The cooling maritime breezes of Chile’s Casablanca, Limarí, and Rapel valleys contribute to the crisp lemon-lime-pineapple aromas and flavors of the 2015 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay from mega-producer Concha y Toro. Unlike other Chardonnays from cooler climes, this one is richer and fuller-bodied, showing off nuances of pear, tropical fruit, and vanilla from aging in French oak barrels.
Though the 2015 Cono Sur Bicicleta comes from the warmer Colchagua Valley in central Chile, it too boasts refreshing apple-citrus acidity, augmented by hints of white peach and minerals. Of all the wines in this tasting, it’s probably the most carefully structured and the one wine I’d be most tempted to buy a case of.
The 2015 Anakena Central Valley Chardonnay covers much the same territory, starting off with aromas of toasty oak, melon, mango, and citrus that carry over in the mouth and end with a slightly bitter finish. It’s not quite as refined as the Bicicleta, but its wide availability and easy-on-the-pocketbook nine-dollar price tag make it worthy of consideration.
I was less enamored of the 2015 Santa Rita 120. There’s nothing really wrong with it -- it’s just seemingly less distinctive and more industrial than the other wines in the tasting. It opens with tropical fruit, peach, and citrus notes -- a little earthy, too -- while on the palate citrus tones predominate. It’s not my favorite, but you could certainly do a whole lot worse.
Fans of a richer, fruitier, fuller-bodied style of Chardonnay will like the 2015 Vistamar Brisa. Toasty oak and vanilla, ripe pear, and tropical fruit, and just enough lemon-lime acid backbone to keep all those lush flavors honest make it a fine choice for wine drinkers seeking to quench their thirst for Chardonnay.
Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017
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