REVIEWING my tasting travels through Chile, it's not hard to be impressed by the wealth of noteworthy wines emerging, often from lesser-known producers (several of whom I'm hopeful will show up soon on local shelves).
New names we'll be watching for in coming months include Calcu, Maquis and Apaltagua.
However, it's also gratifying to witness the transformation that's been taking place within the industry at large. Major brands, who more than a decade ago might have been more inclined to keep flooding our shores with cheap Merlot, are now increasingly focused on regional wines of origin.
Case in point: long established Undurraga, which, under new ownership since 2007, has made an about-face turn with its emphasis on well-made, regional wines that often over-deliver, especially in the aptly named Terroir Hunter range.
Renowned for its cleanly crafted entry-level wines and more, giant Cono Sur was among the first to implement organic farming (now certified) at its Chimbarongo vineyard in 2000, where workers ride bicycles.
Winemaker Matias Rios, at Cono Sur's helm since 2003, enjoys a well-earned reputation for moving the sustainable agenda forward, while at the same time maintaining the brand's notoriety for affordability. Under his watch, Cono Sur became the world's first carbon neutral winery and also was among the first to spearhead a switch to lightweight bottles, all in the name of reducing emissions.
Here's a clutch of good value wines at various levels that underscore the changes taking place, with many more in coming weeks.
? Cono Sur "Bicycle" Gewurztraminer 2012 (Bio Bio/Casablanca)
Very varietally correct, with perfumed rose petal aromas, made in a drier style with spicy notes on the palate and a lengthy finish. Clean, fresh and a real deal at $10.99, 89 pts. Perfect with pad Thai or mildly spiced dishes.
? Cono Sur 20 Barrel Chardonnay 2011
Bump it up a notch for this well-balanced Chard that sports a creamy top before citrus, peach and mineral notes wrapped in elegant oak in a focused, quite complex palate. PWS 90 pts. Lobster would be good.
? Cono Sur "Bicycle" Pinot Noir 2011 (Central Valley)
Savoury dusty notes on top followed by cherry rhubarb and earthy notes wrapped in decent acidity for flexible food pairing. BCLS $15.99, 88 pts.
? Undurraga Sibaris Pinot Noir 2011 (Maipo)
Bright cherry notes on top followed by pleasing spicy and savoury notes on the medium-weighted palate with well-integrated tannins and spicy notes through the close. BCLS, Everything Wine $15.99, 89 pts. Try with barbecued salmon.
? Concha y Toro Riberas Carmenere Gran Riserva 2010 (Cachapoal, Puemo)
Some smoky oak notes with black fruit on top followed by a luscious, quite viscose palate with generous blue and black fruit and mineral hints. BCLS $19.99 89 pts. Think grilled red meats.
Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: info@ hiredbelly.com.