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Chile Wines Continue to Offer Quality, Value, and Diversity

Chile Wines Continue to Offer Quality, Value, and Diversity

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Chile is one of the most exciting wine-growing countries in the world. Whether you’re spending $15 or $115 on a wine from Chile, it’s often going to provide more bang for your buck than similarly priced wines from other regions of the world. With that in mind, I tasted through a large swath of Chilean wines looking for well-made selections that offered good value in a variety of styles and price ranges. Here are eight that I heartily recommend.

Montes Limited Selection 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($13)

The fruit for this wine (100 percent sauvignon blanc) came entirely from the Leyda Valley. This wine saw no oak treatment. Grapefruit, lemon zest, and wisps of grass fill the nose. The even keeled palate is dominated by a bevy of citrus notes that are countered with bits of tropical fruit, white pepper, continued citrus, and a hint of crème fraîche present on the finish. This is an excellent example of sauvignon blanc for the money. As a grape, it serves as a microcosm of Chile’s diversity, as it’s grown and produced in a wide array of styles.

Concha Y Toro Casillero del Diablo 2013 Devil’s Collection White ($15)

This offering is a blend of sauvignon blanc (85 percent), chardonnay (10 percent), and gewürztraminer (5 percent). All of the fruit came from the Casablanca Valley. Yellow melon and hints of ginger present on the nose. The palate is stuffed with a combination of citrus, largely grapefruit, and white peach flavors. Bits of pineapple emerge on the crispy finish along with bits of spice. This wine is loaded with fresh, appealing fruit flavors. Drink a couple of degrees warmer than whites are often served to enjoy its subtler charms.

Concha Y Toro Casillero Del Diablo 2013 Devil’s Collection Red ($15)

The fruit for this wine came from the Rapel Valley. It’s composed of syrah (60 percent), cabernet sauvignon (25 percent), and carménère (15 percent). Plum and raspberry aromas explode from the nose. The palate is loaded with easy-going, appealing red and black fruit flavors. Minerals, dark chocolate, and hints of spice emerge on the mellifluous finish. This is a solid and well-priced everyday red, perfect for parties or BBQs.

Kalfu Kuda 2013 Chardonnay ($19)

This entirely varietal wine was made using estate fruit grown in the Leyda Valley. Fermentation took place in stainless steel. Classic orchard fruit aromas waft from the nose here. The palate shows off an avalanche of yellow delicious apple, anjou pear, pineapple, and white peach along with copious spices. The fruit continues through the finish along with minerals and lingering spices. Firm acid keeps things balanced. This mouthwatering chardonnay is simply hard to put down once you take a sip.

Kalfu Kuda 2013 Pinot Noir ($24)

Made entirely of pinot noir, this wine contains fruit grown on estate vineyards in the Leyda Valley. It was aged for 10 months in French oak. Wild strawberry rose petal and black pepper aromas appear on the nose. Sumptuous red fruits light up the impeccably proportionate palate. Sour blackberry, black tea, and spices are part of the above-average finish. This is an outstanding pinot noir in this price range. Cool climate pinot noir from Chile has been emerging the last few years; look for it to become a huge hit as wine lovers really become aware of the great values available.

Montes Alpha 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25)

Colchagua Valley is the source for the fruit here. It is composed of cabernet sauvignon (90 percent) and merlot (10 percent). Black cherry aromas and wisps of savory herbs are in abundance on the nose here. Black and red fruit flavors of all stripes dominate the full-flavored palate along with cinnamon and clove. Espresso and earth are in abundance on the finish, as well as bits of sour black fruit. Medium tannins yield with some air. This wine has the structure and character to drink like a splurge, but the price to make it within reach for most wine lovers.

Santa Rita 2007 Pehuén Carménère ($70)

All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Apalta Valley. In addition to carménère (95 percent), some cabernet sauvignon (5 percent) was blended in. Some of the vines date back to the 1940s. Savory herbs and purple fruits lead a potent and intoxicating nose. The substantial palate is deeply layered and studded with wave after wave of black fruit flavors; blackberry, raspberry, and plum characteristics play prominent roles. Earth, chicory, and chocolate sauce are all part of the prodigiously long finish. This is simply one of the best carménères on the market. Put another way, it’s awesome in a bottle

Santa Rita 2010 Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)

The offering is entirely cabernet sauvignon from the Maipo Valley. It was aged for 15 months in exclusively French oak. So dark is the color of this cabernet that the moment you pour it into your glass or a decanter it stares back a bit ominously. Huckleberry, black raspberry, blackberry, and more lead a dense palate that is stuffed with oodles of substantial dark fruit flavors and accompanying spices. Continuing dark fruit, lots of dark chocolate, and spices to spare are all part of the memorably long and persistent finish. This is an impeccable example of cabernet sauvignon that would easily sell for $150 if it were from a better known cabernet region.

These eight wines don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what Chile has to offer. This is one of the most dynamic wine growing countries in the world, with many distinct growing regions. Whether your budget for wine is $15 or $115, you’ll find something spectacular from Chile in every conceivable price range. If you aren’t drinking Chilean wine yet, it’s time to get on board.

Value wine: I do not think it means what you think it means.

I was at a tasting a few days ago in Porto where the presenter pointed out at the beginning of their talk that they wanted to focus on “value wines”. However, he then continued by saying that, with regret, while that was the goal, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He felt that he needed to show some wines at higher price points instead to show what Portuguese wines were really capable of.

When I heard this I was a bit shocked. It reminded me of a scene from what is possibly one of the greatest films ever made, The Princess Bride. Throughout a series of challenges, the ‘mastermind’ Vizzini keeps repeating the word “Inconceivable” until eventually, the much more practical Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

For a long time Portuguese wine lovers, like me, have lived with a word that I don’t think the promoters of Portuguese wines fully grasp the meaning of that word is “value” and is often applied in the form of “Portuguese wines are great value”.

On the surface this appears to be a good thing. Or so I thought back when I first heard it myself many years ago and went on to push the idea to friends and family. I figured if there was ‘great value’, it meant that the wines were fairly priced, or maybe even priced lower than their true worth. It turns out I was wrong.

You see, when you understand the context and what your options are, such as when booking a hotel, ‘great value’ can mean something useful. You know you might not get all the luxuries of a 5* hotel, but you expect that whatever you spend, you will get enough of them to feel you have spent your money well.

When the customer doesn’t have that context, or does’t understand or see the differences between options, value becomes a synonym for ‘cheap’. Like supermarket ‘Value’ ranges, they are the least expensive options, sacrificing quality and stripping away all conceivable extras for the lowest possible price. Because of this the word “value” has often times come to be a warning sign and something to avoid.

Most consumers I know don’t want to drink cheap wine. What they want is to drink the best wine that they can afford, in the category they aspire to. The “value wine” in this case is not the best wine, but the one with the fewest trade-offs. Yet you can’t have a “value wine” without that context or aspiration, and this is the crux of Portugal’s problem.

Ultimately, Portugal has not invested in its “added-value” wines (for lack of a better term).

Ask any non wine geek what are the best French wines are and I bet you get at least a couple of Rothschild responses, a Krug, DRC? Great Spanish wines might yield the classics of Rioja: Muga, Lopez de Heredia, and others. Yet ask any non wine geek to name the best Portuguese wines and you’ll be lucky if the answer is not Mateus Rosé. It’s not that the wines do not exist, but rather that they are not being talked about or linked to the “Portuguese Wine” brand outside of the value mantra. When I asked wine professionals in the USA the same question, most resorted to talking about the many Port houses.Wonderful for the Port Wine industry but worthless to the makers of still wines.

I know some of my Portuguese friends, and fellow Portuguese wine fanatics, will by this point be shouting at the screen Barca Velha, Barca Velha! This cacophony will then break down into other lists, each one varied by the individuals own interests. There will be a long list of great wines, but no consensus, or agreement, as to where these wines should rank in any hierarchy. I love that, I love the diversity. Sadly it does nothing for branding a country’s wine culture. Not to mention the fact that outside of Portugal even Barca Velha is not a well known name.

In the end, we would be left with no more than a group of people agreeing that the Douro made some of the best wines, the Dão is amazing, but yet to blossom, Alentejo is “our California/Australia”, and that “vinho verde” is fun in summer. Not to mention the hardcore advocates for Port wine, Madeira, Tras-os-Montes, Bairrada, Beira Interior, Tejo, Colares, Algarve … [ok, maybe no one will single out the Algarve, at least until this is posted]. I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.

Sadly, no one will be able to give me the definitive list of Portuguese Icon Wines, and yet each year we hear that Portugal offers “great value”.

What is the great value of Portuguese wine? What makes them ‘value-able’ wines?

Portugal has great wines. But we need to make sure people know them and lust after them. Without that lust, the “value” idea is lacking a partner. What are we holding these wines up to? France? Spain? Elsewhere? I hope not. Because the truth is Portuguese wine is better than that and can stand on it’s own. It’s at its best, amazing. Yet some will then say, “So if they’re so amazing, then why are they not scoring big points with Parker?” To which I say, “They do occasionally, but in truth because the wines are unique, and diverse, and lacking a vocal full-time advocate.”

Kermit Lynch, Jorge Ordonez, Eric Solomon, Terry Theise, these are just a few advocates that changed the tide of perception of other regions’ wines. They didn’t do it by talking about “value”, they did it by talking from a passion. Passion sells wines. Value is for when others want to buy into that passion at a given price point.

My solution, I believe, is a simple one.

A new name. A new concept. Portugal to me is not a country of wine “values” like some discount big box warehouse. It’s not a place to go for bargains and deals. To me Portugal is a boutique wine making country.

Today the word “boutique” is being used all over to highlight the exclusive, one-of-a-kind places that you should see, visit, shop at. Places where you get unique experiences, not check price-comparison results.

There are boutique hotels, often one-off treasures to explore that happen to be off the beaten path. There are boutique restaurants with chefs combining flavors that others don’t necessarily grasp but delight in exploring. Boutique shops are the ones that have the ephemera of fringe artists, lost crafts and homemade curios.

This, to me, is Portuguese wine. Colares, a region I’m sure very few reading this know about, makes wines that defy explanation, and with flavors that haunt you. Aged Alvarinhos from Vinho Verde 10, 15 years old – oxidized, golden, perfumed, and unknown. Douro reds that overflow with schistous minerality, fortifying you alongside their Port wine brethren. The list is too long to publish here now. But this is what I mean by “Boutique”.

We need to put Portugal on the map. We need to give it a home in the wine world. Beyond Port and Madeira (two wines I love) and within the halls of wine legends. The Portuguese need to stop settling for good enough, and demand that their wines are given a place on the top shelf of wine shops around the world. No longer relegated to the bottom tier of the Spanish shelf at the back of the store with other countries’ value offerings.

Wine Experts On How 2020 Is Highlighting New Wine Regions

2020 has not been easy for the wine world. To list off a few hurdles: a globe of bars shut down. A global pandemic. Climate change. California and Oregon facing the most destructive wildfire season in history.

In this ongoing series, we’re speaking with major players in the fine wine world to understand how the year is affecting the luxury wine industry.

One of the biggest shifts in the fine wine world is the changing roster of prized terroirs. Yes, Grand Crus will continue to demand top dollar. But with new tariffs, fires and a new wave of wine collectors, wine drinker’s eyes are drifting away from France and California.

“In the last decade, wine collectors have started to discover a range of exciting winemakers crafting tomorrow’s nectar in new terroirs of the world. These pioneers are also joined by long-established wine dynasties bringing their expertise to create world-class vineyards,” describes Tom Gearing, CEO of Cult Wines, one of the world’s foremost fine wine investment company. “Regions such as Chile, Argentina, Spain and to a lesser extent the US offer strong relative value and diversification benefits for wine investors as well as new experiences for curious wine lovers. Whilst ten years ago, wines produced from these combined countries accounted for 0.5% of trade share, measured by value on Liv-ex, they now represent 6.2%. As the locus of future demand continues to shift to these frontier regions we have identified the biggest growth opportunities in the Emerging Markets for fine wine.”

Chile’s performance, particularly wines from Almaviva and Sena, have been incredibly strong—wines from Argentina and Chile are receiving critic scores like never before. Gearing points to Chile, Spain, Australia and Argentina as areas with the most potential, based on a CAGR% analysis between 2015 and 2020.

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Wineries to monitor include Chile’s Almaviva, Mondavi and Chadwick, Sena Spain’s Vega Sicilia, Unco and Pingus Australia’s Henschke, Hill of Grace, Penfolds and Grange and Argentina’s Cheval Andres.

Thanks to the expanding distribution channels we dug into last week, the fine wine consumer is being increasingly exposed to emerging wine regions. “In the last decade, wine collectors have started to discover a range of exciting winemakers crafting tomorrow’s nectar in new terroirs of the world. These pioneers are also joined by long-established wine dynasties bringing their expertise to create world-class vineyards,” says Cult Wine’s Gearing.

Another draw of the new terroirs is with skyrocketing prices in the famed wine regions of Bordeaux and beyond, savvy oenophiles are looking for new regions to get more bang for their buck.

Particularly to drink: “With the run-up in prices, many are now looking at their cellars as an investment rather than something to be shared with friends,” says wine collector Heidi Pozzo. “I regularly hear, I can’t justify drinking that. Why drink a DRC, Coche Dury or Rosseau that was purchased for $100 when it can be sold for thousands?”

For sommelier Zack Musick, the beverage director at Merriman’s Hawaii, new regions are what appeals to his customer, if only by price point. “It all started out with the worries surrounding the tariffs, which started in 2019. Working at a fine dining restaurant in a slightly more affluent neighborhood on Maui, I carry a lot of premier wines from various parts of the world. A 25% tariff on wines that are already at the $400-$500 price point, places them outside of what many people want to spend on a bottle of wine at dinner. It's caused me to pivot on the program I've been designing over the past 4 years—I've thinned down my Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont and Tuscany options and started focusing on more obscure regions where the wines still have great quality but don't get the recognition and demand they deserve. That helps to keep the price relatively low.”

Andy Myers, wine director at José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup, has adopted a similar tactic. “From a restaurant perspective, I can tell you that it is an incredibly difficult time for wine. Tariffs have increased the price of most wines, which has changed the dynamic of what can be bought for different categories. ‘By the glass’ range wines have often increased a few dollars, taking them out of the "by the glass" price range entirely. We have shifted some of our ‘by the glass’ offerings to lesser-known regions in order to stay competitively priced. High-end European wines have gone up as well, but it’s really at the $8-$15 range that we are seeing the real effect of the tariffs.”

The rising prices ripple through to affect the oenophiles in all roles. “This trickles down to a new generation of sommeliers and collectors,” continues Pizzo. “The younger crowd who are now somms or work in wineries have never tasted the solid-to-great producers. The price is a barrier and they look to other regions.”

But one of the most devastating and drastic changes to the wine map of the world is the west coast fires.

“The fires are devastating especially to the 2020 red wine production because many of these grapes have sat through the smoke and are most likely tainted,” says Chris Towt, the owner of Durell Vineyards and Co-founder of VineSpring. “Many white and rosé wines were harvested just before or as the fires were starting. Fortunately, the previous few vintages (2018, 2019) were banner years with high-quality fruit and wines, so the hope is many wineries heavily impacted by this year's fires will be able to sustain sales on these previous vintages.

“That said,” he continues. “Too many wineries have been destroyed or damaged in this year's fires. Many, many more are rejecting grapes due to smoke taint. Vineyards with a majority of red wine grapes have historic losses, and many don't have crop insurance. Laboratories that have chemical analysis tests for smoke taint of micro-ferments are backed up to the point some wineries are sending juice to Australia. It's a disastrous year for the wine industry.”

“Not only the loss of life and devastation throughout California…” says Ted Rink, the beverage director at the award-winning BLVD Steakhouse in Chicago. “We are losing swaths of raw wine products. When all is said and done, the impact on the California wine industry is going to be harsh. If tariffs helped stir wine drinkers to their own backyard, COVID and now fires took that potential back. The California wine industry is really getting kicked when they are down. The producers that have viable crops will be much more limited. I'm leary to pick up 2020 vintage California wine due to smoke taint concerns.”

Let’s Be Clear: Bad Wines Are Bad Wines, Period

If you drink bad wine long enough, will that eventually lead to drinking good wine?

No, I don’t think so. Still, a couple of wine writers have recently tried to make the case that bad wine should be tolerated, if not embraced. They argue that it can’t be entirely bad if it appeals to large numbers of people. Drinking bad wine encourages the love of all wine, and, really, nothing is harmful about bad wine, so why not live and let live?

I’m all for peaceful coexistence. I would never fault people for the wines they choose to drink, or for not making good wine a priority in their lives. But if you do care about drinking good wine, then you ought to take serious issue with these arguments, as I do.

Just as important, these articles suggest that wine critics should not make reasoned aesthetic judgments about good and bad. Instead, critics should encourage drinking wine of any kind on the theory that wine culture will ultimately benefit from the quantity consumed rather than the quality.

Aside from its patronizing nature, such a position conflates the role of the critic, whose aim is to encourage judgment and discernment, with an industry mouthpiece, whose role is to encourage sales. Critics, and all wine journalists, should owe no allegiance to the wine industry, nor accept the notion that consumption of any wine achieves a sort of ultimate good.

As I wrote in March, the best way to improve the quality of what you drink is to think of wine as food. Simply applying the same aesthetic, medical, ethical and moral judgments to wine that many people do to food, as I suggested, results in drinking better wine.

Coincidentally, a few weeks after my piece, the Opinion pages of The New York Times published “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine.” In it, the writer Bianca Bosker made the case that wine lovers should not shun “processed wines,” products made of industrially farmed grapes, which are manipulated and tailored to fit predetermined specifications based on audience research.

“These maligned bottles have a place,” Ms. Bosker wrote. “The time has come to learn to love unnatural wines.”

The piece was adapted from her entertaining book, “Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste.”

Ms. Bosker argued that applying technology to wine has democratized it by improving its quality and making what she called good wine accessible to more people at lower prices.

“Thanks to pumps and powders, drinkers who can’t splurge no longer have to settle for plonk,” she wrote. “The gap between fine wine and commercial wine is shrinking as producers use chemical shortcuts not only to avoid blatant flaws, but also to mimic high-end bottles.”

This argument is wrong in almost every way.

First of all, additives and manipulation didn’t improve the general level of wine. Science did. For centuries, nobody understood how winemaking worked. Fermentation was largely a mystery, as were the reasons that wine spoiled.

Scientific breakthroughs revealed the role of yeast in fermentation and explained how bacteria converted harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid, which makes many red wines and some whites easier to drink. Science uncovered the pernicious effects of unwanted microbial activity in wine, the harm that comes from prolonged exposure to air and warmth and the benefits of scrupulous attention to cleanliness in winemaking. This all resulted in fewer flawed wines.

Technological improvements were beneficial, too. Refrigeration helped to make fresh, fruity white wines, as did the wide availability of stainless steel. Yet the technology for manipulating textures and flavors, and for taking away alcohol, hasn’t improved wine. It’s just made it more formulaic, like soft drinks and other beverages, by streamlining production for consistency and stability. It’s like saying the development of Wonder Bread made bread better.

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    Advancements for eliminating flaws in wine, like volatile acidity, have not improved. Unpalatable wines are just less bad. There’s a difference.

    Finally, the notion that manipulating cheap wine to mimic high-end bottles benefits consumers is laughable. Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization. Knockoff wines sell, but the American wine industry also craves critical approval. Imitation high-end wines may satisfy many people, but they are commodities, no more worthy of applause than the imitation designer bags sold on Canal Street.

    One of wine’s glories is its diversity. The Old World, which had the advantage of centuries of localized efforts, can offer hundreds of different wines, produced by heritage and tradition, that are far more honest expressions of culture than any imitation Napa cabernet sauvignon — a product of oak chips, enzymes, “pumps and powders” — rising from California’s sun-baked Central Valley.

    Many wine lovers took strong issue with Ms. Bosker’s arguments, including writers like Alice Feiring, Rachel Signer and Alder Yarrow, and even a winemaker like Jason Haas of Tablas Creek.

    Esther Mobley of The San Francisco Chronicle tried to split the difference. The wine world is not divided between the extremes of processed “Frankenwine” and natural wine, which Ms. Bosker’s piece called “the ‘it’ staple of trendy tables.”

    Ms. Mobley correctly made the point that between these extremes lies a multitude of wines that are all over the processing spectrum. She suggests that people should not liken the additives in wine to those in food because they are not harmful to the health, certainly not on a par with eating chickens “jacked up on antibiotics their entire lives.” She does not refer to farming practices though, which can leave low levels of pesticide residues in wine. The verdict is not clear on how harmful these might be to humans, though no doubt exists that such chemicals are harmful to the vineyard workers who must apply them.

    While I believe that less processed wines are healthier, they are also better wines. For people who want to drink better wines, thinking of wine as food was a useful approach to achieve that goal.

    Ms. Bosker and Ms. Mobley found common ground in their hope that processed, manipulated wines would serve as gateway bottles for the next generation of wine lovers.

    This is a position that I have never understood. I don’t believe that the wine industry cares about “oenophiles,” a word that is as snobbish as it sounds. It doesn’t produce millions of bottles of bad cheap wine because it wants to develop knowledgeable, judicious wine drinkers. It makes junk wine because it sells like junk food.

    Cheap good wine, which may take a bit of effort to find, and which is marginally more expensive, would be a far better on-ramp for future wine lovers. Whether cheap or expensive, good wine is more than a focus-group-tested alcohol delivery system. It is an expression of culture, a convivial pleasure, a companion to food and, occasionally, an emotional and contemplative experience.

    That sort of experience is not for everybody. Many people simply have other priorities in life, and are happy to get a bit buzzed on fruity wine, which is fine.

    But I take issue with people who ought to know better, those who confuse the differences between bad and good wines, and critics and industry promoters. Anyone who is in the business of examining wine critically needs to actually be critical, not simply validate consumer choices, and looking at wine critically means understanding the chasm between mass-produced wine products and wines that are an expression of a place, a people and an aesthetic.

    About a month ago, Batya Ungar-Sargon, a journalist who was writing about this wine tempest for the VinePair website, asked how I would feel if the great wines of the world, often scarce and expensive, could be analyzed by laboratories and duplicated in quantity.

    I said I thought it would be horrible. Yes, wines that few people are able to taste would instead be widely available, their complexities sampled by many rather than a privileged few.

    Yet such reproductions would completely change the experience. Good wine is, by nature, fleeting, mysterious, ever-changing, subject to the imperfect, unpredictable nuances of weather, place and human judgment. It changes continually, reacting to temperature and touch, food and mood, its years in the bottle and its minutes in the glass. It is beyond reproduction.

    Whether it is cheap or expensive, those who love wine live for the thrill of the surprise, the sense of discovery, the pleasure of knowing that the best wines can take you places that you never anticipated.

    It’s the unknown that makes fine wine, not the elimination of flaws or the popularity of flavors.

    How Restaurants Can Promote a More Diverse and Inclusive Wine Industry

    Restaurants can also play a role in bridging the gap between customers and minority-produced wines.

    The world of wine is storied and vast but also very much steeped in an old-guard mentality that has led to systematic issues, with organizations like the Court of Master Sommeliers currently under scrutiny for charges of sexual misconduct and lack of diversity. Additionally, in response to the recent acts of injustice against Black and Asian lives in the U.S., consumers are intentionally seeking out businesses that clearly reflect their values for inclusivity and equality.

    After recognizing that the wine industry is largely white and mostly male, what can restaurants do to start changing the paradigm?

    “The first approach is trying to create awareness among young people of color that this is a career path you can go down,” says Longevity Wines owner and winemaker Phil Long, who also serves as president of the Association of African American Vintners (aaav).

    Restaurant owners and beverage directors can begin raising awareness by serving minority-made wines and educating customers about the origins of said wines. “It’s really about creating awareness that we actually do exist,” Long says.

    Including wines like Long’s own white label, which is distributed nationally, not only lets people of color see themselves reflected on the menu, but it also appeals to the vast majority of consumers. Looking back over her more than 20 years in the beverage industry, Deborah Brenner, founder and CEO of Women of the Vine & Spirits, has found that customers are curious and quick to support minority-led initiatives.

    “The consumer really enjoys learning about products from bartenders,” she says. When she worked in restaurants, Brenner says she made the effort to curate a wine list and source spirits that she could introduce to customers as women- and minority-owned. “Every time the customers would come in, they’d ask, ‘Deb, what’s new?’” she says.

    Just as restaurant leaders wish to show their values through the products they source, so too do customers strive to be conscious buyers.

    “I think that people today are really making an effort to ask, ‘How can I better support companies and products that share my values of diversity and equity?’” Brenner says. “‘How can I spend my money to support Black-owned companies, women-owned companies, and veteran-owned companies?’”

    Restaurants can also play a role in bridging the gap between customers and minority-produced wines. But Long says operators should know that it will take effort since there aren’t that many minority-led labels. To curate a top-quality list featuring a diverse mix of producers, beverage leaders need to do their research.

    Thankfully, organizations like the AAAV and Women of the Vine & Spirits provide lists of wine labels on their sites that fit within their missions for diversity, equity, and inclusion. These associations are always looking for ways to make access to this knowledge easier for industry professionals.

    After curating a strong selection, the next step is to promote the mission behind the menu, leaders say.

    “When we have partners of color, we make sure that that is a talking point so people understand that inclusivity is very important to us,” says Gene Zimmerman, director of beverage at four-unit restaurant Sixty Vines and two-unit Mexican Sugar. “I am a big proponent of family-owned and operated wineries, people who farm sustainably and responsibly, give back to their communities, and treat their employees well.”

    That passion is typically reflected in how the producers make wine, Zimmerman adds. It’s easy for him to get excited about and share these products with customers.

    It is also important for Sixty Vines to offer exceptional, knock-your-socks-off wines at affordable prices so customers of all walks of life can come in and discover the beauty of a good glass of wine. “That is a piece of the inclusion: wines for the people,” Zimmerman says.

    Another way restaurants can foster a sense of diversity and inclusion is by making sure that they hire people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and beyond.

    “We need to recognize that restaurant goers are very diverse, and they’re going to be more apt to dine in and frequent a restaurant that has diversity,” Brenner says. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are proven statistically [to be] good for business. When you have diverse people in your talent pool, you’re solving problems by looking at things differently.”

    And in crises like the current pandemic, having a variety of voices is all the more important diversity breeds innovation and resiliency through differing perspectives and collaboration.

    In terms of hiring practices, Brenner recommends restaurants take a close look at how they are writing job descriptions and where they are promoting openings, “so you’re not just attracting the same people,” she says.

    Restaurants of all sizes can become involved with associations like AAAV and Women of the Vine & Spirits. Through these collaborations, they can help fund scholarships that provide industry experience and mentorship to traditionally underrepresented groups. After all, these organizations not only offer career paths forward for people of color and women, they also provide a support system of peers and leaders that look like them in an industry that often does not.

    Can Chilean Wine Be As Good As Bordeaux? Ask Winemaker Cristian Vallejo

    French varieties and winemaking techniques altered the face of Chilean wine in the 19th century and the effects of France continue to be felt in Chile today. The phylloxera epidemic of the mid to late 19th century first wreaked havoc on vineyards in France, causing French winemakers to seek other lands in which to ply their trade. Wealthy Chilean landowners had already begun importing French grapevines an emigration of enologists from Bordeaux to Santiago followed.

    Don Silvestre Ochagavia Echazarreta, who founded Viña Ochagavia in 1851, is widely credited as the first Chilean to import and grow French Vitis vinifera varieties from Bordeaux, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. About twenty years later, Don Maximiano Errazuriz founded Viña Errazuriz, also using French varieties and employing French techniques. Both continue to make award-winning wine today, as do their contemporaries Undurraga, Concha y Toro and Cousiño Macul.

    Today vintners in Chile are crafting single vineyard and small plot wines that rival the best of Bordeaux, often at a significantly better value. Montes Folly, Altamana, and Don Melchor are among the “Super Chileans” that exemplify the best the country has to offer. A newcomer to the Super Chilean designation is VIK, founded by Norwegian-Uruguayan billionaire Alex Vik. With the aim of making the finest wine in South America, he hired French consultants Patrick Valette and Gonzague de Lambert to find the land on which to grow what are commonly called “the Bordeaux varieties.” After locating 12 small valleys spread out over almost 11,000 acres in Chile’s Millahue Valley, Vik brought in a team of experts to test the soil, water conditions, base temperature and wind currents in order to determine perfect placement for different grape varieties. The result is a series of plots with distinct microclimates, which many experts agree is the basis for making great wine.

    Winemaker Cristian Vallejo with a bottle of VIK.

    Vik also hired winemaker Cristian Vallejo, a native Chilean who worked in Spain, France and Italy before returning to his native country. Among the notable wineries on Vallejo’s resume are stints at Viña Valdivieso and TerreMater in Chile, Clos Mont Blanc in Spain, and France’s Chateau Margaux, Leoville Poyferre, and Chateau Berliquet. Vallejo returned to Chile in 2006 to begin work at VIK, an estate winery that produces three wines, the entry-level Milla Cala (SRP $45), midrange La Piu Belle( SRP $100), and high-end icon wine VIK (SRP $165), an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend that has received scores in the mid to high 90s from a variety of international wine critics.

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    Here Cristian Vallejo talks about his background, Viña Vik, and what makes the wine so special.

    World Wine Guys: How did the years you spent making wine in Spain, France and Italy influence your technique when you returned to your native Chile?

    Cristian Vallejo:France showed me how to manage the vineyard throughout the year, prune the harvests, work the tannins from the vines, and make the wine. It all starts in the vineyard. Spain showed me how to express the best side of your terroir in the wine and finally, Italy taught me how to extract delicately pure and fine aromas from the terroir.

    WWG: Who were your winemaking mentors and how did they impact the way you make wine today?

    CV: Paul Pontallier and Philippe Bascaules from Chateaux Margaux focused my vineyard management and improved my precision in winemaking to achieve the perfect tannins with tension, structure, and finesse.

    WWG: Viña Vik is often described as a “holistic winery.” What does this mean?

    CV: The ‘whole’ in holistic is our wines. Every single step involved in producing them is important and considered. We take that awareness of all elements and how they interact to make the most elegant, dynamic and expressive wines.

    WWG: The winery at Viña Vik is very beautiful. Can you describe some of the features of the winery that contribute to its sustainability measures?

    CV: Our winery was built with the intention of maximizing nature’s energy. The reflecting pool that sweeps across the entrance to the winery serves the function of cooling the barrel warehouse below it and maintaining humidity levels. The white fabric roof is a unique material that simultaneously illuminates the winery during the day and regulates the temperature of the winery from the outside. When we have to cool down a tank during the summer the quantity of energy needed required is less.

    The reflecting above Vik's underground winery helps to cool the barrels of wine stored below.

    WWG: How do the site of Viña Vik’s vineyard and the climate of the Millahue Valley affect the quality of the wine made there?

    CV: The vineyard is high-density planted for low yield to concentrate flavors. We use 100 percent rootstock to homogenize ripening and harvest time for each parcel. The geography of Millahue is expansive and dynamic giving a variety of sun exposures, altitudes, and soils. All of that translates into terroir, complexity, and depth of flavor. The Pacific Ocean sweeps the vineyard with very cold breezes that preserve fresh flavors in our wines.

    WWG: How would you describe the three tiers of Viña Vik wine, Milla Cala, La Piu Belle, and Vik? Other than price, what makes these wines distinct from one another?

    CV: VIK, for me, is a book telling the beautiful story of passion and dedication where every glass is a chapter and every sip is a page. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc comes from the coolest area of the property giving this wine complexity, elegance and, layers of flavors and aromas.

    Milla Cala is the introduction to Vik it’s the abstract of that story of dedication and passion. Elegance and easy to read. A beautiful wine for every moment.

    La Piu Belle is the art of the new world, passionate but very refined. It shows other flavors of our terroir with different varieties like Carmenere and Syrah from a different valley of the property. It expresses totally different aroma based on blackberries, dry plums and spicy notes.

    WWG: In what ways does Vik compare to the great wines of Bordeaux?

    CV: Bordeaux inspires me with its layers of aromas and its depth of color. Our wines share elegant tannins, fine structure, linear acidity, and richness of aroma.

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    Launched in 2005 with an Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from some of the oldest grapevines in California, Gnarly Head® takes its name from the twisted trunks and branches of ancient, head-trained vines. Today, Gnarly Head is a Top 50 U.S. wine brand, with a family of wines loved by consumers for their big, bold flavors and gnarly attitude.

    The year was 1924. It was the heart of the Prohibition era, and wine’s darkest hour, when wine itself was deemed illegal. It was also the year our winery first planted vineyards in California. Story goes some of these grapes might have been used to make wine. For those that dared to toil in the black-market of winemaking, full-bodied red wines were the wine of choice and a crowd favorite at speakeasies across the country.

    Cabernet Today

    The signature Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is intense and generous, with firm yet pliable tannins, herbal overtones and loads of dark-fruit aromas and flavors. These wines are plusher than those from cooler climate Bordeaux, but less opulent and more spice-based than the fruit-forward Cabernet from Napa. The current vintage for high-end Chilean Cabernet is 2017, but wines from 2018, especially those priced from $15 to about $30, are now coming into the market.

    The 2017 vintage was marked by intense summer heat and a very early harvest. But for some winemakers, it proved that established terroirs and vines of a certain age (30 years or older) impact the wines even more than weather.

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    “Vintages like 2017, ones that you know are coming in warm, force you to pay attention,” says Rafael Urrejola, winemaker for Undurraga. Its 2017 T.H. Cabernet, from an Alto Maipo vineyard planted three decades ago at about 2,200 feet, is tightly wound and a prime candidate for the cellar.

    Marcelo Papa of Concha y Toro / Photo by Matt Wilson

    “If you understand the ripening process and pick at the right time, the results should still be good,” he says. “But if you are late in this type of year, you will end up with overripe, cooked and flat wines. The harvest window gets really narrow. For T.H. 2017, we picked by the second week of March, very early compared to other years.”

    Only 7.6 inches of rain fell from May 2016 through April 2017, according to the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero, a government agency. The prior year saw 17.5 inches of El Niño-driven rain, much of it in April when Cabernet Sauvignon harvests generally reach their peak.

    As for 2018, Chile’s winemakers call it the best year in a decade or more, for all varieties and styles of wine. It was normal in terms of daytime and nighttime temperatures—meaning excellent for Cabernet—with an average amount of rainfall for the year, about 13.5 inches.

    What made it especially great for Cabernet, according to Sebastian Ruiz, winemaker with Viña Tarapacá in the Isla de Maipo subzone, was that it allowed for a long hang time.

    “The Cabernet grapes were so healthy, with beautiful berries and bunches,” he says. “The yield was 26% higher compared to 2017, but perfect temperatures during the maturation period determined a later than normal harvest. This always helps Cabernet Sauvignon wines to have good color, freshness of fruit, good natural acidity and elegant tannins.”

    Marcelo Papa, technical director at Concha y Toro, called 2018 “fantastic, probably the best year in the last 10. The wines are refined, with great precision of fruit. They are juicy and display magnificent balance.

    “Something I recall noticing was that the vines looked very comfortable throughout the season, and experience has taught us that a happy vine produces a happy wine.”

    The harvest at Concha y Toro / Shutterstock

    Winemakers noted that 2019 was a good year for Cabernet, but one where drought conditions returned. A mere 6.4 inches of precipitation fell during the May to April measuring period.

    The 2020 vintage was one of the driest years on record with only 3.5 inches of rain, nary a drop during the growing period.

    Lorena Mora, who heads the Terrunyo program at Concha y Toro along with veteran winemaker Ignacio Recabarren, says that until the past year, drought conditions in Chile have been manageable due to modern irrigation. But how long that can continue remains to be seen.

    “We are getting to the point where we cannot replace the lack of rain,” says Mora. “In 2020, many vineyards had problems irrigating. It is a problem that has been intensifying year after year. In Maipo, the situation has us worried. We irrigated much more this past season, and we will have to adapt to this new reality.”

    Fernando Espina of Viña Chocalan / Photo by Matt Wilson

    With droughts come lower yields, something that hurts wineries that produce inexpensive wines designed for mass consumption. On the other hand, small yields tend to result in more concentrated wines.

    Fernando Espina, head winemaker at Viña Chocalan in the Maipo Valley, whose 2018 Gran Reserva Origen Cabernet Sauvignon offers great value, put Chile’s reduced rainfall into terms we all can understand.

    Rafael Urrejola of Undurraga / Photo by Matt Wilson

    “Today, we can talk about lower rainfall like the coronavirus pandemic,” he says. “We are dealing with a new normal. But extremely low yields are not necessarily synonymous with good quality. Rather, it can translate into drying tannins, overripe fruit, dehydration and high alcohol.”

    Fortunately, the best of Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignons deliver plush tannins, perfectly ripe fruit, juicy acidity and alcohol levels of about 14%. Wines like these are plentiful and calling your name.

    For many red wine lovers, Cabernet Sauvignon (or “Cab”) is the king of wines. The Cabernet grape typically produces big-bodied red wines well suited for aging. Although Cab is known as a Bordeaux varietal, remarkable Cabernet Sauvignons are produced around the world.

    1. 2015 Joseph Phelps Insignia

    Origin: Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot
    Price: $275
    ABV: 14.5%

    For American Cabernet Sauvignon lovers, the Napa Valley is the place for great wine. And for those who follow Napa wine, you know why the 2015 Insignia tops our Best Cabernet Sauvignon list. Made from 90% Cabernet, carefully blended, this vintage is, simply put, a knockout. It is rich with blackberry and cassis, cocoa, graphite, cedar and the grip of grainy tannins. This is a wine you could drink now or cellar for 10-15 years.

    > For more information, visit the Joseph Phelps official website.

    2. 2015 Château Mouton Rothschild

    Origin: Pauillac, France
    Varietal: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot
    Price: $650
    ABV: 14%

    2015 was a great year for many, although not all, Bordeaux vintners. The year blessed Mouton Rothschild with one of its finest vintages of all time. If you are a collector, this is one to snap up quick, if you can. A deeply colored wine, it offers exuberant black fruit flavors balanced with sexy spices. It is a wine you could drink now, if you really can’t wait, but it will continue to evolve and potentially improve for a decade or more.

    > For more information, visit the Château Mouton Rothschild official website.

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    3. 2014 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia DOC

    Origin: Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, Italy
    Varietal: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc
    Price: $160
    ABV: 13%

    Another world-renowned wine having a remarkable vintage, the 2014 Sassicaia truly puts Italian Cabernet on the map. Garnet-hued, it offers raspberry and black cherry fruit intermingled with intense baking spices and just a hint of sweaty leather. For a Cabernet, it feels surprisingly weightless on the tongue. Yet it lingers long, making sure that its impression is made.

    > For more information, visit the Tenuta San Guido official website.

    4. 2015 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

    Origin: Pauillac, France
    Varietal: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot
    ABV: 13.5%

    Yet another home run for Bordeaux’s Pauillac region, the 2015 Château Pichon-Barone easily makes our list of the Best Cabernets. A rich, full-flavored wine, it offers the best of summer berries and the intensity of winter spices, making it a good choice for any time of the year. The wine’s velvety tannins give it sensual texture as well as ageability. Château Pichon-Baron Longueville is Second Grand Cru Classé in 1855.

    > For more information, visit the Pichon-Longueville Baron official website.

    5. 2013 LVE Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot
    Price: $85
    ABV: 15%

    If Phelps Insignia represents the great winemaking history of the Napa Valley, LVE stands as a totem of the present. This wine, in its presentation, its flavor profile and lineage, is what’s happening now. This seductive Cabernet, a newcomer on the Napa scene, is a collaboration between French vintner Jean-Charles Boisset and famed American musician John Legend. The wine offers powerful blackberry and black currant fruit with hints of espresso and oak.

    > For more information, visit the LVE Wines official website.

    6. 2016 DAOU Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Paso Robles, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot
    Price: $50
    ABV: 14.5%

    Paso Robles is not California’s most popular Cabernet-producing region, but it is a region highly respected by anyone who loves intense, mature red wines. This reserve wine from DAOU perfectly expresses all that there is to love about Paso Cab. An intense and highly extracted wine, it offers complex aromas and flavors of black plum, cherry, cassis, olive, mushroom, cedar and spice all delivered with drama and great length. If you aren’t prepared to have your mouth stained, do not drink this wine!

    > For more information, visit the DAOU Vineyards official website.

    7. 2016 Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Coonawarra, Australia
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $17
    ABV: 14%

    When it comes to Cabernet, Coonawarra is Australia’s answer to the Napa Valley. This region is known for producing outstanding Cabernet and Penley Estate’s Phoenix sets the bar high for great wines in an affordable price range. A dark and richly concentrated wine, it offers tongue-coating tannins, intense blackberry and cassis flavors and a persistent curry spice. Although it’s under $20, Phoenix drinks like a much higher priced wine.

    > For more information, visit the Penley Estate official website.

    8. 2016 Obsidian Ridge Half Mile Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County

    Origin: Red Hills Lake County, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petite Sirah, 8% Petit Verdot
    Price: $65
    ABV: 14.7%

    The Red Hills region’s potential for Cabernet is relatively untapped, but it may very well be the future of California red wine. Obsidian Ridge is most definitely blazing a trail for the region. Their 2016 Half Mile is a well-structured wine with glorious spice notes on both the nose and palate. Fruit flavors of plum and black cherry mingle with toasted oak notes and chocolate toward the back of the palate.

    > For more information, visit the Obsidian Ridge official website.

    9. 2016 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet

    Origin: Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $34
    ABV: 14.5%

    Unlike many of the wines on this list, which represent something exciting and undiscovered, this wine makes our Best Cabernets list for the exact opposite reason. This is a wine you can count on, year after year, to represent exactly what Napa Valley Cabernet is all about. Made with grapes from two iconic Napa appellations, Oakville and Stags Leap, it is a textbook wine. It won’t excite or surprise you but it will deliver a crowd-pleasing, full-bodied Cabernet with loads of ripe fruit, firm tannins and modest spice, all at a very fair price.

    > For more information, visit the Robert Mondavi official website.

    10. 2014 50 Harvests Napa Valley Meritage

    Origin: Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot
    Price: $60
    ABV: 14%

    This wine is on the opposite end of the Napa Valley spectrum from the Mondavi Cab. This one is a Bordeaux blend attempting to recreate Old World style with New World terroir and techniques — and we like the results. On the nose, it offers decadent raspberry and blackberry pie aromas backed up by earthier notes of tea leaves and tar. On the palate, it offers big fruit flavors with an almost candied quality. A well-structured wine, it finishes with a lingering note of spice.

    > For more information, visit the 50 Harvests official website.

    11. 2016 Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Maipo Valley, Chile
    Varietal: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah
    Price: $18
    ABV: 13.5%

    If you think you can’t find good Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20, this will be the wine to change your mind. This Chilean wine makes our list of the Best Cabernets because it is one of the best values the Americas has to offer. A rich and earthy wine, its aromas are complex but dominated by black plum and spices. It’s juicy on the palate with round tannins, cherry and plum flavor and tobacco and vegetal notes on the finish.

    > For more information, visit the Tarapacá official website.

    12. 2016 Penfolds Bin 407

    Origin: South Australia
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $60
    ABV: 14.5%

    This is an interesting and complex Cabernet, blended with grapes from all of South Australia’s best Cab-growing regions. It’s a well-structured wine made in a style that really accentuates spice. It offers hints of tobacco and bramble on the nose with an interesting interplay of black currant and olive on the palate. This wine’s tannins are firm. You could open it now but might want to wait a year or two to enjoy this one.

    > For more information, visit the Penfolds official website.

    13. 2015 Louis M. Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Sonoma County, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $20
    ABV: 13.6%

    Sonoma tends to produce softer, gentler Cabernets than the wines that come from neighboring Napa. This wine makes our list because it does a nice job of showing off that Sonoma style at an attractive price. Even though this is an approachable wine, it still has solid structure, a compelling balance of forest and fruit flavors and a lingering note of cocoa powder on the finish.

    > For more information, visit the Louis M. Martini official website.

    14. 2014 Falesco Tellus Cabernet Sauvignon

    Origin: Umbria, Italy
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $15
    ABV: 13.5%

    An extraordinarily polished wine for the price, this is a good choice if you’re watching your budget. Made from 100% estate fruit, it offers aromas of blueberry and dried cranberry. A medium bodied wine that’s ready to drink now, it offers currant and sweet black plum flavors and a surprisingly long finish.

    > For more information, visit the Falesco official website.

    15. 2016 Ancient Peaks Cabernet

    Origin: Paso Robles, California, U.S.A.
    Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
    Price: $22
    ABV: 14.1%

    This might be the most fun wine on our Best Cabernets list. It offers Bordeaux-like notes of leather, tobacco and wild game yet it’s still a distinctly Paso wine. Its fruit flavors are blackberry and black currant with a hint of soy sauce. On the finish, there’s a lovely note of dark chocolate. It’s a wine with compellingly chalky tannins and a nice finish. This is one to enjoy now, not to lay down for later.

    > For more information, visit the Ancient Peaks official website.