Sunday, January 25, 2009

Espiritu de Chile

Every once in a blue moon, I get a request to sample wines that are just making their way to the market -- like last year when I sampled the Monsoon Valley wines from Thailand. I was recently asked to give some new Chilean wines the once-over. I received four bottles and recipes to go alongside each.

I've always enjoyed Chilean wines. I think they're some of the best values out there. So I really looked forward to sampling these -- all of which retail for around $11.

Gewurztraminer (2007) -- I'd never had a Chilean gewurz, and at first taste I was a little surprised. It's lighter in body than many of the others we've tried. It's on the drier side, although it's not bone-dry like an Alsace gewurz. It has a slightly floral nose, a flavor of tart green apples, and a soft finish. It's a little bit peppery, but less spicy than many. By itself, honestly, it wasn't my favorite. The recommended food pairing with this wine was a green curry chicken salad. That's where this wine shone. I always add more curry paste than is called for, so this was a spicy dish with some bitter greens alongside. The flavors of this wine cut through both easily. The apple flavor became more pronounced, the peppery notes broadened, and we really enjoyed the complements. I'd put this wine easily with any kind of spicy Asian or Indian cuisine and have a very, very nice match.

Sauvignon Blanc (2007) -- Chile is well-known for sauvignon blanc, and I've praised those wines for their food-friendliness, consistency, and general all-around tastiness. This straw-colored sauvignon has a flavor as light as its color. The nose of slightly floral lemon is barely noticeable at first. If you'd blindfolded me, I could easily have mistaken this for pinot grigio. The body is light, bordering on a little bit watery. The finish is soft and only slightly acidic. The recommended food pairing was an exceptional recipe in and of itself: a simple roasted fish stew. The flavors were wonderful and the citrusy notes in the wine became much more pronounced and interesting. That said, there are less-expensive Chilean sauvignons that I'd probably choose ahead of this one if it weren't going to be paired with something.

Carmenere (2007) -- Carmenere is a first cousin of merlot. It has a slightly fumey, herbaceous nose. This fragrance yields to a medium bodied red with lots of smoky flavors, along with some blackberry. There was also an earthy undertone like a Cotes-du-Rhone with a relatively tannic finish. I was somewhat surprised by the tannins here, since I don't get those in a straight merlot. On its own, it struck me as fairly straightforward, but when set next to the recommended pairing -- which was a grilled marinated sirloin, sliced thin; topped with sautéed mushrooms with lemon juice and parsley; and grilled green onions, this wine was downright delicious. After a bite of the steak, the tannin cut through the steak's fat, bringing out a much more "merlot-ish" flavor. The onions pointed up the earthy flavors, and the mushrooms with it just plain tasted good.

Shiraz/Cabernet (2006) -- Most shiraz/cab blends that I've tried lean heavily towards the "Shiraz" side of things -- the fruit dominates with hopefully enough tannin to make the wine interesting. At a 75/25 split, I expected the same here. However, given a little time to open up, this wine was a completely different story. The nose wasn't all that fruity -- instead leaning towards vanilla and smoke. It smelled a little like roasted meat, honestly. On its own, medium-bodied with more of that vanilla/smoke blend. The finish was tannic. Decent enough. The suggested pairing was a strip steak with chimichurri sauce and criolla salsa. Four for four on food pairings. The smoky flavor of the wine meshed nicely with the meat -- and the sauces made a nice complement. I'd like to try this recipe again in the summer, since all of those flavors would be really nice when it's hot.

So, bottom line, I'd recommend all of these except the sauvignon blanc -- and I only downcheck the sauvignon because of the price point. At $7-8, it would have been perfectly acceptable. They're all definitely wines with a taste for food -- especially recipes similar to these. I also want to pass along a compliment to whomever created these recipes -- they were very easy to put together and were absolutely scrumptious. (Links to the recipes are here and here.)

Many thanks also to Monica and the folks at Balzac for giving me the chance to check these out.

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