Chile stakes its claim to variety in value-for-money wines

Chilean wines are readily available on the Thai market – they really boomed here about four years ago – and many still represent excellent value for money in a market where the total overall tax is now nearly 400 per cent. Bangkok Fine Wine’s Jonathan Glonek says, "For about 400 baht or under in Bangkok I always advise the following: If you like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc buy Chilean; if you like rich Shiraz and buttery Chardonnay buy Australian."

Specifically, Glonek recommends trying the Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 , which comes from Chile’s Cholchagua Valley, priced at Bt370 (excluding VAT) and Echeverria’s Sauvignon Blanc 1998 from Curico Valley, also well-priced at Bt385 (excluding VAT).

Despite belonging to the so-called New World group of wine producing countries, Chilean wines date back to the sixteenth century, when the Spanish brought and planted vines from Europe. Today the country produces some of the most reasonably priced, consistently good varietals in the world. In particular, the country is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

If you drank Chilean wine in the 80s and were disappointed, Glonek says that now’s the time to give it another go. "There’s definitely been a large improvement over the old rustic style. Chileans have always made big dark numbers but there were some real shockers and consistency problems in the early 80s. Diligence and modern technology can fix a lot of that – and in Chile’s case it has really helped enormously in bringing their quality up."

For something at the premium end, Glonek suggests Montes Alpha. Their Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 is available at Villa for Bt1285.

As the quality of Chilean wines has improved, so too has the Thai market’s attitude towards wine broadened. Nuree Yupensuk, managing director of new wine importer and distributor Oenocave Ltd, says that Thais have only recently started learning about Chilean wines. "Importers are bringing in new wines, people are starting to try more wines, and they’re often finding they prefer them to French."

She describes Chilean wine as being heavy and full-bodied. "So for drinking in hot countries like Thailand, they’re very good. " Her company carries the Cuatro Vientas 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon from Maule Valley for Bt625 (including tax), the Cuatro Vientas 2000 Chardonnay for Bt595, and a range of Dona Consuelo wines. "Their Merlot has a special character," she says. "It’s soft and gentlemanly." The Merlot 1999 goes for Bt695.

Vichai Kanchanasevee, assistant managing director of importer Vanichwathana, says Chilean wines should be drunk young. "Some wines can be cellared for a few years but most producers do not intend to make wine for long ageing."

Exceptions are the "super Chilean" red wines such as Almaviva from Mouton Rothschild and Sena from Robert Mondavi – joint ventures with local Chilean wineries – that can be aged similar to great Bordeaux wines "but their reputation doesn’t yet compare with long established French grand cru wines." They are currently unavailable in Thailand, but are usually priced at around FF220-250 in other countries.

For everyday drinking, Vichai recommends Santa Carolina and Tarapaca. Villa stocks Santa Carolina’s Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 from Lontue for Bt633, while the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1998 from San Fernando retails at Bt759. The supermarket also has a range of Tarapaca wines, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 for Bt599, the Merlot 1998 for Bt857 and the Chardonnay 1998 for Bt599.

Foodland stocks an excellent range of Chilean wines under Bt600. The Santa Alicia Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, the Reserve Merlot 1998 and the Reserve Chardonnay 1998 are all priced at Bt425, while Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 and Sunrise Chardonnay 1999 from Concha y Toro (Chile’s largest winery) are a step up at Bt569. Other popular Chilean wines include the Casa Donoso Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and the Casa Donoso Reserve Merlot 1998, each priced at Bt575.

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