The image of Chile as a source for value wine is becoming outdated. There's no question that excellent, affordable Chilean wines can still be found, but that's only part of what the country offers. Top Cabernet-based reds can challenge premier California wines. Sauvignon Blancs from cool-climate regions are among the world's best. And recent ventures into other grape varieties—Syrah, Pinot Noir—are a testament to the ambitions of Chile's top winemakers.
Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro and Bordeaux’s esteemed Château Mouton Rothschild teamed up to create this ambitious label, which turns out a single Bordeaux-inspired blend each year. Sourced in part from a legendary Maipo Valley vineyard called Puente Alto and based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Almaviva has stood as one of the country’s most important benchmark reds since its first vintage, in 1996.
This Aconcagua estate is the pet project of Eduardo Chadwick, head of his family’s Errazuriz brand and one of the most influential figures in Chilean wine. Thanks to vast vineyards, the region’s coolish climate and talented winemaker Carolina Herrera, Arboleda offers a broad and finely crafted tour of Chile’s major varieties at reasonable prices.
Carmen’s two biggest claims to fame are being Chile’s first winery (1850), and almost 150 years later “rediscovering” in its vineyards what would soon become Chile’s signature grape variety, Carmenère. Today winemaker Sebastian Labbé sources fruit from top regions throughout the country for Viña Carmen’s cleanly styled and affordable wines.
Concha y Toro
The largest producer in Chile, Concha y Toro makes wine from every major grape variety in every major region of the country. Of its dizzying lineup—there are 12 separate sub-brands—the affordable Casillero del Diablo and mid-priced Marques de Casa Concha lines offer particularly great value. Two flagship reds, the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmín de Peumo Carmenère, top the portfolio.
Cousiño-Macul helped create Chile’s reputation as a source of great low-priced wines. Founded in 1856, it’s now run by a sixth-generation owner, Arturo Cousiño. Though Cousiño-Macul still produces tasty value wines, its top cuvées, such as the Finis Terrae Cabernet blend, compete with the country’s best.
Kingston Family Vineyards
The Kingston family turned its Michigan-born patriarch’s unsuccessful 1920s gold mine on the chilly Casablanca coast into farmland and vineyards. Planting reds like Syrah and Pinot on the windblown hills makes for challenging grape-growing but can yield thrilling cool-climate wines—particularly when they’re made by consulting California winemaker Byron Kosuge and local talent Evelyn Vidal.
Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle (as in Grand Marnier, the French liqueur) cofounded this Colchagua estate and imported a French winemaking team that includes superstar consultant Michel Rolland and winemaker Jacques Begarie. Lapostolle’s bold, rich wines include the terrific, bargain-priced Casa wines, the mid-priced Cuvée Alexandre tier and the much-celebrated Bordeaux-style blend Clos Apalta. As of 2011, all Lapostolle vineyards are certified organic.
Consistently dependable wines made in a clean, fruity style are the Montes hallmark. Visionary winemaker Aurelio Montes grows heat-loving Bordeaux varieties in the Colchagua Valley, and Pinot Noir and white grapes in coastal regions like Casablanca and Leyda. His top cuvée, Purple Angel, is one of Chile’s priciest Carmenères, but smart values round out the portfolio.
Founded by an Italian emigrant from Piedmont, Santa Ema began as a grape-growing business, then morphed into a winery in the 1950s. Today this family-owned producer is one of Chile’s great value brands, with a range of reliably delicious wines. Best bets include the reserve tier wines, which, despite their modest prices, get aged in oak barrels; and the Selected Terroir bottlings, which highlight key subregions’ star varietals.
Australian winemaking guru Brian Croser consults for this Maipo Valley mainstay, one of Chile’s most recognizable names, thanks to its large production and more than 130-year history. Forays into newer growing regions such as Limarí and Leyda are paying off with crisp white wines and structured, elegant reds, though the savory, iconic Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon remains the portfolio’s star.
Founded just outside Santiago in 1885, Undurraga began exporting its wines to the U.S. as early as 1903, making it the first Chilean winery to do so. Sold by the Undurraga family to an investment group in 2005, Undurraga still produces the wines that helped build the country’s international reputation as a go-to source for well-made, inexpensive whites and reds.
Veramonte was a Casablanca Valley trailblazer in the early 1990s; its refreshing Sauvignon Blancs helped put both the winery and this cool region on the map. Founded by the Huneeus family (Chilean natives who also own Napa’s Quintessa winery), Veramonte specializes in cool-climate Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, plus reds from the warmer Colchagua Valley.
Italian vintner and Falernia founder Giorgio Flessati pioneered winemaking in the remote, northerly Elqui Valley. With a number of international observatories, Elqui attracts astronomers for the same reasons it attracts vintners: clear skies, boundless sunshine and crystalline-pure air. Throw in well-draining soil, snow-melt irrigation and huge temperature swings and you get the crisp, flavorful—and amazingly well-priced—wines of Falernia.
Viña Los Vascos
France’s Rothschild family—owners of Pauillac’s fabled Château Lafite and five other Bordeaux wineries—purchased this Colchagua property in 1988. Its portfolio reflects traditional winemaking on a grand scale, with a single vineyard of more than 1,400 acres supplying fruit for five Bordeaux-inspired reds. Le Dix, a suavely structured luxury cuvée, tops the portfolio; the winery’s Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc is a consistent value.
While Pablo Morandé was head winemaker at Concha y Toro in the 1980s, he convinced the company to invest heavily in the Casablanca Valley. It was a bold move: Casablanca’s cool, maritime climate seemed like a risky bet. Today Morandé’s successful label, which he debuted in 1996, offers vibrant, energetic whites that showcase the fabulous qualities of Chile’s coastal zones; his reds come chiefly from the warmer Maipo district.