Powered by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile's red wines have long been known as a source of consistent quality and solid value. In addition, the country's best reds have surged in quality in recent years, as producers honed their winemaking programs in the late 1990s and shifted their red grape plantings to more suitable sites.
For my Chilean tasting report in the May 31, 2009 issue of Wine Spectator, I reviewed more than 550 wines, a record-high total that mirrors the growth of the category. Most of them were red, as these varieties constitute three-quarters of the country's vineyard plantings. Fifty-five wines earned outstanding marks (90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale), and that top-scoring group was likewise dominated by reds, emphasizing Chile's strong suit—Cabernet Sauvignon—as well as its burgeoning breadth thanks to Carmenère and Syrah.
Typically, Chilean Cabernets show softer, loamier structures than their Bordeaux counterparts, and more subtle fruit than their peers from California. Cabernet's muscle contrasts with the soft, fleshy texture and alluring plum, tobacco and mineral profile of Carmenère, which tends to perform better in blends than on its own, as it sometimes struggles to ripen fully, leading to green flavors.
Red wine lovers need not stop there—both Syrah and Pinot Noir continue to improve in Chile. Winemakers pursuing Pinot Noir have made slow but steady progress with this notoriously finicky grape.
Chile's wine industry remains dominated by a handful of large wineries—Concha y Toro, Viña San Pedro, Viña Santa Carolina and Viña Santa Rita chief among them. Competition is fierce within the highly export-minded industry, and their ongoing quality battle provides consumers with a wide array of easy-to-find, well-priced wines.
WineSpectator.com members can use our Top Values tool to find great buys from James Molesworth's tastings: more than 75 red wines that cost between $10 and $25 and rated 87 points or higher.
View the full list of Top Values among Chilean reds.