Pablo Neruda, Chile's great poet, knew how to elevate the mundane. His famous series of odes paid tribute to everyday objects that we tend to take for granted, as in his Ode to My Socks and Ode to Salt. My favourite is his Ode to Wine.
The topic is up my alley, yes, but what I especially love is the way he characterizes the beverage, imbuing it with human traits, such as moral agency and brains. "I like on the table, when we're speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine," he wrote in a stanza that I believe is meant to convey the truth that good wine reminds the attentive drinker of the soil in which it was grown. Less poetically, that "intelligence" is what I think the French would call terroir.
Also for Neruda, a pitcher of wine comes figuratively to life, creating a sort of ménage à trois with two lovers as it adds its own kiss to "the kiss of love." A wine that kisses - I like that. You couldn't possibly think of Coke or Gatorade or soy milk doing the same.
Chile, the land, has obviously been kissed by Bacchus. Argentina may be winning the South American public-relations tug-of-war for North American lips this year, but the land of Neruda, clear mountain skies - and, tragically, a devastating earthquake last week - remains a value leader. This is especially true in the $10-to-$20 price range, in the category of full-bodied, Bordeaux-style reds.
A very good lineup of Chilean offerings comes up for release today at Ontario Vintages stores. Some are available in other provinces (as indicated). Let's get to the highlights.
Merlot does not get much better for the money than Tabali Reserva Merlot 2006 ($14.95, product No. 93740). Full-bodied and smooth with succulent flavours of black currant, cherry and vanilla, it finishes with a dry grip thanks to nicely balanced tannins and acid. Great for duck or roast beef and nice to sip on its own.
The good people at Tabali have scored another minor achievement with Tabali Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008 ($19.95, No. 47514). Yes, a good pinot noir for less than $20. Chile is little known for pinot noir, which tends to thrive in cool climates. This one is grown in the Limari Valley, which is relatively cool for Chile. The nose evokes crushed fresh berries, while the medium-bodied palate delivers notes of red-berry jam and, faintly, earth on a silky, supple texture. Good for chicken, duck, lamb or even grilled salmon.
Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($16.95, No. 398800; $18.15 in Quebec, same number) represents great value for a cabernet sauvignon. Full-bodied and assertive, with a punch of creamy cassis, cedar and spice, followed by a dry, slightly astringent finish. Decant to expose it to air if you can. Good for steak or roast beef. A merlot from Casa Lapostolle is being released today as well, but I wasn't as fond of it as the cabernet sauvignon.
Another great cabernet value is Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 ($14.95, No. 16071). The cabernet gets a supporting role (30 per cent) from Chile's signature red grape, carmenere. The latter adds a bit of spice and acid grip to this full-bodied, smooth, big red, with flavours hinting at cherry, blueberry and dark chocolate.
More expensive but worth the money is Montes Alpha Carmenere 2007 ($19.95, No. 143230). Carmenere is a tough sell at $20. Many consumers think of it as a workhorse grape, often tinged with green, stemmy notes and high acidity. And few collectors could give a fig about it.
Yet when cultivated to produce fewer, more concentrated bunches, the vine can yield delicious and complex wine. This is the case here. Full-bodied and weighing in at 14.5-per-cent alcohol, it's packed with ripe fruit, yet the intrigue comes from the savoury layers, hinting at lavender, fresh herbs and spice. A terrific pairing for braised or roasted meats.
Available in B.C. is the equally good Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($26.88, No. 322586).
And in Ontario, don't miss two excellent white buys from Chile: Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2008 ($14.95 in Ontario, No. 396986; $16.95 in Quebec, No. 10260711), full-bodied, buttery, ripe and balanced with fresh acidity; and Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($14.95, No. 143198).
Also part of today's Vintages release are two good affordable Bordeaux. Château d'Argadens 2005 ($16.95 in Ontario, No. 681643; $18.30 in Quebec, No. 10515876) is a Bordeaux Supérieur red from one of the better vineyard spots in the vast Entre-deux-Mers district. A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, it comes from the great 2005 vintage and is made by Maison Sichel, a family-owned negociant that also is invested in the distinguished Chateau Palmer. Medium-bodied, the wine shows good fruit focus, with a ripe cherry core, underpinned by pleasantly powdery tannins and subtle vanilla and oak notes.
I also was impressed with Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($15.95 in Ontario, No. 159640; $16.99 in B.C., No. 264929; $14.90 in Quebec, No. 231654). Yes, it's from a big company, but this white shows more elegance than most sauvignon blancs from other regions, including California and New Zealand. Light-bodied and tangy, it is enticingly fresh.
I'll cover more of the current Vintages release in next Saturday's column.
Turning to British Columbia, I want to praise one of the biggest wines to emerge from the Land of Snow. Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2007 ($39.99 in B.C., Quailsgate.com) measures in at a (literally) stunning 15.5-per-cent alcohol, the product of intensely concentrated grapes from the sunny 2007 growing season. Made from 100-per-cent Maréchal Foch, it is a barbecue of hickory smoke and cured meat, set in a massive frame with a velvety, rich texture. Wild, rugged and elegant at the same time - a Canadian lumberjack in Prada fleece. What a beautiful, memorable, very Canadian red.
Picks of the week
Tabali Reserva Merlot 2006 ($14.95, product No. 93740) is full-bodied and smooth with succulent flavours of black currant, cherry and vanilla. It finishes with a dry grip thanks to nicely balanced tannins and acid.
Measuring in at a stunning 15.5-per-cent alcohol, Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2007 ($39.99 in B.C., www.quailsgate.com) is the product of intensely concentrated grapes from the sunny 2007 growing season. It's a BBQ of hickory smoke and cured meat, set in a massive frame with a velvety, rich texture.
Carmenere is a tough sell at $20, but Montes Alpha Carmenere 2007 ($19.95, No. 143230) is full-bodied and packed with ripe fruit. Added intrigue comes from the savoury layers, hinting at lavender, fresh herbs and spice.
To contribute to Red Cross efforts in Chile, follow these links. In English, contact www.redcross.ca and follow links to donate for Chilean relief; in French, contact www.croixrouge.ca and follow links to donate for Chilean relief. Or call 1-800-418-1111 in either language.