The Other Side of the Andes

In my last several articles, I have been reviewing a number of inexpensive, yet tasty Malbec and Malbec blend red wines from Argentina.

The high altitudes, dry climates and pure waters of the Andes contribute to the growing of terrific grape stock, which makes a large contribution to the success of the Argentinian wine industry.

What we sometimes forget is that Chile, on the west tide of the Andes, also benefits from many of the same factors, and is also creating some outstanding wines of its own.

I was reminded of this as I tasted a Vino Ventisquero Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.15), a Chilean red wine from the famed Colchagua Valley.

The wine makers etch right on the front of their bottle that, “Chile’s isolation, protected by the mighty Andes to the east, and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean to the west, ensures that grape vines remain on the original rootstock, in the purest form.”

Tha phylloxera louse, an insect that decimated most of France’s and other countries’ grape vines at the end of the 19th century, has not been a problem for Chile (or Argentina).

As the Roots:1 label mentions, and as an article in Wikipedia describes: “Chile’s natural boundaries (Pacific Ocean, Andes Mountain, Atacama Desert to the north and Antarctica to the south) has left it relatively isolated from other parts of the world and has served to be beneficial in keeping the phylloxera louse at bay.”

The traditional defence against phylloxera has been for grape growers to graft traditional grape vines (like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals) to types of grape vine roots that are resistant to the phylloxera louse.

Because the geographical features of Chile protect the vineyards from the phylloxera louse, Chilean wineries boast of the “purity” of their vines, in that they are unadulterated by grafting different roots to the traditional varieties of grape vines.

Chile’s wine making tradition dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors and missionaries brought traditional Spanish grape vines with them when they colonized the region.

In the 18th century, Chile was known mostly for its sweet wines. A British admiral (the grandfather of poet Lord Byron) travelling across Chile in the 1700s compared the taste of Chliean wines of that period to the then-popular sweet Portuguese Madeira wines.

By the middle of the 19th century, French wine grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced by European immigrants, and French style wines began to emerge, though not of great quality.

By the 1980s, there was a rebirth of Chilean wine making with the adoption of modern wine making techniques, including the use of stainless steel fermentation tanks along with French and American oak aging barrels.

Over 10 years, from 1995 to 2005, the number of Chilean wineries grew from 12 to over 70, raising Chile to the rank of ninth largest wine producer in the world, as well as the fifth largest exporter.

In the U.S., Chile is the fourth largest wine importer, beaten only by France, Italy and Australia!

Root:1 comes from Chile’s Rapel Valley, in the Colchagua Province, located across the Andes from Argentina’s best-known wine region, Mendoza Province, so it is no surprise that such tasty vines are emerging from that location.

The Rapel wine region is particularly known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, of which Root:1 is a great example.

I drank the Root:1 with friends who were serving a pork roast with dinner. Though I did not have my aerator with me, right out of the bottle the wine had a good, dark fruit bouquet (smell) that reminded me of ripe plums or even blueberries, coupled with a deep red colour that I liked.

To me, the taste had both bright red cherry flavours, and hints of tobacco and even licorice as I swallowed. The taste was full, acidic enough to cut the fatty taste of the pork roast, and with a happy finish (the taste/smell that remained in my mouth after I swallowed the wine) that was very pleasant.

I have been happily surprised by a number of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons, and can genuinely recommend this one. I want to go back and explore some blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère from this country, and they will likely be very tasty.

Give one of these a try with roast or BBQ’d meat. I think you’ll enjoy it!


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