It may sound strange but Chile represents an affordable alternative to California as a fine wine region. Consider this. The two areas have extremely similar climates and similar topographies. Both have two massive mountain ranges running north to south with a warm flat valley in the middle and a cool hilly area on the western coast. In between are a myriad of hills and slopes for premium vineyard sites in both places. Many of these areas in California are very well known, which means the wines are in high demand and can end up being very expensive. Plus, land in California is quite costly and this also contributes to rising wine prices in quality wines from Cali. This is bad news if you like to drink good wine but are on a budget.
Fortunately, in Chile, most of these premium areas are still being cultivated and are fairly unknown. This is great news because this represents an opportunity to drink very well made wine without having to spend a fortune. The varieties California is famous for such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon thrive in different regions of Chile. The challenge is finding these gems in the US because the overwhelming majority of Chilean wines imported into the US reinforce the stereotype of Chilean wines as inexpensive one dimensional fruit forward wines. And that’s not the case at all.
It’s true that there is a lot of simple inexpensive Chilean wine out there. But because of the potential to produce fine wines on par with the likes of California and other international regions, some of the most famous wine producing families in the world such as the Rothschilds of Bordeaux or the Torres’ of Spain have invested heavily into premium wine development in Chile. This, in turn, has prompted many others to follow their lead and cultivate new quality grape growing sites. Of course, the wines produced by the famous names can command mega bucks but most of the smaller producers around Chile make high quality wine at extremely affordable prices – especially when compared to fine wine out of California.
An added bonus for Chile is that it is a leader in organic grape growing so if you are more conscious about chemicals, almost any Chilean wine you find will have been grown from organic grapes – whether it say so or not. Chile has not been subject to the same diseases as many other parts of the world so hardly anyone uses pesticides. Meanwhile, organic vineyards in California are quite costly to maintain resulting in higher priced wines from California.
Lucky for us, a few importers are starting to bring in these gems. One of my favorite importers – Copa Fina – brings in wines from Lafken – a small family winery based in the Maipo Valley of the Central Valley Region. This is one of the areas to look for if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to a Napa cab. At Lafken, the vineyards are further up in the hills on premium sloped sites and are able to take advantage of the cool air coming down the slopes as opposed to the many vineyard sites on the valley floor (that’s where the simple stuff comes from). As an example, the 2018 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is their latest release and sells for only $24.95 – would you be able to find a quality single vineyard small production cab out of California for that price? See what I mean? So if you can, look for producers like Lafken and you’ll see what I mean about Chile being an affordable alternative to California.