Best served Chile: We taste some of Chile's new cool-climate wines

Drinks: Chardonnay, Wines
Location: Chile, South America

Chile’s growers are moving ever closer to the Pacific Ocean in search of wines that offer elegance as well as ripeness. Louis Villard joined a crack team of sommelier tasters to put the country’s new cool-climate credentials to the test

Imbibe’s Sommelier Summit trip to Chile last year proved that the country should have better representation on wine lists than it does. However, many sommeliers remain sceptical about the country’s commitment to the on-trade and also to the wines’ food-friendliness. But if last year’s visit proved one thing, it’s that cool-climate wines of Chile should offer just what sommeliers are looking for: subtle fruit, less jamminess, with more minerality and acidity. And, most importantly, food-friendliness.

To put this theory to the test, we called in 30-odd cool-climate Chardonnays and about half that number of Syrahs. The only really ‘established’ region was Casablanca (source of most of the Chardonnays), with many of the other wines coming from areas near the Pacific that were not planted at all 10 years ago. As always, the wines were tasted blind and scored by every taster.

the panel

Joris Beijn, Andaz; Andrea Briccarello, Corrigan’s Mayfair; Roberto della Pietra, Roussillon; Olivier Gasselin, Bluebird; Louise Gordon, The Westbury Hotel; Sarah Guignard, The French Table; Chris Losh, Imbibe; Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan; Igor Sotric, China Tang at The Dorchester; David Vareille, Bleeding Heart; Adam Wilson, Auberge du Lac; Gal Zohar, L’Anima


79 Emiliana Novas Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca

‘Nutty white peach and crab apple. Very good for the price.’ LG

‘Beautiful fruits, not over-oaked. This is elegant but still intense.’ RDP

£5.44, Boutinot, 0161 908 1311

75 Ventolera Chardonnay 2008, Leyda

‘An elegant nose. This feels like an Old World wine.’ JB

‘Fresh stone fruit and minerals. This is almost Chablis-like, finely made.’ OG

£9.33, Novum, 020 7820 6720

73 Agustinos Winemakers Wild Yeast Chardonnay Reserva 2008, Bío Bío

‘Well balanced, crisp with minerals. Good drinkability.’ AB

‘Apricot, peach and grapefruit.’ IS

‘Good value for money.’ LG

£7.08, Hallgarten, 01582 722538

73 Botalcura La Porfia Chardonnay 2005, Casablanca

‘Pronounced, intense nose.’ IS

‘Very well integrated fruit. This is a well balanced wine.’ LG

‘Exotic aromas of mango and passion fruit on the nose.’ RDP

£9.45, Fortitude Wines, 01903 889960

72 Cono Sur Maiden Flight Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca

‘Fresh and floral – very good value.’ AB

‘Almond notes, rich, creamy with a seductive finish.’ RDP

‘Pronounced tropical fruit, fresh apple and peach, with a zingy minerality.’ IS

£5.00, Cono Sur, 01865 873713

71 Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca

‘Banana and orange blossom, with a long, lemony finish.’ LG

‘Elegant and intense nose.’ AB

£8.02, Berkmann Cellars, 020 7609 4711

71 Luis Felipe Edwards Selección de Familia Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca

‘Touch of spiciness and cinnamon. Oak is controlled and well integrated, with a smooth, long finish.’ RDP

‘Good value and excellent with raw fish.’ AB

£5.67, D&D Wines, 01491 672451

71 Tabalí Reserva Chardonnay 2007, Limarí

‘This is a great-value food wine.’ RDP

‘Flavours of apple and stone fruits on the palate.’ IS

£5.44, Boutinot, 0161 908 1311

68 François Lurton Gran Araucano Chardonnay 2007, Colchagua

‘Full, rich and honeyed nose – good note of stone fruits, with ginger elements.’ RDP

£11.00, Lurton, +33 557 551 205

68 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Chardonnay 2006, Casablanca

‘Light spice, exotic fruit, pear and lemon, rich but well balanced.’ DV

£10.86, Percy Fox, 01279 756200

65 Caliterra Tributo Chardonnay 2006, Casablanca

‘Full but elegant palate – good oak and acidity combination.’ AB

£7.19, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800

65 Valdivieso Single Vineyard ‘Wild Ferment’ Chardonnay 2007, Leyda

‘Tangerine, mango and a touch of wet pebbles, quite serious.’ CP

‘Inviting New World nose.’ JB

£9.00, Bibendum, 020 7449 4100

62 Ventisquero Reserva Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca

‘Strong lemon character on the nose – quite easy to match with food.’ DV

£6.20, PLB, 01342 318282

61 Terra Andina Reserva Chardonnay 2008, Limarí

‘Ripe expressive fruit, balanced New World style, but well made.’ DV

£5.60, Codorníu, 01892 500250

60 Anakena Indo Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca

‘Varietal characteristics good for the price. Fruit, acidity and structure all well done.’ JB

£2.58 @ 20+ case minimum order, Stratfords, 01628 810606

60 MontGras Amaral Chardonnay 2007, Leyda

‘Soft floral tones, with grapefruit and lime on the palate.’ SG

‘To go with light fish.’ AW

£6.97, Enotria, 020 8961 4411

58 La Playa Block Selection Reserve

Chardonnay 2007, Limarí

‘A fresh and crisp wine.’ DV

£5.99, Ellis of Richmond Wines, 020 8744 5576

56 De Martino Legado Reserva Chardonnay 2006, Limarí

‘Hints of mango and pineapple on nose, elegant finish.’ AB

£6.08, Berkmann Cellars, 020 7609 4711

55 Garces Silva Amayna Chardonnay 2006, Leyda

‘Would make a good match with veal or meaty fish.’ AW

‘Perfumed nose of banana and papaya, racy minerals and surprisingly fresh.’ SG

£12.55, Alliance, 01505 506060

54 Viña Casablanca Céfiro Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca

‘Zesty, grapefruit nose, good as an aperitif or with seafood.’ AB

£4.00, Copestick Murray Wine Solutions, 01672 519390

50 Carmen Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca

‘Sweet and sour, but also rich and very New World in style.’ OG

£8.49, Codorníu, 01892 500250

50 Gran Tarapacá Chardonnay 2008, Leyda

‘Palate of fresh, clean grapefruit.’ SG

£7.99, Direct Wines, 0118 903 1259


  • The majority said they preferred the non-Casablanca Chardonnays, but it was a Casablanca Chardonnay that scored highest.
  • The wines from Limarí, Leyda and Bío Bío tended to be more crisp and lean, showing minerals, clean fruit, higher acidity and less oak.
  • The Casablancas still had Chardonnay fruit but tended to be richer, rounder, less on the crisp side and with more oak influence.
  • The lighter styles were preferred – mainly because they are better matched with food – while the bigger styles were said to be better listed on a bar-menu rather than a restaurant list.


75 Casa Marin Casablanca Syrah 2006, San Antonio

‘Elegant and sophisticated, some real style here and no showing off.’ GZ

‘Spicy and extremely ripe, with lots of aromas coming off the nose – this is a New World icon wine.’ DV

‘Smoky tobacco on both the nose and palate with delicate tones of cassis and white pepper.’ SG

£16.25, Boutinot, 0161 908 1311

72 Matetic EQ Syrah 2007, San Antonio

‘Lots of ripe red berries, elegant palate of crunchy fruits, intense and complex.’ AB

‘Violet-scented nose with rose petal and white pepper – good with lamb.’ AW

‘Juicy, balanced black fruit, damsons and sloes, serious, “proper Syrah”.’ CP

£13.25, Genesis, 020 7963 9062

71 Viña Falernia Syrah Reserva 2006, Elqui

‘Blackcurrant and blueberry with cardamom and pepper. Very impressive for under £10.’ LG

‘Fragrant, sweet plums, sandalwood. Long and soft, nice.’ CP

‘Excellent taste like an Old World Syrah, well structured and priced.’ JB

£9.15, Great Western, 01225 322813

69 Viña Casablanca Neblus 2007, Casablanca

‘Young red fruits, milk chocolate and earth. Very good.’ LG

‘Velvety and juicy with good structure and complexity. Nice rich red berry mix.’ AB

‘Lots of dark fruit on the nose, spiced oranges and dark chocolate. Quite typical and well made for the price.’ OG

£11.12, Copestick Murray Wine Solutions, 01672 519390

68 Maycas del Limarí Reserva Especial Syrah 2007, Limarí

‘Rich and spicy, nice structure and well balanced.’ AB

‘Very agreeable nose, lovely berries. Gracious for its price.’ JB

‘Spices, leather, chocolate; elegant with delicious fruit, freshness and length.’ OG

£10.92, Concha y Toro UK, 01865 873713

67 Alta Tierra Syrah Reserva 2007, Elqui

‘Some sweetness makes it easy drinking and enjoyable.’ DV

‘Ripe blackberry with minty notes and good structure, with sweet fruit on the palate and chocolate notes on the finish.’ RDP

£10.99, Direct Wines, 0118 903 1259

67 Garces Silva Amayna Syrah 2007, Leyda

‘Smokey, earthy, leathery and black stone; beautiful structure making this a great match for high-protein meats or casseroles.’ RDP

‘Nice, savoury punchiness on the palate, dialled-down fruit but plenty of weight – quite grown up.’ CL

‘Strawberry nose that reminds me of strawberry penicillin – with a blackcurrant fruit palate, plus soft tannins and a satisfying length.’ SG

£14.13, Alliance, 01505 506060

65 Loma Larga Syrah 2005, Casablanca

‘This is a simple yet extremely pleasant glass of wine.’ GZ

‘The palate is complex and elegant with lovely acidity and tannins, would be excellent with food.’ AB

£10.52, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7493 2660

64 Casa Silva Gran Reserva Syrah Lolol 2006, Colchagua

‘Cherry fruit and great finesse on the palate. Feels smooth but needing food, beef.’ AW

£8.75, Jackson Nugent, 020 8947 9722

64 Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2007, Limarí

‘Deep ruby with great tannin.’ IS

‘Black fruit pastilles and liquorice, velvety tannins, just about balanced, long and rather nice.’ CP

£8.49, Codorníu, 01892 500250

63 Emiliana Novas Winemaker’s Selection Syrah 2005, Casablanca

‘Wow! Explodes out of the glass with eucalyptus and currant pastilles.’ CL

£8.14, Boutinot, 0161 908 1311

60 Tabalí Reserve Syrah 2007, Limarí

‘Rubbery red fruits on the nose, nice cassis. Will go with a grilled steak.’ JB

£6.54, Boutinot, 0161 908 1311

61 Cono Sur Maiden Flight Syrah 2006, Colchagua

‘Appealing nose, good structure and clean, focused fruit.’ RDP

£5.00, Cono Sur, 01865 873713

50 Casa Silva Reserva Syrah 2006, Colchagua

‘Delicate soft fruit nose. Easy drinking.’ CP

‘Cassis fruit, soft tannins, easy drinking.’ SG

£6.75, Jackson Nugent, 020 8947 9722


  • The more expensive reds were most popular, mainly due to their better food compatibility overall.
  • Certain words were frequently used in the top-scoring tasting notes: red berries, crunchy fruit, chocolate, fragrant, roses, elegant.
  • There was a greater range in quality between lower- and higher-scoring wines than in the whites.
  • At its best, Chile cool-climate Syrah could compete with better-known names of northern Rhône.

from the panel…

Adam Wilson, Auberge du Lac

I feel Chile’s Chardonnays are going backwards and following the trends of Aussie Chards from 10 years ago: too much oak and no balance. On a good note though, Leyda examples show that Chardonnay can do well in Chile, with personality and an understanding of how to use oak. But overall it seems there is a focus is on making good-value rather than exceptional wines.’

Joris Beijn, Andaz

‘The Leyda Chardonnays were more elegant, while the Casablancas were quite tropical and slightly richer. As for Syrah, in general I was really impressed with the quality. They’re all made well, and there is even diversity within the styles, enough so that you could have a few different bottles and various price points on your list.’

Andrea Briccarello, Corrigan’s, Mayfair

‘For the whites, Casablancas were the biggest scorers for me, they had more complexity and structure. I liked them, but some used too much oak and that unbalanced the wine. The reds were better than the whites – not overpowering or over-extracted and not too concentrated, with great varietal characteristics.

Gal Zohar, L’Anima

‘With the Chardonnay, I was looking for different and interesting wines. Some of them tasted like they were in a California/New World-style, big Chardonnay, rather than a “Chile” style. The Limarís had more freshness and minerality, although some were high in alcohol. The Casablancas were more industrial, wine you can find anywhere.’

Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan

‘I was expecting something different from the traditional fruit bomb, rich, heavy Chardonnay. On the whole this was true – but with Casablanca the fruit was more confected and the alcohol higher. The Leydas were closer to what I expected – more elegant, better balanced and fresher. I was disappointed at how many of the reds had a problem with reduction, but the best were lovely, like the best of the Rhône but cheaper.’

David Vareille, Bleeding Heart

‘The level of quality among the whites was good. While some were better than others, all were good value, but 80% are more supermarket style than restaurant wines. There was a huge variation in quality among the reds. Some were very extracted, but well-made, powerful, modern wines, while some were high yield, poor taste, cheaply priced and no value for money.’

Louise Gordon, The Westbury Hotel

‘I enjoyed the Syrahs, which generally gave better value for money than the Chardonnays. Certainly food-wise, in terms of body and overall complexity, the reds were a little more interesting.’

Roberto della Pietra, Roussillon

‘Overall, it was good, even the £5-6 mark. There was good variety of characters and aromas. Overall, I thought they were solid flights. I was quite happy to score the ones I liked highly, and was even happier to find out afterwards that my high-scoring wines were wines I knew and preferred.’

Igor Sotric, China Tang at The Dorchester

‘The reds showed much better than the whites and I believe the future with these guys lies with Syrah rather than Chardonnay. I quite liked some of them specifically, they were sweet/fruit-driven but not too powerful, like something from Barossa, with a bit of concentration and nicely balanced. I would rather go with a Syrah than a Merlot from Chile.’

Olivier Gasselin, Bluebird

‘The Casablanca wines weren’t really impressive but the Leydas were very interesting, some with real good Chablis, mineral style. The Syrah prices were quite fair, but with lots of variation of styles. A couple of them were typical of what I expected from a good Syrah – chocolate, spice, elegance and freshness.’

Sarah Guignard, The French Table

‘I preferred and felt more alert to the Syrahs, which were definitely of a cool-climate style and what I was expecting. The fruit was restrained, with a little complexity: not just jam. In general, a nice clean finish that made you want to go back for more.’

Chris Losh, Editor, Imbibe

I much preferred the Chardonnays from Leyda/Limarí. They had more minerality and better persistence in the mouth than the Casablanca versions, which arrived in a blast of tropical fruit, then disappeared, leaving only oak and alcohol. For the Syrahs, I was generally impressed. They seemed to straddle the Old and New World quite nicely: McLaren Vale on the nose, but fresher on the palate. Crowd pleasers with food potential, in other words. On this evidence, Syrah has real potential here, but I’d leave Casablanca for the supermarket buyers…

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September / October 2009

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