Cabernet Sauvignon is so well known in the wine world it’s commonly referred to by just its first name: Cabernet, or even just Cab. It’s best known as a major component of Bordeaux blends and is successfully planted worldwide. Terroir in Chile has proven to be perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon.
At just over 99,000 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon represents 20% of all vineyard plantings in Chile. It is planted from the Atacama region in the north to the Araucanía region of central Chile. Chile’s Central Valley, however, is home to the vast majority of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards.
Within the Central Valley, the Colchagua Valley is home to two-thirds of Cabernet plantings and the Maipo Valley is its historic center. To better acquaint ourselves with Cabernet Sauvignon’s characteristics in Chile we recently tasted six Chilean Cabernets: three from Colchagua Valley, three from Maipo Valley. We received these wines as tasting samples.
The Central Valley is bound by the Andes Mountains to the east and the Coastal Range to the west. This “between the ranges” Entre Cordilleras region enjoys a warm, Mediterranean climate, plenty of sunshine, varied elevations and complex soils. Vineyards planted near the foothills of the Andes at higher elevation are generally cooler and the soils are sedimentary. Vineyards planted near the Coastal Range (Costa) are cooled by breezes from the Pacific Ocean and soils are granitic. The Valley’s complex soils in between are influenced not only by the mountains, but by the rivers that run through it.
The Colchagua Valley lies 80 miles south of Santiago. The Tinguiririca River snakes its way across the valley from its origin in the Andes Mountains before being held back by Rapel Dam. The river descends the mountains and enters the valley at about 2,000 feet above sea level. Soils change from gravelly, alluvial terraces to clay-rich soils created by slow-moving waters where the valley flattens out. Soils closer to the Coastal Range are granite based. Temperatures at lower elevations in the valley are very warm and it is here where most of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are planted.
The Maipo Valley surrounds Chile’s capital, Santiago. Maipo Valley terroir is also heavily influenced by rivers that run through it. The Maipo River originates in the western slopes of the Maipo volcano in the Andes Mountains. It is the major river that runs through the Santiago Metropolitan Region and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean. Over time, the Maipo River and its tributaries have created a series of terraces and valleys in the region.
At higher elevations, near the foot of the Andes, average temperatures are quite cool, similar to those in Bordeaux. The Puente Alto DO is an example. At lower elevations in the valley the temperatures are very warm. Alluvial soils are comprised of thick, polished gravel and sand with variable amounts of clay depending on their proximity to the river.
A Taste of Colchagua Valley
2018 Viña Maquis Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile — medium ruby with aromas of plums and ripe, dark berries and dried herbs. Flavors include blackberries, red currents, savory herbs and earth supported by fine, drying tannins in a medium body with good acidity. 14% abv. SRP $20
Cabernet is blended with 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carmenere and 1% Petit Verdot all sourced from a low-elevation vineyard in Palmilla DO. The vineyard site near where the Tinguiririca River joins the Chimbarongo estuary. Soils are rich in clay over a seam of gravel. The warm site is not reflected in the wine’s fresh flavors.
2018 TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle de Colchagua — medium ruby with aromas of berry compote and dried tomato leaf. Flavors include plums and blackberries with cedar. Tannins are fine and drying in a medium body with juicy acidity. 14% abv. SRP $20
100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from two terroirs: 70% from Los Lingues DO (Colchagua Andes), 30% from Marchigüe DO (Entre Cordilleras). The Los Lingues DO site is warmer with deep colluvial soils rich in clay and stones. Marchigüe DO is cooled by ocean breezes and the vineyard soils are alluvial, sandy and clay-rich.
2018 Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle de Colchagua, Chile — medium ruby with aromas of blackberries, raspberries, currents, dried alfalfa and cedar. Flavors include blackberries, raspberries, dried tobacco leaf. Tannins are grippy and drying in a medium body with good acidity. 14.5% abv. SRP $22
Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 10% Syrah and 5% Carménère sourced from the Peralillo DO. Vineyards are located 460 feet above sea level only 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean with granitic soils characteristic of the Coastal Range.
As a group, these Cabernets from Colchagua Valley have generous fruit flavors with savory notes and firm, grippy tannins that are well integrated with the flavors.
A Taste of Maipo Valley
2018 Miguel Torres Reserva Especial Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle de Maipo — medium ruby with bright berry aromas and hints of pencil shavings. Flavors include tart blackberries and raspberries with notes of leather and earth. Tannins are fine and drying in a medium body with juicy acidity. 14% abv. SRP $20
100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from vineyards planted in the Maipo Andes at an elevation of 2,600 feet above sea level. This sunny site is cool due to its elevation (with cooler nights) and soils are complex with a mixture of colluvial, sand-clay loam and sharp rocks.
2017 Viña Aquitania Lázuli Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle de Maipo, Chile — medium ruby color with garnet at the rim. Fruit aromas of plums and blackberries are generous as are cedar aromas. Flavors include plums, blackberries and cedar. Tannins are very grippy, but fine, in a medium body with good acidity. 14.5% abv. SRP $45
100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from an old vineyard near Santiago at an elevation of 2,300 feet above sea level in the Maipo Andes. Soils are colluvial and include limestone, clay and sharp rocks.
2016 Echeverría Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley — medium ruby color with garnet at the rim. Elegant aromas of raspberries, blackberries and leather are followed by flavors that include raspberries and blackberries with cedar and earth. Tannins are drying and gauzy in a medium body. 14% abv. SRP $25
Cabernet is blended with 10% Syrah and 5% Carménère sourced from a vineyards in the Entre Cordilleras in Maipo. Soils are characterized as stony alluvial loam.
As a group these wines from Maipo Valley are elegant with finer tannins. Both the Echeverría and Aquitania Lázuli are aging nicely.
As a whole, these Chilean Cabs have complex flavor profiles with subtle variations. None are too ripe or alcoholic and all show a judicious use of oak, allowing the individual terroirs to come through. They are also quite affordable, always a consideration when choosing Cabernet Sauvignon for the table.