Chile and Argentina have quite a bit in common: Major South American nations, they lie more-or-less side-by-side, separated by the lofty Andes, with Argentina on the Atlantic Coast and Chile on the Pacific. Both countries are now thriving democracies with all-too-recent memories of repressive totalitarian regimes. (Chile was in the news just this week with the death of 91-year-old former strongman Augusto Pinochet.)
Most important from the wine-enthusiast perspective, both countries boast long and vigorous if somewhat different wine-making traditions. Argentina traces the heart of its wine culture to a strong current of Italian immigration. Chile's wine production has its taproots in France, from wine-making refugees who fled the 19th Century phylloxera epidemic in Europe to plant vineyards in the New World.
I've long been a fan of Argentine wines, particularly the earthy, structured style of Malbec from the Mendoza region. But I tend to be a bit more wary of wines from Chile, not because of any intrinsic flaw in the region's wines but because, frankly, too many of its producers in recent years have chosen to export modest, one-dimensional wines that compete against American big-brand varietal wines at the lower end of the marketplace, offering low prices but not great value.
Of course there are exceptions to this, as to every rule, as today's tasting demonstrates. <B>Chono</B>, a Chilean winery under the umbrella of Geo Wines Ltd. of Santiago (Sergio Reyes and Alvaro Espinoza), is gaining attention for high-quality wines made largely with organic and "biodynamic" techniques. The modestly priced <B>Chono 2004 Central Valley Cabernet Sauvignon</b> in today's report is not yet fully organic, and the back label (stating that it's 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) disagrees with the Website (listing it as 85% Cabernet, 15% Syrah). That's nitpicking, though. The good news is that it's a fine Chilean red that bespeaks the country's potential with a characteristic, varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon of good structure and balance, a kissin' cousin to a simple but well-made generic Bordeaux.
Chono, according to the back label, "is the name of one of the bravest native tribes that lived in the fjords of Southern Chile. The Southern tribes all shared a passion for sea and agriculture. Brave and unique, they exemplified the strong character of their land."
<table border="0" align="right" width="140"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/chon1129.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Chono 2004 Central Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
Very dark ruby with reddish-purple glints. Characteristic Cabernet aromas, blackcurrant and fresh herbs with a back note of dark chocolate. Medium-bodied but intense, typical varietal flavors follow the nose, built on a solid structure of acidity and soft tannins. No lightweight, but its 13.5% alcohol seems appropriate for this sturdy Cabernet. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif., and Montecastelli Selections Ltd., NYC. (Nov. 29, 2006)
<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Rare steaks or lamb chops or a roast would be just right. I went for a Southwestern style match with a quick dinner based on leftover beef fajitas from a local Mexican spot, but went wrong - for the wine match, at least - when I added chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Beef, as noted, is good with Cabernet, but fiery smoky chiles are not. (Actually I knew this, but I wanted them anyway.)
<B>VALUE:</B> No complaints at this local retail price, but it should be noted that this wine sells widely for less than $10, at which point it would be an exceptional value.
<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Ready to drink, but Cabernet tends to age well, and good balance and tannins in this one suggest some potential for cellaring over several years.
Chono's parent corporation, Geo Wines Ltd., of Santiago, Chile, has a colorful, flashy but somewhat difficult-to-navigate Website in Spanish and English at this link. It requires the Flash plugin and is not accessible to text readers.
<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Look up vendors and check prices for Chono Cabernet on Wine-Searcher.com.