Can Chilean wines trump their French cousins? Four wines you can put to the test

In 1976, to coincide with our country's bicentennial celebrations, a wine merchant-turned-educator named Steve Spurrier organized an esteemed panel of wine cognoscenti to trumpet the (allegedly obvious) superiority of ultra-elite French wines over their Napa Valley counterparts. Spurrier got the shock of his life when the US snatched up the top score in both the white and red wine categories. So what happened next? The wine-drinking public took note, and for the first time ever, France was no longer universally considered the heavyweight champion of the wine world.

Fast forward to 2004. Chilean winemaker Eduardo Chadwick, owner of Chilean winery Viña Errazuriz, decided to mimic that historic Paris Tasting in order to showcase the quality of his cult-ish Bordeaux varietal based-wines. He won. Now a yearly event, this past May found Chadwick again taking top prize versus the French with his iconic (read: spendy) red blends. But do his successes prove that more moderately-priced Chilean wines can hang? After years of being on the widely-traveled Argentinean wines = good, Chilean wines = cheap swill bandwagon, I decided to do a little tasting of my own. Read on for the results:

Yali Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($9): If you've never tried Chilean sauvignon blanc, this would be the perfect wine to check out. It's more like New Zealand sauv blanc than those hailing from France or California; as such, you'll be treated to loads of clean grapefruit and juicy lemongrass flavors. Shockingly easy to drink, this racy little number just might end up on your very own list of summer 2010's best porch pounders.

Santa Ema Merlot 2007 ($9): I was highly skeptical of this wine from the start. After all, it features two of the most controversial qualities a wine could have: It's Chilean, and it's a merlot, for the love of Bacchus. Instead, it was love at first sniff; a gorgeous bouquet of cocoa, baking spices, and dried blueberries followed through with a veritable mother lode of juicy plum and dark berry flavors. Get over your aversion to merlot already and get yourself a bottle of this, stat.

Yali Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère 2009 ($9): Carménère (say "car-men-yayre") is the most widely planted mack-daddy red varietal of Chile. For a measly nine dollars, you will be personally rewarded with a delightful jewel of a wine -- never mind the fact that your guests will never guess you've poured them a wine this inexpensive. It's a bit of a fruit bomb for sure, with gobs of ripe fig and blackberry jamminess to savor throughout its generous finish. The best part? Although it's deliciously toasty, it's not as in-your-face oaky as similar wines at this price point can be.

Palo Alto Reserva Red 2008 ($11): This wine, a lip-smacking blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carménère, and 15 perecent syrah, kinda reminded me of one of those pictures hidden within another picture. You know, the ones where if you squint and look at it from a slightly different angle, you suddenly see something completely different? After your first sip you might be scratching your head, trying to decide if you like it or not. But then you inhale its aromas again, and notice the intricate layers of leather and smoke mixed with just hint of gamy-funkiness. Another swig evokes memories of deep-dish cherry or maybe blueberry pie...and then, before you know it, you're staring at the bottom of your glass.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kendra Anderson