Virtually every wine region in Chile benefits from proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling Humboldt Current that flows up from the South Pole. Although Chile extends more than 2,000 miles from north to south, its grape-growing regions are clustered in the center of the country, where rainfall is concentrated during the winter months, and where an absence of fungal diseases makes for relatively carefree grape-farming. The towering Andes Mountains that run down Chile's eastern border block wind and rain from the east, but, more important, trap cool air from the Pacific, with the result that nighttime temperatures even in most of Chile's warmest vineyards typically descend into the 50s. This diurnal variation enables Chile's vineyards to produce grapes with healthy acidity, strong aromatic character and intense varietal flavors.
For decades, Chile has been an excellent source of user-friendly, fruit-driven wines, often at bargain-basement prices. Due to a stable political environment, Chile's wine growing regions have steadily attracted foreign interest and investment since the 1970s; and, at the same time, Chile has benefited from association with large and established trading companies with powerful networks that have helped to raise the profile and expand distribution of Chilean wines in major export markets.
Chile is a solid source of wonderful-if largely commercial-grade-wines made from familiar varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Recently, Chile has faced growing competition in the under-$15 range from Argentina, as well as from Spain, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa. At the same time, a growing number of producers are attempting to capitalize on the country's idyllic growing conditions by cutting vine yields and attempting to make more serious and concentrated Chilean wines that can bear comparison to the best of the New World.
Cabernet Franc Facts
Less weight and more aromatic intensity than Cabernet Sauvignon
Stews and braised meats
The Loire Valley's most renowned red wines, Bourgueil and Chinon, are made from Cabernet Franc, as are the mostly lighter, friendlier wines of Anjou and the somewhat more serious wines of Saumur-Champigny. Until recently, the aroma and flavor profile of Cabernet Franc had been decidedly out of step with the tastes of modern wine drinkers: herbal and peppery, with notes of tobacco leaf, menthol, and licorice, and often rather dry-edged tannins. But thanks to a recent string of favorable growing seasons , and to considerable work in the vineyards to reduce vine yields and promote greater ripeness of the grapes, today's Loire Valley Cabernet Francs possess more flesh and sweetness of fruit than ever before. These Cabernet Francs are also wonderfully flexible at the table. (Incidentally, when it was discovered that a compound called resveratrol, which is found in the skins of many red grapes, offers cardiovascular and anticarcinogenic benefits, the Cabernet Franc variety was found to be particularly high in this substance.)
There are also ample plantings of Cabernet Franc in the New World where the grape is used as it is in Bordeaux, in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the Napa Valley, there are excellent examples, particularly in the cooler mountain settings where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to reach optimum ripeness. Some worthwhile single varietal bottlings are being produced by Pride Mountain, Chappellet, and La Jota, among other producers.
Surprisingly, Cabernet Franc is also showing some success elsewhere in North America, including in Virginia, near Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson first attempted to produce fine wine. Pay attention to current efforts, as these are proving more successful than Jefferson's early endeavors.