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Want Killer Cabernet for Less Than $20? Look to Chile!

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon holds a special place in my heart. Back when I was getting deeply into wine, bargain priced Cabernet Sauvignon from South America, and Chile in particular, helped drive my interest. It was amazing to me that there was so much good wine for such a low price. Cabernet from other areas didn’t seem like it could compete dollar-for-dollar with what was coming from Chile.

Flash forward 20 years and some things have changed. Bargain-basement-priced Cabernet isn’t the thing I first think about when I think of Chile — instead I’m consumed with the amazing bounty and diversity hitting our shelves from there at more than fair prices. And when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon specifically, there may not be a lot of great ones for $6 these days, but other regions still have a hard time competing with Chile dollar for dollar. This time out I’m looking at three Cabernets from Chile that retail for under $20; they really spoke to me when I tasted them side by side.

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First up is the William Cole Vineyards 2010 Columbine Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering is 100 percent Cabernet. All of the fruit for this wine came from the Colchagua Valley. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks over eight days, and aging in French oak barrels over 12 months followed. This wine, which has a suggested retail price of $18, is widely available. Violet, plum and blueberry aromas are joined by vanilla bean on the nose of this Cabernet. The black fruit characteristics steal the show here, with blueberry and zingy black raspberry leading the way. Minerals galore, earth and spices such as black pepper and cardamom mark the finish, which is above average in length. This is an elegant and graceful Cabernet for the price point.

Next up is the Peñalolen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent), Cabernet Franc (7 percent), Merlot (6 percent) and Petit Verdot (2 percent). The fruit for this Cabernet came from the Maipo valley. After fermentation, barrel aging took place over 12 months, and 20 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Roughly 80,000 cases of this vintage were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19. Aromas of Red Delicious Apple emerge from the nose of this Cabernet. Cherries, spice and bits of red raspberry are present as well. The palate here is proportionate and balanced with loads of red fruits, joined by hints of cinnamon and pepper. Soft tannins mark the structure, which is all about balance and grace. This Cabernet leans toward red fruit flavors from the first whiff to the last note on the finish, which has solid length. This is an approachable, food friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that will drink well over the next five years. This wine will work with a wider array of foods than the average Cabernet.

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Finally, we have the Los Vascos 2010 Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), Carmenere (10 percent), Syrah (10 percent) and Malbec (5 percent). The fruit for this wine came from the Colchagua Valley. The Rothschild family expanded their wine making to South America in 1988, becoming the first French winery owners with an investment in Chile. Fermentation of this wine took place in stainless steel, followed by aging in French oak barrels over 12 months; 20 percent of the barrels were new. About 80,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18.99. The nose of this wine brings to mind a bowl of just-picked dark berry fruits topped with a dollop of farm-fresh whipped cream. Blackberry flavors lead an avalanche of sweet, dark berry fruit flavors. There is an impressive depth of palate here and complexity to spare for the price. Earth, espresso and sweet dark chocolate flavors emerge on the lengthy finish, which reverberates for quite a while. This is the boldest of this trio of Cabernet’s, but that said it’s still a balanced and proportionate offering.

If you shop around, each of these wines can be found for sale closer to $15 than $20. At that price they’re quite simply outstanding values. Cabernet of similar complexity and depth, providing this sort of drinking pleasure, would sell for significantly more if produced in many other regions. The Los Vascos in particular compares quite favorably to Cabernets from many old and new world regions in the $35 to $45 price range.

This trio of wines will certainly hold for a few years, but by and large they’re aimed at short term consumption. For optimal results I recommend drinking them over the next three to four years while their eager fruit flavors are still in strong evidence. If Cabernet Sauvignon is on your short list of everyday drinking varietals, any of these wines is a solid case buy to keep around the house as a go-to choice.

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