A Boston sommelier reflects on travels in Chile
With a recent trip to Chile still fresh on his mind, Benjamin Oram has plenty to say about the wine he tasted.
“It’s absolutely still a great value, even at the higher end,” says the head sommelier of Meritage Restaurant and Wine Bar at the Boston Harbor Hotel. “Most people think of Chilean wines as inexpensive and lower-tier, and haven’t experienced the higher-end wines. There’s value up and down the board.”
Last November, Oram took part in a tour organized by trade association Wines of Chile. For many of the US-based wine professionals on the trip, the journey marked their first visit to the South American country. As the world’s fifth largest wine exporter — just on the heels of Australia — Chile is a winemaking powerhouse. Boasting a coastline more than 2,600 miles long, but an average width of just a hundred-or-so miles from the Pacific to the Andes, Chile’s wine regions are anything but monolithic. The range and diversity of wines produced primarily from French varietals defy pigeonholing. Enthusiasts and critics alike recognize the quality of these wines at all price points.
Oram was already well-acquainted with iconic, higher-priced wines for which Chile is famous, but he was eager to explore. “I wanted to see what’s actually changing,” he says.
Many examples of sauvignon blanc, he observes, were “softer, more delicate, and more chardonnay-like” than what he experienced in years past. And wines crafted from the carménère grape, mistakenly known for years as Chilean merlot, definitely stood out. “Carménère is really a focus, because it’s a unique varietal not grown in abundance in the rest of the world,” he explains. Winegrowers have made significant strides matching the late-ripening varietal to the right growing sites, thereby taming the varietal’s green aromas and flavors. Oak is also used in a more restrained manner, resulting in wines that he describes as “more subtle and terroir-driven.”
Oram, who marks his twelfth year at Meritage this month, is too humble to admit it, but he’s one of the most trusted wine pros in town. When he recommends Chilean wine to his guests, they pay attention.
“These are wines that hit above the price point,” he enthuses. “It’s just getting people to try them.”
Try the Terrunyo sauvignon blanc at Meritage, then pick up a bottle retail. In addition, here are two of my recent discoveries.
Terrunyo, Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5, Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Aromatically nuanced with white flowers, minerality, and citrus skin. Well-modulated acidity conveys lemon-lime and stone fruit flavors, plus green grass and a pinch of sea salt. Grapes grown in a single vineyard in Casablanca Valley, 10 miles from the ocean. Mid-$20s to low-$30s. At Cambridge Spirits, Kendall Square, 617-494-9000; Vinodivino, Boston, 617-523-9463.
Longaví “Glup!” Cinsault 2017 Hailing from Itata Valley, this winsome, light-hued red expresses raspberry and a wisp of clay-tinged lavender on the nose. Offering a cherry-berry and floral palate, this lovely unfiltered pour ages six months in amphora. Around $22. At Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, 617-491-2244; The Cheese Shop, Salem, 978-498-4820.
Clos de Luz, Massal 1945, Carménère 2016 Scents of ripe red fruit, leafiness, and cedar, with a whiff of campfire and jalapeno. A mature and confident palate, generous with crushed berries, plum, and green pepper in a silky package. Estate-grown Rapel Valley fruit sourced from some of Chile’s oldest Carménère vineyards. Around $23. Blanchards Wines & Spirits, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-9300; Wine & Cheese Cask, Somerville, 617-623-8656.