Thirsty work

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

First published in Lifestyle

Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris sets her sights on Chile and uncorks some racy reds.

New world, new horizons In the past 10 years, Chile has gone from a bulk producer of soft and juicy reds to a pioneer of exceptional wines.

And while its gifted winemakers have kept the lid on mainstream prices, some of Chile's premium wines don't break the bank either.

Against the sheltered backdrop of the Andes, with cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean and endless sunshine, this mighty strip of land is brimming with 'viticulture promise' to compete with top-notch labels from other countries.

Indeed, Chile's only Achilles' heel, some say, is that there isn't an obvious standout style.

However, it's still capable of producing a wide range of high-quality grape varieties and there's no doubting that red is its strongest suit.

Carmenere (a forgotten Bordeaux variety) is its signature grape. Deliciously spicy and savoury, there's no better match with steak and wine growers really should make more of a song and dance about it.

Cabernet sauvignon is dominant, with malbec, merlot, pinot noir and syrah (shiraz) all keeping us thirsty for much, much more.

For a joyous taste of South America, check out these full-flavoured gems.

Super ripe and not far off the rosy-red colour of Chile's national flower, The Wine Selection Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (£5.98, Asda) offers drinkers a snapshot of how Chile can turn its hand to this full-bodied, blackcurranty style. A silky, fruity bomb with a tingle of raspberry, you can enjoy it on its own or with red meats and tomato-based pasta dishes.

Alternatively, reach for Waitrose Reserva Chilean Carmenere 2011, Rapel Valley, Chile (£5.99 from £7.99, from February 13 to March 12, Waitrose) to discover the rich, spice-edged flavours of carmenere. It's packed with brambly fruits, cassis and black cherry with a whisper of cigar box and laced with sweet spice.

Family-run Casa Silva has been pleasing palates since 1892, and this fifth-generation winery has helped champion the evolution of premium wines over the past 10 years. For a taste of success, try Casa Silva Reserva Carmenere 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile (£9.99, www.averys.com), which is packed with Chilean warmth and bright red fruit, and exudes a plummy nose with sweet and soft tannins on the lingering finish.

If you prefer your reds with a light dusting of cocoa, try Queulat Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009, Chile (£10.40, www.slurp.co.uk). A toasty, herbal note runs through this soft and fruity red with crunchy redcurrants, strawberry flavours and a hint of spice, all supported by a firm backbone of tannins.

More complex and made from 60-year-old vines, Viu Manent Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile (£10, www.spiritedwines.co.uk) should be enjoyed in anticipation of a cheese board. Tangy and smooth, this rock-solid cab sav, with its muscular red fruits, toasty notes and dusty tannins, has the ability to match the strong flavours of blue cheese and cheddar.

The Errazuriz Estate is another family-run winery with six generations of wine-making skills under its belt. A pioneering producer, the Chadwicks are dedicated to rewarding wine lovers with consistently good wines and have built a reputation as the 'Premier Family Wine Estate of Chile'.

Beyond the excellent sauvignon blanc, favourite reds include Errazuriz Max Reserva Shiraz 2010, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (£11.49, www.winerack.co.uk). Balanced and elegant, this deep-coloured, silky smooth shiraz is rich and full with a perfumed nose and fine tannin structure.

An iconic brand, Montes graces some of the finest wine lists in the world and bottles by head winemaker Aurelio Montes have become the benchmark for other fine wines across Chile's valleys.

Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited, and while it's fair to say you could purchase four of the above labels for the price of Montes Alpha M 2009, Chile (£40, Waitrose), this standout wine is quite exceptional. Similar to a Bordeaux blend, it's 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot. With an appealingly opulent nose, a velvety smooth mouthfeel, great purity of fruit and an exuberant finish, it's a celestial choice for high-flyers.

:: Best buy One of Asia's biggest wine producers, Monsoon Valley has been commended at various wine challenges and its portfolio includes a classic range, premium range and flagship range. Try Monsoon Valley Colombard 2012, Thailand (£9.60, www.smithfieldwine.com), a Bronze Medal winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards. It's light and fruity with crisp acidity and pairs well with stir-fried prawns, green curry and ginger chicken. For more information, visit www.monsoonvalleywine.com :: Liquid news Couture cocktails... During London Fashion Week (February 15 to 19), Bassoon Bar at Corinthia Hotel London will be serving fashion-inspired cocktails to imbibe the spirit of the catwalk. For out-of-towners, here's one of the recipes to try at home: The Somerset Sling 40ml Hendrick's Gin, 15ml fresh lemon, 15ml lychee juice, 5ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, 3 dashes The Bitter Truth Crème de Violette Liqueur Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the ingredients, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupette glass. Garnish with a lemon zest, fresh lavender and a cherry.

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