Chile that narrow strip of land on the West Coast of South America makes some of the best wines on that continent. Chile is divided into three major wine-producing zones: The Northern Zone (which produces table grapes, muscat grapes and grapes that go into making fortified wines); The Southern Zone (which has a rather harsh climate and grows mostly the Pais grape, for making everyday table wines); and The Central Zone (which is the most important region in terms of quality.)
In the Central Zone which is only about 150 miles due west of Argentina's great wine-producing region, Mendoza the climate and soil are similar to those of Bordeaux, and many French vignerons have settled there to make wine. (One of the most notable names you'll find on some Chilean labels is "Rothschild." Yes, of the French Rothschilds.) It comes as no surprise, then, that vines in this area are tended and cared for in the Bordeaux tradition. The most notable wine-growing regions in the Central Zone are: the Aconcagua Valley, the Maipo Valley, Casablanca, Rancagua, Colchagua, Curic¢ and the Maule Valley.
Here are some notes from recent tastings of Chilean wines, ranging from basic table wines to special-occasion splurges:
2000 Los Vascos Domaines Barons de Rothschild Chardonnay ($10.99) From the Colchagua province, this white is medium-bodied, clean and rich-tasting. It has aromas of newly mown grass and flavors of ripe peach and apricot. Delicious with poached or grilled chicken, steamed lobster, or grilled scallops or shrimp in a creamy sauce.
1999 Los Vascos Domaines Barons de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.99) This affordable red is full-bodied and nicely balanced, with flavors of cassis and fennel. Delicious with grilled veal chops or a roasted pork loin.
1997 Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon ($29) Vibrant ruby red and bursting with aromas of berries and ripe plum, this well-structured, medium-bodied red is wonderful with roasts, chops and grilled portobello mushrooms.
1998 Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon ($11.99) With mouthwatering aromas of mint and chocolate, this wine is a flavor-packed delight, with lingering black-currant notes. Try it with steaks, leg of lamb or venison.
2000 Concha y Toro Xplorador Merlot ($8) What a bargain! From the Rapel Valley, this rich red has luscious flavors of cocoa and coffee, with a licorice finish. Wonderful with ripe cheeses, lamb chops or pasta with wild mushrooms.
1998 Concha y Toro Baron Philippe de Rothschild Almaviva ($87) This is a wine to savor on a special occasion. If you can't find this wine locally, look for it in wine shops in Washington and elsewhere; it's worth the effort. Made at Puente Alto near Santiago, this luscious red is the color of ripe cherries, with gentle vanilla and blackberry flavors. Pour it with your finest filet mignon, truffled risotto or aged