If there were an award for of unsung hero of the world of wine regions, I think I would have to give my vote to Chile. They don't have the mass appeal that their neighbor Argentina has, nor do they have a signature varietal or blend that so many regions have. At the bricks and mortar retail shops, they tend to get lumped in with either Argentina and/or Spain, and there is no good reason for that. Aside from the fact that the grapes are grown in a Spanish speaking country, there is really no relation at all between Chilean and Spanish wines, and very little commonality between Chilean and Argentine wines. Unfortunately, I think Chilean wine tends to be lost or forgotten because of this.
Chile produces a number of varietals in varied regions and terroirs, but for me the most interesting is Cabernet Sauvignon. Good Chilean Cab has distinct elements that just taste like Chile and are pretty consistent. The key one being a fresh, earthy element that adds a level of interest that most California Cabs in lower price ranges don't have. The earthy element is fresh and clean, which is different from the almost dirty, dusty earth that I get from Bordeaux. The best thing about Chilean Cabs is that you get a lot of value for your dollar. For me, most Bordeaux and California Cabernet in the high teens and low $20s is somewhere between bad and boring, and in the same price range, Chile is producing very good and very interesting Cabernets.
Today's subject is a Cabernet from the Maipo Valley in Chile. The 2009 Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep red in color. Cassis dominates the nose along with notes of black raspberry. Underneath the fruit there is an herbal element that is mostly sage, and there is, of course, that classic Chilean fresh earth. In your mouth, you get more black fruit along with a smoky and spicy element that reminded me a bit of smoked Spanish paprika. The tannins are very nice, and the finish is subtle but rather long. Overall, this is a very nice Cabernet that can be had for under $20.
Pair this with traditional South American fare and you can't go wrong. We had it with grilled skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce, and it paired beautifully. So go to your local wine store and seek out some Chilean wines wherever they might be hiding them. You won't be disappointed.