The elegance of the latest in fine Chilean wines

Chilean wines were born amidst the tragedy of the European phylloxera epidemics that decimated French wineries in the late 19th century. This disease nearly wiped out the industry, so many French winemakers turned to this South American country for their salvation.
Chile is Cabernet Country South with more than 100,000 acres devoted to this Bordeaux favorite. The next most popular varietal and a distant second is Merlot with 32,000 acres. Other popular grapes are Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Carmenere, a budget grape that grows virtually nowhere else.
Names to know start with Concho Y Toro and its class act, Don Melchor, considered the best red wine in Chile, and in the portfolio of the Banfi Vintners of Tuscany Italy.
This elite Cabernet Sauvignon frequently shows up in the top wines of the year in Wine Spectator’s annual ratings. The current vintage, 2006, ($80) is a dark muscular style of wine grown in the Maipo Valley. There is stony soil and Andean Mountain breezes with nearly 30-year-old vines. It is a wine worthy of the premium price. The wine is aged in small French barriques for a year, then left in the bottle for another year. Expressive with chocolate, black cherry and ripe plum, the ripe tannins lead to a long, juicy finish.
Other wines to look for are: 2006 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, a Carmenere Blend and last years’ Wine Spectator Wine of the Year, ( $75) a surprise pick that underlined Chile’s coming of age. My favorite value wine, also from the Apalta district of the Colchagua Valley, is the 2007 Montes Alpha Syrah. This is a full-bodied, friendly, easy to handle wine ($20). It is a frequent winner of praise from the major publications. All the wines mentioned have been in my Taste of Wine “Top Ten Tastes.”
Chilean wines deserve your attention. Steeped in the French style of fine winemaking, they continue to please palates with consistent quality and assertive, yet elegant character.
All aboard for the Napa Valley Wine Train
Among the best restaurants in the Napa Valley is one that is constantly on the move. It’s the Napa Valley Wine Train, a popular way to survey the stunning beauty of this globally recognized wine country.
There are three venues on board with nationally known chef Kelly McDonald using only the finest seasonal ingredients in the Vista Dome, Gourmet Express and Silverado Grill. You can choose between lunch or dinner from a 1915 Pullman Lounge or the 1947 Vista Dome rail cars. Both have been lavishly restored. Lovely wines are offered from an extensive list.
You board the train from Napa for the 36-mile roundtrip through Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, Saint Helena and back, a three-hour journey. Winery side tours are offered to Grgich Hills and Domain Chandom, among others. Train trip prices vary with the options offered but are generally $49.50 per person to start.
Train tour information is available at (800) 427-4124.
Wine Bytes</strong
— South Coast Winery Resort and Spa is holding an intimate evening with winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores in a wine dinner setting starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 14. Sample new releases with five-course gourmet cuisine. Cost is $125 each. Call (866) WINERY for more information.
— Bacchus Wine Market, downtown San Diego, salutes France’s Rhone Valley wines from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 14. Six wines are on the list from the north to the south Rhone. The cost is $15 per person. Call (619) 236-0005 for more information.
— The Westgate Hotel San Diego presents the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau French wines in an elegant three-course dinner starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 19. The cost is $49 per person. Call (619) 238-1818 to RSVP.
— La Costa Wine Company highlights a Napa Valley Rombauer tasting event from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 20. There will be special pricing that night for these well-known wines. There is a $25 tasting fee. Call (760) 431-8455 for details.
— Orfila Winery in Escondido has its event of the year: The Merlot Futures party and five-course dinner starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 21. This is the Ambassador’s Reserve and a chance to buy next years’ release at “pre-bottling” discounts. A wine tasting reception, jazz band and dancing make it special. Reserve tickets online at www.orfila.com or call (877) 727-9463.
— The San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival has finalized plans for a Celebrity Chef Luncheon and Live Auction at the San Diego Marriott and Marina from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 22. Each lunch table is hosted by a leading winery. Menus are created by nationally known chefs. The price is $150 per person. Call (858) 578-9463 to RSVP.

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