Five fantastic (and mostly budget-friendly) Chilean wines available in the U.S.

chilean winesChilean wine–if given any thought at all–has historically been considered cheap plonk; the Gallo of the Southern Hemisphere.

Those days are over, baby. In recent years, Chile has become a contender with the wines of the more well-known Mendoza Valley in Argentina, just a very high-altitude hop over the Andes.

The central Chilean wine regions of Maipo, Colchagua, Casablanca, San Antonio, and Aconcagua Valleys (and their various sub-regions) are blessed with a Mediterranean climate; rolling hills; a lack of crowds and attitude; amazing diversity of varietals; affordable wines, and refreshing coastal breezes or stunning views of the nearby Andes. You’re not going to find all of that in Napa.

While in Chile last month, I visited a number of wineries in the above regions, and I was impressed by the quality of the wines. Modern Chilean winemakers are young, progressive, and well-trained, often in Europe or the U.S..

Below are five of my favorites, all of which are available here in the States. If you can’t find them at your local wine shop, they can be ordered online through your favorite retailer or via New York-based Puro Wines–the world’s first dedicated Chilean wine store.

All of the following wineries have tasting rooms open to the public; quoted prices are in U.S. dollars and may vary depending upon retailer.

1. Emiliana Organic Vineyards Eco-Balance Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Bio Bio Valley
This forward-thinking family vineyard practices organic and biodynamic farming, relying upon their resident sheep, alpacas, and poultry to do the weeding and fertilizing, but more modern sustainable business practices and employee-incentive programs are also at work. The Sauvignon Blanc is loaded with nectarine, white peach, and tropical fruit without being cloying or heavy. The 2010 is a steal at $8.99-$10.95; look for the ’11 coming soon.chilean wines2. Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2007, Rosario Valley
This rural vineyard with a luxe, seven-room guest hacienda is in a sub-region of the San Antonio Valley. The Syrah is lush and velvety, with a blackberry nose and notes of leather and spice. At $35.00, one of the more pricey selections, but worth it.

3. Viña Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2009, Leyda Valley
Located in the heart of the Maipo Valley, this historic, 120-year-old family winery was founded by Don Francisco Undurraga, one of the pioneers of Chile’s wine industry. Cooling coastal fog cloaks the vines that yield this jammy Syrah, which features a hint of spice and vanilla; $29.00. If you happen to visit the winery, do not miss out on their Pinot Noir sparkling rosé ($14.99, but not currently available in the U.S.).

4. Viña San Esteban In Situ Gran Reserva Carmenère 2008, Aconcagua Valley
Located in the charming village of Los Andes, this small, friendly, high-altitude winery lies in the Andean foothills, an hour from Santiago. A short walk past the tasting room will take you to rocks bearing Incan and native Mapuche petroglyphs hundreds of years old. In Situ is their premium line; Carmenère, a member of the Cabernet family of grapes, is the signature varietal of Chile. Intense, full-bodied, and almost chewy, with dominant flavors of blackcurrant and tobacco; $16.00

5. Viña Indómita, Duette Chardonnay 2009, Casablanca Valley
This blindingly white winery sits grandly atop a hillside in the Casablanca Valley, 24 miles from Valparaiso and 54 from Santiago, respectively. You can tour the cellar, then hit the elegant restaurant post-tasting room. This Chardonnay has unexpected, intense pineapple overtones and is creamy on the palate with a refreshing finish; $19.99.

My trip was sponsored by Wines of Chile, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

The Icon Wines of Chile with Michael Green at Gourmet Magazine

Auckland’s Waiheke Island: wine paradise

New Zealand in recent decades has established itself among the world’s wine hot spots, boasting increasingly famous wine-growing regions like Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. But New Zealand visitors thirsty for great wine need not leave greater Auckland to enjoy some of this beautiful country’s best vintages. Instead, just a short ferry ride from downtown is Waiheke Island, home base for the Mudbrick Vineyard a laid-back winery with killer food and wine and some of greater Auckland’s most astounding views.

Getting to Mudbrick from Auckland is a snap, but it feels worlds away from the city’s fast pace. Start by boarding a ferry for the 30 minute ride from downtown, during which you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Auckland’s scenic harbor and skyline, dotted by the plenty of sailboats. Soon you’ll arrive at Waiheke Island, a land mass formed by a long-extinct volcano. After a quick taxi ride from the ferry station, you’ll arrive at Mudbrick.

Situated at one of the island’s highest points, the vistas from Mudbrick alone make it worth the trip. As you enter the property, the vineyard’s vast fields of grapes slope down toward Auckland harbor below in near picture-postcard beauty. Tiny luminous insects dance over the vines in the shining sun and the faint silhouette of Auckland’s skyscrapers is visible in the distance. Once you’re done with the view, make sure to enjoy a wine tasting or a top-notch lunch at the complex’s al fresco patio. As you look out over the rows of grapes from your table, green leaves rustling gently in the salty breeze, a plate of fresh swordfish and glass of Sauvignon Blanc in front of you, you’ll understand why you made the trip. It’s this combination of unspoiled beauty, amazing views and top-notch wine that make Mudbrick Vineyard truly worth the visit.

Hungarian Zoo Apes Love Their Red Wine

From Yahoo!News:  Monkeys and other zoo apes at the Budapest zoo have a thing for the grape — turns out, they drink their way through 55 litres of red wine each year, according to a statement released by the zoo on Monday.  The reason?  It helps boost their red blood cells.

“Obviously, they do not have it all at once and get drunk, but they get it in small amounts mixed in their tea,” said Budapest Zoo spokesman Zoltan Hanga.  He continued:  “And it’s not Eger Bulls Blood or some expensive wine that they are getting but simple table wine, as it’s mainly good for their blood cells.”

They don’t have it all at once — how disappointing.  Because soused monkeys? 

Now THAT would be a tourist attraction.