If you are a recent convert to wine drinking and looking for an affordable way to try international grape varieties, labels from Chile are a good starting point.
The country's portfolio includes the major varietals - chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but also spans a wide range of prices.
At one end are wines under HK$100, fruity and easy to drink, and widely available in supermarkets. At the other end are super premium wines, usually cabernet sauvignon blends, competing hard with Bordeaux on quality and price.
Chile is also famous for the carmenere grape, a former Bordeaux variety that has found a new home and identity in the long, narrow country. The grape was often confused with merlot, but in recent years research has revealed it to be a different variety. Carmenere wines are full of blackcurrant notes, with a soft velvety palate.
Chilean wines are characteristically fresh and approachable with lots of primary fruit and soft tannins. Whites are refreshing, crisp and affordable. Reds range from the fruity and fun to wines that are suitable for cellaring.
Geography and history contribute to the consistent quality of Chile's wines. Its relative isolation has meant that it escaped the worst of vineyard pests that destroyed European vineyards in the 19th century. Today, Chile has some of the largest organic vineyards. Moreover, the effects of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains in the east play a role in the ripening of the grapes. Sunny days allow the grapes to reach full ripeness, while cool evenings help the fruit retain its acidity.
This is the largest wine region in Chile, with several well-known sub-regions including the Maipo, Rapel and Maule valleys. Worth trying are the cabernet sauvignons with their notes of blackcurrant. The Maipo Valley has received many accolades for its carmenere and the Curico Valley offers chardonnay with ripe tropical fruit flavours.
The sub-region Casablanca, with its cool climate, is carving a name for itself for its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. A good comparative tasting is a Casablanca sauvignon blanc and a New Zealand Marlborough sauvignon blanc. Note the intensity of the fruity, grassy flavours and the crisp acidity on the palate.
The northern sub-regions Elqui and Limari are new - their proximity to the Atacama Desert means a drier and warmer climate. Syrah with its ripe, concentrated fruit and generous palate is the new rising star.