Recently when I was traveling in Europe, two wine lovers said to me, in rather hushed tones so nobody would overhear, that they thought wine from Chile was “an amazing value.” Word has definitely gotten out, even on a continent that’s already flooded with wine.

Last month I did a post on 5 excellent Sauvignon Blanc wines from Chile that I had the opportunity to try side-by-side in a tasting. Today here’s a rundown on three excellent Chardonnay choices that I also sampled. (I know, tough job.)

I started with the others because they’re much easier to pair with food. Even people who love Chardonnay will switch to something else when dinner is served. I was eating grilled fish, robust cheese, bread, and olives with the various wines and only the olives really stood up to Chardonnay’s overpowering flavors. (The best match was actually bread dipped in yummy Olave organic olive oil with a generous mix of herbs.)

Having said that, two of these performed better than the usual suspects from California or Australia. The sub-$20 ones from either of those places tend to taste like a woody mess made in a factory rather than something that came from ripe fruit with character. In Chile, a Chardonnay retailing for $16-$18 like these tends to be one from a first pressing from hand-picked grapes,aged in new oak barrels.

My favorite of the bunch was the 2010 Santa Rita Medalla Real. Although this wine spends eight months in oak barrels, the wood was not nearly as aggressive as it usually is in many typical Chardonnays and both the minerals and acidity were well-balanced. It seemed to get rounder and fuller as it warmed up, hinting at nutty flavors that didn’t come through when it was colder. With a nice nose and long finish, this is a great all-around sipping wine.

The 2009 Marques Casa Concha, from Chile’s biggest wine producer, was much better than I had expected. With a full year in French Oak barrels the wood overtones were more prominent, but this reminded me of the mythical “buttery Chardonnays” that came out of California in the early days and are harder to find now. It’s a silky wine with hints of butterscotch on the fig and hazelnut taste profiles. If you’re looking for something a little darker, a little unusual, this is a good bet. It tastes more expensive than its $19 list price, that’s for sure.

The 2010 De Martino Legada Reserva was a close third and I’d gladly buy it to drink again, especially since it’s usually discounted from its $16 list price. This is a more austere, conservative Chardonnay with typical citrus notes and plenty of wood from its 11 months in French oak barrels. Both the minerals and acidity shine through and it’s one to keep sipping for a long period. There’s also an eco-friendly story with this one: De Martino uses lightweight bottles made from recycled materials.

Two of these wines come from grapes grown in the Limari Valley, which is a good one to look for if you’re overwhelmed by a shelf of wine companies you don’t recognize. My favorite had grapes from the Leyda Valley though. Just remember to look for an “L.”

For more information on Chile’s terrific range of both red and white wines, see the excellent Wines of Chile website.

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