Chile’s Aconcagua Valley lies about an hour’s drive north of Santiago, the country’s capital. The region is divided by the Aconcagua River into one area that is quite hot and dry and another, closer to the coast, that is cooler. Aconcagua is not as heavily populated by wineries as several of Chile’s more southerly wine regions, like Maule, Maipo and Rapel, yet it is home to several producers of high quality wines.
One of these is Viña San Estaban, whose label In Situ was selected (by whom I don’t know) as the official wine of the Memphis in May International Festival that this year honors Chile. I tried the In Situ wines last week and found them to vary from decent to very well-made and to represent in most cases Good Value, though the reds are more impressive than the whites. The winemaker for Viña San Estaban is Horacio Vincente, following his father and grandfather at the estate. At 3,000 feet above sea level, the San Estaban vineyards are some of the highest in the world.
There are three levels of In Situ wines: The Reservas, priced at about $11; the Winemaker’s Selection, about $15; and the Gran Reservas, about $20. In addition there’s a proprietary wine, Laguna del Inca (“Lake of the Incas”) that sells for $32 or $33.
Here are brief reviews.
>In Situ Reserva Chardonnay 2007, Aconcagua Valley. More dimension and character than the price would imply, with tasty pineapple-grapefruit flavors tinged with mango, a keen edge of acid and sleek oak influence, nicely balanced and integrated. Restrained but not quite elegant. Very Good. About $11.
> In Situ Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Aconcagua Valley. Very attractive, with enticing aromas of lime and grapefruit. dried thyme and tarragon, hints of grass and lime peel; crisp and lively in the mouth, loads of chalk and limestone to bolster citrus flavors with touches of fig and smoke. Great Value. About $11.
>In Situ Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Aconcagua Valley. I tasted this wine before finding out what the prices for the In Situ wines are, and I would have tagged it at $25 or $30. Medium ruby hue with a slight tint of garnet at the rim; macerated and slightly stewed black cherry and plum with plenty of well-integrated oak and tannin; smooth and mellow, pulls up mulberry and a hint of exotic spice; very dry, a little austere on the finish. Cries out for roasted game birds. The ’03 is not the current release of this wine, but track it down if you can. Excellent and a Phenomenal Bargain at about $11.
>In Situ Reserva Merlot 2004, Aconcagua Valley. The In Situ line no longer includes a merlot, which is a shame if this example is an indication of the quality. Bordeaux-like in its vibrant acidity, its dusty, spicy black currant and black cherry scents and flavors, its emphasis on a full-fledged tannic and oaken structure that does not detract from fruit etched with touches of cedar, tobacco, green pepper and black olive. Really lovely, mellow, seductive, sleek, and stylish. Excellent and Amazing for the Price, about $11. Worth a Search.
>In Situ Reserva Carmenère 2005, Aconcagua. Dark ruby color with a moderate brick-red rim; robust and rustic, dusty and chewy; intense and concentrated black fruit woven with cedar, bell pepper and black olive; unfolds elements of dried orange rind, bitter chocolate, leather and a mossy black tea. Much pleasing detail but not quite the dimension of the cabernet sauvignon and the merlot, but still Good Value. Very Good+. About $11.
>In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Chardonnay 2008, Aconcagua. An attractive chardonnay, clean, fresh and bright, with a whisper of oak; spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors, crisp acid, a vibrant supporting mineral quality. Very Good+. About $15.
>In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Carmenère 2007, Aconcagua. Full-bodied and robust; dense and chewy; black olive, black pepper, black currant and plum; spicy oak, dusty, grainy tannins. Needs a steak. Very Good. About $15.
>In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Aconcagua. Macerated currants and cherries, bell pepper, black olive and cedar; plenty of polished oak and gritty tannins. Fairly rustic. Very Good. About $15.
>In Situ Gran Reserva Carmenère 2007, Aconcagua. Warm and spicy, exotic, sandalwood and cloves; macerated and roasted black currants and cherries with a touch of wild berry; large-framed, full-bodied, boldly structured; dusty oak girt with dusty tannins, yet a finely honed, very palatable wine. Really requires grilled or roasted red meat. Now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $20.
>In Situ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Aconcagua. Beguiling aromas of smoke, cedar and tobacco,, violets, macerated black currants and plums; quite earthy and minerally; dried herbs, hints of bell pepper; nicely integrated oak and tannin lend a texture that’s almost velvety, though the finish gets pretty rigorous. A blend of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon and five percent each cabernet franc and carmenère. Best from 2010 to 2012 or ’14. Very Good+. About $20.
>In Situ Laguna del Inca 2006, Aconcagua. However unusual this blend of 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent syrah, 26 percent carmenère and (surprisingly) 4 percent sangiovese may be, it feels classic yet with a wild berry and exotically herbed and spiced edge, roasted and smoky. Real depth, dimension and individuality here in a wine that offers plenty of firm oak and grainy tannins for structure but remains not only eminently drinkable but close to elegant in its proportions, balance and integration, all of these elements supporting Bordeaux-like flavors of black currant and black cherry permeated by dried thyme, bell pepper and black olive. Drink through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $32.