In 2004, the wine world experienced a true shock to its system. At The Berlin Tasting, 36 storied wine professionals blind-tasted and ranked the world’s best bottles. To their surprise, two wines from Chile garnered the top two spots on the list, outranking revered Old World favorites such as Chateau Lafite and Tignanello.
It wasn’t a fluke. Years later, the tasting was replicated in New York, where the Chilean Errazuriz KAI tasted ahead of the cult-favorite Opus One. As the years have gone by, Chilean Cabernets and Carménères have stood up against their California and Old World peers.
In the United States, Chilean wine is often celebrated for its value, but its greatest asset might just be its unexpected and award-winning taste. We decided to put this theory to the test by gathering a tasting panel of our own to rank the best Chilean Cabernets on the market.
To determine the best Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, we partnered with Wines of Chile USA, the organization focused on educating U.S. trade and consumers on the quality and diversity of Chilean wine. We issued an open call for submissions from every winery in the country. In order to qualify and participate in the tasting, each winery had to produce wines that are widely available in the U.S. market. They could only submit the current vintage available.
We then assembled a group of VinePair readers, who applied and were selected from a field of hundreds, to taste and rank the bottles. Every bottle was wrapped and tasted blind in no particular order.
The wines were scored on a classic, one-to-10 scale. One meant the panel would never drink it, and 10 meant they’d savor the entire bottle themselves. (And, since it’s the holiday season, panelists were also asked to share who they would gift the bottle to!)
While a small group of VinePair staff did participate in this tasting, the core panelists were not wine professionals. They were consumers from varied ages and backgrounds. But across the board they did have one thing in common: The majority of panelists were regular Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers (especially Californian), but they had not experienced Chilean wine before.
Here are their results:
Top 10 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons
- Valdivieso Valley Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $17.99
This was an overwhelming favorite across the majority of the panel, who loved the wine’s “balance between fruit and tannin.” Panelists appreciated the unique fruitiness of this wine, which many believed to make it an exceptional Cabernet.
Would Gift To: “Myself,” “my boss,” “literally anyone because this is delicious.”
- Maquis Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $20
The panel appreciated this wine for its familiarity, and tasters felt it was a strong gift option. One panelist said, “This is exactly what I would expect from a classic Cab.”
Would Gift To: “Solid Dad-wine,” “Mom approved.”
- Vina Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon $23
One of the larger Chilean producers, the Concha y Toro Cabernet was well received by the panel for its “bold flavor” and “sea-breeze” notes that many wouldn’t expect from a Cabernet.
Would Gift To: “That friend who loves trying different things,” “the friend who has everything else.”
- Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20
The highest-scored wine by the members of the VinePair staff who joined the tasting, this wine was revered for its “balance” and “slight spiciness.” One panelist noted, “This is SUPER yummy.”
Would Gift To: “Myself, but would also bring to a dinner party.”
- Calcu Gran Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $25
Tasters enjoyed this wine for its intense earthiness. One panelist commented, “It has layers of spice and pepper,” and another said, “It has a light, but perfect finish.”
Would Gift To: “My boss.”
- William Fevre Chile La Mision Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial $14.99
Panelists enjoyed this wine for its “supple and rich character” and “delightful oakiness.”
Would Gift To: “Secret Santa.”
- Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru 2013 $34.99
Another wine that got the VinePair half of the table excited, this Cabernet was revered for its “spectacular balance” and “lovely finish.”
Would Gift To: “Literally anyone (it’s that yummy).”
- Vina San Pedro 1865 Cabernet Sauvignon $16.99
This wine was received as an “overall tasty option” and “could easily be a weeknight sipper.”
Would Gift To: “Sister or brother.”
- Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99
The panel found this wine to stand out for its distinctive smokiness, of which one panelist wrote, “The kiss of smoke in this wine would be perfect with steak dinner.”
Would Gift To: “Good dinner party wine.”
- Apaltagua Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $40
Panelists believed this wine to be a good choice for someone who prefers a richer Cabernet.
Would Gift To: “Good stocking stuffer,” “Perfect for parents.”
Overall, panelists were delighted by the lineup and surprised by its affordability — many expected their top-rated wine to cost nearly double its $17.99 price tag.
The diversity of the selection was also remarkable to panelists. Tasters remarked that while some of the wines did feature the oak and pepper notes they expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon, many were prominently fruit-forward and unlike other Cabs. But then again, when doesn’t Chilean wine surprise us?