Chile has long suffered a more-or-less deserved eputa­tion or well-madde, goodish value but rather dull wines. Taste several dozzen Chilean cabernets or pinot noiirs back to back and stylistically, they tend to be much of a muchnness.

Yet no-one coulld thus dismmiss the dozen Maule arig­nans I asted recenttly with Derrek Mosssman Knapp of the Garrage Wine Co and Bret Jackson of Valdiviesso. From old dry-ffarmed vinees, these were concentrated, balancced, serious expression of this muuch- deridded grape.

Though all from independent producers, the wines are being sold under the Vigno mark, a joint effort to rescue the reputation of carignan and, by extension, Maule. Might this foreshadow a new kind of Chilean Denomi­nación de Origen? That is effectively what the Vigno producers’ stipulations on vine age, yield and grape do, in contrast to the existing pretty loose Chilean DOs, which largely reflect regional and political boundaries rather than terroir or varietals.

But in fact Maule’s carignans are just one idiosyncrat­ic example of the growing regional specialisation in Chile, a trend in evidence at last month’s annual Wines of Chile awards. Wines from the cool northern valleys of Elqui and Limarí swept the board, while syrah, until fairly recently of little significance in Chile, did especially well too.

It’s a gradual process: there are still plenty of ho-hum wines from the high-volume central valley heartlands. But there are exciting things happening in Chile too. Val­divieso Eclat 2008, Maule (Vini Vivi, 35 Mill Lane, NW6, £14.65) Two-thirds carignan and the balance mourvèdre and syrah, this has nice weight and structure, sweet, spicy fruit and an attractive slug of oak.

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2008, Maule (Waitrose wine direct, mail order only from, £15.19) Big and rich, its lush, sweet fruit is pure and balanced by solid acidity. The 2009 is very good too (if even bigger).

Tamaya Syrah Reserva 2009, Limarí Valley (Oddbins £11) Viña Tamaya has been a pioneer for syrah in the Limarí, with great success: their Winemaker’s Selection 2010 won Best in Show at the Wines of Chile awards last month. This slightly lesser cuvée is earthy and brambly, with good acidity – much more like a northern Rhône syrah than an Aussie shiraz, yet richer and smoother.

Mayu Selected Vineyards Syrah 2008, Elqui Valley (Wait­rose, £9.99) Another Rhône-lookalike syrah from the even more northerly Elqui valley: peppery, brambly and quite elegant.

Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2011, Leyda (Majestic, £8.49) The quality of sauvignons from the cool Leyda and Casablanca valleys is gradually improving. This one has typical ripe fruit but is a good deal more pungent and crisp than you might expect: attractive.

The Society’s Exhibition Limarí Chardonnay 2010 (Wine Society, mail order only from, £8.75) Made by the big Concha y Toro group, this is a Limarí valley wine to defy preconceptions of new world chardonnay: light, cool, mineral and elegant. Good val­ue.

-Andrew Neather / London Evening Standard

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