Recently I have been lucky enough to try two very different examples of País, it is not exactly the most important grape in the world, but it is crucial to the history of wine in Chile, as well as being interesting in its own right.
It seems that País (pronounced Pie-ees) – along with Argentina’s Criolla and California‘s Mission – is directly descended from the grape that the Spanish Conquistadors took with them when they stumbled across the new world. The original grape has for long been called the ‘common black grape’ and until recently we had no idea what it was, but it seems that research has now shown it to be the Palomino Negro / Listan Prieto which now pretty much only grows in the Canary Islands. For two or three hundred years País was, along with Moscatel, the work horse grape of Chile, but was eventually supplanted by the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and relegated to an invisible rural existence.
While in Chile I have tried cheap versions of the grape as Gato Negro boxed wines on the Chilean market are made from País, but I had never tried anything more ambitious made from it until this year. The fact that once Gato Negro gets put in a bottle it is made from international grape varieties shows in what low regard País is held. The name itself – País means country – shows the grape is considered somewhat rustic and rural and somehow not worthy of being made into fine wine.
The first País I tried was made by a producer that I greatly admire – Chilcas and they have taken this unassuming grape and attempted to make a good wine out of it:
2010 Chilcas Single Vineyard País
This wine is made from 50 year old dry farmed País vines grown in the Maule Valley’s Melozal Vineyard. The grapes are rigorously selected on a sorting table to get rid of anything that is not a perfectly ripe grape. The finished wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.
Transparent (País has thin skins) earthy garnet colour together with gamey, truffly notes on the nose together with some dried fruit and a real note of freshness.
The palate offers some lovely fresh red fruit, earthy and coffee spice and dried cherries with smooth tannins. This dry wine is quite light, being medium bodied and has a smooth, savoury herbal and spicy finish.
It is the savoury elegance and delicate spice that dominates this lovely wine making it seem very unChilean – I am sure if I was tasting it blind I would presume it to come from southern France. I consider this to be a food wine rather than one to drink by itself. With a bit of luck the elegance of this will show people what can be done with this grape that time forgot – 89/100 points.
Chilcas wines are available in the UK from Bibendum.
The second País that I have tried this year is very different, but equally impressive in its own way:
Santa Digna Estelado Rosé
Miguel Torres Chile, Maule valley
Estelado means stellar, in honour of the starry night sky of southern Chile, and has been mentioned by Torres as a possible category name for Chilean sparkling wine made by the traditional method / Champagne method and the País grape.
Estelado Rosé is an attractive pale, cranberry juice colour – this delicate pink comes from those thin skins.
The nose offers a little touch of bread notes from lees ageing together with a bright red cherry sweet note and an over arching freshness to it. The palate is very dry with that red fruit and a subtle lemony bitter twist to the finish. This is quite pink prosecco like, attractive and fun with lovely presentation.
I enjoyed this, it is a fun wine, lovely to drink in hot weather and does not need to be taken too seriously as a wine, but as a product it is a pretty serious proposition – 87/100 points.
As well as having some famous producers of fine wine, the Maule Valley is home to many thousands of small-holder grape farmers. These growers have been left behind by the great Chilean wine revolution of the last twenty years, mainly they grow País because that is the grape they have inherited and it is the only grape that can easily be grown in this dry place without expensive irrigation. As a consequence many of these farmers are barely scratching a living and Miguel Torres Chile have created this new product to help put that right. Their viticulture teams help the growers in the vineyard, so the grapes are better quality, they can produce a high quality product and pay a good price for the grapes. This is a true fair trade project that has dragged the País grape into the modern world of wine and for the first time allow Chile’s second most widely planted grape to get a look in on the international market.
These are both really interesting wines, totally different takes on the same grape from the same region and show what a versatile little variety it is and how wrong we have been to ignore it for so long.
So, all I am saying is give something other than Syrah / Shiraz, Sauvignon and Pinot Gris a chance – in fact let’s all give País a Chance.