Chile – experimenting and perfecting

As readers of these pages will know, I have long been a fan of Chilean wine and although it has been too long since I visited Chile I love the country too. It is a very beautiful place with wonderful sights to see and the people are a delight.

At Luis Felipe Edwards in the Colchagua Valley 2003

If I have had any problems at all with Chilean wine it was that they have for too long relied upon a narrow a range of grape varieties. I am sure that is not a commercial problem for them as consumers usually drink from a very, very narrow range of grape varieties. However for someone like me it can get dull if everyone only makes their own versions of the same old thing. There is only so much Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay I want to drink – however good they are.

Which is why I am really delighted to find that of late Chile seems to be pushing the boundaries further than ever before, finding new grapes, new styles, new blends and new grape growing areas. As a consequence I have recently been able to taste some wonderful new wine styles from Chile, so if you are getting bored with the same old, same old and want to drink something exciting you should give Chile a go.

Wine Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Some of the more unusual and interesting Chilean wines that I have tasted recently include:

2010 Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Syrah
D.O. Valle de Aconcagua
Ok, Syrah is hardly a rare grape, but it is only just becoming widely grown in Chile – Errazuriz were the first to plant it there and that was as recently as 1993. I am not always keen on Syrah or Shiraz as they can often be all about power, extraction and alcohol. This example though revels in its elegance and the result is that it’s very sophisticated, but wonderfully drinkable at the same time because Chile even produces lovely ripe fruit in the cooler places. It comes from a new area that Errazuriz have discovered right on the coast where the Aconcagua River empties out into the Pacific. It is this proximity to the sea that makes it a perfect place to grow cool climate grape varieties – and moderate climate grapes too, like Syrah.

This Syrah is fragrant with lovely floral freshness as well as a little black pepper spice and deeper notes. The palate is juicy, supple and richly fruity, showing succulent blackberry, but some freshness shows itself by a little presence of lighter red fruit. There is some spice as well as coffee characters from the 14 months in oak and a little, but nice, bite of tannin. This really is a fine, complex and hugely enjoyable Syrah that drinks very nicely already, but will show more complexity with a few years ageing and that will also deal with the slightly reductive nose – 91/100 points.

Around £14 a bottle in the UK from Averys of Bristol.
Further UK stockist information is available from Hatch Mansfield Agencies.
US stockist information is available from Vintus Wines.

2010 Errazuriz Estate Sangiovese
D.O. Valle de Aconcagua
More commonly associated with Tuscany where it is the chief grape of Chianti, Sangiovese is another grape that is not often grown in Chile – even less than Syrah, but this really works. As you might expect it responds well to sun and heat, so Errazuriz have planted this some 40 miles inland from the wine above in the heartland of the Aconcagua Valley.

I had no idea what to expect, but what a happy bottle it was. Bursting with red cherry fruit and softer plum-like fruit, it was supple and smooth with a fleshy texture and just a touch of spice and herbal tastes. The bottle just seemed to empty itself and was brilliant with pizzas. The fruit pretty much dominates it right now, but it is beautifully balanced and very drinkable – 88/100 points.

Around £10 a bottle in the UK from Tesco.
Further UK stockist information is available from Hatch Mansfield Agencies.
US stockist information is available from Vintus Wines.

At Luis Felipe Edwards in the Colchagua Valley 2003

2011 Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Carignan
D.O. Valle de Maule
Maule has been left behind a little. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good region, just that some of the changes in fashion have bypassed it. That sounds bad until you realise that the place got stuck with the grape varieties that no one else wants because the farmers here couldn’t afford to replant as often as the more famous regions to the north. So Maule has lots of the old work horse grapes of nineteenth and twentieth century Chile, many of them very old and ungrafted. This is where you find the small amounts of Carignan and Monastrell / Mourvèdre left in Chile together with the good quality old vine País – another grape to watch as it can produce wines that are much better than its reputation would lead you to believe.

This is another happy wine, with rich, bright red strawberry fruit on the nose together some warming sweet spice. The palate is supple, smooth and nicely textured with a luscious feel. The tannins barely show themselves while the fruit almost feels sweet it is so ripe, but it is balanced, so not cloying in any way. If I have a critisism at all it’s that the grape is actually Spanish, so has a Spanish name – Carineña – so why does a Spanish speaking country use its French name? Lovely wine though – 89/100 points.

I could add many more, but don’t want to bore you too much, so I will just list a few others that are well worth a taste; Valdivieso’s excellent 2008 Éclat Old Vines Carignan-Mourvèdre-Syrah blend also from the Maule Valley, Miguel Torres‘s 2008 Cordillera Carignan – yet another delicious wine from the Maule Valley, as is the lovely 2010 Chilcas Single Vineyard País. While from Colchagua I tasted the elegant 2010 Maquis Malbec which put me more in mind of Cahors from a ripe vintage than anything from Argentina.

This wine is new, so I have no stockist information for this as yet.

It isn’t only red grapes either, there are some exciting new white wines emerging from Chile including some made from classic French Mediterranean grapes that suit the Chilean climate very well. Luis Felipe Edwards make a lovely 2012 Gran Reserva Roussanne-Marsanne and their 2009 Family Selection Roussanne in the Colchagua Valley, while Errazuriz have produced a gorgeously rich, herbal and sophisticated 2011 The Blend White from Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier grapes grown in their cool Aconcagua Costa vineyards. I could go on, but that seems quite enough for now.

So I look forward to bumping into you in the Chilean wine section in a wine merchants soon.

In the interests of full disclosure you should know that I do sometimes do some work for Errazuriz, but this is my honest and unsolicited opinion.

9 thoughts on “Chile – experimenting and perfecting

  1. Good work Quentin! I’m of the same opinion about same old, and if (we) can start to direct people to other grape varieties it will help. I’m constantly looking at non-mainstream products, and not only from Chile. In the UK consumers have a vast choice, and only need to look more closely at shelves to find these gems.

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