There is no greater joy for a wine writer than to visit a wine region that one has been dreaming about. Not only because of its extraordinary beauty, but also for the wine making revolution taking place in terms of different styles, with winemakers often going to extremes to find greater diversity of terroir.
Chile is one of the most pristine vine growing regions in the world, where I was fortunate to spend a week in March 2017. It is easy to understand why Chilean wines taste the way they do after having visited this viticultural paradise.
That the geography of Chile is unique becomes apparent from thousands of miles up in the air, even before the plane has landed. Flanked by the magnificent Andes in the east and the Pacific ocean on the west, Chile is the longest and narrowest country in the world with a 2,700 miles long coastline, but only 110 miles from east to west. It’s vineyards are situated along a stretch of land from the arid Atacama desert in the north, to the icy cold Patagonian Bio-Bio region in the south, often testing the limits of viticulture.
Blessed with near perfect conditions for vine growing, a dry and unpolluted Mediterranean climate, abundant sunshine and terroir variety, Chile’s geographical isolation has also given it freedom from the dreaded “phylloxera louse”, a bane of viticulturists around the world that ravaged the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century. This has made it possible for a large number of vines to be cultivated organically.
The vineyards also benefit from wide diurnal temperature variation with warm days and cool nights and the cooling effects of Humboldt Current from the Pacific. This helps in maintaining the acidity and aromas of the grapes, resulting in refreshing wines of a distinct character with a vibrant acidity and mineral notes.
Chile has earned a reputation as the world’s foremost wine exporter and its wines are very popular in India, due to their quality price ratio. Besides value-for-money wines, the country is now becoming known for producing premium wines, some of which are truly “iconic” in nature like Errazuriz’ Viñedo Chadwick and Seña and wines from the prestigious Von Siebenthal wine estate. Chile is no longer looked upon as a mere supplier of “safe” and “reliable” under $10 wines with little vintage variation. It is a country that is re-discovering its heritage, broadening its wine-vision, and coming out with a wine style it can call its own. Visionaries like Eduardo Chadwick are pioneers in this endeavour.
So where is this wine revolution taking place ? It is happening in big wineries like Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Miguel Torres Chile, Santa Carolina and others, where limited quantity, distinctive wines are being produced in special boutique wine-making operations. To mention just a few, these include Concha y Toro Single Vineyard Terrunyo, Don Melchor and Carmin de Peumo; Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition; Don Maximiano by Errázuriz and Montes Outer Limits.
Mid-size producers and small vignerons through organizations like MOVI (Movement of Independent Vintners) are bringing diversity to the Chilean wine scene and drawing inspiration from the country’s history and geography to narrate their individual stories, rather than make wines to suit international tastes.
This revival is happening with indigenous varietal Pais, old-vine Malbec, Muscat, Cinsault, Carignan, Carmenere and even the well established French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are becoming more complex and terroir driven. J Bouchon País Salvaje, Miguel Torres Reserva del Pueblo and Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha are some outstanding wines made with the native País, a varietal which was earlier used mostly for bulk wine production.
While Cabernet Sauvignon still dominates the Chilean wine scene, it is the white wines and Pinot Noirs coming out of this country that are grabbing the attention of the world. With an expansion of vineyard area to newer cooler climate regions close to the coast like Casablanca, Leyda, San Antonio Valley, excellent Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigios are coming from here. One Pinot Noir that I tried, Undurraga Terroir Hunter comes a specific terroir in Leyda Valley that is located less than seven miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. Two outstanding whites that I got a chance to taste were Casa Marin Cipreses Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from San Antonio and Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014 from Aconcagua Costa.
The wine bars I visited in Santiago, like Bocanariz in Lastarria and Baco in Providencia, served wines from regions as far North as Elqui and Limari Valley, close to the Atacama desert as well as areas near Antarctica in Southern Chile like Bío Bío, Itata and Malleco, rather than the more traditional Central Valley. Some of these newer regions have calcareous soil which imparts a distinctive minerality and complexity to the wines. Talinay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from Tabalí winery in Limarí with its stone, citrus flavors and seductive acidity is one such example. Another interesting wine from an extreme location was Clos des Fous Latuffa Pinot Noir from Malleco.
Organic and biodynamic farming is also on the rise in Chile. Matetic Winery and Emiliana are gaining recognition as one of the few Chilean estates to have adopted biodynamics. While the higher cost of production is holding back producers from switching completely to organic, an increasing number of wineries in Chile are now adhering to a “Sustainability Code” and following good vineyard practices yielding results that are reflected in the improved quality of the wines.
Passionate young winemakers with skill are gaining international recognition, like Concha y Toro’s Marcelo Papa who manages Casillero del Diablo and Marques de Casa Concha; Cono Sur’s Adolfo Hurtado in charge of Project Pinot Noir; Casa Marin’s Felipe Marin; Emiliana‘s Cesar Morales.
Alvarez Espinoza, Chile’s top biodynamic guru and one of the world’s finest “garage”winemakers, along with several others, is experimenting with new techniques, and “dry farming” methods to produce terroir expressive, stylistically diverse premium wines that can compete with the best in the world. Their mantra is to make wine as naturally as possible with minimum intervention.
While it may take a little longer for some of these new-wave wines to reach India, Chilean wines from wineries such as Anakena, Tarapaca, Emiliana, Montes, Valdevieso, Cono Sur and Miguel Torres Chile are already well-established in the country.
Here’s hoping that Indian wine aficionados will soon have access to some of the iconic premium Chilean wines that are making Chile a byword among the top wine producers of the world.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
This article was first published in the July-August 2017 issue of Sommelier India Wine Magazine.