Only one of Tim Atkin MW’s top 16 wines from Chile was a Cabernet Sauvignon this year – and even then only 6% of the wine was made up of the variety. Given that a third of the country’s vineyards are planted with Cab Sauv this was some going, even by adventurous Atkin’s standards. Instead, for the top 16 wines that he had chosen for his annual showcase, there were three single varietals you wouldn’t normally associate with Chile – Cinsault, Petit Verdot and Grenache – plus plenty that you would. For Geoffrey Dean it was the three red single varietals that really stood out, especially the Cinsault made by half-British winemaker Emily Faulconer in the Itata Valley.
“On-trade establishments looking for a great value rosé, which is lip-smackingly drinkable, would do well to consider Viña Aromo’s Cuatro Vents 2020,” writes Peter Dean.
Tim Atkin MW and Wines of Chile’s joint annual presentation of 16 Chilean wines for the trade and press is anticipated with enthusiasm, and this year’s batch underlined both their range and quality. Atkin’s voracious appetite to travel and taste as widely as possible in South America, pre-Covid at least, makes him the best-qualified UK-based authority on Chile and Argentina. Very little escapes him, and his picks this time are a good mix of price points (four labels being £13.50-18.50; six being £20-£30; four over £30; and one a great value £7 quaffer).
As someone who travelled extensively through Chile’s wine regions a couple of years ago, I relished some curve-ball selections by Atkin, even if there were three repeats from his 2020 line-up.
Given that nearly a third of Chile’s 136,000 hectares under vine is planted to one varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Atkin showed imagination in picking only one wine that had some of that grape in it (and even then only 6%). Three red single varietals not widely associated with Chile stood out – a 2020 Cinsault from Viña Carmen in Itata; a 2019 Grenache from Viñedos de Alcohuaz in Elqui; and a 2017 Petit Verdot from Pérez Cruz in Maipo Andes.
Carmen’s Cinsault from Itata
Emily Faulconer owes her English name to being half-British, but she is emerging as one of Chile’s most talented young winemakers: at Viña Carmen. Having known her since 2010 when she was doing a vintage at Château Canon, I have followed her career with interest, and her sublime DO Loma Seca Cinsault 2020, Itata Valley is worth every penny of the £30 RRP. Complex red fruit with lots of herbal notes; firm yet elegant tannins; refreshing acidity and a long finish combine to make this medium-bodied wine an absolute delight.
“No one took much notice of Cinsault here for a long time as it was always considered the ugly duckling,” Faulconer mused. “But the fruit comes from the Itata Valley, which is an amazing area with so much potential. The vineyard on dry-farmed granite soils is literally in the kitchen garden of the grower, who performs a completely different way of viticulture. The whole concept of Carmen is a non-interventionist one with our growers, and this works very well with Cinsault. This wine just saw concrete eggs and no oak as we want to keep the purity and fruit.”
The Elqui Valley, where Viñedos de Alcohuaz are situated, is about as far north of Santiago as the Itata Valley is south of the capital. Winemaker Marcelo Retamal has crafted a compelling expression of Grenache in Cuesta Chica Grenache 2019, Elqui Valley with lovely strawberry fruit, enticing perfume and notable length that fully justifies its £32 price tag. “One of the most beautiful places on earth,” is how Atkin describes the winery, whose vineyards lie on granite soils at 1700-2200 metres in a super-dry part of the Andes (where rainfall is less than 100mm per annum). Once again, the wine spent no time in oak – just concrete tanks.
Pérez Cruz winemaker, Germán Lyon, has crafted a fine Chaski Petit Verdot 2017 from Maipo Andes, just south of Santiago, in what was a very hot vintage, 2017. Normally used for blending, Lyon liked the fruit so much he decided to make a single varietal. Notes of herbal blackcurrant pastilles, mulberry, dark chocolate and coffee bean combine to make a complex wine with concentration and length.
Grape varieties more commonly associated with Chile
One of the top producers of Carménère in Chile, Marcelo García, gets the nod from Atkin for his 2018 VinaNoble CA2 Carménère, Lolol. This is a brilliant example of the grape, and very deep in colour thanks to a week of cold soak. Notwithstanding 14.7% abv, it has wonderful freshness with no fatty, chocolatey or green pepper notes, with the fruit really expressing itself. The same applies to another García-made wine – this time by namesake Felipe of P.S. García in the Malleco Valley. A perfumed Pinot Noir 2018, Malleco Valley with great tension, this has silky tannins, lots of concentration and terrific length.
Three wines made from white single varietals deserve a mention in despatches. Highly eye-catching was a non-vintage Viognier, made by Ventisquero in the Huasco Valley of the Atacama Desert Region in Chile’s far north. Each of the vintages between 2011 and 2019 were blended, with earlier years maturing in old oak and latter ones in stainless steel. Limestone soils with ultra-high salinity give the wine saltiness and minerality. As with most Viognier, there is a certain amount of oiliness although the wine is not fat at all. A pH of 3.19 helps provide unusually high total acidity of 7.29 g/l.
By contrast, the Casa Silva Lago Ranco Sauvignon Blanc 2019 comes from the southernmost wine-producing valley in Chile – Osorno. Volcanic soils on a hillside site give minerality to a wine whose low pH of 3.1 ensures marked vibrancy. Fermented in stainless steel, it stays on the lees until bottled. Winemaker Francisco Calderón has produced a stunning Sauvignon that is worth its £21.95 price tag.
The best value-for-money vote for a Chile white goes to the Cousiño Macul Isidora Riesling 2019, Maipo which has an RRP of £13.50. While 14% abv, it has abundant freshness from a very low pH of 3.08 as well as great texture to counter-balance the alcohol. “People who taste the wine always love it,” Rosario Palma, the winemaker, purred. “I think it is a very interesting wine – very complex with intense aromas. I fermented it at 12-13 degrees Celsius in stainless steel, where it spent another four months before bottling.”
Blends and wines repeated from last year’s Chile list
Two well-priced, biodynamically-farmed red blends from the Colchagua Valley cannot go unmentioned. The Koyle Cerro Basalto Mediterranean, Los Lingues 2018 is predominantly Mourvèdre (38%) and Grenache (32%), with Carignan (24%) and Syrah (6%). “We are in a very special place where the expression of the landscape is very unique, with the interaction between the rocks and the roots,” Cristobal Undurraga, the winemaker, said. All the varietals were fermented and aged separately before being blended.
A very different blend of eight grapes formed Emiliana’s Coyam 2018, with Syrah (42%) and Carmenere (39) making up the majority. Small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec and Carignan were added, with dashes of Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. Winemaker Noelia Orts has fashioned a beguiling wine which is complex and long. This is one of her favourite vintages, and it is easy to see why.
The third repeat, Bernardo Troncoso’s Montes Outer Limits Syrah 2019 was exactly the same wine and vintage, giving tasters another chance to have a look at it a year on. Its freshness – something Troncoso always aims to have in his wines – was very much apparent, as was a savoury damson edge and approachable tannins. It is one of Chile’s best Syrahs, and fine value at £20 RRP.
The same pH was also recorded in a sumptuous sweet Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley, giving it sufficient freshness to counter 184 g/l of residual sugar. The Morandé Edición Limitada Golden Harvest 2013 is botrytised, with a touch of volatile acidity giving it a delicate lift. Massively concentrated, with a seemingly never-ending finish, this was a memorable ending to a remarkable line-up of Chilean wines that enhances the country’s ever-burgeoning reputation.
That list in full: Tim Atkin’s top 16 wines from Chile
Cousiño Macul Isidora Riesling 2019, Maipo Valley 14% abv, £13.50 (New Generation Wines)
Viña Aquitania Sol de Sol Chardonnay 2019, Traiguén, Malleco Valley, £18.50 (Lay & Wheeler)
Viña Aromo Cuatro Vientos Rosé Syrah 2019, Maule Valley, 13% abv, £7 (seeking UK distribution)
Viña Carmen DO Loma Seca Cinsault 2020, Itata Valley, 13% abv, £30 (Santa Rita Estates Europe Ltd)
Viña TerraNoble CA2 Carménère 2018, Lolol, Colchagua Costa, 14.7% abv, £25 (seeking UK representation)
Montes Outer Limits Syrah 2019, Zapallar, Aconcagua Costa, 14%, £20 (Liberty Wines)
Emiliana Organic Vineyards Coyam 2018, Colchagua Valley, 14% abv, £20.99 (Boutinot Wines Ltd)
Casa Silva Ranco Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Osorno Valley, 11.5% abv, £21.95 (Jackson Nugent Vintners)
J. Bouchon Granito Semillon 2019, Maule Valley, 13.5% abv, £39 (Condor Wines)
Ventisquero Tara White Wine 2 Viognier NV, Huasco Valley, 13.5% abv, £40 (Janina Doyle)
P.S. García Pinot Noir 2018, Malleco Valley, 13.5% abv (seeking UK distribution)
Viñedos de Alcohuaz Cuesta Chica Grenache 2019, Elqui Valley, 13.5% abv, £32 (Indigo Wine)
La Roncière Licantén Malbec 2019, Curicó Valley, 14% abv, £13.95 (Corney & Barrow Ltd)
Pérez Cruz Chaski Petit Verdot 2017, Maipo Andes, 14.7% abv, £30 (Hallgarten-Novum Wines)
Koyle Cerro Basalto Mediterraneo, Los Lingues 2018, Colchagua Valley, 14.5% abv, £17.50 (The Wine Society)
Morandé Edición Limitada Golden Harvest 2013, Casablanca Valley, 11.5% abv, £40 (Berkmann Wine Cellars)
- You can read more about Tim Atkin MW’s analysis of the Chilean wine scene in his 2021 report available to buy here.