Chile is making some of the most exciting wines in the world right now and last week we got an opportunity to learn all about them. Amanda Barnes and ProChile held a fascinating ‘niche wines of Chile’ tasting in London that set out to challenge our perceptions of Chilean wine and to display the diversity of Chile’s wine culture. A masterclass and a free-pour session showed us what is happening right now in Chile’s wine scene – artisanal wines from low-yielding, old vines and also wines using ancient grape varieties that open up new possibilities for sommeliers and curious wine buyers everywhere.
“If ever there was a moment to embellish a bit of John and Yoko it is now, to “give Pais a chance,” writes Kermode.
Chile is a country that has seen its wine map repeatedly redrawn in recent years as its ‘grape explorers’ have ventured further towards its challenging northern and southerly extremes, yet the country enjoys a reputation built on dependability and value, rather than thrills.
Is that characterisation unfair? Amanda Barnes would certainly say so. Introducing her masterclass as “a chance to show the other side of Chilean wine … those wines you sadly don’t get to see so often,” she took us on a whistle-stop tour of Chile’s famously statuesque, tall, thin land mass.
Author of the South American Wine Guide, Barnes has been based in that continent since 2009, travelling and tasting extensively, making her an obvious host for trade body ProChile’s effort to make us see more of the country’s often underrated diversity.
Explaining that she had sought out “styles that are really representative of what’s happening right now in Chile,” she began by reflecting on “four important factors: the driest desert in the world; the Pacific Ocean; the highest mountain range outside the Himalayas; and the far south, where we start playing with latitude.” In addition, she explained, Chile has witnessed “an enormous update, in terms of the genetic material used in recent years,” along with “a dash for the coast, for freshness, but also the soil types to be found.”
With her carefully curated selection of wines, Barnes undoubtedly proved her point. The biggest hits were probably the cool climate varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, or the attractiveness of old vine Chilean Carignan, but the standout, for me at least, was an old stalwart that’s overdue a reappraisal: if ever there was a moment to embellish a bit of John and Yoko it is now, to ‘give Pais a chance’.
This delicious dozen is my pick from the event:
Vinos Baettig, ‘Los Primos’, Chardonnay 2020, Malleco (Fine and Rare RRP £40) From the deep south, a solo project from Francisco Baettig, the acclaimed winemaker at Errazuriz, this was introduced by Barnes as “one of the most exciting Chardonnays coming out of Chile” and it did not disappoint. An ethereal nose of delicate citrus blossom and wild honey leads into an elegant textural feast, with lifted, fresh, juicy orchard fruit, perfect poise and an enduring glacial purity.
Tabali, Pai Talinay Pinot Noir, 2018, Limari (Boutinot RRP £40) From “a big Pisco region, that’s also emerging as one of the great Grand Crus of Chile,” according to Barnes, a delicate, cranberry nose leads into a seamless gown of silky red fruit, red grapefruit and smoky granite. Sophisticated and seductive.
Reta, Quebrada Chalinga, Pinot Noir 2020, Limari (Indigo Wine RRP £45) From some of the Limari Valley’s finest plots, picked early to ensure freshness, an elegant, fragrant, fine-boned Pinot, with hints of citrus, an impressive mid-palate weight and well-integrated cedar spice. Classy.
Matetic, Granito Pinot Noir, 2018, Casablanca (Berkmann RRP £25) From biodynamic, low-yielding vines, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, crunchy, bright raspberry and cherry, leads into a wonderfully grown up, ferrous wine, with concentrated red fruit, a delicious bloody character and a Burgundian savoury finish. Astonishingly good value.
Ignacio, Pino Román, País, 2021, Itata (The Finest Wines Available to Humanity £32) From “a wonderful lost world of small holdings, artisanal, with old vines,” says Barnes of a producer, trained in New Zealand, who has returned home to make “some of the most authentic wines in Chile,” this was my wine of the tasting, with its thrilling, crunchy red berry fruit, perfume, playful energy and give-me-another-glass deliciousness, a calling card for País.
Itata Paraiso, Rojo Paraiso, 2020, Itata (Graft Wine £27) País from ungrafted vines (ironic, given the name of its estimable importer), some thought to be as old as 150 years, an intriguing, faintly yeasty nose, leads into a bright, juicy-fruited riot of foraged berries and cherries, with an undertow of satisfying savoury texture. Another star from Chile’s underrated south.
A los Viñateros Bravos, Las Curvas, Cinsault, 2019 Itata (Les Caves de Pyrene £27) From one of Chile’s oldest vineyards, with low-yielding old vines planted in the 1930s that, these days, deliver scarcely 400 grammes per plant, a pretty, perfumed Cinsault with delicate fine-grained tannins and a wonderful earthy quality on the finish, a wine that somehow simultaneously begs for a light chill and a log fire. As President Biden might say… “go figure.”
Miguel Torres, Los Inquietos Field Blend, 2019, Maule (Fells, £40) An old vine field blend of mostly Chilean Malbec. Barnes explained that Malbec was actually in Chile, before Argentina. Who knew? Perfumed, floral and softly candied like a freshly-opened bag of Flumps, on the palate there’s bright red berries, hibiscus and wild rose. Tangy, fresh and unusual, but in a good way.
Garage Wine Co, Old Vine Pale, 2020, Maule (Freixenet Copestick £18) Another old vine wonder, a strikingly serious rosé, made from Carignan and Matero (aka Mourvèdre), a savoury nose, slightly reductive, with a scythe of searing cranberry acidity and some real savoury depth. No swimming pool pink, this would be sensational with sashimi.
Echeverria, No Es Pituko, Carignan, 2021, Maule (Hallgarten Novum £13) The name apparently means “it ain’t fancy” but it sure as hell makes the most of Carignan, with an appealing sense of freshness and fun. A riot of damsons, berries and cherries, this has proper crowd-pleasing charm.
Viñedos de Alcohuaz, Grus, 2019, Elqui (Indigo Wine £25) From what Barnes described as “an extreme landscape of hot days and cold nights,” made with foot-trodden grapes in historic lagares, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Malbec, a savoury, faintly bretty nose, leads into an intense, structured wine with pert red fruit and a lovely crack of gunpowder.
Morande, Vigno, 2018, Maule (Berkmann £20) From an association founded to help victims of the devastating 2010 earthquake by increasing the price for old vine Carignan grapes, there’s also some Syrah in the blend, delivering a delicious mix of sweet and sour red berries and a whiff of dried herbs. There’s dark chocolate, cocoa nibs and a subtle smoky note that all helps underline the case for old vine Carignan in Chile.