Wines of Chile was back with a bang last week with its first in-person tasting in two years. In that time the innovation that was already underway before COVID hit has truly flourished, argues David Kermode. Innovative on-trend styles, lots of Pais and Cinsault, wines from the South, including cool climate Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are sitting confidently alongside more traditional styles of Cabernet, Carménère and some traditional blends.
“Nothing can replicate the spontaneity of speaking to a buyer, showing them something new or different, leading to the opportunity for new listings, not to mention how important it is for the trade to network,” says Wines of Chile UK director Anita Jackson.
There was a spring to my step as I walked into Chelsea’s Royal Horticultural Halls for the first Chilean trade tasting in more than two years, but it was starting to snow heavily… so the backdrop felt more festive than springlike.
Thankfully, the wines provided a metaphorical breath of fresh air, with real evidence of a lighter, brighter, tighter style, in tune with the times, innovation to the fore, with some of the clunkier, generic winemaking we have seen too much of in recent years consigned to history.
“Chile needed a lot more innovation and that’s happening right now,” said South America specialist and IWSC judging committee member Alistair Cooper MW, who hosted a number of fully-subscribed masterclasses across the day, highlighting some of the latest trends.
Showcasing that distinct change in style to which Cooper referred: the Focus tables at the rear of the hall which made the perfect place to start, themed into medal winners, varietal wines, innovations, new releases, unsigned talent and – my favourite section – ‘the Beautiful South’, featuring Maule, Itata, Bio Bio and Malleco rather than Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa or Sue. In these larger generic country tastings, well-curated feature tables like this are a fantastic way of marking the cards or, in this case, tasting booklets, of those present.
Confessing that she had been nervous ahead of her first in-person event in two years, Wines of Chile UK Director Anita Jackson was evidently delighted with the response from those present: “It was our opportunity to remind people there’s a lot of exciting wine coming out of Chile right now. With so many innovative styles emerging, lots of Pais and Cinsault, resulting in a lighter, more Beaujolais style which is very on trend. Along with wines from the South, there’s some wonderful cool climate Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, not overlooking traditional styles such as amazing Cabernet, Carménère and some fantastic blends.”
“Whilst online events are a very effective way of updating the trade, nothing can replicate the spontaneity of speaking to a buyer, showing them something new or different, leading to the opportunity for new listings, not to mention how important it is for the trade to network,” she said, as she revealed she was planning more tastings in different formats as the year unfolds.
Chilean wines are well established in the UK – Chile’s third largest export market – with the trade tasting providing producers with a barometer for the latest launches and winemaking developments. Among the tasting highlights, there was well-on-trend Cinsault and Pais, well-made Semillon, well-priced Chardonnay and a well of vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, to help quench the thirst of those suffering during the ‘Great Savvy Shortage’.
Above all, there was plenty of well-judged, well-executed innovation on show amidst the springtime snow.
Kermode’s Top 10 at the Wines of Chile trade tasting:
J Bouchon, Granito, Semillon, 2019 (Condor Wines) RRP £33 A gold medal winner, from dry farmed, deep rooted vines planted in the 1940s in Maule, this spends a year in French oak. There’s an ethereal air of fresh Sicilian lemon grove to the nose, with ripe, juicy pear and creamy citrus tart on the textured palate, all supported by well integrated spice.
Carmen, Florillón, Semillon (seeking distribution) RRP £23 100% Semillon, named after the flor under which it ages for a year, just 100 cases are produced. With the fresh sea breeze salinity of Manzanilla, at just 13% ABV, this takes twists and turns between salty, nutty, zesty, peachy but, more than anything, it is massively moreish.
Aresti, Trisquel, Series Origen, Semillon, 2020, Curicó (Freixenet Copestick) RRP £17 From a family winery in the Curicó Valley, sourced from La Reserva estate, where the vines grow in soils rich in quartz and volcanic sediment, an excellent example of a variety that really shines in Chile. A vibrant nose of lemon zest, quince and orange blossom, in the mouth there’s creamy lemon posset and crab apple, with a clean, mineral finish.
Viña Casa Silva, Ranco, Riesling 2020, Lago Ranco, Austral (Jackson Nugent) RRP £21 From one of the most southerly vineyards in Chilean Patagonia, a delicate, refined and strikingly fresh Riesling, with a feathery lime blossom nose, pronounced citrus acidity, crisp green apple texture and zesty mineral finish. Stunning.
Ventisquero, Tara, White Wine 1, 2018, Atacama (Les Caves de Pyrene) RRP £40 Very much a Pyrene wine this one, Chardonnay fermented in eggs made from Atacama Desert stone, unfiltered, unfined, untroubled by much sulphur, (just a little is added, to keep it stable for its journey), there’s an inviting, funky musky note, grilled pineapple and fleshy grapefruit counterweighted by a delicious salinity.
Las Veletas Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Maule Valley (seeking distribution) RRP £13 More Menetou-Salon than Marlborough in style, from mature vines grown on circular terraces, an elegant, clean, fresh, linear style of Sauvignon with delicate, filo-thin layers of citrus complexity. Highly recommended.
Aresti, Trisquel, Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Leyda (Freixenet Copestick) RRP £13 From the Leyda Valley, a pebble’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, another gilded medal winner, with an intense, aromatic nose of lime leaf, gooseberry and green pepper, generously juicy-fruited with a zesty assertive line of acidity and long finish.
Carmen, DO Loma Seca, Cinsault 2021, Secano Interior Itata (seeking distribution) RRP £25 Dry farmed (‘secano’ apparently means ‘dry land’), bush-vined Cinsault from Itata, in Chile’s densely-forested south, from which some of the most exciting new wave wines come, this is fresh, spicy, sleek and seductive, with crunchy red cherry and raspberry fruit and a hint of something savoury and sausagey in the finish. The perfect red for a summer chill.
Viña Montes, Alpha M 2018 Apalta, Colchagua (Liberty Wines) RRP £65 Bordeaux blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, a thunderously purple-fruited nose of blueberries, black cherry and cassis, soft leather and tobacco leaf is followed by an intense, structured, perfectly balanced, tamed beast of a wine that demands a fillet steak and a lie down.
Ventisquero, Obliqua, Carménère, 2018, Apalta, Colchagua (Seckford Agencies) RRP £40 From a single 1.5 hectare plot in Apalta, a sub-zone of Colchagua, ex Penfold’s chief winemaker John Duval was a consultant in the creation of this high-end wine, which I loved when I first tasted it last summer. Since then, the tannins have softened further and, though it’s still quite tightly wound, it is now drinking beautifully. With top notch fruit, led by fresh blackcurrant and foraged blackberry, there’s a lovely earthiness with wafts of log fire and cedar spice. Despite the obscenely heavy bottle, designed for muppets who associate weight with quality, Carménère doesn’t come better than this.