Written by Jancis Robinson 18 Feb 2015
Chile's revolutionary new reds
It is no exaggeration to say that the Chilean wine scene is undergoing revolution. The old styles, old appellations and old producers are being challenged by a completely different mindset – signalled on this website some time ago in our coverage of the MOVI and VIGNO movements dedicated to much smaller producers than used to be the norm and, particularly, the long ignored southern wine regions Maule and Itata. The whole focus of the industry, hit by drought in the northernmost wine regions, is turning south, and the most-planted grapes in Maule and Itata such as Carignan, Cinsault and even País, long considered beyond the pale, are now being taken seriously.
At the same time, newer, cooler regions are being pioneered – whether influenced by the Pacific or the Andes (see Chilean wine map in ferment ) - and the country continues to make some seriously fine reds, mainly Cabernets, from Chile’s original answer to the Médoc, the finest vineyards of Maipo close to the capital Santiago on which I will report on Friday. The soil pit, as pictured on Monday in Chilean wine map in ferment, is Chilean wine producers’ tool of choice at the moment as, often under the influence of Pedro Parra, they seek to make the most of the country’s notably varied soils, as well as the wide range of different climates, generally and perhaps unexpectedly varying more east-west than north-south.
Although I appreciate that in virtually all wine-producing countries – Argentina, Australia,
California and South Africa come most readily to mind – a similar sort of revolutionary mindset has been emerging, it is difficult to think of another country that has changed quite so rapidly and dramatically as Chile. (See also De Martino's journey to enlightenment for another example.)
I hope you enjoy this selection of notes on more than 100 key wines tasted recently in Santiago. When I realised that the easiest way to get to Mendoza to judge the Wines of Argentina Awards was via Santiago, I asked Wines of Chile to set up four days of tasting for me, one of them a visit to the Leyda region which is so new that I had never visited it. I sent them a list of producers whose wines I would like to taste and, to their credit, they managed to provide at least one wine from most of them, even though many of them are not members of Wines of Chile.
My tastings were organised by the ever-helpful Alvaro Arriagada of Wines of Chile (pictured in usual pose over lunch in Leyda at Garcés Silva) and physically managed by super-sommelier (and ardent champion of Itata) Hector Riquelme. Whenever I had a question about the wines being served, he could usually answer it. And when he couldn’t, it seemed to take only a minute on his mobile to the winemaker in question before he had a response. Marvellous! The 95 wines below were divided into the logical flights below and tasted in Santiago in this order. They have been supplemented by some notes taken in London last September at the Beautiful South generic tasting. Look out for the Cabernet and Cabernet blends on Friday.
All NHBs (naughty heavy bottles) except for Antiyal (which is heavy enough). Extremely varied styles, from all-fruit Folatre via tensely oaked Terrunyo and biodynamic Antiyal to semi-dried Falernia! But much more fun than I expected.
Folatre, Special Reserve Carmenère 2013 Curicó
From a farming family. Deep purplish. Bracing and lively with that characteristic green tomato-leaf smell but without too much green. This is a Carménère I could get behind. Very luscious texture that spreads right across the palate without being at all sweet or heavy. Very well made indeed. A uniquely Chilean wine that ticks every box I can think of. Fruit purity rather than oak speaks here. 14.3% Drink 2015-2017