Chile is producing a much wider variety of wines than simply sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.
WHEN New World wine producers were trying to break into the UK market, it was handy to have a calling card or two.
Australia had chardonnay and shiraz, Argentina had torrontes and malbec.
For Chile, those calling cards were sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.
They remain the country’s top-selling wines in the UK, followed closely by merlot.
Yet South America’s second-largest wine-producing country has many more tricks up its sleeves.
Some of those talents were on show during two online wine tastings last week.
They featured bottles from master of wine Tim Atkin’s 2021 Chile Special Report.
Like Matthew Jukes and other wine writers, Atkin compiles annual reports about some of his specialisms.
Other reports in his series include Bordeaux, South Africa, and parts of Spain.
Unable to visit Chile this year due to the pandemic, Atkin instead tasted his way through 1,142 wines in London and then jumped on 51 video calls with winemakers in Chile.
The results of his labours were presented over two afternoons, with winemakers joining live from Chile to share notes on their wines.
From cinsault to semillon
One of the abiding messages from the sessions was about the sheer variety of grapes in Chile.
While the sauvignons may still eat up the lion’s share of space on supermarket shelves and restaurant wine lists, the country is growing 51 black grape varieties and 42 white.
That diversity is leading to a plethora of choice, both among independent bottles shops and some more canny multiple retailers.
Carmenere is a perfect example – mistaken in the past for merlot, it’s now shining in its own right.
Atkin single out the 2018 TerraNoble CA2 Carmenere Costa in his tastings; as we saw in our “12 Wines of Christmas”, the 2017 was a classic example of what the variety can do in the right hands.
Two other stand-out wines from last week aren’t yet available in the UK – but watch this space.
The 2019 Casa Silva Lago Ranco Sauvignon Blanc – with its really ripe pronounced mix of guava and passionfruit, with asparagus and gooseberry – is on its way.
In the meantime, check out Casa Silva’s riesling and pinot noirs from the excellent Lockett Bros in North Berwick.
Similarly, the 2020 Vina Carmen Loma Seca Cinsault really sang, showing floral notes among the raspberry jam on the nose, and a lovely rich blackcurrant French-set yoghurt twang on the palate.
I’m looking forward to trying more of winemaker Emily Faulconer’s bottles this autumn during Wine Event Scotland’s tastings.
Until then, there are still plenty of other Chilean stars to explore…
J Bouchon Granito Semillon 2019 (£31.95, Secret Bottle Shop)
Master of wine Tim Atkin highlighted the need to look at Chile in terms of individual producers and vineyards – rather than the expansive river valleys that give its regions their names – and this semillon grown on granite soils is the perfect example of why site specificity is so important. The nose is full of wood smoke and lemon rind, and is quite herbal, with more of those lemon rind flavours coming through on the palate to balance the acidity. There’s a minerality to the wine too – possibly through those granite soils influencing components in the wine.
Ventisquero Tara White Wine 2 (£35.95, Field & Fawcett)
As we saw last May with its pinot noirs, Ventisquero isn’t scared to push the boundaries. The same is true here with its slightly hazy viognier, made using a solera system akin to sherry. It delivers green apple and lemon sherbet on the nose, and then there’s a juiciness to its apricot and lemon sherbet fruit on the palate, with a chalkiness to its texture too, which all combines to balance its acidity. There’s a delicious salted almond twang on the finish too.
Cousino Macul Isidora Riesling 2019 (2015: £11.99, Mumbles Fine Wines)
A really elegant riesling, which brought back memories of visiting Alsace. It’s got a rich nose, full of lemon sherbet, lime, and a squeeze of honey, which leads into a palate that’s alive with mouth-watering acidity, balanced by rich lemon, lime, and honeyed fruit, without straying into sweetness. Atkin explained that this drier style is the norm for Chile, rather than any off-dry sweetness.
Vina Aquitania Sol de Sol Chardonnay 2019 (2015: £22.48, Lay & Wheeler)
Rich and interesting peach, lemon rind, and cream on the nose, this is a wine that keeps on giving on the palate, starting with fruity peach flavours with a twist of lemon, but then developing into more exotic pineapple, with licks of butter and cream. It stays fresh thanks to its acidity, and is a great-value option for Burgundy fans.
Vinedos de Alcohuaz Cuesta Chica 2019 (2015: £32, The Sourcing Table)
Grenache grown at 2,100 metres above sea level? Yes please! The altitude of the vineyard manifests itself in the crunchy high acidity in the wine, which is balanced by grainy tannins and a complex mix of sharp pomegranite and sweet blackcurrant fruit pastille flavours.
La Ronciere Licanten Malbec 2019 (2018: £13.95, Corney & Barrow)
Think Argentina is South America’s only malbec maker? Think again – this example from Curico in Chile represents outstanding value for money, with a deep, fruity and floral nose, full of blackcurrant, raspberry, and raspberry jam. Its tannins are quite dry and assertive, and would lend themselves nicely to food, yet there’s still fresh acidity there for balance, along with blueberry and raspberry jam notes, and a clear minerality. Lots going on for the price.
Perez Cruz Chaski Petit Verdot 2017 (£26, Pop!)
Great to see this wine being sold by Pop! in Glasgow. A fruity nose full of cassis, vanilla, and floral notes leads into an intriguing sweet and savoury mix on the palate, spread between blackcurrant fruit pastilles and roast meat. Grainy tannins for food and a kick of fresh acidity complete the show.
Koyle Cerro Basalto Alto 2018 (£17.50, The Wine Society)
There’s a lot of wine here for the money. The Wine Society has been a big supporter of the Undurraga family’s wines and this latest project is another star. Here, a blend of Rhone favourites mouvedre, grenache, carignan, and syrah produces a complex nose full of roast meat, damp hedgerow, bramble, cassis, and violets. It’s much fresher and juicier blackcurrant and cassis flavours that come to the fore on the palate to balance its high acidity and gripping tannins.
Montes Outer Limits Zapallar Syrah 2019 (£22.99, Noel Young Wines)
Having enjoyed one of the Montes family’s Kaiken wines from Argentina at East Coast, it was a pleasure to reconnect with its Outer Limits range from its native Chile. A smoked meat note cuts through the blueberry and blackcurrant on the nose, while it’s the freshness that sings on the palate. There are blackcurrant yoghurt and ripe blackberry fruit there too for balance.
Emiliana Organic Vineyards Coyam 2018 (£21, Woodwinters)
A curious blend of – deep breath – syrah, carmenere, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, malbec, carignan, tempranillo, and mouvedre from Chile’s biggest organic and biodynamic wine producer. Most of the varieties are fermented separately – although sometimes carmenere and petit verdot, when it’s in the blend, will go into the vat together – and then aged separately, blended together, and aged some more. That attention to detail produces a wine that gives a joyful mix of Rhone-like black fruit and cabernet sauvignon’s green pepper on the nose, with fresh acidity on the palate and a delicious graininess to the tannins. Tonnes of juicy black fruit on the palate too, ranging from bramble and dark plum through to a swish of milk chocolate.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his blog, The Grape & The Grain