Chile rides out

24 July, 2018

Chile is moving on from its reputation for producing quality but ‘safe’ wines as a new generation exploits modern techniques and diverse terroir, finds Christian Davis


THE FAMOUS QUOTE from master of wine Tim Atkin, that Chilean wine was like Volvos – reliable, safe, but boring, is correct on two fronts. But, crucially, not on the one that counts for the discerning, adventurous wine drinker.

Chile still produces great quality entry-level wines that are soft, fruity, easy to drink and represent excellent value for money. But boring? No.

Years ago, apart from maybe Apalta, nearly all the vineyards were on the flat central valley, producing ripe Merlots (with a bit of Carmenère mixed in), Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay – all the big guns in terms of global vol-ume varieties.

Now there are vineyards all over the place: where there is an incline, some altitude, half decent soils and, of course these days, a reliable source of water. The likes of Elqui Valley in the high north and Bío-Bío in the luxuriant south are teeming with viticulturists, winemakers and commercial estate agents trying to sell land for cultivation. There are even some trellises in the Atacama Desert.

Unabashed Chile lover Miguel Torres Maczassek – fifth generation and general manager of Spain’s largest wine maker, Familia Torres – says: “I think Chile today has two quite different messages.

“In the past decades Chile built up its first USP, namely that it was – and still is – very successful at making very good value wines. But during the past 10 years Chile has started to show a more exciting side – its amazing regional diversity with impressive treasures of different and rare wines.

“Take, for example, the Maule valley and Cauquenes where you have fantastic wines made from old Carignan vines showing an incredible acidity. Or the coastal Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Sauvignon Blancs from fantastic granite and slate soils.

“Or, the wines from the historic Itata Valley, where viticulture initially started in Chile about 500 years ago and where you can go back to the origins and find ancient grape varieties such as País, Cinsault or Moscatel.

“I love Itata,” says Torres, “and I see a lot of potential. There you can see the viticulture of the Old World but in the New World. Most of the vineyards are small and owned by families, not all of them have the resources to produce and bottle the wines, but I believe we are going to see great wines from Itata.”

Concha y Toro is Chile and South America’s largest wine producer. Corporate export director Cristián Lopez tells DI: “Chile has a fantastic diversity of vineyard sites, which means it can produce excellent examples of a wide range of wine styles. Some other countries are known only for one or two styles and, while Chile might have made its name with Cabernet Sauvignon, it is now becoming well known for leading the development of Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and even Malbec. The Chilean wine industry has been export-focused for many years and is adept at and open to matching its wines to international consumers’ tastes.”

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