By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 18 March 2023
Chile’s new generation of winemakers are now pushing the boundaries more than ever before to create more subtle cool climate wines.
At the recent Wines of Chile tasting in Edinburgh, wine expert Patrick Schmitt MW described how Chilean wineries were heading north, south, east and west in this long thin country to achieve their goals.
Since C19, the larger wineries had focused their attention on classic grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the central valley region from Maipo to Rapel – but that has all changed.
“What we are now seeing in Chile is a fascinating diversity as winemakers search out cooler microclimates in the length and breadth of their country to make more elegant refined wine styles – and also an interesting revival of their heritage rescuing and reviving old vines like Pais and Romano in their old heartlands of Itata and Maule”, says Schmitt.
This exploration first began in the 1980s when Casablanca valley’s cool nights first attracted wineries to plant Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. In 1990s wine growers nudged even nearer the coast into San Antonio and Leyda Valley. The huge success in these coastal regions encouraged wineries to colonise the coastal hills up and down the country to benefit from cooler sea breezes, for example into coastal Colchagua and Licanten in Curico.
Whilst some wineries headed to the coast, others headed east into the Andean foothills. Here the higher altitude gives more UV light enhancing aromas and flavours – where wineries like Vina Aresti (pictured below) with their Altitud Trisquel Merlot have shown what vibrant intense styles can be produced from vines grown on a forested Andean mountainside at 1,245 metres above sea level – one of the highest in Chile.
Other winemakers have headed north towards the Atacama desert, replanting the old Pisco grape vineyards in Elqui and Limari with great success. Here low rainfall, clear skies and poor soils add minerality and saltiness to Rhone varietals like Syrah – “the rising star in Chile right now”, says Schmitt who believes Syrah has a brilliant future in Chile as it is well suited to Chile’s Mediterranean climate and granitic soils.
Up in Limari the combination of its limestone soils, which are rare in Chile, and coastal breezes just 20km from the Pacific have also proved to be the best place in the country to grow Chardonnay. “All Chile’s top Chardonnays come from Limari – like Undurraga’s TH, Concha y Toro’s Amelia and Tabali Talinay”, explained Schmit.
Winemakers are also rewriting the Chilean wine map in the south as they plant further and further towards Patagonia. Ten years ago it was Bio Bio in the news, now Malleco valley, Cautin valley in Austral and even Osorno valley further south. The latter was developed as recently as 2015, but is showing good potential for Riesling. Legendary winemaker Aurelio Montes believes Riesling could be the next big success in Chile – so watch this space.
There has also been a revival of interest in the treasure trove of gnarled old vines hidden in the valleys of Itata (pictured above) and Maule - with Pais and Romano grapes now widely appreciated by the bigger wineries who head here to buy fruit showing an amazing renaissance of patronage of old vines.
However exciting these developments may be in Chile, Schmitt ended on a sober note. “The changing climate is throwing huge challenges at growers with drought a serious issue and rain falling at the wrong time of year. The recent bushfires raging in Itata region, the home of so many old bushvines, have also just devasted 300 hectares of prized old vineyards”, he says.
Osorno-Austral: CASA SILVA LAGO RANCO RIESLING 2020
£16.99 De Burgh Wines; Field & Fawcett
Very attractive refined Riesling from volcanic soils in one of Chile’s most southerly vineyards. Delicious limey zesty fruits, minerally undertones and moderate alcohol from Casa Silva’s Futrono estate: 11.5%
Limari: UNDURRAGA ‘TH’ LIMARI CHARDONNAY 2021 ***STAR BUY***
£18.95 Strictly Wine; Fintry Wines; Scottish Gantry
Fabulous linear fresh style of Chilean Chardonnay with grapefruit notes and subtle oak – from the limestone soils of Limari – home to the country’s best Chardonnays: 12.5%
Curico: ARESTI TRISQUEL SERIES ORIGEN SEMILLON 2020
£16.95 Slurp; Jascots
Delightful crisp fresh vibrant Semillon with light vanilla notes from oak – which hails from the Rio Claro area in Curico with quartz and volcanic soils: 14%
Itata: VIU MANENT TINY TRIALS CINSAULT 2021 ***STAR BUY***
£18 Wine Direct; NY Wines
Loved the strawberry and cherry fruits and vibrant fresh character of this Cinsault grown on ancient granitic soils in Guarilihue area of Itata, 20km from the Pacific; a wine to suit Pinot Noir or Gamay lovers: 13%
Colchagua: CASA SILVA CESARE NOIR ROMANO 2020
£15 De Burgh Wines; Cheers Wine; Field & Fawcett
Romano is the Chilean name for Cesare Noir, a grape introduced to France by the Romans, grown in Chile since 1912; crunchy bright red fruits and silky texture would appeal to Gamay or Cabernet Franc lovers: 13%
Leyda: UNDURRAGA ‘TH’ LEYDA SYRAH 2020
£19.90-£25 Strictly Wine; Hard to Find Wines
Deep dark serious cool climate version of Syrah with prominent ripe jammy blackcurrant fruit, spicy flavours and smooth structure; Syrah is showing great promise in Chile: 14%
Join Rose’s Escorted Wine Tour to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in February 2024 www.rosemurraybrown.com