I attended a trade tasting of Chilean wines this past week. I have not invested much time on Chile and I felt it was time for an update to see whether there were developments to warrant a closer eye on this rapidly-growing region.
The headline: Chile’s growth rate is warranted and the outlook is bullish.
Chile has shown rapid and consistent growth in volume and value over the past 25 years and this growth continues. Initially driven by attractive/bargain prices for acceptable wines made from noble varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the growth engine is now fed by improving quality in both fruit and winemaking.
Chile exports over $250 million worth of wine to Canada annually and is now the 6th largest wine importing country to Canada. In 2010 Chilean wine imports into Ontario grew by 9% in both volume and value.
There are three important developments gaining traction in Chile, in addition to significant ongoing investment in skills and equipment. New areas are being explored for grape cultivation with a view to exploiting local unique terroir in ways not previously considered. The second development is recognition that there are distinct regional terroirs that can be identified in Chile and which suggest an opportunity to establish an appellation system which will become part of the Chilean brand and contribute to continuing efforts to enhance wine quality. The third development is a growing trend to adopt sustainable practices in vineyard and winery. Like New Zealand, Chile has recently introduced a sustainable program that will be another valuable brand enhancement but, more importantly, will support distinguishing the best Chilean wines on the global stage.
The tasting this week demonstrated the progress being made as these developments show their effect on quality.
Over a 45-minute period we were walked through a total of 14 wines by winemakers or sales agents for 7 producers. There were some familiar names in the group such as Cono Sur and Errazuriz, and there were new names (for me at least) such as Arboleda and Sena.
Generally the wines presented to us were of very good quality. While not all were complex or well structured, the varietal character of the wines was consistently correct across the range. The best wines were exceptional values.
The wines I recommend from the tasting include:
Chile, Maipo Valley – Carmen Nativa Terra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011
This was an herbaceous wine with great intensity on nose and palate. The attack was dominated by stony minerality which gave way to a spicy, green peach, gooseberry mid-palate. The finish was long and juicy. Dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle (Ontario agent – Charton Hobbs)
Chile, Casablanca Valley – Emiliana Adobe Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Emiliana is a maker which is committed fully to organic and biodynamic practices and is producing consistently impressive wines, some of which I have recently recommended in this newsletter. This wine is an amazing value and displays intensity, structure and balance. For lovers of Marlborough S-B I suggest you try this wine; it is a delightful, youthful beauty with character that punches well above its price point. Extra dry, white wine – $12.95 per bottle (Ontario agent – Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits)
Chile, Colchagua Valley – Emiliana Coyam 2008
This wine is an intriguing blend of 41 % Shiraz, 29% Carmenere, 20% Merlot and the balance is Cabernet Sauvignon. Unusual as it might sound, this blend works. The wine is ripe, full-bodied and well-balanced. The nose has notes of blackberry, stewed plum, and game. There is a slight reductive character which adds to the Old World Syrah-like aromas. The palate delivers more black, stewed fruit, round tannins, juicy acid and spice. Even though the wine was matured in French oak for 12 months, the wood adds modest character; the fruit dominates! Dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle (Coyam 2007 is available at Vintages Online. Same price as the 2008).
Chile, Colchagua Valley – Montes Purple Angel 2009
This is a Carmenere blend (half coastal Carmenere, half inland Carmenere, with a small amount of Petit Verdot for structure). It is an age able wine that presently shows the characteristic green nose and palate of Carmenere fruit. I find the greenness of Carmenere off-putting when it dominates; in this wine it adds complexity to an otherwise supple wine that is still young. The nose and palate have plenty of apple, plum, pepper spice and smoke . The tannins are dusty, the finish is long. Very fine structure throughout. Extra dry, red wine – $49.95 per bottle (Ontario agent – Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)
Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.