If you ever thought that Chilean wine was all about inexpensive, mass produced wines, made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, with little character, think again.
There is a new wave of wines sweeping through Chile which are far from mass produced, with masses of character and tremendous quality. Made in tiny quantities, these wines are at the cutting edge of wine development and vineyard planting in South America.
There is a common perception that the wines we see currently are the same as they have always been and will continue that way forever. This is a long way from the truth as wines, vineyards, wine-making and the wine industry are constantly changing. The reasons for this are many, including economics, developing technology, consumer expectations and fashion.
Chile is perhaps one of the most dynamic wine producing countries of the world. Wine making in Chile goes back to the 16th century, the time of the Conquistadors. The industry started to get under way in the 19th century, partly on the back of the prosperous mining industry. From then right up until the 1980s, the emphasis was more on quantity rather than quality with most of the wine being consumed domestically. Once modern technology became more widespread, with stainless steel fermentation tanks, temperature control and many other innovations, quality increased dramatically and the modern industry was born.
In 1989, Chile produced 400 million litres of wine, seven per cent of which was exported. In 2015, 1.2 billion litres were produced with more than 75 per cent being exported. This impressive development is now taking a new turn as the search is on for new origins and the matching of grape varieties to specific locations or 'terroirs'. Wine is now produced in increasingly extreme climates, with vineyards on the edge of the Atacama Desert in the North, high altitude vineyards in the Andes mountains and others in the cool far south, heading towards Antarctica.
Many new generation wine-makers are undertaking projects to make exceptional quality wines. The success of this approach was underlined in no uncertain terms in a tasting held last week at the Norfolk Arms Hotel by the Arundel Wine society. Introduced by guest speaker Alistair Cooper, a Chilean wine expert who has worked in wineries in Chile for several years, members tasted a range of stunningly characterful and individual wines. Three of these were from the long established producer Undurraga, from their Terroir Hunter range, produced in quantities as low as 4000 bottles. The deep red, peppery, full bodied yet restrained Syrah from Limari is produced from a vineyard of only seven acres, 25 km from the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the wines tasted were from grape varieties not normally associated with Chile, such as an outstanding fresh, spicy white Marsanne-Roussane Alto Los Romeros, from a unique terroir on coastal Colchagua (available from Gusto Wines in Ford). Another unanimously acclaimed wine was an elegant, subtle, fruity red Cinsault from the southerly Itata region made by De Martino, one of the leaders from that area (available from The Wine Society).
As Alistair says "Chile is a real viticultural paradise, with huge potential for making outstanding wines in a wide variety of regions and climates". The prices are not entry level, but for such great quality and individuality, a price of between £10 and £15 per bottle seems to me to be more than reasonable.