A new wave in Chilean wine

Chile possesses a long viticultural history that surpasses any other country in the New World. As early as the 1550s plantings of Moscatel and País could already be found. In the 19th century international varieties started to arrive (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay). Being a phylloxera-free land, the country became a safe haven for Europe’s plague stricken vignerons. European immigrants brought modern techniques to the industry allowing it to grow rapidly and develop. Sadly, in the last decades of the 20th century the internal consumption of the original 16th century varieties decayed and the focus was set on the international varieties for the export market. It is only in the last decade that the rediscovery of these old dry farmed vineyards is taking place. Cinsault, País, Garnacha, Syrah, Carignan have adapted well to the climates of Maule, Itata, Elqui and Limarí producing very serious wines. Modern winemaking with this raw material yields complexity, great balance and stunning concentration.

We would like to highlight a few key players in this new wave and give you a glimpse in an impressionist manner to what Chilean wines could become in the near future.

The role of Pedro Parra – a wine consultant, geologist and terroir expert – in this scenario must be acknowledged. Having worked in Burgundy, Piedmont and Oregon, he has brought change to Chile pushing to cultivate in sloped, rockier and less fertile soils in an attempt to bring elegance, minerality and more refinement to the wines. One of the inflexion points came with Clos des Fous, a project that condensed many of these lessons learnt in Europe employing international grapes. 

Clos des Fous – Pucalán Arenaria 2014
Nose:Intense and brambly like Syrah. Beets, pomegranate. Sweet vanilla from new French oak.
Palate:Raspberry and blackberry. Very concentrated and on the darker spectrum of fruit. Very unique profile for a Pinot Noir. Oak is clearly present but in balance. Earthy minerality in the midpalate. Long finish on fruit and vanilla.
Structure:High acidity, low velvety tannins, high alcohol and medium bodied.

But now Pedro has returned to his home region in Itata where he is now aiming his attention to Cinsault and País. Listening to him talking to Rajat Parr and Fernando Mora during lockdown was very revealing. His understanding of soils and its effects on the structure of wines is eye-opening. We really hope to meet him some day and taste some wine together. 

In Itata his Cinsault grows deeply perfumed and floral. It reminded us surprisingly to Gredos’ Garnacha, crisp, medium alcohol and fine soft tannins. Funny enough, Parra has worked as a consultant with Comando G. There must be a connection. 

Pedro Parra – Trane Cinsault 2018
Nose:Intense violets, strawberry and raspberry. Very pretty. Ripe but fresh nose. Herbal notes in the background.
Palate:A fresh fruity attack followed by some earthy minerality. The finish brings thyme, black pepper and dry herbs. The fruit lingers in your palate.
Structure:Beautiful. Crisp, incredibly fine medium tannins, medium alcohol, medium bodied.

Marcelo Retamal, vintner from De Martino, has also made one of the biggest contributions to single-vineyard winemaking. During the last two decades he has built a portfolio of plots of terroir-specific varieties ranging from Chardonnay in Limarí, Syrah in Elqui and Cinsault in Itata. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get hold of any of De Martino’s wines yet, but we are particularly eager to try their Viejas Tinajas Cinsault aged in amphoras and the Vigno Old Vine Series Carignan from Maule. 

Another noteworthy producer in Maule is Garage Wine Co. His founder, Derek Mossmann, has established relationships with small producers in the region, rewarding him with a great diversity of grapes from different terroirs and viticulture. His winemaking respects these terroir characteristics with minimum intervention, little oak and native yeasts. Having had their Cabernet Franc Lot #80, we are looking forward to trying more of their wines in the near future. We should certainly try the Truquilemu Vineyard Carignan alongside De Martino’s Vigno Old Vine Series.

Garage Wine Co. – Cabernet Franc Lot #80 2016
Nose:Blueberry, dark cherry. Ripe and fruity. As a Right Bank Bordeaux in a warm year. Strong pencil shaving aromas. The green notes appear as mint, evolve as bay leaf and mild green peppers.
Palate:Ripe and juicy fruit. Dark cherries and blueberries all along. Pencil lead appears in the midpalate along with herbs. Thyme, bay leaf and peppery finish.
Structure:Crisp acid, full bodied, high alcohol, medium soft tannins. Long finish.

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