Election time in Chile

(by peter)

This past weekend was momentous in Chile for a number of reasons.

In the first instance, the country broke with 20 years of tradition by electing a right-wing president, billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera. The country has been ruled by a succession of centre-left coalitions since Augusto Pinochet left office in 1990 but recently accusations of corruption, infighting and political cronyism had irrevocably damaged the coalition parties.

Outgoing president Michelle Bachelet (pictured with Peter, right), Chile’s first female incumbent, leaves office on a high, however. Her approval ratings are stable at 81%. (Chile’s constitution prevents a standing president running for re-election.)

While Chileans were busy at the ballot boxes, another election of sorts was played out at the 7th Annual Wines of Chile Awards.

This annual competition was, for the first time, judged by an all-Canadian panel. Previous panels had alternated between American and British judges (I was part of the 2005 judging panel, which also chose a Syrah as wine of the show – Falernia’s Alta Tierra.) These three countries are the top three export destinations for Chilean wine.

Wine of the Show went to San Pedro for its 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah 2007 from Cachapoal. (See my tasting note for this wine below, from when I met up with Puyo in October 2009.)

Writing to me shortly after receiving the award, winemaker Marco Puyo said, “I feel very happy because now I feel that all the hard work I’ve put in at San Pedro since 2006 is beginning to pay off”.

San Pedro has indeed undergone something of a renaissance since Puyo arrived from Los Vascos. New wines from promising areas (epitomised by the excellent value, multi-award-winning Castillo de Molina Sauvignon Blanc from Elqui) have injected much-needed dynamism into several of the key ranges.

Puyo has also put a particular emphasis on Syrah. The 1865 line, for example, was switched from Maipo to Cachapoal from the 2006 vintage because Puyo preferred a cooler site in the Andean foothills to temper alcohol, retain acidity and promote the variety’s spicy notes. The company is also shortly to release two new Syrahs from Elqui, one under the 1865 banner and another, as-yet-unnamed label.

Another notable trophy winner was husband-and-wife team Felipe García and Constanza Schwaderer, for their Bravado Marina García Schwaderer Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from Casablanca. Both García and Schwaderer are high-profile young Chilean winemakers who recently set up their own venture, Bravado Wines.

Further trophies went to relative newcomer O Fournier for its Centauri red blend as well as Odfjell for its Orzada Carignan, both of which are sourced from Maule, further underlining this hitherto overlooked region’s potential for high quality.

For a full list of trophy winners (as well as some semi-gratuitous nudity…) see the story on Wines of Chile’s website.

1865 Single Vineyard Syrah 2007, Cachapoal, 14% – smoky, resinous nose with black fruit and coffee. Gentle notes of eucalypt, red and black fruit, with a hint of cream. Fairly restrained. On the palate it shows a sleek, juicy attack, full of minty cassis, with a lovely juicy structure and elegantly integrated oak. Gentle warmth on the finish. Classy, balanced stuff. Lovely silky tannin. Excellent fruit quality. Alcohol could do with further tempering a bit but this is great stuff, which speaks of its origins. 7/10