On Chile’s terroirs

(by peter)

Thanks to Wines of Chile for sending over this short video taken from my seminar at the Annual Tasting entitled ‘Exploring Chile’s Terroirs’.

Really this seminar was an excuse to feature some brilliant new-wave Chilean wines – one of which was unheard of even to most of the Chileans, made from the high Atacama plateau and with a production run of just 160 bottles – and talk a bit about why Chilean wine is at such an exciting juncture.

This is, after all, probably one of the most climatically diverse nations in the world, with a huge range of soil types and exposures (around 80% of Chile is classified as mountainous).

And at the moment we’re seeing the emergence of some brilliant, breathtaking wines that speak as much about where they’re from as the people (and grape varieties) who made them.

I devised the presentation in tandem with Dr Pedro Parra, with a tripartite structure: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and ‘other’.

I defined terroir as the story a wine has to tell – a personality, if you like – a combination of nature and nurture that gives a wine a unique character that you, the drinker, then interact with, interpret and appreciate. I also emphasised the role of man in this – some people seem to claim terroir is not a human construct, but it undoubtedly is – as i put it (probably a little too floridly), nature is the rock from which man carves a sculpture in wine.

Chile is getting there with terroir wines. Over half of the national vineyard is under 15 years old, and Chileans by nature tend to be risk averse (you need ambitious, mould-breaking, risky ventures to make great terroir wine, pushing things to the limit).

But the initial results from some of Chile’s pioneers are worth celebrating. The wines I featured in this tasting were as follows:

  • Viña Ribera del Lago, Laberinto Cenizas Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Maule (tangy, dynamic and vital)
  • Calyptra Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Cachapoal (beautifully glazed, layered and structured. Utter pleasure.)
  • SoldeSol Pinot Noir 2010, Malleco (leafy, earthy Pinot with great drive and ageing ability)
  • Montsecano Pinot Noir 2011, Casablanca (floral, earthy, wonderfully scented and elegantly textured)
  • De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2011, Itata (earthy, herby, bright and cogent)
  • Ayllu 2011, Salar de Atacama (chalky tannin and delightfully different)

I could have chosen many more but these went down very well. The idea was more to challenge preconceptions about what Chile is and can be, rather than to have a line-up that pleased everyone. The reaction was fantastic – people were indeed polarised but saw the excitement and potential even if they weren’t fans of a particular one.

It all took place on a beautiful day at Lord’s, in the superb venue that is the media pod. As well as the wines, everyone enjoyed a great view…

My thanks to Wines of Chile for setting up the event and also the producers for kindly sending in the wines. Thanks also to Pedro Parra, and to Alvaro Arriagada and Rene Merino for the photos. You can also find a report on Wines of Chile’s website here.