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More Emotion in Chilean Wines

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 16 Aug 2015 13:38:29 -0300


  This is a loose translation of
  (although I am using the print edition) by Cristobal Fredes.

  Please note that my Spanish is imperfect (my English too!) and use the
  original for reference.

A few years ago the local wine scene was formal and predictable.  Now, in
contrast, it is hectic.  Likely more so now than in its entire history.
Independent growers, large wineries in disarray, new valleys, new frontiers,
the rescue of ancient varieties and traditions, and international interest
that validates - and celebrates - this entertaining state.

An enthusiast enters a shop selling wines in 2005.  The variety of labels is
not lacking.  In fact, they are abundant.  But the apparent variety of names
and colours is, at base, an illusion.  Behind the labels are some good wines,
but they resemble each other, and are almost all in the same style.  It's
difficult to tell one from another.  And, in the glass, Chile isn't as long as
the map shows; it's short, restricted to two or three regions.  And much more
narrow than it should be.

Ten years later that story has changed.  A decade on, the outlook is distinct.
Wines are made from the mountains to the sea.  From varieties that,
previously, were not mentioned.  In the north, the Limari and Elqui valleys
are established, and wines are even made in the desert (Tara, by Ventisquero).
And in the south, across the Biobio river, there's a valley called Malleco,
and some dare to make wines in Lago Ranco (Casa Silva).  The producers have
changed, too.  There are more and more happy, independent growers, making
wines they enjoy.  Even the big wineries have changed.  Forgetting they are
barges, they move as fast as launches.

"Every year new wines appear, new styles and new corners of Chile that are
being discovered.  Fascinating" says Eduardo Brethauer, editor of the magazine
Vitis, who will soon be publishing Vinos Con Cuento, a book that hopes, in
part, to define this new landscape.

The new scene is being celebrated by some of the most menacing critics in the
world.  One of them, the Spaniard Luis Gutierrez, has a unique story.  Two
years ago, when he was contracted by The Wine Advocate (published by the
influential critic Robert Parker), to evaluate Chilean wines, he bought every
book he could find on the subject and set about studying them, like the
methodical engineer he is.

But last year, when he stepped out onto Chilean ground, what he found was
distinct.  "A Chile that is not in the books.  A moment of change in which it
is not just questioning how it does things.  It's looking for new sites, new
ways of working, fresher climates, to give value to what it already has, like
the carignan from Maule, or the variety pais", he says.

Gutierrez, after tasting more than 700 wines, and meeting with many producers,
titles his report "The Newer Chile" and gave some of his best ratings to
labels like Bodegas RE, Clos de Fous, Ribera del Lago, Calyptra, Montsecano,
or Maitia Aupa (a non-varietal / pipeno).  None of these had been mentioned
previously in The Wine Advocate.  And every one, in its style, comes from
exploration of new ways to enjoy local wine.

And he underlined that Chilean wines that are already well-known, like
Undurraga or De Martino could perfectly well have changed name, because what
they are doing today has little to do with their past.  "Welcome to the
future" he wrote, celebrating the new panorama.

The transformations are industry-wide, he reflects today.  "It's not something
restricted to just the small players, like MOVI o Vigno (independent wine
growers associations).  The big boys are also changing."

The British specialist, Peter Richards, BBC presenter and author of Wines Of
Chile (2006) doesn't hide his enthusiasm for this recent change.  "It's been
fast, frantic, and fascinating", he comments from England.  "It must be one of
the mos convincing scenes on the planet right now."

His compatriot, the critic Jancis Robinson - for some, the most influential
voice today in the wine world - doesn't disagree.  "The Chilean wine scene has
taken a sharp emotional turn, in only a few years, after being pretty
predictable for two decades", she asserts.

Amongst all the changes in the industry, the majority of experts single out
the rescue of forgotten zones in the south of the country.  In particular,
valleys like Maule and Itata, and their ancient, rain-fed (unwatered)
vineyards, where very serious wines are today being made from grapes
discounted for years, like carignan, pais, cinsault and moscatel.  Varieties
that were not considered as "fine"as their well known French relations.

"In some way the rehabilitation of Maule and Itata is the most significant
event, because it's unique in Chile", says Robinson.

The Briton, who also visited last year, and wrote of her experiences for the
Financial Times, picks various wines characteristic of this "New Chile"
(title of her article), including the moscatel from Koyle (the vineyard
created by Undurraga when they sold their namesake), or the same grape, but
from De MArtino (a vineyard emblematic of the Chilean disarray).

But the one she finds most apt to illustrate this revolution - her term - is
the wine that Marques de Casa Concha, traditionally the premium line from
Concha y Toro, made largely from the pais varietal, the most grown in the
south.  This variety arrived with the Spanish (there are vines 200 years old),
but was until recently relegated to bulk and non-varietal (pipeno) wine.  "Two
or three years back this would have been unthinkable" said Robinson.

With this grape producers like Miguel Torres (with their sparkling Estelado),
or the Frenchman Louis-Antione Luyt (in Cauquenes), have been gaining
notorious results.  But when Concha y Toro, one of the largest producers in
the world, is interested, it makes more impact.

According to MArcelo Papa - enologist at Marques, Casillero del Diablo, and
also the project Maycas de Limari - the production of this wine is explained
by the global context, which is beginning to prize fruity, pure, fresh and
light reds.

"The last three or four years have me extremely motivated", confesses Papa.
And he says that not only because of that wine, but also for others that are
coming.  Like a cabernet sauvignon, also for the Marques line, that will be
harvested early, to give more freshness and so it has less alcohol.  It will
be matured not in steel cubes, nor in oak barrels, but in fudres - large
wooden casks that, until recently, were museum pieces.

Santa Carolina also has a cabernet project, in the Luis Pereira line, that
hopes to return to the reds drunk in Chile before the modernization of the
90s.  The future, paradoxically, includes not just rescuing new varieties, but
also recovering old winemaking practices and techniques.  Styles that fit
better with current tastes.

"The important thing is to keep advancing without losing sight of the
underlying quality" says Papa.  "And that we think how we can make our wines
more contemporary, because consumers are changing.  Ten years ago wines were
more solid, because meals we more solid too."

A New Style

Marcelo Retamal is someone responsible for several of the changes under
discussion.  The De Martino enologist, chosen as one of the 30 most important
in the world by Decanter magazine, was, for example, one of the first to
rescue the Itata valley, with his line of wines Viejas Tinajas.  But he knows
there is more to do.  Because the general Chilean consumer is still driving
the inertia of the last decade, of one style of wine.

"Mature, strong, full bodied wines, with the taste of oak", he describes.  "I
was in that circle until 2010, at least.  So what's the problem?  I don't like
those wines.  And the owners of De Martino don't, either."  As a consequence,
since 2011 De Martino has not bough new barrels (which give more of their
characteristics to the product), because they give a standardized style to
their wines.

For the same reason they don't use yeast, nor add acidity, nor make stronger
interventions.  "No make-up.  So you taste a chardonay Limari and, whether you
like it or you don't, you can distinguish it.  And these are the wines that
young people are looking for today.  It's the new, world-wide fashion.  People
between 18 and 40, typically connected to the Internet.  Wine for men and
women, cross-market.  It's the next thing, and those that aren't doing it will
arrive late.  Look at what Francisco Baettig is doing in Errazuriz - a world
class pinot noir in Aconcagua coast, without casks."

Retamal - demonstrating another tendency of the times - has in Elqui a project
parallel to his work with De Martino.  A vineyard that illustrates the
audacity of the local winegrowers.  It's called Vinedos Alcohuaz and they make
red blends from grapes that grow at more than 2,200m, in the foothills of the
Andes, where it sometimes snows.  "We make wine in lagares, a stone fishpool,
like the Romans did, and we stand on the wine.  And you say, this is just a
show, paraphernalia, but no, it makes sense.  At altitude the grape has a lot
of skin, and the best thing to use are the feet", he explains.

The Future Is The Past

The enologist Pablo Morande (with one foot in Morande, and another in his own
project, the iconoclastic Bodegas RE, where wines are made in large earthenware
amphoras, in a nod to the past) knows much of Chilean wine and its history,
largely because he has lived it himself, and so doesn't lightly adit that
these are the most hectic years.

"There have been many changes, always", he says.  And he remembers that the
government of Frei Montavla [1964-70] was bad for wine (because it was the
start of the continuous working day, without lunchtime), also the excess
demand during the years of Allende [1970-73], and certainly the changes that
followed, when he was first in line for local wine, at the start of the 80s,
working for Concahe y Toro.  Like when they first started to label wines by
variety, odd at the time.  And, of course, he remembers clearly when he had
the chance to plant vines in Casablanca valley, searching for a fresh climate,
to match the white wines.

That idea, written off as madness (they said there was no water, that the
grapes wouldn't mature, that there would be no good wines), was the germ of
something that today is much more extensive: that the wine in Chile does not
need to stay in the central valley, from Santiago to Talca, between the two
mountain ranges.

"I never managed to convince my bosses.  I had to do it alone, like Quixote."
It took over ten years before others joined him, and now Casablanca is not
just one of the most prestigious (with vineyards from all the big wineries),
but also sets the standard by which Chile dares to explore even fresher,
coastal zones, like San Antonio and Leyda, losing its fear not just of the
sea, but of any unexplored region.

"The exploration doesn't stop", says Morande.  And he suggests an interesting
thesis: "It's a kind of re-conquest.  I think there were vineyards in many of
these places, where today they are planting like new, with tremendous fanfare.
At best 200 years passed without vineyards, and so no-one remembers.  I
imagine that wherever was farmed before, there were vineyards.  So it's not
new, unless you go to the extremes of the country", he says.

"I hope this isn't just a fashion.  That things are done with conviction",
says Eduardo Brethauer, an associate of Morande, in Vigno, a group formed to
rescue the carignan grape.  And he's clear that behind the boom are realities
that should not be celebrated.  "Like domestic consumption, which is a pity",
he says.

It's stalled at 13 liters per person annually (beer averages 40), although
recently the quality of that wine has risen moderately, according to Vinos de
Chile.  Maybe a glimmer of what could come: that the average Chilean could
discover and participate in all these changes in wine, that for now are the
reserve of a fanatic niche.

Brethauer believes that there are language barriers that must be corrected.
"Wine cannot be something that gurus sermon about from their pulpits, to
others that know nothing, of acidity, tannins and sulphites.  It's a question
absolutely vertical.  And we need to rid this world of seriousness.  That wine
is an intellectual thing, distant.  It has to have humour", he asserts.

He will reflect on this in his book, he says.  And he will also change the
categories of wine, that always appear in the books.  He doesn't want to
classify by valley, or by variety, or winery, but by the wine's personality:
"settled", "ancestral", "aristocratic", "mystical", etc.

Sounds crazy, but what better for times like these?


In The Big Leagues

"Today everyone is proud of our wine, so it's difficult to believe what I'm
going to show you", says Eduardo Chadwick, president of the Errazuriz wine
group.  And he takes from his office a wine encyclopedia written by The Wine
Advocate, from about 10 years ago, and the first thing he shows is the index.
Our country is not there.  "Unfortunately Chile didn't exist, and that is what
we have been trying to change", he says.

Although that he leads a wine group, Errazuriz, that has made many of the
recent changes, Chadwick is better known for his effort to place Chilean wine
in the big leagues, and to tear down the the prejudice that sees us as
produces only of good, but cheap, wine.  He understood that happened not only
because we produced them.  And following the example of the North Americans in
the 70s, he spent much of the last decade organizing, in the main world
capitals, blind tastings where he contrasted iconic wines from his own
vineyards (like Sena or Vinedo Chadwick) with the best examples from countries
like France and Italy.  At each event (called "Cata de Berlin", in honour of
the first, in 2004) he brought together critics most relevant to the area, and
the result was that his wines stood amongst equals, even winning some

"There was a big difficulty in convincing the main opinion leaders that Chile
could produce luxury wines.  The importance of these tastings was to place them
in enemy territory.  And the surprise was that more than 90 percent of the
time, one of our wines was in the top 3", he says, with pride.

  Many still speak of the difficulty they have in selling at the highest

We are managing to consistently increase the sale of our most premium wines,
which is the main challenge.  We're feeling positive and we see an increasing
demand for quality wines.  You have to understand that making the wine is only
half the work, or less.  The great challenge is to convince the global
consumer of the quality of your product.

  What do you think of the changes that are happening in the industry?

They show the potential, the dynamism in the wine industry.  I think the
diversity of zones and latitudes, mountain, coast, north, south, and the
different varieties, give Chile a complexity and diversity that has much value
in positioning ourselves at the international level.

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