1Today, a group of 14 producers make up VIGNO, an association whose objective, in the words of Andrés Sánchez, winemaker of Gillmore as well as co-founder of VIGNO and MOVI, is to “show the world the invaluable enological patrimony of the region [Valle del Maule].” Like an AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) in France or DOC (Denominación de Origen) in Spain of good quality wines for the money, but there’s so much more to the wine country.

Just think about it for moment: The country stretches for more than 4,000 kilometers trapped between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in a strip of land that is never more than 250 kilometers wide. It grows just about every grape imaginable!

Chile’s latitudinal stretch allows for such diverse climates as the arid and inhospitable Atacama Desert (one of the most arid regions in the world), the Mediterranean climate of Valle de Colchagua, and the more temperate environment that can be found in the Valle de Itata. It’s interesting to think that while Chile contains the most arid region in the world, it is also the world’s second biggest producer of Atlantic salmon. In other words, it has the possibility of making wines in the desert as well as in the climatic equivalent of Norway where its fisheries are located.

3Chile’s recent viticultural experience has largely revolved around the Valle Central. Nevertheless, in the past 15 years, Chilean vintners have slowly moved to the south and to the north of the Valle Central looking for new places to plant different grape types.

2These regions, in anyone’s geographical imagination, would seem extreme, but the reality is that these areas tend to produce more balanced anddrinkable wines, due to exposure to the Pacific Ocean like Casablanca, or as a result of being situated in the south like Itata or Bio-Bio. It’s this drinkability and diversity that makes Chile so exciting. It’s also why JamesSuckling.com already travelled twice to the county and spent close to three weeks there tasting hundreds of wines and visiting dozens of wineries and winemakers.

As Derek Mossman, owner of Garage Wine Co. and founding member of MOVI (Movement of Independent Vintners) explains, “Chile has many surprises for the world; until now, it has been very cabernet-centered, as well as very place specific.” The Valle de Maipo’s expression of cabernet has earned its place, but for any wine-lover, diversity is a must. When the consumer gravitates towards new winegrowing regions, they are looking for this sense of diversity, for this new expression of the sites. Chile is a reference for carmenere and cabernet sauvignon. But the country is also rapidly expanding and experimenting, and new regions are being successfully combined with varieties that were previously never present or forgotten in the Chilean wine scene.

One example of this is carignan (cariñena or mazuelo in Spanish), a variety of Spanish origin used for blending tempranillo in Rioja and also frequently found in France’s Languedoc. With records that indicate the presence of the varietal in Chile that date back to the 1900s, carignan has recently resurged in Chile with tremendous success. The variety first gained popularity in 1939 when a catastrophic earthquake hit the southern city of Chillán and destroyed vineyards and wineries. Having lost numerous vineyards, winegrowers in the region started using carignan as a means to reinforce the wines made from the país grape (mission). Many of these vineyards were forgotten until 1995, when Chilean enologists began bottling it on its own.

Today, a group of 14 producers make up VIGNO, an association whose objective, in the words of Andrés Sánchez, winemaker of Gillmore as well as co-founder of VIGNO and MOVI, is to “show the world the invaluable enological patrimony of the region [Valle del Maule].” Like an AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) in France or DOC (Denominación de Origen) in Spain, all wines under the VIGNO label have regulatory requirements. These requirements include that at least 65 percent of the wine in any bottling needs to be made from old vine carignan (30 years or older) and that all vineyards must be dry farmed and located in the Maule region. The wines are tremendously refined with compelling fruit and distinction; they have the stature to be put side by side with wines from renowned carignan-producing regions such as Sardinia, Spain or the Languedoc.

Pinot noir and syrah also consistently delivered in our tasting in Santiago, although pinot noir in Chile is still relatively in its infancy after what soil consultant and winemaker Pedro Parra describes as “a difficult past” due to poor clones and inexperience with the variety.

Chile today is already producing impressive results.

As Francisco Baettig, chief winemaker at Seña, Errazuriz, Arboleda and Viñedo Chadwick, commented in a video interview, it was only 15 years ago that the proper clones – from Burgundy as well as California – were imported and planted in cooler, more suitable regions such as Casablanca or Bio- Bio. Today, experienced winemakers are focusing on the precision of fruit, creating balanced, seductive yet delineated pinot noirs that express the distinct soils and climates. Some of the regions where pinot works well are Limarí, Aconcagua, Bio-Bio and Casablanca. Given the quality of some of these pinots, there is enough potential here to make world-class wines.

Syrah, on the other hand, has been grown in Chile for longer, and various regions show disposition for the variety. As in the northern Rhone, granitic soils thrive in Chile. Soil consultant Parra explained that there are more than 25 different kinds of granitic soils throughout the different regions of Chile. It is in these types of soils that legendary syrahs are made in historical appellations such as Cornas or Hermitage. Chile’s diverse climates, on the other hand, offer the possibility of making either warm or ample syrahs in places like Apalta in Colchagua, or fresher and more elegant syrahs in the colder northern Elquí region in Coquimbo. But no region can be identical, and while the reference of quality stands strong in old Europe, winemakers in this part of the world have the freedom to explore the country’s unmapped enological possibilities and create a new expression of an established traditional one.

The potential in the diversity of its regions has become one of Chile’s secret weapons. Producers like the members of MOVI or wineries such as De Martino are slowly opening new doors in different regions and also using different ageing materials while trying to maintain a sense of place in the wines.

“We want people to know the difference between [Valle de] Itata and Maipo,” enthusiastically asserts De Martino’s Marcelo Retamal. What is important here is that Chile is too big (or long) to have a singular identity out there in the world that is solely based on carmenere from Peumo or cabernet sauvignon from Alto Maipo. Both the former and the latter combinations are fragments of the mosaic that makes up the viticultural identity of Chile. While some of these fragments are yet to be defined or discovered; vines and experience need to grow older in the vineyards of the new regions. Other fragments, like Maule’s carignan or Itata’s cinsault, have been there for decades and have only recently been rescued and brought back to life. The future is exciting.

Today, as you can appreciate in the report below, Chile is already producing compelling wines that deserve attention. Stay tuned for videos on the different Chilean regions, varietals and producers as the week moves along. Most of the wines are current releases in this report, but James also tasted various older wines during out two trips to Chile. So they are also included.

Jacobo Garcia- Andrade

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