Post-trip thoughts on Chilean wines
I'm back in London, and I've just posted the full results from the wines of Chile awards on the main site (www.wineanorak.com). Some fairly quick, rough and ready, post-trip thoughts on Chilean wine:
- Chile is improving, and quite fast. Particularly encouraging is the reduced tendency for red wines to show excessive greenness, which in the past has been a real problem, at least from my perspective.
- It's really good to see the emergence of mid-priced wines (£12-15) that justify these sorts of prices. I can think of half a dozen wines that I've tasted on this trip that are in this price range and which I'm going to go out and buy.
- Despite this, Chile remains largely a source of cheap wines that offer good value for money but which all taste similar. In judging the awards we had to wade through scores of similarly priced, similar-tasting reds – Merlots, Cabernets, Carmeneres and red blends. The average bottle price of Chilean wine in the UK is £3.98, which is bang on the average bottle price of all wine sold in the UK.
- Greenness does remain an issue in reds. Particularly common are wines with a strong blackcurrant pastille flavour, with bright fruit countered by some greenness. The fact that this is less of an issue than it used to be is encouraging, but there's still progress to be made. It makes Chilean reds quite easy to spot blind.
- Sauvignon Blanc is a big success story. I'm finding lots of really well made, enjoyable Sauvignons, but I'm not finding many stand-outs. There was only one Sauvignon that got a gold in the awards this year; you might have expected more. Some of the Leyda Sauvignons are interesting, with their high acidity, but they frequently veer off into overt greenness, with strong methoxypyrazine character. It's early days yet, I guess.
- Very interesting results are being achieved with Carignan, Syrah and Malbec where these are planted in the right places. Petit Verdot is also working well as a blending component. As well as new varieties, new regions are showing real promise, most notably Elqui, the source of some really interesting Syrahs, among others.
- Chilean wines are usually made by big companies, with large vineyard holdings. I reckon we'll soon start to see the emergence of boutique wineries operating on a small scale, making interesting mid and high priced wines. This will add momentum to the industry.
It's encouraging to see so many of the large companies doing good work. Expect to see a rise in average quality, particularly in the £5-10 range, in the near future.
- Chile is a warm climate region, and most of the wines it makes will be in a forward, modern, ripe style. There will be a move towards planting more mediterranean grape varieties in coming years, just as there has been in South Africa. Shiraz is going to be big here.
- I quite like Carmenere where it is being taken seriously and allowed to ripen fully. It makes dark wines with a lovely textural quality and smooth tannins, but because of the high pH of properly ripened Carmenere, brettanomyces is always a risk.
- It's early days yet. Let's give Chilean winegrowers time to experiment and press forward with quality. The Chilean wine scene hasn't yet 'arrived'. The hunt is on for the very best sites, and this will take time.
- Icon wines are a bit silly. They're commonly big, with obvious ripe, sweet fruit flavour profiles, bolstered with lots of new oak, and sold in overly heavy bottles for far too much money. I don't think this is the direction that Chile should be going, even if there is currently a market for such monstrosities. Chile needs to build a reputation for complex, balanced, interest-filled wines in the mid-price bracket before it tries to outdo the old world classics.