Some thoughts on Chile

I’m now on my way home from what has been one of the most enjoyable and interesting press trips that I have been on. So, stuck here delayed in Buenos Aires, here are some of my random thoughts prompted by the trip.

First, it was fantastic fun. My travelling companions were brilliant. Peter Richards, Chris Losh, David Williams and Emma Wellings were just great company. The banter was of the highest order, and everyone got on very well. I won’t forget it.

It seems a cliche to say that Chile is making progress. It also seems a bit patronizing. But the rate of progress in the Chilean wine scene is extremely rapid. In particular, the quest for special terroirs is going really well. We saw some fantastic new vineyards, and their potential is enormous.

Chile operates on quite a large scale. Experimental vineyards are typically 60 hectares! The good news is that when they start bearing fruit, there will be decent quantities of wine.

I tasted some quite serious wines: Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc stuck out as particularly promising. We also had some very nice Carmeneres. Currently, I reckon these are the most exciting varieties.

I really like the fact that many winemakers have overseas experience, and are aiming at wines with definition and freshness, shunning over-ripeness. Some winemakers are still a bit too scared of green flavours, though. Green can be good in the right context, and in small measure. Green doesn’t work with very ripe, sweet fruit – in the past some Chilean reds were both sweet and green, hence the fear of green on the part of winemakers.

Some of the Pinot Noir vineyards we saw might be better off with Syrah. Where conditions are just a little to warm for Pinot, Syrah thrives. I love cool-climate Syrah. It has some of the elegance of Pinot Noir, but with some bite and ‘edges’.

What Chile needs is to show the world that it can produce world class Pinot Noir and cool-climate Syrah. I think it can. I’m very excited by some of the wines I tried: they may be a work in progress, from young vines, but I’m going to buy a few of them. I’ll tell you which ones later.

6 comments to Some thoughts on Chile

  • Tom Bexton

    I really hope Chile can find a medium for their better reds like you said; I’ve tried a few tasty Pinot’s from Chile and some good Syrah’s but never anything that really hit me. Thoughts come to mind of the NZ Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2007 Syrah (I think you did a video on it some time ago), of which I was really blown away by how good it was.
    Perhaps a style/bench mark for Chile to aim for??

  • Jamie,

    Great to hear your image of Chile improved with the visit. I am certain you could do three or four more press trips back-to-back and still not have seen all there is worth seeing.

    You could devote a trip to dry-farming in Maule (Carignan et al), go deeper south into Malleco (Pinot & Chardonnay), see the Pajar̩te producers up in Huasco, taste the mountain-growns all together, taste old vintages, and yes heavens to murgatroydРeven spend some time with Movi.

    With all due humility, I say to you that if you did any of the above, not everything that would impress you (and I am certain you would be impressed) would be promise and potential, a work in progress, nor planted 6o hectares at a time, even if that is what the world has come to expect from Chile.

    Today there is a great deal of hunting going on for new sites and styles and accommodation of varieties but there are other things too, off of your radar. Some of them have been going on for a decade or more, quietly– piolita. And some of these are worth checking out also. You decide if the wines are up for the challenge, but with all modesty, I think they are a small part of the diverse landscape of the mosaic that is Chilean wine.

    And why doth he protest so much?

    I do not protest, so much as insist amidst a din of kazoos tooting the status quo, that the world should look deeper into Chile. Why? because contrary to what some export managers may believe, there is today a complementary wine business model, certainly in the US and the UK with Naked wines, where one importer does not fear having two Chilean producers but rather chooses to have a dozen in their portfolio and specialize– even if they are mostly small. And this is making the wines of small Chilean farmers available to the world.

    I am sure that Chile will continue to produce a better 5 and 10 pound bottle than most everyone else on the planet for many vintages to come, and that this will give livelihood to tens-of-thousands of people and joy to the conversation at many a table. And I am sure Chile will produce “Icons” that can compete with the big guns of the old world, but the sweet spot of Chile is in the middle. And here more study, tasting and hopefully, more trips, are required.

    Safe travels,


    pd – apologies for my knee-jerk reaction of the other day. The invitation remains open.

  • Jamie,

    Thanks for your kind words. It was a real pleasure travelling with you – such a lot of fun, and another great learning experience.

    Hasta la proxima!


    ps great to see also some lively debate about the state of the modern Chilean wine industry following your posts. Passion – not a word often associated with Chilean wine – is clearly not lacking nowadays!

  • keith prothero

    Do you think the company and enjoyment of the trip may affect your judgement of the actual wines?
    Probably not but I suspect it would influence me!!

  • “in the past some Chilean reds were both sweet and green” – in the *past*? I trust we are dealing with some very short timescale measurements there, my friend? 🙂

  • MarkT

    I look forward to the day I find a Chilean red that I like. Not holding my breath, though.

    And probably more than most, as I am likely to retire to somewhere in South America 🙂

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