How Chile’s soil holds the key to mid-market joy
The Aconcagua Valley, along with other regions in Chile, is home to tempting mid-range wines
There’s a challenge for wine-producing countries which have a reputation for sound, cheap wines. How do they show they can do much more? Here’s a place to consider: Chile, frequently everyone’s first choice for decent, value-for-money, under-�8 cabernet, merlot, sauvignon. Chile also makes fine “icon” wines, but at �30-plus a bottle, who is going to take the very big step to those without some intermediate encouragement?
This is a problem which Francisco Baettig, for almost a decade chief winemaker at Errazuriz – whose distinguished winemaking history goes back to 1870 – recognises, and his company is doing something about it. Encouragingly, it’s certainly not the only one.
The Errazuriz range of four Aconcagua Costa single-vineyard or wild-ferment varietals, sourced from vineyards close to the cooling Pacific Ocean, falls into that in-between category. But they are in no way sitting-on-the-fence wines. They are more mineral and elegant than many Chilean wines, show true but not over-the-top varietal character and are rather more European than brashly New World in character.
It’s down to the soil – schist, into which the roots of even these young vines dig deep – and the effect of those sea breezes, says Baettig. His own background may well contribute, too. Although Chilean, he has studied and worked extensively in France.
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“At the beginning, Chile was planting everything everywhere,” he told me during a brief stop-off in London recently. “Some worked well, some didn’t. Now there is far better plant material, and planting of the right varieties in the right place. You start to see the result with the wines: there is more diversity, and quality has improved.”
The Aconcagua Valley – though from vineyard sites further inland – is also home to two more of Boateng’s tempting mid-range wines, Mediterranean-inspired blends, both simply named The Blend. Each vintage is different, and those on current release illustrate Baettig’s expertise in marrying different grape varieties.
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The 2011 white, roussanne, marsanne and a touch of viognier, is delicious, complex in scent and flavour with nutty, spicy touches underlain by lightly peach-and-apricot fruit and a fragrant, fresh finish. The 2008 red, carmenere, syrah, petit verdot, mourvedre and cabernet franc, is stylish too, dark and rich yet still fresh and with a strangely appealing almost dusty edge to the fruit. The list of varieties in the valley is expanding beyond even these, so future wines are likely to be even more eclectically mixed, an enticing prospect.
The effect of terroir – soils, exposition and climate – is starting to show more and more throughout Chile. At this autumn’s big trade tasting, line-ups of 2012 award-winning syrahs and sauvignon blancs spanning many of the country’s 14 main wine-growing valleys showed a quite remarkable diversity. Smaller selections of pinot noir and riesling were very promising too.
But what of longevity, another crucial element in wine quality? Back to the main reason behind Baettig’s visit to London: to show off older vintages of the Errazuriz flagship wines, including the deservedly legendary Sena and Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, named after the man who started it all. Point made: still fresh and lively after five or 10 years – or even, in the case of the 1989 Founder’s Reserve, 23 – they firmly put paid to any argument that fine wines from Chile die young.
These wines are rare on the high street: the best place to find stockists is www.wine-searcher.com. But do try the Aconcagua Costa range (around �12-�15). Waitrose, Wine Rack and www.slurp.co.uk stock the sauvignon blanc, and the chardonnay and syrah are sold by www.winedirect.co.uk, which also has a tempting six-bottle Errazuriz tasting case for �62.50 and �7 delivery. Winedirect and some Waitrose branches have The Blend red (�17-18); the white is not yet available here.