Embrace the potential of Chilean wine
- Credit: Archant
Wine nations whose reputation is for great value but rarely inspiring wines have a hard task in moving upmarket.
But they can, very successfully, as one – Chile – is currently proving. Don't take my word alone for that. Chile is one of the wine places on which award-garlanded writer Tim Atkin reports annually, and his latest verdict is compelling: "I am excited by what is happening. There has been a huge transformation in my wine writing lifetime."
Much of that change has been in the last decade, he notes, when top wines have moved away from ultra ripeness and hefty alcohol levels to styles that are fresher, more balanced, relying more on fruit and less on oak. In two words, enjoyably drinkable.
A selection from his top wines of 2020 was put before wine writers late last year to prove his argument – and they did. The range of styles was exhilarating, from elegant, mineral-edged semillon to rich cabernet-based blends to challenge Bordeaux, from old vine wines with a unique sense of place to classic sweet riesling, from chardonnay grown in the world's driest desert to pure-fruited pinot noir from vines cooled by chilly Pacific breezes.
Knowing at least something of Chile's geography is crucial to understanding its wines. Its vines grow in valleys heading inland from its long, long coast. These divide into three sections. Nearest the Pacific the the maritime influence is important, the middle is warmer, then as the vineyards rise into the Andean foothills conditions challenge vines more.
But variations go much further than that: growers are now taking far more note of soil differences – there are many – and matching grape variety to site, emphasising individuality and character in the resulting wines. Many, too, are eschewing chemicals and following organic and biodynamic principles.
Too many of the wines on Atkin's list are beyond the price range for regular consumption, so instead I'll highlight a producer and a wine that will fit into many more budgets.
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Viña Koyle is a family operation, dating back to the late 19th century, when Francisco Undurraga imported European vines to Chile. Its vineyards have been worked biodynamically for more than 10 years.
The Wine Society lists nine of its wines, among them the very fine Cerro Basalto (£17.50). This southern French-style blend of mourvedre, grenache, carignan and syrah comes from vines grown on volcanic soil in Los Lingues, high in the Colchagua valley. Layers of scent – dark fruits, tobacco and more – give way to dense, silky, elegant, long-lasting flavours. It's a splendid introduction to Chile's potential.