There has been a lot of Chile in the air recently. Several new and existing importers of wine in India have been rushing to Chile and getting into the fray for getting its wines to India. The reason is not difficult to understand. Chile produces good wines at very reasonable price.
ProChile organized a Chilean Wine Festival at the Hotel Taj Mahal on the evening of 15th November to showcase some of their wines. The evening started with a lucid video presentation of wines of Chile followed by a guided tasting of 7 wines for special invitees in the Ricks Bar. Everyone was invited to the Long Champs for tasting of wine from several wine producers including Bouchon, Casa Marin, Echeverria, Montes, San Pedro, Vina Tarapaca and Vina Valdivieso. Chilean Minister of Mines, Mr.Alfonso Dulanto and the Chilean Ambassador, Mr. Manuel Cardenas were present at the festival.
WINE TASTING NOTES
Vina Tarapaca El Rosal Pinot Noir, 2001: This cherry red wine was too young and closed. Complicated by the fact that it was served warm, at the room temperature of about 23 deg. C instead of the desirable temperature of 15-16 deg.C, one could not do justice to the wine.
Cartagena Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001: Produced by Casa Marin of Rapel Valley, it is medium-bodied, slightly oaky and smoky with strong tannins which softened with the duck served as complement. Good spicy aroma with fairly long after-taste.
Vina Tarapaca Chardonnay 2000: Deep golden colour, medium-body, very fruity with flavour of oriental fruits. Has a pleasant shade of oak. Pared well with the grilled chicken dish.
Vina Tarapaca La Isla Sauvignon Blanc 2000: Straw colour, light body, clean and fresh flavour of citrus fruits and powerful aromas.
It appeared that the wines were presented in a rather unorthodox order. One felt that this should have been the first wine followed by Chardonnay, which should have preceded Pinot Noir.
J. Bouchon Malbec 2001: Deep red colour with intense perfume opened up a bit after breathing in the glass. Spicy notes in the flavour, good fruit with balanced acid and tannins. Fairly long end. Overall a delicious wine.
Terramater 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon: Deep purple colour, full- bodied wine with intense berry fruit. Very aromatic and well- balanced and structured wine. Subtle flavour of oak and smoke. Quite elegant wine.
Montes Alpha Syrah 2000: Chile has started experimenting with Shiraz grapes only recently. Montes, a respected wine producer seems to have demonstrated with this wine that Chile can also produce good Shiraz wines. Deep red colour, full bodied, fat and chewy wine with a lot of spices and dark cherries on the nose. Slightly closed right now, should improve with age. A rather elegant and complex wines with tannins that should mature well.
Due to lack of time, some other interesting wines could not be presented in this session. Perhaps, if only one wine from each producer had been presented we could have had an opportunity to taste some other interesting wines like a 100% Cabernet Franc from Valdivieso , wines made from Carmene`re grapes or the Bordeaux style of wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Another point of observation was that most of the red wines tasted had nice legs ( wine dripping down the sides of the glass on swirling ). Usually this indicates a higher level of alcohol. Does it mean that the content is higher than displayed on the bottle label or Chilean wines are naturally made with higher alcohol levels due to higher level of sugar? Only an expert, unbiased wine maker can clarify. Meanwhile, the variety of wines offered for tasting was a treat for any wine lover. The Chilean Salmon served with the tasting was a big hit. The dinner that followed gave the guests an opportunity to decide which wines pared the best with different India dishes. The reaction of several invitees I talked to was that it was a very well organised event (thanks to the hard work of Mr. Nestor Riveros and his team Prochile) and that the Chilean wines have a great future in India. Based on the spicy flavours and aromas of most wines tasted, generally a degree of higher level of alcohol and the queries from several members of the Delhi Wine Club about the purchase point for these wines, one can say, 'THIS CHILE IS HOT!'
Profile of Chile Wines
Chile: Chile has been a wine producer for over 400 years although it is still considered ' New World'. Vines are grown along the coastal areas stretching to about 1300 kms. with maximum concentration around and south of Santiago. It is also known as Bordeaux of South America because it has been cultivating Bordeaux variety grapes and using traditional methods for vinification for 150 years. Whereas, Phylloxera hit Europe (and India too!) in 1860's and 1870's, Chile was spared because of its excellent isolated geographical location. In fact, some of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines that were earlier imported from France were exported back for grafting. Moreover, during the Great depression of 1929 many unemployed wine workers shifted here from Bordeaux and continued with this style of winemaking.
Wine Regions: The important viticulture regions spreading from North to South are Copiapo Valley, Huasco Valley, Aconcagua Valley (very warm red-wine region) Casablanca Valley ( relatively new area known for white grapes especially Chardonnay extremely popular with foreign investors, especially Californians) to the North of Santiago. This capital city is surrounded by Maipo valley, known for Cabernet Sauvignons. Rapel Valley (Cachapoal and Colchagua) , Curico Valley , Maule Valley , Iata Valley and Bio Bio Valley are to the South of Santiago. Secano region near the Casablanca Valley, with a strip of hilly terrain provides cool breeze that mellows down the midday sun and sufficient rainfall provides a potential future area for viticulture , though with lower yields.
Appellations of Chile have been divided into five viticultural regions, namely Aconcagua, Atacama, Central Valley, Coquimbo and Southern region which is generally not known for its wine quality.
Climate conditions prevailing in Chile are extremely variable, ranging from extremely hot in the north to very wet and humid in the South. Santiago region is dry with temperature dropping at night thus enabling the grapes to maintain a high level of acidity. Casablanca Valley is cooler and is proving more suitable for wine growing especially white wines.
Wines of Chile: Chilean wines have become extremely popular in the last decade since they provide excellent price/quality ratio. The best value for money is still provided by Cabernets, Merlot and Bordeaux style wines made from Cabs, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Chardonnay quality has improved significantly during the last 13 years since the producers started using new oak barriques from France. Sauvignon Blanc variety has been of mediocre quality since the grapes that were mainly being used till recently were Sauvignonasse variety which is nowhere as good as the real Sauvignon. Recently serious efforts have been made to change the crops to Sauvignon. Casablanca Valley offers some excellent Sauvignons now. Other varietals include Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec in reds and Semillon, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in whites. Recently, Shiraz, Carmenere and Tempranillo have also been used successfully to make good wines.
Wines sold as varietals can actually be blends in Chile- legally. Until 1990, Carmene`re was thought to be Merlot. In 1996 only was the difference acknowledged and about half of the wines classified as Merlot are actually Carmenere. A lot of blended wine can also be sold as Merlot. Incidentally, Carmenere was imported from Bordeaux before Phylloxera hit them and is extinct in France now.
During the past few years Chilean wines have been winning several medals and award at international competitions including Mondial du Vin in Belgium , London Wine Trader, Vinitaly etc. Chilean wine makers have forged alliances with several reputed foreign winemakers, notably, Robert Mondavi, Kendell Jackson (USA), Miguel Torres (Spain), Baron de Rothschild (France) to produce premium wines.
While most of the Chilean wines are good daily drinking wines, to be drunk young or which can age upto 2-5 years, in recent times very good quality reds have been produced which can age upto 10 years or even more. However, even the expensive wines have yet to prove that they age well. One can pick up a good Chilean wine from $6 and up in the US retail market though premium wines from producers like Montes and Caliterra sell for over $50 whereas. Almaviva, a Cabernet product of Concha y Toro and Baron Philippe de Rothschild sells in the range of $100.
Some of the well-known producers are Concha y Torro, Carmen, Carta Vieja, Casa Lapostolle, Caliterra, Cono Sur, Dallas Conte, Domain Paul Bruno, Echeverria, Errazuriz, Grazia, Luis Felipe, Montes, San Pedro, Santa Carolina, Santa Rita, Tarapaca`, Tarramater, Valdivieso, Vina (pronounced vinya) Casablanca, Vina la Rosa.
Chilean Wines in India: Montes wines from Colchagua Valley were the first Chilean wines to be imported in 1991. Other wines now available are Carmen, Caliterra, Casa Lapostolle, Concha y Toro, Miguel Torres, San Pedro, Santa Carolina, Tarapaca`, Valdivieso and Viu Manent. Morande- Indage is now being sold by Indage Group in collaboration with Morande` Winery. Similarly, Sula has come out with a Chilean Merlot in Maharashtra(Retail price Rs.428). Explosive growth of Chilean wines is imminent.
Sansula used to be the only importer in India till a couple of years ago. Now, after liberalization over 14 importers are already importing wine from Chile.
One problem the importers have to resolve is the shipping of wines since the wine has to travel for over 2 months. Importing in the proper season will not be the answer. Same applies to the bulk wine imports to be bottled in India.
Vintage of Chilean Wines: Vintage, the year of harvesting of grapes, determines the quality of grapes and the wines. It depends upon the climate and weather conditions of that year. Of course, Chile being in the Southern hemisphere, harvesting is done in March -April. It is not possible or wise to go by the vintage of a country because of the extreme variation in climatic conditions. However, the following may be used as guidelines while selecting the wines from Chile:
1997 - A very good year especially for well balanced wines.
1998 - Year of El Nin(y)o. Too much rain made it impossible to have good wine. Avoidable.
1999 - Again a good to very good year. Grapes were very ripe in some areas.
2000 - Rains in February diluted the grapes so the wines were not very concentrated. But due to warm sun in later months, grapes that were picked late yielded good, concentrated wine.
2001- A very good year.
Wine History: Winemaking in Chile began with the Spanish conquest in the 15th century when the Spanish Catholic priests brought vines with them. Since maximum habitation was around the Capital, Santiago, the viniculture was also concentrated around this area (Maipo Valley) and continues to be so even today.
In 1851, noble French winemaking varieties were brought to Chile and thus started the era of French type of wines. The economic policy of 1974 encouraged the use of modern equipment, stainless steel vats and the latest technologies. This trend was really spearheaded by Miguel Torres Jr. of Bodega Torres from Spain in 1978.
Exports began in 1986 when Latin America was considered as its export market. In the early 90's it also entered Europe, USA and Canada.
Wine Statistics: Chile is now the fifth largest world exporter of wines. It exports wines to 90 countries .The exports took a big jump from 14 million litres in 1987 when it started giving boost to exports, to 318 million litres last year. In terms of monetary terms the exports have jumped from $ 294 m in 1996 to $650m last year. Over 50% of the production is exported, the maximum share being sold in Europe (56%) followed by USA (22%). In fact, it is the third largest exporter to the USA following France and Italy but ahead of Australia.
Chile has been the fastest growing wine country during the last decade. Its rate of growth at 20.5% is ahead of Australia (14.7%) and USA (11.5%). There were 14 wineries in the 80's compared to 260 producers last year. This growth has been possible because of technology and financial investments by several premier wine producers from France, Spain, Italy, USA , New Zealand and Germany. (Source: ProChile)