Over the last 2 years, learning all about wine has been pretty much all I’ve been able to get up too. Not only that, but also studying up on organic wine practices and certification. At the same time, I was also trying to understand a whole load of extra stuff about customer service in the retail environment.
To be honest, that was mostly rubbish. Trying to open a shop would be much easier if you didn’t spend your time listening to these ‘guru’s’ about enhancing your sales techniques and understanding their body language and quirks. Honestly, just be honest and have a chat with them if they want too!
With all of this chatting, there was one thing that seemed to come up quite often. The world is falling in love with wines from Chile. Personally, I don’t think I’ve tried a Chilean wine that I have not enjoyed, immensely. In many ways, organic wines are not really that different from conventional wines, except the added sulphites, chemicals, additives, flavourings and colourings that is. The winemaking process generally follows the same route, with a few amendments depending on the winemaker and his own interpretation.
So, what is it about wines from Chile that we seem to love? Or are we just getting sick of boring old French Merlot and Italian Sangiovese? If this really is an up and coming international wine region of mega proportion’s, maybe I should start paying a bit more attention.
Well if David Attenborough has taught us anything, Chile is full of extremes. When you consider the vast harshness of Patagonia, it’s hard to imagine anything there being alive except the creepy crawlies. But it is generally believed that so many of the worlds grape varieties can potentially be grown somewhere in Chile. They say that’s true, but I have not tried a Chilean Catarratto yet!
As a land mass, only around 20% of Chile lies flat, with rugged mountains peaks and the world’s highest volcano reaching a high of 22,614 feet (6,893 meters if you prefer metric). With all these highs and lows in terroir, microclimates start to appear. Which can mean some pretty awesome things can happen to the vines in the strangest of places. Look at Languedoc in France and Priorat in Spain, they have some extraordinary wines. Now, you really can tell I’m starting to become a bit of a wine geek, because I’m getting excited about the microclimates!
That’s really one extreme to another! Whilst Chile can have exceptional heatwaves that’s adversely dry in the north, there are other parts of which suffer from freak anomalies with the weather. When you consider full length of Chile from top to bottom is 2,700 miles (4,300 km), matched equally with the extreme highs and lows of the terrain, is it any wonder that it’s a little random. As a British individual who like to complain about the weather, I’m starting to realise I should maybe fine something else to moan about when I’m in the queue at the Post Office!
What's also relatively unique about Chiles climate, is that according to the Koppen System, Chile has more than 7 different climatic subtypes including desert, alpine tundra, glaciers, subtropical and Mediterranean. So that means the weather of ever season, multiple times per day in varying locations. I just really hope that the weather presenters are well paid!
What about the wine?
Well I know there’s a few big brands that we can all think of, but at Organic Wine Club, we have had a few that people seem to love. Ventopuro, because we all know the banana wine story by now, Armador and Orzada, our biodynamic selection from Odfjell and of course Yumbel Estacion and Estero. Generally being bold and flavoursome or clean and flavourful, Chilean wines really should have something to offer everyone.
These are all exceptional quality organic wines, made from international varieties and from grapes that you would now normally associate with Chile. Similarly, to Malbec in Argentina, Carmenere and Carignan can offer a difference in body and texture. Also just like Malbec, these were both imported from France yet are clearly very comfortable growing in the Chilean soil, as is Syrah, a genetic cousin of Shiraz.
With international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, these again will offer a different mouthfeel and flavours depending on where in the country they’re grown. You can argue that how they are made and matured plays a big part. That may be true, but when the wines are natural and made with as little intervention as possible, if any, then that shouldn’t matter. It’s the wine that’s supposed to sing, not the flavours from oak barrel!
It's pretty obvious that Chile has a way to go before it gets to the same level and volumes of France. But on a different note, the Sauvignon Gris from Estero, offers a different side to Chile’s winemaking efforts. With this the first, and still currently the only, vineyard that’s owned by a woman. With the grape almost extinct and only a few tiny pockets of vines spread far and wide across the globe. Not only is there a resurrection here, it’s also by a talented and award-winning individual. So perhaps there are other ways that Chile can look to progress?