Chile Is Having A World-class Wine Revolution

Posted: Oct 02, 2019

Once the land of boring wine-by-the-glass reds, the country now rivals Napa, thanks to stylistic changes at iconic wineries—and some inventive moves by smaller upstarts.

Quick, what’s your idea of Chilean wines? If you think they’re all ho-hum bar-wine cabernets and cheap sauvignon blancs with no taste thrills, you’re wrong.

Since the mid 2000s, the country has been in serious experimentation mode, from grape to glass. The quality and diversity of its top wines has never been better.

That wasn’t what I found a couple of decades ago on my first visit to this skinny, 2,600-mile-long country with great surfing along one of the world’s longest coastlines. The few so-called “icon” cuvées I tasted, such as Sena, Clos Apalta, Almaviva, and the top wines from Montes, were marketed internationally as cutting-edge and surprising. But I found they were mostly over-hyped beefy cabernets created to show that Chile could make big deal wines.

I wasn’t impressed with their oaky flavors and heavy handed winemaking. Most lacked flash, style, energy, and complexity and weren’t worth the high prices asked.

And sadly, almost all the country’s wines came from large, risk-averse wine companies with vineyards in the center of the country. They were churning out vats and vats of bland bargain wine.

Now all that’s changed—big-time.

Strength in Diversity
The style of many icon wines started to change in the last decade amid criticism from wine critics and consumers, says Max Morales of wine marketing firm Andes Wines. Eduardo Chadwick, the owner of Viña Errazuriz, is one of those leading the transformation. His five top, or “icon,” wines now shine with bright, intense New World fruit and also subtlety, elegance, freshness, and finesse, rivaling big names in Napa and Bordeaux. In the past couple of years, he’s even branched out to top quality chardonnay and pinot noir.

At the same time, the country’s wine scene has grown way more diverse, inspiring dozens of new, delicious icons-in-the-making. Risk-taking young winemakers with boutique wineries are behind experiments with new grape varieties, new wine styles, and new zones in the far south, in Bio Bio and Itata along the cool Pacific coast, and in far north desert spots such as Elqui Valley, famous for star gazing, the grape brandy pisco, and New Age mysticism.

The retail-level image of the country’s wines, though, has yet to catch up to this exciting reality.

By Elin McCoy
October 1, 2019
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