A fresh look at Chilean wines

Posted on: 10th April, 2017

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.

I was reading recently a fascinating article about a father and son from the tiny village of Ballynary in Sligo who both made names for themselves in Chile in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The father, Ambrose O’Higgins, was a conservative, and served the Spanish South American rulers eventually becoming Governor of Chile. The son, Bernardo, was a revolutionary and a leader of newly independent Chile, now revered by Chileans as a national hero.

It got me thinking about Chile, and the impact that the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Salvatore Allende in 1973 had on me, as a young, idealistic man at the time. As it was revealed that the American CIA had undermined the Allende government and ushered in the notorious Pinochet regime, I would never again think that my country was always on the side of the good guys. (Perhaps you have seen the film Missing, the true story of an American journalist’s disappearance during the aftermath of the coup, and featuring one of Jack Lemmon’s finest performances.)

I’m not sure that the events above led indirectly to my admitted neglect of Chilean wines. More likely that for years, there was a sameness to the product. Anyone for a cheap Cabernet or Merlot from Chile?

Another factor is that the Chilean climate and growing conditions lead to high alcohol levels, which I find myself shying away from. I have a Cabernet from one of the top growers in my cave but at 14.5 per cent, I keep finding reasons not to pop the cork.

There have been exceptions. One of my favourite restaurants in Dublin was a classy Chinese place in Stillorgan whose house wine was the very fine Antiguas Reservas from the House of Cousino Macul, and this powerful full-bodied red made a perfect if unconventional accompaniment to the spicy dishes on offer.

Now it is time for me to have a rethink. Two factors have influenced me. The quality of Chilean wines has improved dramatically and there has been a move away from big oaky wines to more subtle and approachable types. The emergence of the Carmenere grape, as the country’s flagship has lifted the profile of Chilean wine. Carmenere (pronounced carmeneary) is an old Bordeaux variety, which yields rich and deep wines when grown in the valleys (Maipo, Rapel, Maule) of the Andes.

The second factor is the unquestioned popularity of Chilean wine with you, the consumers. A few years ago sales of Chilean wine in Ireland (two million cases!) overtook both previous leaders Australia and France so that Chilean wine is now officially the most popular in Ireland.

This month’s recommendation: Vistamar Sepia Reserva, Carmenere 2015. O’Donovan’s Wines, Bandon, €13. Deep violet in colour, tastes of vanilla and mocha, a lovely drop, and only 13.5 per cent.

westcorkwinebuff@gmail.com.

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