What do you think of when you think of Chilean wine? We would bet our bottom dollar that the first thing that springs to mind is fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, if you were to present us with a bowl of chili, ginger and garlic prawns with coconut rice and fresh coriander, we would demand nothing other than a fresh, easy-drinking good value Sauvignon Blanc, such as the laser-sharp zest fest that is Pora Py’a.
However, like a latter-day John and Yoko, with a slightly different agenda, we are here to say ‘give other wines from Chile a chance’. For there is a small but fascinating group of producers who are moving away from full-throttle, pure varietal wines, to blended, nuanced wines made in the cooler fringes of this towering, strip of a country.
Via Wines, for example, have created Oveja Negra – a madcap blend of Sauvignon Blanc and… Carmenère? Bizarrely, it works. Really well. When made into a white wine (by not leaving it on the skins during fermentation), Carmenère’s spicy fruit and capsicum freshness complement the juicy, zingy pizazz of Sauvignon Blanc perfectly.
Another small but important trend in Chilean wine is their almost supernatural way with Pinot Noir. This most fickle of grapes can end up flabby and boring in the wrong hands, but Chile seems to have become particularly green-fingered with Pinot. Viña Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir, for example, is as delicately fragrant as a midsummer breeze and is a tasty testament to the lighter side of Chile.
Here comes the science: cooler climes mean fresher wines and another trend for forward-thinking producers is, instead of focusing on the coolness found at more southerly latitudes, they are realising the importance of the cooling effect of the ocean. The windswept, maritime environment almost convinces the grapes they are in Europe and the resulting wines are very much European in style. Viña Leyda Canelo Syrah, for example, is more like a delicately spiced, violet-laced northern Rhône Syrah than many Chilean examples, which can be quite blockbuster-y in fruit, spice and structure. So, if you're looking for more art-house than blockbuster, take another look at Chile - its cinematic landscape and vinous auteurs means there's something for everyone...