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Chris Hardy Chile

Hot New Discoveries from Chile

In my sixteen years as a Majestic Buyer, I’d never visited South America until this March, when my Buying Director and I touched down at Santiago Airport for a marathon 10-day Chilean tour.

By Chris Hardy, Majestic Wine Buyer

Over 112,000 hectares of vineyards, near-perfect growing conditions and a host of talented winemakers have given Chile everything it needs to establish itself as the most exciting and diverse producer in the New World. And the Chilean wine industry isn’t resting on its laurels. My trip, which took me from Elqui near the Atacama Desert in the north to the major wine regions south of Santiago, clearly demonstrated their focus on innovation and improvement in all areas of the vineyard and winery.

Winning in the vineyard

Calicatas ChileA lot of time and money is being spent to determine the best growing sites for specific varietals. Many vineyards are littered with calicata – large, deep holes dug in the ground that let producers analyse the soil composition and mineral content to understand which vines are best grown where. We were careful not to climb down into too many of these. They feel rather like a grave when you have a producer standing above you brandishing a hammer and large shovel! Elsewhere, many producers are moving to newer, cooler regions for a more even ripening period that preserves the grapes’ natural acidity. Some are climbing into the Andean foothills, to altitudes similar to European ski resorts. Others favour Pacific coastal regions and the semi-arid mountainous areas close to the Atacama.

Refining the wineries

Recent technological advances have had a huge impact on vinification. I’m used to seeing state-of-the-art equipment in Bordeaux’s top Châteaux, but I was amazed to see optical grape sorting machines in many of the wineries we visited. These effectively guarantee that anything undesirable is removed during sorting, leaving only perfect berries to be vinified. Winemakers are also experimenting with different fermentation vessels, such as concrete egg-shaped tanks (pictured) and traditional Chilean amphora, to improve purity, richness of fruit and mineral complexity.

The future for Chile

The aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake sees Chile’s burgeoning wine industry starting a new journey to take quality winemaking to the next level, with new regions and vineyards being planted and constant innovation in the wineries. There appears to be a new determination and energy, with winemakers brimming with self-belief, skill and doggedness. The end result is that we look set to be spoilt with fantastic wines representing amazing value for money for years to come.

Featured wineries

We visited so many impressive wineries on the trip that I decided to conduct a comprehensive range review back in the UK. Over the course of a week I sniffed and slurped my way through over 450 samples, resulting in some 40 new Chilean wines being added to our winter range. Here’s a selection from five featured wineries.

Viña Anakena

Founded by old school friends in 1999, Anakena has over 400 hectares planted in key valleys such as Cachapoal, Leyda, Colchagua and Rapel. Chief winemaker Sergio Cuadra worked in France, Germany and California, as well as for Concha y Toro and Caliterra in Chile, before joining in 2010.

Anakena Indo Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Cachapoal Valley New!
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Made from grapes grown around the winery in the foothills of the Andes, this has concentrated cassis with hints of chocolate and spice on the nose. Juicy dark berries and plums on the palate are enhanced by ripe, structured tannins from oak-ageing part of the wine for 10 months.

Anakena Indo Sauvignon Blanc 2010, San Antonio Valley New!
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

A cool-climate Sauvignon offering impressive intensity of citrus fruit combined with some tropical nuances. Its natural acidity gives freshness while saltiness, minerality and fruit-salad flavours enhance its depth and complexity.

Viña Carmen

Carmen’s winemakers have one objective: to find the best location for each varietal in order to deliver its true essence and fullest expression. Founded in 1850, Carmen has always had a reputation for producing some of the finest wines in Chile and being a pioneer of the Chilean wine industry.

Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2010, Colchagua Valley New!
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

The nose is rich and ripe with abundant blackberry, ripe plum, tobacco, grilled red pepper and paprika characters. The palate’s excellent structure, concentration and depth are joined by warming, velvety tannins from 10 months in French oak.

Carmen Reserva Merlot 2009, Colchagua Valley New!
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This wine, 90% Merlot topped with 10% Malbec, is an impressive display of elegance and balance. The nose is packed with blackberries, blueberries, Kalamata olives and white pepper. Fine-grained tannins from six months in oak integrate well with clean, ripe fruit on the palate.

Viña Tabalí

Blessed with unusually limestone-rich soils, Tabalí winemaker Felipe Muller aims to make wines exhibiting complexity, minerality and purity. As such, he delivers a more European expression of his special terroir in his wines. It amazes me that Felipe can virtually recreate Burgundy, Sancerre and Crozes-Hermitage from a modest-sized vineyard in Limarí – he must be a magician!

Tabalí Reserva Pinot Noir 2010, Limarí Valley New!
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

This Pinot has typical cherries and plums but not that overtly sweet edge sometimes found in its New World counterparts. Instead you enjoy a rich, deep concentration of ripe fruit supported by rounded tannins and lively acidity.

Tabalí Reserva Especial ‘Caliza Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Limarí Valley New!
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Tasted blind, this could come from Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Lemons, grapefruit and floral characters combine with a smoky minerality on the palate to deliver a wine that exudes complexity, elegance and length.

Viña Leyda

Established in 1997, Viña Leyda is the driving force behind the creation of the Leyda cool-climate sub-district of San Antonio. Winemaker Viviana Navarette and viticulturalist Ignacio Casali work as one to deliver purity and character from their micro-terroirs. The resulting wines offer incredible diversity and value for money.

Leyda Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Leyda Valley New!
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

Captivates with its salinity, fresh fruit and soft-toasted palate. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve acidity, leaving a concoction of ripe lemons and tangerines with almonds, mineral notes and fine, well-integrated complexity.

Leyda Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Leyda Valley New!
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

From a southwest-facing vineyard, this is a fresher, European-style Pinot. A complex nose of red cherries, raspberries and wild herbs gives way to juicy berry concentration on the palate with refined minerality and lively acidity.

Luis Felipe Edwards

The largest family-owned wine business in Chile focuses on preserving family values of caring, tradition and quality, yet it is constantly striving to improve. Our new entry-level wines are produced by this winery but we have also cherry-picked a few other gems from them.

Luis Felipe Edwards Signature Series Syrah Reserva 2010, Central Valley New!
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Many people believe that Syrah has enormous potential in Chile. This wine proves the point. Dense forest fruits, leather, white pepper and spice on the nose give way to juicy dark berry fruit flavours, all knitted together with well-integrated French oak.

Luis Felipe Edwards Signature Series Viognier Reserva 2011, Rapel Valley New!
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Made from grapes picked at optimum ripeness, then cool-fermented for 20 days to preserve natural acidity and fruit characters, this is all pear, peach and apricot aromas and flavours. The palate is bound together by balanced acidity and refined minerality on the finish.

  • michael ashby

    I have been buying my wine from majestic for many years and one of my favourite cabernet sauvignons came from Chile. It was Santa Rita Reserva. You no longer stock this wine although you still have the Santa Rita Medalla Real which is also very good and a little bit more expensive. You now have an inferior Santa Rita Carmenere called 120. Why have you stopped selling the Reserva when it was a very popular wine as all your staff keep on telling me.

    • William James

      Hi Michael. Thanks for your feedback. I’m sorry to hear we are no longer stocking one of your favourite wines. We have a Chilean tasting in all Majestic stores from 7-17 Nov where you can try a selection of our new Chilean range.

  • David Cunliffe

    Interesting blog and I will look forward to trying some of the new wines. However, I’m dismayed that you’ve stopped stocking Montes wines to make room for the new ones. I understand that Montes wines were amongst your best-sellers and it seems short-sighted to no longer stock them. I’m a member of a local wine society and several other members have also been regular buyers of Montes wines.

    Your loss may be the gain of our local independent wine shop who are now looking into stocking Montes. Every bottle I buy there is one less bottle I buy at Majestic.

    • William James

      Hi David. I’m sorry to hear we are no longer stocking your favourite Montes wine (we still stock the Montes Alpha wines). As I’ve suggested to Michael above, you might also like to pop into your local Majestic store from 7-17 Nov where you can try some of our new Chilean range.
      We really feel the new range represents the best value and best quality wines we can currently source for our customers.

    • David Cunliffe

      I’ve already tried the Koyle Cab Sauv and really enjoyed it. I’ve also had Tabali wines from another supplier and enjoyed them. No complaints about bringing on the new ones. But I’d have thought you’d have found something other than Montes to stop selling to make room for them. The local manager agreed with me! He thought that you were stopping stocking all Montes wines though. Good news that you will still have some Montes Alpha. Which ones?

      • William James

        The Merlot and the Chardonnay, both at £9.99 when you buy 2+

  • Hilary Silva

    Hi – I was also recently in Chile and visited and tasted wine from Casa del Bosque winery. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Carmeniere were particularly good. Any chance you may look at stocking these in the future ?

    • Bethany Guard

      Hi Hilary, I’ll pass the name on to our Chilean buyer and then you’ll need to keep your fingers crossed!