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The Wines of Chile (shaking up the wine world)

Wow. Timing is everything. We had planned on doing this feature on the fabulous, valuerich wines of Chile and just before going to print—bang! The strongest earthquake in recorded history hits smack dab in the middle of some of the veryy best growing regions. What this will mean to the industry short-term remains to be seen (though we know that Concha y Toro is closed as we write this, even though crush is about to commence), but in the longterm the truth will not change: Chile now produces some of the world’s greatest wines, and they’ve just begun to mine their vinous riches. We thought briefly about choosing a different subject for this feature. The opportunity for tasteless metaphors about the ‘groundbreaking quality’ of the new Carmenères, and the ‘tsunami of values’ would be too hard to resist (sorry). However on second thought, we determined that a focus on the wines of Chile and a possible boost in their sales may be just what they need right now. So in theory,one can drink Chilean wine, and provide some disaster relief.

Wine Geek Speaks - Wines of ChileThe Wine Geek is asked quite frequently ‘where do the best values in the wine world come from today?’ to which there is, of course, no pat answer. The response given is usually ‘there are values coming from every corner of the planet now, so it is a moving picture. However, the most exciting place to watch right now is Chile.’ Not Spain. Not Argentina (sorry Mr. Parker). Chile. This beautiful country’s path to the U.S. market was the same as many other new world countries’ in the last quarter of the last century; starting with low-end, value wines, which there is always a spot for in the marketplace. Then the next level up slowly worked its way in—at first as curiosities for amateurs and collectors, but then they too found a permanent place as values in their class. At the same time, Chile was raising its game, due partially–and increasingly–to the influx of international investment and expertise from both old world and other new world countries (more below). So in spite of the meteoric rise in quality, especially in the mid and high-tier wines, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

One of main reasons for this is that producers are pushing the boundaries of grape growing, not just latitude-wise (Bio Bio, Malleco, Limarí) but longitude-wise as well (San Antonio, Elqui). The northerly location of the Elqui Valley— ostensibly warmer—is mitigated by its proximity to the Pacific—a mere 2 kilometers away at its westernmost point, and with the high elevations of the vineyards there, it’s downright cool. Hence, the high potential for Pinot Noir in San Antonio, Casablanca, Bio Bio and Malleco—with the latter more than 500 miles to the south of the first! Note that it’s a bit mis-leading to call these areas new for plantings— the Elqui for example was first planted to wine grapes in the mid-1500’s, but gave way to other fruit production over the succeeding centuries until it was ‘rediscovered’ in the very late 20th century. The other side of this golden coin is the aforementioned influx of expertise and investment from all over the vinous world. Just a few of the wineries/experts that have put a stake in the ground in the last decade or so: Lafite- Rothschild, Mouton- Rothschild, Pi e ro Antinori, Nicolas Potel, JC Boisset, Pascal Marchand, Marnier-Lapostolle, Domaine La roche, William Fevre, Paul Pontellier (Ch. Margaux), Paul Hobbs, Nick Goldschmidt, Brian Croser, Michael Mondavi, Augustin Huneeus, John Duval (nee Penfolds) and of course the ubiquitous Michel Rolland. There are many, many more. And should you be thinking ‘gee, with talent like this they should be making great wine’ we suggest you turn that around and think ‘the potential for greatness must be significant to attract talent like this.’ And lest you think all this investment is going to change the value proposition, think again…amazing values abound.

The most dynamic people in the wine industry making wine in some of the most promising vineyard sites in the world; we can feel the tremors all the way up here.

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