ShelfLife Special Tasting: Chile still delivering
With Chilean and Australian wines running neck and neck for the top spot among Irish consumers, Helen Coburn shares her pick of good value Chileans available on the market
13 August 2014
Even as wine sales in Ireland declined by around 15% between 2008 and 2011, Chilean wines managed to hold their own. That’s because Chile has continued to deliver soundly at every price point, except at the very high end “icon” level, where some wines are overpriced for the styles on offer. But Chile is hardly alone here; almost every wine nation produces a selection of these heavily oaked styles aimed at the international, corporate buyer, rather than the regular wine drinker.
In Ireland, some Australian wines have begun to look rather expensive, not just because of their own rising costs but also because of the strength of the Australian dollar. This has been very helpful to Chile as it consolidates its market share in Europe. In Ireland, Chile and Australia are still running neck and neck for the top spot among consumers. In 2012 Australia held 24% of the market to Chile’s 21%, but given the price challenges, it’s likely that the gap has narrowed over the past 18 months.
Another strength for Chile has been that it has not forgotten to promote its product to established markets, even as it hunted down new consumers. Perhaps its geographical proximity to one of the BRIC economies, Brazil, meant that it wasn’t quite so dazzled by emerging economies as other wine producing regions. Chile suffered its own crisis years ago, and it watched as Argentina suffered even more, so its winemakers are well aware of how volatile developing markets can be.
Strict quarantine laws
Chile is one of the rare wine regions that doesn’t have the vine pest phylloxera. The country is anxious to keep it that way and, until recently, strict vine quarantine laws made it difficult to bring in new grape clones and to extend the variety of wines on offer. That changed as wine producers began to see that growing international market share would depend on having diverse wines. They became more willing to plan their vine growing around the constraints imposed. Cabernet, merlot, carmenere, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc have been joined by grapes like shiraz, cabernet franc, pinot noir, riesling, pinot gris and viognier. Indeed, carmenere, which for a time was something of a Chilean signature grape, has been rather elbowed out by the newer styles. That’s a pity because nowadays carmenere is better than ever, as producers reduce the green hedgerow elements which used to plague both nose and palate of the variety.
Because it’s long and thin, Chile has a range of climates, from warm in the north and centre to relatively cool in the south. Its long coastline modifies climates so that, even in the north, maritime sites can yield fine cool climate wines, especially from sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
Pinot noir is the latest hot story. About ten years ago, cheap, cheerful, but relatively simple Chilean pinots began to reach Irish markets. Cono Sur was one of the pioneers and now that better vineyard work and the identification of pinot friendly sites are paying off, Cono Sur has been followed by a clutch of makers producing pinot which is increasingly fine but still good value for money. There are now around 3,000 hectares of pinot noir in Chile and that’s bound to increase.
Here are some of the good value Chileans we’ve tasted recently. Prices approximately retail.
Cono Sur Sparkling Brut nv (€15 Findlater, multiples, independents) Great value sparkler which adds a soupcon of Riesling to the traditional chardonnay pinot blend.
Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2012 (€10 Gilbey, O’Briens, multiples) Fresh, citrusy style; good with fish.
De Martino Reserva Chardonnay 2012 (€15 Febvre, independents). Sound, fruity stuff which is lovely with turkey and pork.
Undurraga Chardonnay 2013 (€10 Comans, most multiples). This somewhat underrated brand supplies very decent varietals, at around the €10 break point. This is fresh and lemony – a good summer aperitif.
Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay 2012 (€16 Cassidy, selected multiples). Consistent, carefully oaked style in which only 10% of the ageing barrels are new. Subtle citrus and toast flavours make this a winner with roast pork and turkey.
Vino Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013 (Searson, independents €12). Zesty green fruit; perfect for salmon and chicken salads.
Carmen Wave Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Santa Rita Distrib. €13, most multiples). Also from the cool Leyda valley, this has fresh gooseberry style fruit, good with monkfish and cod.
Botalcura El Delirio Chardonnay Viognier 2012 (Searson, independents €13.50). This unusual blend has citrus flavours overlaid with peachy notes. Delicious aperitif.
Cono Sur Bicicletta Riesling 2013 (€10 Findlater, multiples). Fresh green and citrus fruit make this a great value introduction to Chile’s Riesling styles.
Cono Sur Bicicletta Pinot Noir 2012 (€10); Reserva Pinot Noir 2011 (€13 Findlater, Tesco, Dunnes Stores). For a tenner, Bicecletta is a great value pinot; the Reserva is worth the trade up for a special occasion.
Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (€10 Gilbey, multiples). One of the best value cabernets at the price. Decent concentration and good with beef, game and grills.
Mont Gras Quatro 2012 (€12 Barry & Fitzwilliam, Tesco, O’Briens, independents). Consistently good blend of French varieties which goes well with steak and meat pies.
Vina Maipo Syrah Petite Syrah Gran Devocion 2011 (€13 Dunnes Stores). Great price for another interesting blend; not a summer wine, perhaps, but good with roasts and game.
De Martino Legado Syrah 2012 (€17 Febvre, SuperValu, independents). Warm, plummy fruit laced with spicy notes. Try with barbecued meats.
Vina Maipo Carmenere 2012 (€13 Dunnes Stores). Fresh red berry and softer plum fruits. Good with roasted white meat and trimmings.
Casa Lapostelle Merlot 2012 (€12 Comans, selected multiples). Classy merlot with nicely defined plum finish.