Re-thinking Chilean Wine

If I say ‘Chilean wine’ to you, what springs to mind?  Personally, I think of wines that are approachable, easy to drink, fruity, reliable and good value for money.  And UK wine lovers seem to agree – Chilean wines are big sellers here, particularly in the supermarkets.  But, do you see what’s missing in my description?  Nothing about wines that are exciting, challenging or innovative.  That’s not quite how I see Chile.

Part of the problem is that their wine industry is dominated by just 7 giant producers who, together, are responsible for over half of Chile’s wine.  By good marketing and a consistent product, they have secured a top 10 place among UK wine importers but, as a consequence, much of their offering is just a little bit safe.

But a piece in the latest Decanter magazine (labelled October) suggests that things are beginning to change.  Chile’s producers are expanding into new areas of the country, experimenting with different grape varieties and looking to produce more complex, age-worthy styles of wine.

The article prompted me to dig out a bottle from one of those 7 producers that I bought some time ago from the Wine Society (£14.50 at the time) and has been sitting quietly under our stairs ever since.   20 Barrels is one of Cono Sur’s premium labels and my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon was from the 2013 vintage, making it just over 7 years old.  So how had it aged?

I decanted it to find that the colour was still deep and vibrant, no sign of the browning rim that might show that it was past its best.  On the nose, quite fresh and fruity, with the blackcurrant aromas so typical of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape together with a few earthy, dusty notes.  The same followed through in the mouth with some plum and cassis, good intensity reflecting the 14½% alcohol and a little pepperiness and some spice from the well-integrated oak.  It had good length and the wine was still fresh and clearly with some years ahead of it yet (although not for me – I only had the one bottle).

So, time to re-think Chilean wines?  Perhaps.  At the entry level, the wines are easy drinking and good value for money but stretch a little upmarket and wines like this 20 Barrels definitely promise a good future if this is the direction in which Chilean wines are heading.