Wine treasures of Chile evoke Irish longings

The grapes are European and Chile is probably the only country whose vines are 100 per cent vitis vinifera, the wine bearing vine. Until the 20th century, the only thing Chile lacked was technology. Fortunately, that was overcome when producers from Europe invested in the country’s vineyards, and the world benefited.

The four wine producing regions are Aconcagua (Casablanca and Aconcagua Valleys), Central (Maipo and Rapel Valleys), Southern (Curico and Maule Valleys) and, further south, the Bio Bio. Travelling from north to south, the temperature rises quite significantly, but like all countries there are micro climatic conditions which can affect grape quality and wine quality.

So what should you drink? If you’ve read my articles, you’ll know my answer, “drink what you like”. My personal opinion is that reds are best when produced in the central and southern regions. Whites seem to like all of Chile and, in the very hot Bio Bio, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are doing exceptionally well.

Santa Rita is a very popular wine, with some history. During the war of liberation, there was a particularly fierce battle fought at Rancagua, south of Santiago. After the battle, the commander of the Chilean army, Bernardo O’Higgins (the illegitimate son of an Irish soldier), took refuge in the Santa Rita cellars along with 120 of his men.

After the war, O’Higgins became President from 1818 until 1823. When the Santa Rita winery was founded in 1880, they named one of their best wines ‘Santa Rita 120’ in his honour. It is still one of the most popular wines from that winery. Note the grape if you are buying one. There is a Cabernet Sauvignon and also one made from the softer grape, the Merlot.

Controls are well regulated and if a vineyard overproduces, the surplus is destroyed by government officials. This law was introduced when Chile had a serious alcoholic problem. They felt that, by reducing production, it would help solve the problem. I see the logic, but the reality is a different matter. If producers reported overproducing to the government, then they must be the first in history to do so. Most countries try to hide things from their governments, not reveal them.

Chilean labels are easy to read and, as well as their table wines, better quality wines are produced with the following classifications.

Special: A two-year-old wine

Reserve: A four-year-old wine.

Gran Vino: Six years or more.

The problem is that stockists don’t seem to bother with these wines. They are available, but not easy to find. Are they worth looking for? Yes, and you are guaranteed maximum yield per acre as, after all, there isn’t any surplus wine around!

Still on Chilean wines, I found an exceptionally good Sauvignon Blanc recently in Waterford city, Ireland. It was Casas del Bosque from The Casablanca Valley and bottled on the Estate. Usually, I find New World Sauvignons very ‘grassy’ and ‘meadowy’. You sometimes feel you’re in a field of new mown hay. This Sauvignon is very pleasantly different. It is a crisp, clean, dry wine, with plenty of citrus fruit. The pale colour and taste told me it was not contaminated by new oak or oak chippings.

I always like to share new experiences with my readers and, while this is not a ‘food and wine’ article, I must mention the Wine Vault in Waterford, where I found the Sauvignon. The city’s love affair with wine started in the 13th century when Henry the Third allowed the city to import wine and pay only half the duty.

The brick vaulting of the wine shop and restaurant dates back to the 18th century, while the house itself was built around 1426 and still has remains of the stone.

As a bonded warehouse, it stocked Geneva, Brandy, Port, Madeira and Claret and, during excavations, 13th century wine jars were unearthed.

The downstairs cellar must be one of the very few, if not the only one, of its type in Ireland. Regular tastings are held there before dinner, but you have to book. The restaurant has a very extensive menu and an equally extensive wine list.

Visiting the Wine Vault was one of the highlights of my trip to Ireland. David Dennison, a very genial proprietor, and his staff make everybody feel very welcome. The bill of fare and the ambience takes some beating. If you’re in Waterford, a visit to the Wine Vault is a must!

The Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is available here in Portugal. You won’t find it in every shop, but remember the name and keep an eye out for it. If it’s not your style, then I must apologise, but it is very different to an Australian or New Zealand Sauvignon. So if you’re a fan of the Sancerre grape, then it’s worth buying.

I read an article recently, and I see these young wine writers have at long last admitted that it is acceptable to drink red wine with fish. All they have to do now is throw out that stupid vocabulary they’ve invented.

by Maurice P Lee (Cellar Master)

Next issue: Some particular wine snobs

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