Tasting No 251 – March 28, 2023, 12:30 pm
The Diversity of Wine in Chile
Heritage wines, underrated grapes and iconic wines
Tasting Objective and Overview
The main objective of this tasting is to taste different wines that highlight the diversity of wines produced in Chile.
The tasting will have one orange wine and three red wines. The grapes are Semillon, Carignan, Cinsault, and Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux blend).
Small producers with traditional techniques in Itata and a major winery in Aconcagua
Type of tasting: Open
Presenters: Ricardo Santiago
Participants: (to be completed after the meeting)
These are the wines:
– Roberto Henriquez, Molino Del Ciego, Semillon, Valle del Itata, 2021
– Pedro Parra, Trane, Cinsault, Itata Valley, 2019
– Rogue Vine, El Insolente, Carignan, Itata Valley, 2016
– Seña, Aconcagua Valley, 2019.
Situated 500 km South of Santiago, the first vineyards were planted in the 16th century.
Topography: Coastal Mountain range with river terraces inland.
Soil: Granitic soils in the coastal mountain range and mainly alluvial river terraces further inland.
Climate: Semi-arid, continental climate.
Bush vines, no irrigation.
Itata Valley lost its fame in the 1800’s to more central regions in Chile (high production and new varieties). It was left behind and has the constant threat of planting pine and eucalyptus trees.
The region still has one of the lowest average vineyard sizes in all South America, at less than two hectares. These small vineyards and wine families are a complete contrast to the manicured vineyard rows, industrialized estates, and big wineries further north.
The majority of Itata’s grapes are still sold cheaply for bulk wine production. However, there is also growing appreciation for the old vines in the region, and wineries of all sizes are now participating in Itata’s revival. Most planted varieties are Moscatel de Alejandria, País, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Corinto.
Stretches from the coast to the Andes. Vineyards planted in all three geographical designations (Costa, Entre Cordilleras, and Andes).
Topography: Ranging from the Andean foothills to the banks of the River Aconcagua and the Coastal hills.
Climate: Mediterranean climate with some mountain influence. Most of the vineyards are in the warm inland areas of the valley floor in what is one of Chile’s hottest and driest wine regions.
Since the 1990’s, Aconcagua’s wine region has also expanded further west towards the coast in search of cooler climate terroirs where they can make fresher wine styles. Stable climate makes it one of Chile`s most reliable regions.
Directly downhill from Aconcagua, on the Argentine side, lie Mendoza and San Juan where over 90% of Argentina’s wine industry is concentrated.
It is a region that produces powerful red wines and a handful of producers in the region specializes in Bordeaux – or Mediterranean-style blends and varieties.
Most planted varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Petit Verdot.
The grape varietals
First arrived in Chile in the 19th century. It was the most planted white variety by the 1960’s with some 35,000 ha. It has been in decline ever since. Often found in mixed old-vine plantings with Riesling and Corinto (Chasselas) and other white varieties.
It is produced with some skin contact and occasionally produced as an orange wine, vinified in tinajas, concrete eggs or old foudres, or even with some biological ageing under a veil of flor.
These wines can be very textured, structured, and waxy.
Believed to be native to Aragon, Spain. Main synonyms are Mazuelo and Carineña. It is a vigorous and productive (abundant crop), and the grape needs a long, hot growing season.
It delivers high acid deeply pigmented tannic wines. Carignan’s color, acidity, and structure could be blended into pale País wines. Tannic management is key to avoid coarse and rustic wines.
One of the rising stars of Chilean wines helped build the modern reputation of Maule denomination in the Central Valley. Tamed tannins, refreshing acidity, and red fruit aromas prioritizing elegance over power.
Planted in Chile in the early 20th century. After the 1939 earthquake, the Government supported the wine industry in Itata and Maule by giving them Carignan plants. But due to its susceptibility to powdery mildew, it was largely abandoned within a decade of being planted.
Native to southern France, it was first planted in Chile in the 1930’s. It is a vigorous variety that produces an abundant crop. Requires high temperatures to ripen.
Known locally as cargadora (heavy-load bearer). Young vines produce ‘rather uninteresting’ grapes. On the other hand, as old vines yield drops, concentration increases and the wines produced are more interesting. Old Cinsault vines are mainly in Itata and Bio Bio, some well over 60 and some close to 90 years old.
Old-vine and traditional winemaking renaissance and adoption of traditional techniques using native rauli vats, ageing in clay tinajas and working on a very small scale using artisanal methods.
The wine has moderate to low pigment, low acidity, light tannins, and expressive red fruit aromas.
Cabernet Sauvignon was brought to Chile with many other grapes (mainly Bordeaux varieties) in the mid-19th century. Chile has some of the world’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines and pre-phylloxera genetic material. However, most of the Cabernet vines are relatively new, planted from the 1990’s onward.
Between 1997 and 2002, Cabernet plantings more than doubled, shooting up from some 15,000 to 39,000 hectares. Chile ranks second in the world, with 12% of all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
An extraordinary amount of everyday bulk wine is still produced, while there are world-class examples at the top end of the scale. The best examples of Chilean Cabernet rank among the best in the world.
It is very common to find Cabernet blended with the other major Bordeaux varieties, particularly Merlot and Carmenere.
Wine #1. Roberto Henriquez, Molino Del Ciego, Semillon, Valle del Itata, 2021
The Producer: Roberto Henriques, a leading winemaker in Bio Bio and Itata, has a small winery focusing on making natural wine on an artisanal scale. It produces distinctive natural wines from old vines and often helps resuscitate abandoned vineyards.
– Wines are produced in the pipeño tradition: an old technique where grapes (white or red) are destemmed but left on their skins for fermentation before ageing in a rauli barrel.
– Grape: Semillon with Corinto (Chasselas) and Moscatel in the field blend.
– Vineyards: 90 years-old vines planted on granite soils very close to the Pacific Ocean in the Itata Valley. Dry-farmed with sustainable viticulture.
– Fermentation: Fermented with its skins (“con orujos”) for three weeks.
– Ageing: Old barricas and concrete vessels for five months to one year.
– Unfined and unfiltered.
– Alcohol: 12.5%
– “A Paradigmatic wine for semillon in South America” (P. Tapias).
Wine #2. Pedro Parra, Trane, Cinsault, Itata Valley, 2019
The Producer: Pedro Parra y Family is the boutique, family winery of renowned terroir expert Pedro Parra, focusing on an artisanal production of natural wines made from old vines of Pais and Cinsault in Itata and Bio Bio. Pedro Parra produces a series of Cinsault wines to show his interpretation of the granitic soils of Itata.
– Grape: Cinsault 100%.
– Appellation: D. O. Secano Interior, Itata.
– Vineyard: 70-year-old at 300 m altitude, on shallow granite soil with silt and stones.
– Fermentation: 30% whole bunches in concrete tanks utilizing native yeast and with low intervention.
– Ageing: 11 months in 1,500 liters oak vats.
– Alcohol: 13%.
Wine #3. Rogue Vine, El Insolente, Carignan, Itata Valley, 2016
The Producer: Two people – Leonardo Erazo and Justin Decker – started Rogue Vine in 2011, in a one-car garage in Concepción with a project to make natural wines from ‘the forgotten old bush vines almost falling out of steep granitic hills in Itata.’
– Grape: Carignan 100%.
– Single Vineyard granite soil at 270 m. in Nipas, Itata Valley.
– Old Bush vines of more than 60 years old. Dry and organic farmed and hand harvested.
– Winemaking: Whole berry fermentation with native yeast and little to no sulfur added prior to bottling.
– Ageing: cement globes and used oak barrels.
– Unfiltered and Unfined.
– Alcohol: 14.0%.
Wine #4. Seña, Aconcagua Valley, 2019
The Producer: Viña Seña: Single-estate, single-wine operation joint venture in the Aconcagua Valley founded by Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick of Errazuriz in 1995. Their aim was to make a wine that would demonstrate the full potential of Chile and that would be welcomed among the world’s First Growth.
– Composition /grape: Bordeaux blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Malbec (21%), Carmenere (15%), and Petit Verdot (4%).
– Vineyard: Close to the sea with the benefit of coastal winds and long hanging period.
– Farming: Biodynamic and hand harvested.
– Ageing: 22 months in 90% French oak barrels (80% new) and 10% foudres.
– Alcohol: 13.5%.
- Calamari Fritti
- Spaghetti con polpette
- Vitello alla Parmigiana
- Dessert, coffee.
Barnes, A. The South America Wine Guide. 2nd ed. England: The South America Wine Guide, 2022.
International Organization of Vine and Wine (Home | OIV)
Pedro Parra y Familia, Skurnik Wines & Spirits (Pedro Parra y Familia – Skurnik Wines & Spirits)
Roberto Henriquez revives Chile’s pipeño tradition | The Morning Claret
Robinson, J et al. Wine Grapes. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
Rogue Vine (Rogue Vine Winery (rogue-vine.com))
Seña Wines (Seña Wines (sena.cl))
Vinos de Chile (Vinos de Chile – (winesofchile.org))
“What`s Hot in Chile?”, Decanter: Wines of the Word, 2nded., 2022.
Woolf, S. J. Amber Revolution. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2018.
- CV Members Rating (after the tasting)