I have just had three wonderful weeks in Chile, first of all some holiday, exploring parts of the Atacama Desert and the Chilean Lake District, as well as a little time in Valparaiso, which is wonderfully vibrant city with an exciting and quite unexpected culture of street art. A new series of murals were specifically inspired by wine.
After the holiday came the work, an intensive week with 29 other Masters of Wine, discovering or re-discovering the main wine regions of the country. It had been fifteen years since my last visit to Chile and it was fascinating to see how the wine industry has changed and developed. Vineyards are being planted further north, further south and at higher altitudes, with the boundaries being pushed in all directions. Cool climate is a catch phrase, with vineyards benefitting from the cooling Pacific Ocean and the cool winds coming off the Andes. And where Bordeaux grape varieties were once the main focus of Chile, they are now re-discovering old plantings of Carignan and Cinsault. And that explains how I can write about Chile in a blog on the Languedoc! Both Cinsault and Carignan were brought Chile by the French in the 19thcentury.
Another significant change is the development of smaller wineries. The Chile wine industry is no longer dominated by the big producers. There is an organisation called MOVI, the Movement of Independent Wine growers or El Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes, which groups 34 wineries from all over the country. Members are invited to join, based on the quality of their winemaking, and I suspect simply how well they fit into the group. They must be hands on wine makers, producing good wines. Essentially, they are a marketing organisation, representing each other at tastings and so on. And at a tasting of MOVI wines they provided my introduction to some very enjoyable Carignan and Cinsault.
2016 B. Wines Carae is a dry-farmed Carignan, made from 80-year-old vines in the Maule valley. Medium colour; with a dry structured nose and the palate some red fruit balanced with tannins, and a nicely rustic note on the finish. Carignan does not work in irrigated vineyards – it explodes; it must be dry farmed and some people are grafting it on to old Pais vines, which was the original grape variety of Chile, introduced by the Spanish missionaries.
Other MOVI wines included Dagaz Cinsaut from Itata, from 50-year-old dry farmed bush vines, from the estate of Tierras de Pumanque, set up by Marco Puyo, who had worked for larger companies before starting making wine on his own account estate. The wine was beautifully fragrant and perfumed with a streak of tannin.
However, it was a seminar on Old Vines that really highlighted the quality and potential of Cinsault and Carignan in Chile. There is an organisation called Vigno which represents a group of fifteen producers of Carignan. The vines are mostly in the Maule valley and Vigno insists on a minimum age of 30-year-old vines, dry farmed bush vines, and a minimum of 85% of Carignan in the wine, with two years ageing. Apparently Vigno began as a lunch club!
Brett Jackson, the winemaker at Valdevieso talked about making Carignan. He gives the grapes a cold soak for two or three days, and ferments in open top vats, and runs the juice off the skins fairly quickly. Having begun with ageing all the cuvée in barrel, he has now reduced that to just a quarter of the cuvée. With two years ageing, the acidity softens. He also observed that 20 years ago Carignan was not a recognised grape variety in Chile.
P S Garcia were one the pioneers of Vigno, with 60-year-old vines. Their 2015 Carignan was deep in colour, with quite dense red fruit and some oak, as well as a touch of acidity. The wine was structured and need time.
Gillmore was a new name to me, offering a rounded, harmonious glass of wine, made from 70 – 80-year-old vines, with good structure and some weight on the palate, balanced with ripe fruit.
Underraga makes a field blend of 92% Carignan, balanced with some Cinsault, from 60-year-old vines. The nose was quite firm and structured, and the palate rounded with some oak and fruit.
Oldfjell, produces Orzado Carignan from the Cauquenes Valley which is part of the larger Maule valley. They have 100-year-old bush vines, and made the observation that the smaller wine growers are starting to believe n Carignan. When Oldfjell made their first Carignan in 2001, nobody else was making it and it didn’t sell. But they persisted.
And we were told that Marcelo Retamal at the De Martino winery was the first to bottle Cinsault, with a maiden vintage in 2011. He uses old terracotta amphora as a fermentation vessel and the flavour of the 2016 vintage from cooler Itata was fragrant with fresh cherry fruit and a streak of balancing tannin.
After the seminar on old vines we drove from the outskirts of Concepción into the countryside to Guarilhue, where a group of wine growers hosted a tasting, and also a barbecue. The countryside of Itata is quite different from other areas, much greener, with rich vegetation and undulating hills, with forests of pines and eucalyptus, as well as vineyards, of mostly ungrafted bush vines.
A wine from Longavi, with the cheerful name of Glup, comes from 40-year-old Cinsault with fresh red fruit and a streak of tannin. Lovely perfumed cherry flavours. It had spent eight months in old foudres, with no fining or filtering.
Other wines included Pedro Parra y Familia, Imaginador and Leo Erazo, Hermano Piedra, both from Itata. Indeed, most of the Cinsault in Chile is grown in Itata. The oldest vines date from the end of the 1930s, and are planted on their own roots. Old vines adapt better to the current drought – which is a prevailing issue in Chile at the moment. There is no specific definition of old vines.
More highlights included Cinsault del Cerro, from Pandolfi Price, with six months in barrel, was quite a structured Cinsaut with firm cherry fruit.
Cinsault Tres C was deep in colour, with rounded ripe fruit, fresh and fragrant from 50-year-old vines.
Trifulca, produced a Cinsault from 83-year-old vines, with perfumed fruit and a streak of tannin after eight months in old wood.
Rogue Wine with a 2018 Cinsault, using an open basket press, with rounded ripe fruit.
Las Curvas, another Cinsaut grown on granite, with delicate fruit.
And the final taste of Cinsault was at Montes, in the Apalta Valley, the opening wine at a lunch cooked by the talented chef, Francis Mullmann. Made from grapes grown in Itata, it was fresh and fragrant, with 20% carbonic maceration and simply perfect with an empanada.