A Masterclass of Tim Atkin's favourite reds from Chile
Chile has almost too much of a good thing - diverse terroirs and soil types, the effects of volcanoes, earthquakes and erosion, phylloxera-free vineyards, cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean and the Andes plus the effects of altitude from two mountain ranges.
This embarrassment of riches was all for naught as Chile pursued a Bigger-Is-Better style in the 1990s, trying to appeal to the Parkerized US market.
And then something happened.
Around 2010, a few isolated winemakers in Chile decided to put the machine into reverse and start making fresher, more elegant wines - the sorts of wines that they actually wanted to drink themselves, rather than just points-chasing Big, Oaky Reds.
Forerunners in this movement include De Martino's Marcelo Retamal and Francisco Baettig of Errzuriz.
Marcelo Retamal told his story of conversion to fresher styles to the Circle of Wine Writers in 2011; harvesting ever later and fermenting for longer with more new oak and additives like tartaric acid and cultured yeasts, his wines were becoming bigger and more full-on. And less enjoyable to drink. So, in agreement with the winery owners, he started picking earlier and intervening less in the winemaking process to create a fresher, more elegant and nuanced wine.
Francisco Baettig outlined a similar vision over dinner one evening a few years later in London, where he talked about hot years being a problem, not a blessing; lower alcohol levels; a more-European style of food wines; old oak rather than new.
Over the years since those talks, I've had as many disappointingly over-oaked Chilean wines as subtle and elegant bottles. And, to be honest, I was wondering if the country had given up on the freshness thing.
In practice, a revolution takes a long time to happen and not all Chilean winemakers are quite so progressive and forward-thinking.
But Tim Atkin's masterclass, all done via Zoom with the winemakers dialling in for each wine, showed that there is a definite movement with eight wineries from all over Chile represented.
The second part was all about reds.
2018 La Roncière Licantén Malbec, Licantén - Curicó (£13.95, Corney & Barrow) an unusual Malbec blend (Malbec is just 1.7% of plantings) from a very good, dry year giving deep concentration and 10 months in new oak providing plenty of oaky spice and tannins. This needs age and was much more settled when re-tasted 24 hours later. Deep dark colour with dark fruits, florality, spice and savoury concentration. Needs age, firm, grippy but very fine and well-integrated tannins .
2016 Maquis Viola, Colchagua Valley (£40.00, HispaMerchants) Carmenere blend from a cold, wet and difficult year with 24 months in oak.Complex aromas with plush ripe red and black berries, woodsy, mushroomy earthiness; fresh, concentrated and supple with perfectly ripe tannins and good underpinnings.
2018 De Martino Old Vine Series VIGNO, Maule Valley (£35.00, Enotria&Coe) Carignan blend with two years in large, neutral foundres; raspberry leaf and red fruits, red and black cherries, spice; fresh, long concentrated and harmonious with gentle, perfectly ripe tannins.
2016 Los Vascos Le Dix, Colchagua Valley (£45.00, Waddesdon Wine) Cabernet Sauvignon blend, old vines with 18m in oak, 50% new, from a "Bordeaux-type" year (aka cold and wet); the winery has links with Lafite and this shows in the elegance of the winemaking: complex bramble fruits and spice and leatheriness; fresh, supple, elegant and harmonious.