Chilean and Argentinian Wines
There's a whole lot more to South American wine than a good malbec, says Adam Lechmere, who takes a swig from the wilds of Chile and Argentina
South America is full of pioneers. There are vast tracts of Chile that remain virtually unexplored as far as winemaking goes-and Eduardo Chadwick of Viña Errazuriz is constantly on the lookout for higher, cooler, windier terroirs. His right-hand man, Francisco Baettig, had just got back from the Patagonian desert when I met him. He’d been on a trip they called the Magical Mystery Tour, he said, his eyes shining with the possibility of that arid land, where stressed vines force out tiny, thick- skinned, intensely flavoured grapes.
One personal project of Chadwick’s lies just 19km from the Pacific Ocean in Aconcagua – a beautiful, breezy mountaintop that produces wines of aching minerality, as far from the soft and fruit-forward wine for which Chile is known as you can get.
Another visionary is Aurelio Montes, who nearly 30 years ago, with a couple of like-minded friends, decided to put Chile on the world stage by making top-quality wines purely for export (when there were only about ten wineries exporting). His best-known wines are the Alpha cabernet sauvignon, and the Folly syrah, whose label was designed by Montes’ friend, artist Ralph Steadman.
Montes’ wines have been criticised for too much fruit and not enough bite, but like Chadwick he’s a pioneer. His Outer Limits range comes from three different Chilean terroirs – Zapallar, Apalta and Itata – all roughly in the middle of the country. All are extreme in their own way: for instance, Zapallar is wild, freezing cold in winter, always windy, barely suitable even for cattle, but produces wines of piercing freshness (see the sauvignon blanc below). Pioneers have itchy feet, and in 2001 Montes crossed the Andes into Argentina. The two countries are as different as neighbours can be – Chile is cooler, more humid, Argentina hotter, drier. To get cool in Chile you head for the coast and the ocean breezes; in Argentina you head for the hills, where the temperatures produce fresh and aromatic whites like the Lagarde viognier below.
Montes too went high, founding the Kaiken winery, sourcing grapes from regions such as Vista Flores in the Uco Valley, whose lowest point is about 1,000m above sea level. The vineyards here are moonscapes of car-sized rocks. They took out 2,500 truckloads, and these were the ones they left behind, Aurelio Montes Jr, who runs Kaiken for his father, tells me with some pride.
Argentina has the great advantage of a signature grape: malbec. Chile has no such thing. Some argue carmenere should be Chile’s national grape, saying that it’s capable of wonderful freshness and simply not as easy to understand as malbec.
Increasingly, carignan – especially from the vast Maule Valley – is being thrust forward as the champion. There’s a movement called Vigno, whose 15 members are dedicated to promoting the grape (the wine must have at least 65 per cent carignan from vines at least 30 years old).
I tasted all of them one evening in Santiago, and it was hard to choose a favourite. Great Chilean carignan has luscious blackberry fruit and dry tannins, fresh acidity, hints of coffee and chocolate, then a sublime spectrum of perfume from parma violet to potpourri. It has my vote.
Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile 2012, £12.99
Fine nose of blackberry and freshly-cut hay. Dry tannins dissolve to cassis and juice on the tongue. Goes perfectly with sweet spring lamb.
Lagarde Viognier, Mendoza, Argentina 2013, £9.88
This viognier is all about texture, the balance of unctuousness, brisk citrus acidity and hints of melon and rose petal. Drink with spicy chicken dishes.
Available at:D&D Wine
Morandé Edicion Limitada Carignan, Chile 2010, £13.79
From a Vigno winemaker. Coffee and dark woody fruit, fresh palate, soft tannins, raspberry with balsamic and a sour plum finish.
Available at:The Drink Shop
Kaiken Malbec Reserva, Argentina 2012, £8.99
Nose of tar, roses and ripe black cherry; oodles of black fruit with grainy, juicy tannins. Good with fat, homemade burgers.
Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc, Zapallar, Chile 2013, £15.99
Classic pink grapefruit and gooseberry aromas, lovely varietal character, sharp-textured acidity, all minerality and spiced lime.
Available at:Liberty Wines