September is a busy month for the UK wine trade. After the calm of August, September’s diary is stacked full of portfolio and generic body tastings, lunches and dinners. With so many tastings on offer, buyers, journalists and sommeliers have to carefully pick and choose which events to attend as they rush across London. Keeping the interest of the trade, and enticing them to attend your tasting is an important factor to consider when planning an event.
On September 13th, The Mercado Chileno tasting took place at The Old Truman Brewery in East London. This saw 52 wineries gather and showcase over 400 wines to the UK trade. It was a tricky day, as temperatures soared in the capital to an unseasonably high of 31 degrees. This made the task of keeping wines chilled, and tasters comfortable all the harder. I found some very good wines on offer, and wines that I hadn’t tasted before (see notes at end of the article). In fact, I didn’t taste many bad wines at all, they were all very solid indeed – many tending towards lower alcohol levels and a fresher style than in years gone by. This is a positive step forward, and it’s great to see that producers are increasingly focussing on drinkability and subtlety. For that they must be commended, and over all I was impressed with what I tasted.
However there was something missing from the tasting and sadly it’s an all too familiar story. It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t challenging, it was safely in the comfort zone.
This has been a constant problem for Chile over the years, and for it’s reputation in the UK wine trade. For many years the truth is that Chile just wasn’t particularly exciting, it arguably had more potential than any other country in the world, but failed to capitalise on this.
However, here’s the most frustrating thing: Chile IS exciting, at the moment Chile’s wine scene is vibrant, brimming with fascinating projects, ideas and a fresh approach and attitudes. Whilst there were several wines and side projects at the Mercado Chileno that hinted at this (Bouchon Pais Salvaje, Ricardo Baettig’s Creole amongst others) largely they were absent from the London tasting.
I know and understand why they were absent – they can’t afford to be there, they are not part of Wines of Chile, and they probably don’t have representation here in the UK. However, these innovators are key to changing the perception of Chile in the minds of the UK trade, they NEED to be seen, and their presence would benefit the whole of the Chilean wine trade. Chile needs to showcase this exciting side, it needs to show that it can compete with South Africa (the current darling of the UK wine trade), Australia and California amongst others. It needs to show that there are people embracing the rich vinous history of the country, as well as pushing the boundaries. This buzz of excitement is what is needed to engage with the disillusioned sommeliers and journalists, and regenerate the Chilean category, specifically the on-trade.
I am all too aware that a handful of sommeliers and journalists will not drive a huge increase in volume sales, neither will these niche small production wines – but the trickle down effect will benefit the larger wineries in the long run. Engagement through innovation, history and quirkiness, will bring the focus back to Chile and will in turn highlight the positive steps taken by the larger wineries and their volume wines in recent years. It is this lack of vision, the failure to acknowledge that the quirky, fun and innovative small projects are instrumental in repositioning Chile’s image, and increasing it’s appeal that is currently holding Chile back.
The sooner this is realised the better. Chile is exciting, it’s just that nobody in the UK knows about it yet.
Several wines of note included:
Errazuriz, “Aconcagua Costa” Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – a superbly pure and delicate wine, lean tight and mineral.
Koyle, Costa “Cuarzo” Sauvignon 2016, from Paredones in Colchagua was another gem, an understated and aromatically distinct Sauvignon, showing spice and tension.
J Bouchon País Salvaje 2016, Maule – Supreme drinkability, light and fresh with just the right amount of grippy tannins.
Tamaya, T Limited Release Carmenere 2012, Limarí – intense dark fruits and ground coffee with a cool refreshing palate, no greenness – very well managed tannins.
Morandé, Creole 2015 (País/Cinsault), Itata – Crunchy fresh red fruits, with herbal notes and zippy acidity.
By Alistair Cooper, Correspondant in UK