Descorchados: Uncorking Chilean Wine

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  • By Renée Lorraine
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Descorchados: Uncorking Chilean Wine

Admittedly we’ve never been great ambassador of Chilean wines. You may notice our South American section jam-packed with Argentine Malbec, but you’ll have to dig deep to find a single Chilean Carmenere or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Admittedly we’ve never been great ambassador of Chilean wines.  You may notice our South American section jam-packed with Argentine Malbec, but you’ll have to dig deep to find a single Chilean Carmenere or Cabernet Sauvignon. In my experience, the most widely available wines in the market tend to represent quantity over quality, and don’t align with our buying philosophy.  We taste and evaluate wines from Chile fairly frequently, and for the reds especially there is one word that often crosses my mind, unkempt. Like an untucked shirt or five o’clock shadow, they just never look, or taste, their best. I believe they can and should do better.

When we examine the geography of South America, viticulture is a natural fit, the perfect environment for producing fine wine. There are four important barriers that surround and protect the wine regions of Chile, allowing for high quality grapes and regional diversity:To the north is the Atacama Desert, reportedly the driest on Earth. Ancient glaciers border in the south, while the Andes Mountains stand tall to the east, and the vast Pacific Ocean gently cools from the west.  Additionally, long hours of sunshine, extreme day to night temperature shifts, dry weather during the ripening season and fresh irrigation water boost the potential for making world class wine.

The Spanish word “Descorchados” means uncorked. Interestingly it is also the closest translation to the name of our shop, Unwined.  A longtime friend of the store and professor of Chilean history taught me this fun fact upon returning from a recent trip to South America. He also shared some notes from his copy of Mesa de Cata: Guia de Vinos de Chile, the preeminent guide to the best wines of Chile. That same afternoon,  two or three hours later, the Director of North American Sales for Viña Errazuriz, Rodrigo Rodero walked in the door with six new releases from the winery.  Mr. Rodero picked the perfect day to visit, pulling one great wine after another from his bag  – Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauv Blanc, Chard, Pinot Noir, Carmenere, Cab and the Don Maximiano premium blend –there wasn’t a flunkee in the bunch. Suddenly feeling energized about the quality of Chilean wine, I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon picking his brain, pestering “what distinguishes the best in Chile from the rest, and why are so many producers underperforming compared to Viña Errazuriz?” Sadly we only had time for the short answer, one of dollars and cents: The average FOB price (acronym for price before the buyer’s transportation costs) for Chile’s top wineries is around $60 per case, while the “others” are in the $28-$30 range. That’s a response I can wrap my head around. Rather than blaming the wineries for responding to an increasing demand for wallet-friendly wine, perhaps it’s our US importers that should adjust their standards and priorities when it comes to sourcing Chilean wine. Seems we’re stuck in a rut.

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