Experimentation in Chile

When thinking about wines made from wild vines, amphora experimentalists and almost ‘natural’ fermentations, Anthony Tindal isn’t immediately seen as the flag waving follower of these more radical styles. Yet, new to our list are a number of small production parcels of wine from the outreaches of Chile, made by adventurous, educated winemakers looking to inject a bit of life into the Chilean wine trade and show the world that, while house wines remain the mainstay of Chilean production on export markets; there are many more strings to their bow.

We had a selection of these wines open to taste at our recent Portfolio Tasting. It was a popular table with the different varieties and mineral led density surprising a number of people. It was the first time I’d had a chance to try these wines. Having discussed their origins with the father I was half expecting a worm or two in the bottom of one or explosions of CO2 lining the receptacle upon pouring. Save one or two slightly ‘out-there’ labels, all wines stood present and correct in the tasting. What struck me about these wines was the lifted acid structure despite the obviously ripe fruit that was streamlined by a strong band of minerality for many. Two that stuck out for me were the Kingston Family Tobiano Pinot Noir and the little heard of Chilena from Bodegas El Viejo Almacen de Sauzal. Below you’ll find a little bit about each winery.

Kingston Family – Casablanca Valley.

Despite being a long-standing family winery in terms of the Chilean wine industry, Kingston Family vineyards is now recognised as “among the best wineries in Chile” (Stephen Tanzer) and named Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine. You realise that their reputation for Pinot Noir is no coincidence when you hear them talk about the different blocks encompassing several clones treated carefully to a 5 day cold soak, natural fermentations in open top tanks and a highly skilled technician; their winemaker Amael Orrego.

John and Janet Kingston who left the US for Chile in 1940. Raising five children on The Farm in the 40s and 50s

John and Janet Kingston who left the US for Chile in 1940. Raising five children on The Farm in the 40s and 50s

Viña Tipaume – Alto Cachapoal

A howling wolf decorates the labels of these wines, the words ‘artisan’ and ‘biodynamic’ drift across their homepage. It’s a relaxed but dedicated team that work at Tipaume. Completely natural in their winemaking practices with no machinery and minimum intervention the amphora filled cellar under the family house yields extraordinarily complex wines. There is a limit to how much you can produce this way and with current trends demand is high, hence availability is very low. Our advice; try now before it’s too late….

Yves Pouzet and his family at Viña Tipaume.

Yves Pouzet and his family at Viña Tipaume.

Vultur – Colchagua Valley

Named after Vultur Gryphus aka the Condor, a bird that soars over the Andes these wines certainly hit great heights with mineral core and longevity on the finish that is the perfect illustration of the work that owner/winemaker pair Daniel and Alejandra Miranda do here. They produce a Carignan and Camenere/Petit Verdot, signature grapes matched perfectly to the vineyards.

A condor flying over the Andes

A condor flying over the Andes

Vinedos de Alcohuaz – Elqui Valley

At 2000 metres this is extreme viticulture at its best. In the wilds, on its own. A pioneer of a vineyard discovering new soils and climes on the far reaches of Chile’s Elqui Valley. Syrah dominant blends here excel with the wide diurnal range and cooling effects of altitude. This article in Decanter captures the magic of this adventure perfectly.

Anthony surveying the extremes of the Chilean landscape

Anthony surveying the extremes of the Chilean landscape

Andes Plateau – Elqui and Maipo Valleys

I met winemaker Felipe 5 years ago when introduced to a forward thinking band of experimentalists in Chile through the producer led group MOVI. His wines were good then, they’re better now. A French man looking for finesse in Chile.. he’s managed to rein in the life and vibrance of the vineyards to produce a blend that defines high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from this country. At 700m above sea level “it’s all about the altitude”.

Felipe Uribe enjoying his wine.

Felipe Uribe enjoying his wine.

Bodegas El Viejo Almacén de Sauzal – Maule Valley

Fifth generation Cancino; Renán has lived in Sauzal in the Maule Valley all his life. Having spent the beginnings of his winemaking career as a conformist in oenology, making “good, clean wines”, the earthquake of 2010 changed everything. Determined to keep the spirit of their destroyed village alive Renán made wine with what little instruments were left over in the carnage. This minimal intervention created a style that Renán had never even considered before. A wine that made itself. This is the avenue that he now follows and his Cariñena and little heard of Chilena are the perfect models of modern less invasive Chilean winemaking. Old vines, rocky slopes and history shine through these wines.

Renán Cancino (by Monty Waldin)

Renán Cancino (by Monty Waldin)

Flaherty Wines – Aconcagua Valley

Hit the link for the website here and you’d never suspect an Irish connection!! Ed Flaherty and Jen Hoover are two Californians who came to Chile in 1993. I met them on my trip 5 years ago and was enthralled by tales of true garage winemaking with a plastic tub in their garage and the uprooted lawn making way for vines in their garden.  The label reflects the eccentricities of these two, the wine does not. A serious Syrah/Cabernet/Tempranillo blend with fantastic structure and depth. There must be some thing in how he waters the vines 😉

Ed and Jen of Flaherty Wines

We’re not going to shed our clothes and start tattooing constellations of the stars on our chests, but there certainly is something to be said for small production, thoughtful winemaking. Wines truelly made from the soils, using methods taken from centuries ago. There’s no definition of natural wines, it’s not a term to be relied upon. In our eyes these wines manage to encompass the vineyard expression and life more than most, the passion put into their production and non-interventionist attitudes of the winemakers involved mean that these wines will interest those of you on a more natural theme. Enjoy!

*All of these wines are available now, though in very limited quantities.

Here’s a selection of photos taken by Anthony from his trip there in March last year.

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