There is a warm place in Irish hearts for Chile and vice versa. Ireland’s connection was forged when Bernardo O’Higgins liberated Chile from Imperial Spain in the early 1800s.
Chile is a country of extremes. The 4,000 km long (think Norway to the Nile) and over 150 km wide corridor-like country is flanked by the chilly coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the ice capped Andes Mountains bordering with Argentina to the east and topped by the earth’s driest desert, the Atacama to the north and the Antarctica freezing waters at the south.
Two factors help the grapes and their skins develop more intense flavours and aromatics: the diurnal range between daytime and night time temperatures has a marked variation coupled with the powerful sunshine’s rays through the thinner ozone layer over Chile.
Grapes with cool characters, such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (as well as the very versatile Chardonnay) prefer the areas near the Pacific coast cooled by the Antarctic’s chilled Humboldt sea current. Favoured regions are Leyda, Limarí, the western part of Aconcagua, Casablanca and San Antonio. The most southerly district of Bio-Bio has more exposure from the sea and is ideal for producing crisp sparkling wines and some accomplished elegant dry Rieslings.
Limarí is particularly exciting and proves terroir is not the preserve of Europe. Two examples below show the stark contrast in styles between Talinay’s Chardonnay grown in Chile’s only limestone soils, giving a distinct salty minerality. In contrast with nearby Undurraga’s Chardonnay which has alluvial gravel soil giving a riper fruity character.
The damp Camanchaca fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean brings much needed moisture and slows down the grapes ripening period. With less than 10 cm of rainfall a year, the vines are forced to dig their roots deep into the mineral-rich soil giving a distinct minerally note to the wines’ character.
Few grapes can better convert into aromas and flavours the personality of the vineyard’s soil, the local climate and the winemaker’s skills than Chardonnay. Always dry, its styles vary from full-bodied and ripe peaches and cream in hotter climates to restrained and lean, lemon, green apple and refreshing in cooler climates.
Sauvignon Blanc’s perky and bright character is one of our favourite grape varietal wines, unfussy and unpretentious. It is a celebration of green with aromas of freshly mowed grass, pea pods, asparagus or gooseberries and refreshing mouth-watering flavours of green apples and limes.
Pinot Noir’s delicate and thin skins are very sensitive to excessive heat, requiring a cool climate to allow its grapes to ripen slowly. Usually pale in colour and light in tannins, its distinctive bouquet, when mature, often has a certain organic earthiness and savoury meaty character.
Outside Europe, the word Reserva has no official meaning. It implies the winemaker considers the wine to be extra special and sometimes ages it in new expensive oak casks for added character and spice.
Although Chile has been making wine since its earlier history as a Spanish colony from the 1600s, these cooler coastal regions are relatively new to wine culture and are still at the exciting experimenting phase of endless possibilities. Go explore some of the best Chilean wines from cool regions.
Riesling Reserva 2013, Emiliana
13.5% ABV – Valle del Bio-Bio, Chile
€13.95 – Available at Searson’s, Martin’s, Fairview; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; O’Donovan’s, Cork and Morton’s, Galway
Clean and wet slate bouquet with lime zest. Quintessential Riesling in the fuller bodied and totally dry style. A mineral tang to underpin the tangerine and lime fruit, zesty and well integrated citrusy acidity.
Food friend: a caramelised onion tart topped with grilled goat’s cheese
Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2017, Exquisite Collection
13% ABV – Valle de Leyda, Chile
€8.99 – Available at Aldi stores nationwide
Hint of gooseberry with elderflower and lemon zesty scents. Intense flavours of sappy green fruits, apples, limes and gooseberries. As refreshing and tingling as a cold shower.
Food friend: made for a risotto verde, greened with fresh asparagus, peas and spinach, prawns optional.
Chardonnay 2014, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Talinay
13.5% ABV – Tabali, Limari Valley
€19.95 – Available at Whelehans, Loughlinstown
A terroir-driven style. Distinct mineral scents. Assertive salty attack on the entry highlighting an accent of the limestone vineyard. Creamy in texture. Persistent crisp acidity and medium bodied with a salted cracker finish.
Food friend: chicken marinated in light soy sauce with ginger and fried rice.
Chardonnay 2014, TH (Terroir Hunter), Undurraga
13.5% ABV – West Limari, Chile
€23 – Available at Nolan’s, Clontarf and WineOnLine.ie
Vanilla cream and toasty aromas echoing the partial fermentation in toasted French oak barrels. The vanilla spice is mirrored on the palate. Elegant and restrained in a Puligny-Montrachet Burgundian style.
Food friend: serve simple roast chicken with a herby and lemony stuffing.
Chardonnay 2013, Single Vineyard Falaris Hill, Leyda
14% ABV – Leyda Valley
€16.95 – Available at O’Brien’s nationwide
Golden colour highlights ageing in French oak barrels. Ripe melon and white pepper aromas and a full bodied palate with lemon and yellow skinned apple fruit. Lingering peppery finish.
Food friend: partner with a pork and pineapple curry.
Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Macarena
14% ABV – Valle de Aconcagua
€17.99 – Available in Dublin at Donnybrook Fair; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide roads; Red Island, Skerries and WineOnline.ie
Youthful red berry fruity aromas with floral musk roses. Full-bodied with an oaky, spicy note underpinning the red berry fruity palate.
Food friend: serve with baked salmon and steamed carrots, fried briefly in butter with cumin seeds.
Pinot Noir 2014, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Talinay
13.5% ABV – Tabali, Limari Valley
€22.95 – Available at Whelehans, Loughlinstown
Delicious palate with silky smooth texture.
Red berry fruits and gentle supple tannins, integrated in a harmonious whole.
Food friend: match with lamb rogan josh or snack with a ripe Brie.
Pinot Noir 2015, Montes Limited Selection
14% ABV – Aconcagua Costa, Chile
€17.99 – Available at Baggot Street Wines; Fresh; Grapevine, Redmond’s, Jus de Vine, JJ O’Driscoll’s (Cork) and WineOnline.ie
Fruity fragrance of red berries and cherries drizzled with caramel. Delicious red cranberry fruits spiked with white pepper spiciness. Full-bodied and crisp.
Food friend: roast partridge with sausage, clove & cinnamon stuffing.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.