There is a narrative about Chilean wine that most oenophiles are familiar with: the Spanish arrived and planted grapes during colonial times. Then jump to the 19th century, numerous European winemakers fled after the ravaging phylloxera devastated their vineyards. Work, work, work and boom! Chilean wine became massive in the eighties and nineties, flooding global shelves with bottles that appealed to the lowest common denominator.
Nowadays, quality and cutting edge technology are reverting the trend and offering amazing bottles at unbelievable value.
But in all the positivity of this amalgamation of success stories, there is a uniformity that doesn’t make justice to those who walk an alternative path to accomplishment. We recently met Sebastian De Martino during a tasting held at Green Man Wines in Terenure. He’s part of the fourth generation of a family with a solid history of winemaking in Chile, who is leading the boutique winery’s adventure into the remote Itata Valley.
“Look, in Chile there are wines that are not very exciting, but they serve a purpose because they bring consumers towards Chilean wine. But then there are also very exciting wines, gastronomic and with a rich history”, as Sebastian acknowledges the importance of the mainstream, he adds that at De Martino, they’ve always done things differently.
Chile’s Valley of Opportunity
His family arrived from Italy to Chile’s Maipo Valley in 1934 and among their pioneering badges he highlights how they were the first to label a Carmenere, nowadays regarded as one of the country’s flagship varietals. Sebastian’s contribution to the De Martino’s history of innovation involves one of Chile’s most unique terroirs.
The family owns 280 hectares in different parts of Chile, 20 of them in Itata. “We bought them in 2014, and they have some of Itata’s oldest vineyards, some were planted in 1905”, he explains. Regarding the grape varieties, Cinsault, Corinto Nero, Muscat and País are among the palette of choice.
In Itata, 500 km South of Santiago and with a cooler, rainier climate influenced by the Pacific Ocean, grapes that thrive up north are an oddity. While the region was one of the first parts of the country to be planted with grapes in the 16th century, it remains relatively obscure and it’s definitively not a valley you’ll find in labels resting on the shelf of your local convenience store.
An Eye Opening Trip to Georgia
“The De Martino team is small, we’re four people, and once a year we go on a technical trip to learn something new”, Sebastian recalls how traveling to Georgia in 2012 inspired him and filled him with ideas.
“We saw the way they work with clay amphorae and we wanted to understand it. Historically, all wines in Chile used to be made in tinajas -Spanish for this recipient- and while I believe we’re currently the only ones using them, there are more producers on the way.” After researching about the use of Qvevri, the large fermenting vessels used in Georgia to ferment wines, Sebastian began a quest to source clay vessels around Chile which now he has restored and uses in the winery.
“Our concept of Chilean wine is different from what it’s known in Ireland”, he points out that they prioritise a “sense of belonging to the place”, and for that, they farm organically and apply minimum intervention principles in the winery.
With the family’s motto being “Reinventing Chile“, Sebastian and the De Martino team might not fit the narrative that defines Chilean wine’s current success but they’re part of it.
When many went hi-tech, they researched ancestral methods in Georgia; when many planted Syrah and Pinot Noir, they resorted to centennial Cinsault vines; and when many divided and conquered in the central region, they went south. It pays to be different and at De Martino, the reward comes in the shape of unique, elegant wines that dance to their own beat.
De Martino Gallardía Cinsault DO Itata
€17.95 (on offer from €19.95 during April 2017) – Available at O’Briens Wine and independent off licences
This organic red is a gentle and smooth example of a very different side of Chile.
Juicy red berries and cranberries with a delicate floral presence make a promise on the nose which the wine delivers on the palate.
Smooth and with mild tannins, it feels balanced and silky, elegant and lively.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.