This is my first time ever visit to Chile. I can’t tell you too much about it, except that it is earthquake prone, Pinochet was in charge once, and a once prosperous turnaround is tilting on the fulcrum of growth and failure. That having been said, I don’t know what to expect out of it. I can only guess to that end. What I’m hoping for, is breathtaking views of the Andes, incredible ceviche, and delicious wines that make me go “wow.” I’m flying down there in July, so there are no beaches in which to get a tan. No guys in Speedos, or women in string bikinis. July is the height of Chile’s winter, so instead of suntans, we may get snow, which is fine to me, considering that Northern Virginia was in the mid 90’s when I left.
To understand Chilean wine history better, we should take a step back to France and the mid-1800’s. Carmenere (named so after its Crimson appearance) was a star in the now Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominated vineyards of Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon was arguably a new grape, although the similarities to Carmenere were close enough that Cabernet Sauvignon was originally called “Petit Vidure (Carmenere was also known as “Grand Vidure”).” Carmenere was one of the “Bordeaux Six.” There was seemingly no limit for how popular Bordeaux wine was, with Carmenere and its quintet at the healm. Little did vignerons realize that there were two enemies of Carmenere on the horizon: cold weather, and a tiny bug.
With the combination of cooler winters and the bug known as phylloxera savagely consuming vines, Carmenere took a harsh beating, harsh enough that most vignerons pulled almost all of the Carmenere, never to return. That is until a mistake taken on a ship to the New World reared its head with a “different” name.
Carmenere was planted in the New World under a different name: Merlot. As a matter of fact, it was only speculation that Cermenere immigrated to the New World, specifically, Chile. Until the 1990’s, Carmenere was still called Merlot, but something was different… This “Merlot” was smoky and seductive and found favor in the foothills of the Andes. Chile had a wine.
I’m hoping that we find incredible Carmenere, but that is just the tip of the iceberg, with its former bandmates, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot in tow (with more acres planted. Almost FIVE times!). Malbec tried to make it there, but was diverted on the way and took up roots in Argentina. There are also wines like Chardonnay that is crisp, and Sauvignon Blanc that is hard to understand until you pair it with seafood.
This is a different trip. This isn’t like last year in Italy, where generations going back to the days of Julius Caesar were enamored with the vine. This is fairly new. I’m interested to see how both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains play their roles in making Chile’s wines so good.
To be continued…