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Chilean wine has just got cooler

The poet John Keats described autumn as the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". Last night it was raining, but there was mellow fruitfulness in abundance at a small dinner party in The Cellar Restaurant of the Merrion Hotel.

Guest of honour was winemaker Francisco Baetigg, of the Chilean producer Vina Errazuriz, who brought with him some of the company's icon wines: the Kai Carmenere, the Don Maximiano Founder's Reserve Cabernet, the La Cumbre Syrah (pictured below) and the very limited production Vinedo Chadwick, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere blend.

We kicked off with a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that contradicted all my preconceptions about Chile's use of this popular grape variety. Francisco was refreshingly candid: "A few years ago there was a lot of Sauvignonasse (an inferior cousin) around. Some people took it for Sauvignon Blanc, some didn't care. It was wine you didn't think much about."

The subsequent change in quality has been dramatic. The Sauvignonasse has been grubbed up and the wineries have re-planted with Sauvignon Blanc in cooler locations near the coast where there is a longer growing season with late ripening to enhance the flavours, intensity and concentration. The one we tasted was lovely -- firm, ripe fruit allied to good backbone and restrained minerality, with a total absence of abrasive green pepper. At around €16.95 retail, it would give many high-end Kiwi Sauvignons a run for their money.


I got on another of my hobby horses, what I call 'Merlot soup'. Francisco opined that the problem was being solved, again by moving Merlot into cooler areas and by using better clones. Much the same thing is happening currently with Pinot Noir.

Between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, Chile enjoys a Mediterranean climate which, together with diverse soils and a variety of local microclimates makes it possible to make quality wine.

Moving on to the iconic reds there was no doubt that the impact and presence of all four was truly impressive and everyone at the table had their personal favourite. Typically, I had a soft spot for the Syrah in which a spicy impactful Rhone-like nose segued gradually into a sweet Barossa finish, Old World-meets-New. I also favoured the brooding intensity of the Don Maximiano.

Eduardo Chadwick, President of Vina Errazuriz, was probably the first person to put Chilean winemaking on the world stage with the 'Berlin Tasting' in January 2004. Thirty-six of Europe's most respected wine journalists, writers and buyers met in Berlin to blind taste 16 wines -- six Chilean, six French and four Italian from the 2000 and 2001 vintages. Vinedo Chadwick 2000 was placed first ahead of the Sena 2001 (a partnership between Errazuriz and California's Mondavi). Chateau Lafite 2000 came third.

The event has since been repeated and Chile's top wines have always showed credibly.