Not the clumsy flavor bombs of old, but a lighter, more elegant and more food-friendly crowd.
And it’s a good thing, says top Chilean winemaker Francisco Baettig. That also goes for Argentina, Australia and South Africa.
Baettig knows. He’s head winemaker for Errazuriz, mother brand of Arboleda and Caliterra as well as the iconic Sena and Vinedo Chadwick.
“I usually harvest a month ahead of most wineries,” he explains. And that's because earlier-harvested wines taste and age better because they’re more balanced.
“The key is managing the vine canopy. I don’t prune the leaves, so I protect the grapes from excess sunlight. Also we irrigate less, so there’s lower sugar in the fruit and less alcohol in the finished wine. Heavy irrigation was used in the past to make big, powerful wines.”
In northern Chile, Francisco points out, there’s little water but there's no lack in the centre, the south and on the coast where more winemakers are growing vines. In these cooler areas, you can dry-farm (without irrigation) – especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – because there’s enough rain.
“It can take a lifetime to see fundamental changes in wine-making but Chile’s moving very fast. There’s a huge improvement in quality and style. We have better plant material than 15 years ago: better clones, better vines, and planting them in the right areas.
“We're still a young industry, only 25-30 years old, and I’m happy with what we’ve done. The small producers are very terroir-driven and they push the big producers to improve.
“The big guys still export on volume/price mainly to supermarket chains. The small guys sell to wine shops and on-trade and restaurants at better prices.
“Chile has to export because we don’t have a strong domestic high-value market. We used to export lots of cheap wines because we could, but today you can’t keep doing that.
“Our challenge now is to be recognized for our high-quality rather than volume wines. Informed consumers recognize our icon wines but most are aware only of the value-priced wines. As they learn more they start to understand. But that takes time.
The icon wines from Errazuriz are the Bordeaux-style Don Maximiano ($84.95); Syrah-based La Cumbre (89.95); Carmenere-driven KAI ($149.95) and the 100% Cabernet Vinedo Chadwick ($249.95), all rated at a stellar 95 points or higher, at the LCBO Vintages shop online.
Chadwick and Sena were judged one and two in the Berlin Tasting of 2004 tasted blind by European experts against the most famous wines in the world.
Aside from the icons, not to be missed are the super-value Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, $13.95; Sauvignon Blanc, $16.95; and Pinot Noir, $24.95
“Canada is our number one market, then the UK, then Asia as a whole. It’s 60/40 reds and whites, especially Chardonnay. In Canada, Chile's image is better than in the UK – partly because of the price cutting by the British supermarkets," adds Francisco.
Chile’s 2017 harvest was a month early in some regions, with high temperatures and low yields. Coastal regions were spared but inland was hit by drought and wild fires that burned 500,000 hectares and claimed 11 lives.