Chilean Holiday Special: Wine

Time to celebrate 18 September.
Time to celebrate 18 September.

First things first, what is the big deal with 18th September in Chile?

For anyone new to Chile, the Fiestas Patrías come as quite a surprise. This is the biggest holiday in the Chilean calendar – apart from New Year – and many people use it as an excuse to take up to a week’s holiday and to show a sudden burst of national fervour.  Flags go up everywhere, people hang red, white and blue bunting all over their homes and start dancing Chile’s national dance, the cueca or listening to their choice of Chilean music.  But most of all, people eat, drink and get very, very merry.

On 18 September 1810, the First Assembly of the Government gathered to proclaim autonomy from Spain, the first step along the road to making Chile an independent country. This is the date on which Chile celebrate its independence each year. On 19 September, Chile celebrates the Glories of the Chilean Army.  So this is a double public holiday, which is sometimes extended by an extra day to make a long weekend.

Much-loved choripanes (sausages in bread rolls)
Much-loved choripanes (sausages in bread rolls)
Classic fare for 18 September: red meat and salad.
Classic fare for 18 September: red meat and salad.

I asked a number of friends what they considered to be a great way of celebrating the 18th of September. It was interesting to see how varied the results were. Some people prefer to go out to organized events, one person voted for street parties, while for other people, it’s all about a relaxed barbecue with family and friends. Everyone does agree about one thing: that it’s a time to eat and drink till you drop.


This is robust food with lots of red meat, bread with pebre and salads.  This weekend I had a marathon cooking session with friend and neighbour Loreto Fuchslocher Arancibia and you can check out the following recipes:

Happy Fiestas Patrias!
Happy Fiestas Patrias!


Any red wine with good tannins will be fine with a barbecue, so you could opt for Carménère, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc or Carignan, to name but a few.  However, the most popular wine for 18th September is Cabernet Sauvignon, so my suggestions are for that variety.

Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Intense purple. A lovely nose; vanilla and cedar and just bursting with ripe fruit – cassis, blueberries, plums. Put me in mind of blackberry and apple pie. A nice, chewy wine with lovely ripe tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Great for a nice chunk of red meat.

Miguel Torres Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Central Valley

Shy on opening, a touch of spice with blackcurrants and other fruits. Very pleasant and well-rounded in the mouth.  This was the wine we paired with the homemade bread, pebre and sausages we made during our epic cooking session to check the recipes for this guide and it went down very nicely.

Apaltagua Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo

This is a lean, elegant and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of fennel and liquorice in amongst the fruit. High acidity, nicely balanced body, good length. Would work well with a highly flavoured meat dish, such as lamb or game.

Koyle Royale Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Intense, fruit first, then the spices (vanilla, cinnamon, a touch of menthol). Lovely mouthfeel, tooth-coating tannins, pleasant acidity, very fresh.

Happy Chilean Wine Day!

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoThis Friday 4 September 2015 has been declared National Chilean Wine Day, which is to become an annual event.  The day was chosen because on 4 September 1545, Pedro de Valdivia, the Governor of Chile, wrote to King Charles V of Spain to ask him to send vines and wines “to evangelize Chile”.  This marked the very beginning of Chilean wine production. Today, 470 years later, Chile is a major wine producer, exporting more than 824 million litres per year.

A whole range of events have been organized right across Chile in honour of this day. Some wineries are offering free tours to the public, including the following (check first for availability):

Whatever you are doing over this weekend, this is the perfect excuse to raise a glass of Chilean wine!

The story begins in 1939, when central Chile was hit by an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people died and many livelihoods were lost, including those involved in the local wine industry. As part of its plan to help farmers get back on their feet following this disaster, the Ministry of Agriculture brought some French Carignan cuttings to Chile, with the idea of blending Carignan with Chile’s traditional wine grape, País, to produce red wines with greater colour, body and freshness. Farmers planted these vines in the traditional way, in blocks of free-standing bushes (gobelet-style) and they did not water them.

The years passed, viticulture moved on to favour neat lines of wire-trained international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and winemakers turned their backs on these rustically grown and seemingly uncommercial varieties. Then, in the 1990s, a handful of winemakers began to experiment with wines made from these old, dry-farmed Carignan grapes with outstanding results.

It turns out that the granitic, quartz-rich soils in the Maule region are ideal for Carignan, which also thrives on the climatic conditions. The winter rain gives the plants all the water they need. In the summer, the days are hot and the bush formation means that the leaves shade the grapes from the searing sun. The nights are cool and this slows down the ripening process, ensuring even greater concentration in the grapes.

All of these conditions result in low yields of concentrated red grapes which make exciting, medium to full-bodied and fruity wines with good acidity

Recognizing the potential of this very special wine, a group of wineries joined forces to develop an interesting wine marketing strategy. The name they came up with was “Vigno”, based on the Spanish word for wine (vino) with the “g” from Carignan inserted in the middle. Vigno is at the same time an association of wineries, a brand and a self-styled AOC.

To be able to label a bottle of wine “Vigno”, at least 65% of the blend must be from dry-farmed, bush-trained Carignan vines which are at least 30 years old and located in the Maule region. The other 35% can be any other variety of grape grown in Maule, so long as the Carignan character is not lost. The wines must be aged for at least 2 years prior to release.

These are mostly robust, acidic and fruity wines which pair well with strongly flavoured dishes featuring red meat and tomatoes. Try it with tomato-based dishes, like spaghetti Bolognese or sausage and tomato casserole or check out my recipe for Carne Mechada.

Miguel Torres Cordillera Vigno 2009: Intense, inky purple. Sour cherry nose with prunes underpinned by liquorice, bitter chocolate and a racy minerality. Teeth-coating, acidic cherry mouth with medium body and a long finish. Exciting.

De Martino Vigno 2008: Austere, cherry nose with a mouth-filling sweet jammy palate. Long in the finish. Very nice.

Odjfell Vigno 2010: Intense ruby. Cherry and raspberry nose peppered with spices. Fruity with astringent tannins and plenty of body.

Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2010: Intense earthy purple. Smoky nose with red fruit. Racy and smooth, with that delicious sour cherry and smoke following through into the finish.

Other producers of Vigno: Alcance, Garcia Schwaderer, De Martino, El Viejo Almacén, Garage Wine Co., Gillmore, Lapostolle, Lomas de Cauquenes, Meli, Undurraga, Valdivieso, Viña Roja