People often ask me why Chile? What was it that made me fall in love with this country to the extent that I decided to come and live here? Of course it isn’t easy to pin down what it is that enriches a country and makes it a great place to live but, in my case, the food and wine here were certainly a major element. Going to the open-air fruit and vegetable markets here is mind-blowing for those of us accustomed to the more modestly stocked market stalls in our own countries and the bog-standard, over-packaged, unappetizing and expensive fare available in the supermarkets. And all those great wines at such affordable prices that you don’t have to think twice!
10 years on and I’m still loving the ability to buy copious quantities of succulent, ripe fruit and vegetables. Mouth-watering tomatoes, lush apricots and peaches, creamy avocadoes, crisp lettuce, celery that actually tastes of something and – well, the list goes on and on. Right now, the orange season is winding down and the first strawberries are arriving. Time to make jam again!
So why does Chile have such great ingredients? Well, as it is such a long country, Chile has an unusually varied range of climates, which means it can produce a very wide range of crops – such as the Chilean (or mountain) papaya in the arid north, citrus fruit, avocadoes, olives and vines in the pleasant Mediterranean conditions in the long central part of the country and a wide range of berries (raspberries, blueberries etc.) in the cooler central-south area, to name just a few. As Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons mirror those in the north: apples, grapes and avocadoes are in season here right when they are in short supply in Europe, Asia or North America.
But, Chile has a few other advantages too. It has some of the most transparent skies on Earth and possesses some of the world’s most significant freshwater reserves. Natural barriers at all four compass points protect Chile, converting it into a phytosanitary island, thereby reducing the incidence of pests and diseases. And fewer threats means less need for chemicals. Indeed organic and biodynamic production are growing here.
Chilean producers are exporting more food and drink products than ever before. Chile’s olive oil is so good, it even exports it to EU countries that are themselves olive oil producers! And most of its honey goes to Germany, where consumers appreciate its high quality. Chile is, in fact, the world’s biggest exporter of fresh blueberries, grapes, cherries, prunes, dried apples, frozen whole salmon and mussels and the second biggest exporter of shelled walnuts, fresh plums, fresh salmon fillet and unshelled almonds.
Chile’s export development agency ProChile is spearheading a new campaign called Foods from Chile to tell the world about the range of high-quality products Chile is now exporting. To find out more, visit their website.
A petite Chilean woman, there is just a hint of French elegance in the way that Alejandra Gutiérrez expresses herself as she shows me around the Loma Larga winery in the renowned Casablanca Valley. A throwback to ancestral genes perhaps or maybe when she studied French and English at university, some subtle aspect of Frenchness lodged itself in her manner.
As we stroll over the living roof of the cellar, a gently sloping dome planted with vines and roses, she warms to her theme, showing me the VSP-trained Pinot Noir vines and the drip-irrigation system.
I’ve known Alejandra for several years as we both work in wine translations. I ask her how her initial interest developed into a passion and how this brought her to work here at Loma Larga.
“I’ve always felt especially attracted to French culture, literature and traditions. I think perhaps that is where the first seed was sown. It began when I decided to specialise in wine translations, to give me another string to my bow. I began to translate for some Chilean wineries and decided to do a sommelier course. Of course, having started, I continued through the full three years of coursework and took the exams and I hope to qualify as a professional sommelier this year. And the more I study, the more I realise that this world of wine is enormous and expanding. No matter how much you study, there is always more to be discovered. But the most important thing is to look, smell, taste, touch and experiment. And that is why I decided to work in a winery. I’ve been here for four years now, working as a sommelier and tourism manager. Here I am able to go into the vineyards, work shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues and learn. I have adjusted to the rhythm of the vineyard, the dormancy of winter, the beauty of spring, the crazy pace of harvest time. I feel that with each year that passes, the vines are becoming more and more at one with the terroir and I am too.”
As we enter the main winery building with its state-of-the-art stainless steel vats, Alejandra explains to me the winery’s philosophy of drawing out the fruit expression in their mainly single varietal cool climate wines; wines which are gaining increasing recognition in international markets. They harvested some of the Cabernet Franc grapes just a few hours ago and they are now macerating in an open vat. Nearby a man in navy overalls is hosing down the yard. As she talks me through the process, I ask Alejandra how she learned so much.
“I love reading. In fact I suffer because I don’t have more time to read. And where I used to read novels, now I read books about wine. My latest purchase is one of the Bibles of the wine world, theWorld Atlas of Wine by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Jonhson. I keep it on my bedside table.”
We enter the cool, cloistered environment of the cellar and walk among the barrels. Loma Larga uses exclusively French barrels but experiments with different brands, toasts and sizes. She explains to me that one of the winery’s two lines, Lomas del Valle, consists of unoaked wines, designed to reveal the full, unadulterated fruit of each variety, while the Loma Larga line is oak-aged to produce a more complex wine.
We blink as we head out of the cool, dark womb into the bright sunlight and head to a shaded veranda to start our tasting. It is quiet, but for the gentle rustling of the nearby Eucalyptus trees in the breeze. Somewhere a bird starts singing. This is not one of those industrial-style wineries bustling with a different group of tourists every hour. There is no sound of mechanisation, no distant roar of cars to spoil the illusion that you are far away from it all. The pace of life here is gentle and friendly. As Alejandra serves the generous sample of four different wines into Bordeaux-style glasses, I ask her about her hopes for the future.
“I dream of travelling and of course I would like to go to every wine-producing area. This year I was lucky enough to visit Napa, Sonoma and some other places on the west coast of the US. I also took part in some wine events, which means you can travel without going anywhere, as each wine is a place in itself. Talking to people who make wine is also like going on a journey. I’d love to go every year to Vinexpo and ProWein for business, but I’d also love to go to hedonistic festivals, such as the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, in which the culture of wine is part is a living, dynamic thing.”
Finally, I ask her to tell me about three wines she has tasted recently that she really liked.
“I really wanted to taste a Cabernet Franc from another cool climate area and see how it compared to ours here at Loma Larga, so I tried Mount Veeder Winery’s 2010 vintage from the Napa Valley in California.”“My second choice is F. Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Zinfandel 2012. Of course, as I was visiting California, I really wanted to get to know their flagship variety. This was a beautiful example, velvety, young and fruity and part of the Naked Wines portfolio.”“While I was in San Francisco, I went to a champagne event, where I was able to try a Millésime, a vintage champagne from 2008: 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. I was impressed by the body and length of the wine. Here in Chile, it is still difficult to taste really top quality sparkling wines, so this was a real treat for me.”
For more information about Loma Larga, visit their website.
The Loma Larga wines we tasted.
Lomas del Valle Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Clear, pale lemon with greenish hues. Clean nose with peach, lime and a touch of orange blossom. Dry, with characteristic citrus notes but a pleasing wine which would work well as an aperitif.
Lomas del Valle Pinot Noir 2013
Pale ruby with purple hues, this classic cool climate Pinot Noir unveils strawberry jam and raspberry bubblegum but is surprisingly interesting in the mouth, with high acidity and plenty of red fruit.
Loma Larga Malbec 2010
Deep ruby with good legs, this Malbec is complex, with blackcurrants, black cherries and plums intermingling with sweet spices, cedar and a floral touch. This is a red wine that packs a punch, filling your mouth with smooth tannins, black fruit a touch of ashtray.
Loma Larga Cabernet Franc 2008
A ruby gem with forest floor, cassis and liquorice. Nicely complex and a great finish, this is a wine that can only get better with time.
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.
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:
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.
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.
This 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):
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