For over a week in November, we had 9 international Annual Wines of Chile Awards judges roaming around Chile while tasting some of the country’s best wines. Some were revisiting Chile, and others were discovering it for the first time.
What often comes as a surprise to first time visitors, is how modern Santiago is – regularly surpassing expectations of a South American capital. “Having only visited Buenos Aires before, I was surprised at how modern Santiago looks,” said Canadian judge Carolyn O’Grady Gold from the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). “The people are as friendly as I expected and the hospitality is world class, it is a beautiful country.”
While impressions of Chile as a country to visit exceeded expectations, so did the wine in most cases. “The perception is improving in people now understanding there are more good quality wines in Chile,” explains Mexican sommelier Pedro Poncelis. “The quality, the variety and the expression are improving a lot!”
The diversity of terroirs and climates is what has impressed the judges most on this visit. “I think the way Chile is doing the Costa, Andes and Entre Cordilleras areas, you can taste the wines and you can taste the difference,” said Eduardo Milan, a wine journalist from Brazil. In particular it is the cool climate wines that have struck a chord with judges who almost all mentioned their great freshness and quality.
“I really enjoyed cool climate wines from Bio Bio and Limari,” said Eric Bertoldi from Quebec. “In general I prefer the white wines and I really enjoyed the riesling I tried – you have the climate here to grow riesling.” Another white wine aficionado was Carolyn O’Grady Gold: “The Chardonnay totally blew my mind,” she said. “It was amazing – the minerality, the acidity and the elegance. It is beautiful and exactly how I like it.”
This year some of the smaller independent wineries in Chile were also included in the judges’ week in a bid to promote the great variety that Chile offers – from the big guys to the little guys, all over the country. “It’s really amazing that Chile is such a dynamic country, that it is growing and changing,” said Pedro Poncelis. “The small production Carignan and rescuing these kinds of old vineyards – the independent and small producers offer very interesting things for Chile.” Chilean sommelier and AWOCA 2013 judge Marcelo Pino agreed: “Grapes like Pais and Carignan are a compliment to the industry, we need it.”
“Every time there’s more and more quality, diversity and spectacular things,” said Victor Manuel Vargas, a wine journalist in Colombia, “The great value of Chile is in its diversity and this is very recent. We need to show the world the great quality and diversity.”
Jorge Lucki, a Brazilian journalist who has been to Chile many times, also noted that not just in regions and varieties is Chile diversifying, but also in style. “I think Chile has to continue doing what it is doing now,” he said, “with less oak, less extraction, and more identity.”
The growing individual identity is what Canadian judge Stephen Schiedel is most excited about and hopes will continue. “I would like to see more distinctive terroirs and regional wineries – those who are known for focusing on terroir. I think those who celebrate and research the results of their own backyard will be more distinctive and stand out.”
Brazilian judge Carlos Cabral thinks they are already well on their way… “The future is fantastic because Chile has introduced new grapes, new technology and young, modern winemakers,” he said. “I believe 20 years from now Chile is going to be similar to France and Italy wines in world recognition.”
Photos: Judges tasting at AWOCA 2013; Some judges taking a look at the hundreds of wines after the three day tasting finishes; Judges and Chilean wine industry enjoying a fresh seafood lunch in Zapallar; Some judges at one of the nightly dinners enjoying typical Chilean cuisine.