Chile through the eyes of Tim Atkin

The Chile 2024 Special Report is available

As every year, Wines of Chile organized in December 2023 the coming of the wine critic and Master of Wine Tim Atkin, to prepare an annual report on the country. Following his three-week trip to Chile, the critic recently published his Chile 2024 Special Report, and observes that this edition would be his “longest and most comprehensive survey yet of what is now the biggest wine-producing country in the Southern Hemisphere.” In the document, Tim Atkin talks about the challenges facing Chile now, such as the effects of climate change, but also affirms he remains positive about the present and future of Chilean wine.

The Master of Wine points out that Chile is increasingly focused on terroir. “Winemakers are making the most of Chile’s unique geography as the most southerly – and longest – country on the planet”, he says. Now we try to understand and interpret terroir with much more emphasis on quality, focus on climate change, as well as on the conservation of water resources. In addition, he remarks that today the trend is to consider the vine as part of a larger ecosystem, with biodiversity corridors, different flora, fruit trees and beehives. It is also a common practice to harvest different parts of the same vineyard days and even weeks apart, considering the vines and sub-parcels individually, rather than the whole block at once.

Tim Atkin mentions as well that in the last 20 years the viticultural Chile has expanded, planting vineyards on the margins of the territory, taking advantage of the altitude of the Andes, the latitude, and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean to produce wines with more freshness. More and more producers are planting on the hills, both in the Andes and the Coastal Range, where the soils are poorer, stonier, and more complex. Moreover, the focus is increasingly on specific areas, which are being recognized as ideal for certain varieties or styles of wine. That is why more and more wines have a sense of place.

As the critic says, climate change is arguably the biggest challenge facing the industry in the country, with floods in winter, frosts in the south in spring, fires, and heat waves in summer. Indeed, grapes like Carménère have benefited, with increasingly early and dry harvest dates. In addition, late-ripening varieties have more marginal areas, on the heights of the Andes, in the south of the country or near the Pacific Ocean, with their enormous moderating influence on the climate. As for the strategies that are being implemented in the vineyards to overcome the low rainfall, Tim Atkin notes the tendency to look for areas where vineyards are dry farmed, where there is more rainfall, such as Biobio, Malleco and Osorno Valleys.

Regarding the climatic conditions during the vintages in Chile, in his report the Master of Wine remarks that, because it is such a diverse place, the assessment for each harvest can never be absolute. Although it is true that the closer to the coast, the greater the influence of the Pacific Ocean on temperature moderation, other factors have an impact on the vineyards, such as the cloudiness and the presence or absence of the Coastal Range. Indeed, it is colder in the Andes than in the area between the mountain ranges, but the specific altitude and soil type also influence how the climate can affect a vintage.

The critic also points out that “Chile’s plantings are much more diverse than people think – and producing increasingly exciting wines.” While Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc account for more than 50% of Chilean vineyards, there is a growing variety of grape varieties. The climate change makes wineries urgently look at the varieties that are more resistant to heat and drought, and although the area planted with other grapes is small, they bring heterogeneity to the country’s wine scene that, as he says, “is more exciting than it has ever been.” Still regarding this diversity, the Master of Wine adds that “many of Chile’s best vineyards – some of them planted in the 19th century – are worth preserving and celebrating.”

Not only the grape varieties are more diverse, but also the styles of reds. Tim Atkin remarks: “Chile’s reds are undergoing a welcome transformation.” He adds: “Chile is currently recalibrating its reds, making a welcome shift (back) towards greater balance and longevity.” In this new phase, oenological procedures often favor whole bunches, carbonic maceration, shorter fermentations, less extraction, lower alcohol levels, higher acidity, the use of concrete or granite eggs, larger barrels, and less new oak. In the vineyard, they also involve treating each vintage individually. These factors make Chilean wine “more diverse and complex than it has ever been, making the most of the country’s array of terroirs and grape varieties. Chile is combining tradition with modern know how and the results are there in the glass.”

Regarding whites, the report highlights the natural advantages that Chile has in producing wines with freshness, precision, and balance. In addition to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, with its influence of the Humboldt Current, the altitude in areas of Andean influence and the latitude in southern regions allows the country to produce impressive whites. The critic observes: “The diversity and complexity of the whites I tasted this year was again hugely impressive.” He adds: It’s partly better sites that have made the difference, but it’s also better clonal and massal selections, more precise picking dates and gentler handling in winery.”

In his report, Tim Atkin notes that the country has an increasing number of wines with personality and a story to tell. In the tastings he made throughout his trip in Chile, nineteen wines obtained more than 97 points and one received a 100-point score.

The Master of Wine sees Chileans as a resourceful and entrepreneurial group that finds ways to solve things. He also points to the green future of Chile, where more forms of green agriculture – sustainable, regenerative, organic, and biodynamic – are gaining importance over time. Despite the challenges he mentions in his report, he says that the country is making the best and most diverse wines in its history, using its variety of terroirs, in addition to having a generation of young winemakers as talented as previous generations. He affirms: “I remain positive about Chile’s present and future.” Tim Atkin closes his report by stating that he is eager to return to the country at the end of 2024.

The full Chile 2024 Special Report is available on Tim Atkin’s website.


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