Chile wine trends: 4. Pinot focus

Chile’s Pinot Noirs are rapidly improving in quality, helped by ageing vines, cool-climate coastal locations, and a couple of Burgundian consultant winemakers.

ocio pinot

Ocio from Cono Sur was awarded a gold in the Pinot Masters over £30

Earlier this year, The Drinks Business Global Pinot Noir Masters captured the strength of Chile’s offering from one of the world’s most sought-after and difficult grapes.

The country dominated the Gold and Silver medal selection for Pinots under £10, confirming Chile’s reputation as a source of extremely price-competitive Pinot. But what about Chile’s potential at the top end – is it producing gold-medal worthy wines at higher prices? Yes, but these are much more rare. In the same competition, over £20 and the medals were dominated by Pinots from California, Oregon and New Zealand, while over £30, just one from Chile featured among the golds: Ocio from Cono Sur, made by the producer’s head winemaker Adolfo Hurtado with help from Burgundy’s Martin Prieur from Domaine Jacques Prieur.

Nevertheless, Chile is emerging as a serious global contender in the world of high quality New World Pinot. Aside from Ocio, one outstanding example stems from Clos des Fous, which has just released a Pinot from the Pucalán vineyard in Aconcagua Costa. The vines were planted by Pedro Parra in 2007 and the first commercial vintage comes from 2012, bottled in March this year. Called Arienne, just 250 cases have been made, with the first order coming from the UK’s Simon Taylor at Stone, Vine & Sun. Clos des Fous winemaker François Massoc says that he spent five years making wine in Burgundy, but stresses that he doesn’t want to make a Burgundy in Chile.

Interestingly, a launch is being planned for late next year of an “icon” Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) from Viña Errazuriz under its “Burgundy Project”, and like the Arienne Pinot, comes from Aconcagua Costa. Errázuriz president Eduardo Chadwick describes Chile’s newly-recognised Aconcagua Costa region, as “a top class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir zone”. He also says that Errázuriz winemaker Francisco Baettig has been “really focusing on Pinot for the last five years” helped by the support of Burgundian consultant Louis-Michel Liger-Belair.

Another Pinot “icon” launching next year comes from Torres Chile. Located near Constitución in the coastal part of Maule, Jaime Valderrama Larenas, managing director Viña Miguel Torres Chile says that 2012 will be the first vintage from the project, with just 200 cases of Pinot for next year. “It will be higher than Ocio in price,” he confirms, adding, “but different in style”. The wine and sub-appellation are called Empedrado, meaning stony, in reference to the slate soils at the site, which is 24km from the ocean.

Meanwhile, Francisco’s brother Ricardo Baettig, who is winemaker at Viña Morandé, also sees the potential in coastal Maule. He has been working on a project with his wife using 0.5 hectares of Pinot planted just 2km from the ocean. “The quality of Pinot is very interesting – super fruity, with low alcohol and nice acidity.”

Ricardo Baettig and Isidora Morande

Ricardo Baettig and his wife Isidora Morandé are making Pinot together in Coastal Maule

For really low alcohol Pinot however, one has to look much further south to Casa Silva’s Ranco Pinot Noir, with just 11.5% abv, which stems from Chile’s most southerly commercial vineyard. The wine is so light and delicate that it would benefit from being treated like a rosé and served chilled.

Other new projects with high quality Pinot potential include Calina’s new plantings in Coronel de Maule, close to the town of Quirihue in the neighbouring region of Bío Bío, which is widely recognised for its fruity and refreshing Pinot. Calina’s American winemaker Randy Ullom compares the spot for Calina’s new plantings to California’s Russian River Valley.

He also says that the combination of the area’s “proximity to the coast and decomposed granite soils means it is a winemaker’s dream”. He adds, “We are really pleased with the Chardonnay planted six years ago, and we have just planted Pinot this year.”

For others Casablanca, Limarí and Leyda are the hotspots for Pinot. Viña Ventisquero’s Felipe Tosso says that Casablanca Pinot seems to have the strongest identity, helped by “a group of around 20 winemakers who are working together.” However, celebrated Chilean Pinots are increasingly coming from the Ledya Valley, such as Viña Leyda’s Lot 21, as well as Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter series. “I am biased but one of the most exciting places for Pinot Noir is Leyda, which is starting to get to an exciting moment with Pinot,” says Rafael Urrejola. Continuing, he explains, “With the right clones planted from 2004 onwards, we are starting to get nice results and there are new areas being developed.”

As evidence of the increasing recognition for the area, Cono Sur winemaker Adolfo Hurtado tells db that he is sourcing more Pinot from San Antonio (home to the Leyda sub-region) for its top wine: Ocio, which historically used grapes from Casablanca alone. “In my opinion, Casablanca and San Antonio will be by far the best areas for Pinot production in Chile,” he says, adding, “Every area close to the ocean that is up to 200km north down to 300km south of Santiago can be good for Pinot.”

Having used 15% San Antonio-sourced Pinot for the soon-to-be launched 2012 Ocio, Hurtado says, “Casablanca gives the black cherry style of fruit but the San Antonio component gives more red fruit and freshness.” This is important, he points out, as Cono Sur’s Pinots are aiming to be “fresher and lighter”, because Hurtado wants to enhance the “drinkability” of his wines.

Providing further support for the quality potential of San Antonio Pinot, Santa Rita is about to launch a Leyda Pinot under its Floresta range. Winemaker Andres Ilabaca says it will be the first time this line has included a Pinot, and the grapes will come from the 2013 vintage from vines planted 12km from the sea in 1999. Santa Rita’s viticultural consultant is Australia’s Brian Croser, and Ilabaca assures that Croser “is very enthusiastic about the wine coming from Leyda.”

While creating high class Chilean Pinot Noir has become a high priority for the country’s winemakers, it is not clear yet whether there is one single stand out place for planting the grape. Nevertheless, Ricardo Baettig gives this tip during a discussion about Chilean Pinot: “Key your eyes open for Maule Costa.”

Previous Chilean wine trend topics can be seen below.

5. Reducing ABVs

6. Embracing the Med

7. Rediscovering País

8. Sauvignon moves up

9: Malbec revival

10. Quirkiness takes root

One Response to “Chile wine trends: 4. Pinot focus”

  1. Enzo says:

    Itata valley will come in strong and not even a whisper of it is heard in the piece.

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