Chile wine trends: 5. Reducing ABVs

It might not be as sensationalist as the launch of a new product, or the planting of a new area, but there’s an important stylistic shift occurring among an increasing number of Chile’s reds.

Percentage-going-down

Chile’s winemakers are reducing alcohol levels in an attempt to make their wines more pleasing to drink, rather than just impressive to sip

This change stems from winemakers’ decision to reduce new oak influence, as well as alcohol levels, in an attempt to make their wines more pleasing to drink, rather than just impressive to sip.

Felipe Tosso at Viña Ventisquero explains: “With Chile’s classic varieties such as Cabernet, people are looking to make wines with more balance, less alcohol, better acidity and less oak, so they are more approachable with food.”

Considering oak use specifically, Emiliana winemaker Noelia Orts states, “People are going back to wooden vats and forward to concrete eggs because we all love wine and we believe we need to have elegant and drinkable wines.” At Emiliana for example, the producer has 10 concrete eggs, and has reduced new oak use for its Carmenere and Cabernet from 100% to 65%, with the remaining 35% aged in concrete eggs.

Ricardo Baettig, Viña Morandé winemaker, also observes the change, saying, “Wines with more freshness and a little less alcohol is the wave that is coming. We were hearing a call from journalists for less oak and lowered alcohol levels but Chile was not doing it because of commercial reasons, but now it is happening.”

Viña Errázuriz has certainly been attempting to produce “wines that are more compatible with food” says winery president Eduardo Chadwick. “Francisco [Baettig, chief winemaker] is trying to push the boundaries of going towards lower alcohol while maintaining the round and silky nature of the tannins, because one hallmark of Chile has to be the silkiness of tannins.”

Some of this style change stems from Chile’s push into new areas, such as Casa Silva, which is now releasing a Pinot Noir at 11.5% from Chile’s most southerly commercial vineyard in Patagonia’s Lake Ranco.

Alejandro Wedeles

Santa Carolina’s winemaker Alejandro Wedeles has produced a Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2013 vintage with a much more Bordeaux-like 12.8% abv

Similarly, but elsewhere, Sebastián Warnier, head of viticulture at Santa Rita Estates, says the development of new region Pumanque is producing lower abv Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc for the company. “At Pumanque we have good clones, good rootstocks and we are close to the Pacific, but not too close. The Pacific influence reduces the maximum temperature and increases the minimum, and this means we get slow ripening with less alcohol and more freshness; this is the future for Chile.”

There’s change too from this producer in the classic warm regions. Santa Rita’s winemaker Andrés Ilabaca says he’s been working on a Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo which in 2013 was picked at 13.5% potential alcohol, “when normally we pick at 15%”. “We opened the canopy early to get the sunlight throughout the season so we could pick early without any pyrazines,” he records. The final wine will be bottled “soon” with a 13.7% abv.

Meanwhile Concha y Toro is bringing down the alcohol level of its Casillero del Diablo Cabernet in a bid to make one of the world’s best selling wines more “drinkable”.

Concha y Toro chief winemaker Marcelo Papa says he wants “to keep the maturity of flavours but try to move back in terms of alcohol.” He highlights a 1.5% abv change over the past 20 years from around 12.5% to nearer 14% this decade. He says, “One of our main ideas is to get ripe fruit and ripe wines with less alcohol naturally, and we have moved Casillero from 13.8-13.9% to 13.4-13.6%, and we are hoping to reduce that a bit more while retaining the ripeness of fruit… If I could get Casillero Cabernet with 13% with maturity today then I would be very happy.”

He also says that he has reduced the new oak influence in the wine: “We were looking for very oaky styles but we have passed through those days and today we are moving back, and looking for more balance, with an oak presence, but better integration,” he records.

Finally, one exciting solution on the market comes from Santa Carolina who has looked back as to how Chile made its reds almost 50 years ago. The result, called Luis Pereira after the founder of the company, is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2013 vintage with a much more Bordeaux-like 12.8% abv.

Santa Carolina’s winemaker Alejandro Wedeles says he picked the grapes at the same time they used to do in the 70s, which was one month earlier than normal today.” Following this the grapes were subjected to historic practices, such as no temperature control, natural yeasts and maturation in old wooden foudres.

The result surprised even its winemaker. “We thought the wine would have a capsicum (green pepper) character from harvesting one month earlier but it doesn’t, just more red fruit, and it has very integrated tannins from the ageing in foudres.”

As a result, not only did Santa Carolina make another similar wine in 2013, which it will release as Luis Pereira Cabernet in the near future with a £50 price tag, but it has changed the practices for its other reds. As Wedeles states, “Now we know this works, all our Reserva Cabernets are around 13-13.5%.”

Previous Chilean wine trend topics can be seen below.

6. Embracing the Med

7. Rediscovering País

8. Sauvignon moves up

9: Malbec revival

10. Quirkiness takes root

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