The wines of the New World nailed it during the nineties and noughties on the shelves of the supermarkets in the UK. The French, the Italians, even the Spanish were blasted away by low priced but solid quality wines from the varietals everyone had heard of. Chilean wine was up there in the crow’s nest of this move but, like many others, the move from low margin, high volume wines to showing off the best that country can offer is a tricky one.
I Hate The Word “Bulk”
When I think of bulk wine I don’t really think of Chile. I think of Riverina in Australia producing millions of litres of cheap plonk for the pubs of the world. I think of the wine lakes of Spain where EU subsidies promoted huge production without any idea on quality or where it was going to end up. Chile always had a purpose with its wines. It knocked out, and still does, great quality Sauvignon Blancs, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, and so on. Low production costs meant that they could sell it for less, and the Friday night wine aisle hunters lapped it up, and rightly so.
What’s Changed Recently?
Well there are two things really. Firstly the mood of the average boozer is changing. The UK, and a lot of big markets, is going potty for “artisan” shit. Gins, beers, vodkas, etc. They love biodynamic and natural wines although most don’t have a Scooby Doo what it means. There is an appetite for drinking a bit less, but drinking better. Buying 1 bottle for £15 instead of 2 for a tenner.
Pushing the Boundaries
Secondly, it’s a change from within Chile itself. I was lucky enough to head down to an Errazuriz tasting in London recently. In fairness even their entry level wines are top end of the supermarket lists, but they want more. The winemakers, the vineyard owners, and the wine-o’s in the country want to see how far the land and the climate can push their wines. We were showcased Errazuriz’s Las Pizarras wines, their great hope for the premium sector. I’ve got to say they’ve nailed it, with a wonderfully subtle but powerful Chardonnay, and a Pinot Noir to grace any dinner table in the world.
The Sticky Point
So this is it now. It’s time to push the premium end of Chile to the world. Can they manage it? Well of course they can. Wine-o’s will get behind it as the quality and story is there. The big issue is whether they can move that onto the masses. The UK still lives in a world where most (I said “most”) of the wine buying public would head straight for French or Italian stuff as soon as the price tag heads north of £20. The Aussies, the Yanks, and the South Africans are all running at this wall and praying it’s going to fall soon.
It’s great that producers in Chile are joining in, especially for wine geeks like me. I just hope they don’t lose heart before the rest of the market realize how good it is.