Wave goodbye to Mr Predictable

With a host of new and exciting releases this year, the easily pigeonholed country is proving us all wrong, says Peter Richards

Boring ,

predictable , limited in offering

- such used to be the labels appended to Chile, a country famed for its reliable offering of the "big four" varieties - solid, dependable

and unexciting. How things change.

A quick glance at the host of new releases, launches, debuts and first airings at this year's annual trade tasting is enough to prove the point. Although Chile is often compared unfavourably with Argentina in terms of diversity, this is increasingly questionable. Chile's wineries have clearly been busting a gut to mix things up and inject some diversity and excitement into the category - perhaps in reaction to the accusations of predictability. Either way, the results are impressive

and there is more to come.

Sparkling wine and rosé have been two growth categories of late in the UK market and, while Chile was not as quick off the mark as it might have been, it is belatedly starting to deliver.

Rosé is now being pushed by virtually every producer worth their salt and new releases - such as Concha y Toro's new Shiraz rosé under its Palo Alto label - are emerging thick and fast. What's more, Concha is this year going one step further in an attempt to cash in on the prime mover behind the rosé boom: blush. The company is releasing a blush-style Cabernet Sauvignon under its Frontera brand this year.

On the fizz front, impressive new sparklers are being launched this year by Concha y Toro (a Chardonnay from Limarí under the Casillero brand) and Cono Sur (from Bío Bío, mainly Chardonnay with some Riesling and Pinot Noir), which should ensure mass -market penetration. La Rosa is putting out a newly packaged Chardonnay/Pinot blend, while Undurraga, a company that has long supplied fizz for the domestic market, has big plans for its Brut Royal.

An interesting sub-category to Chile's re invigorated sparkling sector can be found in wines such as Casal de Gorch s' Fresita and Córpora's new blueberry fizz. The former is a blend of puréed Patagonian strawberries with sparkling wine

and the latter uses blueberries in much the same manner to blend with its bubbles from Bío Bío. Given that the big retailers are crying out for innovation in the wine category, advising producers to be less precious about their wines in doing so, such products would seem to have a bright future.

Having been brought into the Concha fold, Canepa is releasing a new sweet Muscat from Limarí, while De Martino and Caliboro are both working on premium stickies - the latter a heady Vin Santo-style made from old-vine Torontel

- organic wines are belatedly becoming more commonplace . San Pedro's new 35°S Organic Wild Ferment range

is also a striking case in point. Chile's contribution to the Fairtrade category is set to increase with the arrival of South

African -owned Fairhills, whose first project is with Santa Irene in Curicó, though it is also developing links with other Chilean producers.

Both regional and varietal diversity has continued to burgeon of late in Chile, and shows no sign of slowing.

Chile's draconian quarantine laws have meant that varietal innovation has been sluggish, but this is now changing. The country

has fine examples of Nebbiolo, Malbec, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Gris, PX, Petit Verdot, Carignan and Pinot Grigio/Gris. Knowing what Chilean viticulturists have been planting of late, this tableau is only going to get more complex and rich as time goes on.

Errázuriz is set to launch the first Sauvignon Blanc from its Manzanar estate

- a site around 15km from the coast

not dissimilar from Leyda

- north of Valparaíso, effectively extending the boundaries of the Aconcagua region. New projects are either afoot or planned high in the mountainous eastern reaches of Elqui,


Malleco, Osorno, Torres del Paine, Coyhaique, Huasco

and the Atacama Desert. Many of these places are utterly off the

Chilean wine radar as things stand , but if realised, such projects could revolutionise Chilean regionality (and necessitate a much

arger map).

There are other examples of Chilean innovation. New boutique producers - such as O

Fournier or Los Maquis - always help maintain interest in a category. Undurraga's association with De Bortoli for UK distribution was another example of ambitious thinking on the part of a Chilean producer - the Chilean side has hopes that this may eventually lead to winemaking cooperation in the future.

While there is clearly much more

Chile can and should be doing on the innovation front, it's clear that it's taking big strides in the right direction and, in doing so, firmly relegating its sober image to the past.

Regional focus: Maule

It often surprises people to learn that Maule is the largest wine growing region in Chile. While higher -profile regions like Maipo, Casablanca and Colchagua usually hog the limelight, the rolling hills and plains of Maule have traditionally played second fiddle, supplying much of the volume for big brands but rarely warranting a mention on the label or in winemakers' presentations. That is, until now.

There are many reasons behind Maule's exciting resurgence, not least of which has been the influx in recent years of high-profile, foreign-owned wine investors prepared to sing Maule's praises from the rooftops. The O

Fournier group (of Ribera del Duero and Argentina) is the latest newcomer, hot on the heels of Brunello producer Francesco Marone Cinzano (Caliboro/Erasmo), Kendall-Jackson (with Calina) and the

Huber family (Via).

The attractions include low labour costs in this resolutely rural part of Chile, as well as a slightly fresher, less alcoholic style of wine than is typical in warmer regions to the north. What is more, the long-established vineyards in the coastal hills are often dry farmed and boast plentiful old vine material. This tends to appeal to European producers. Marone Cinzano, for example, was motivated to buy his Caliboro estate on the basis of its high luminosity, dry winds and sufficient rainfall balance for dry farming. "A typical Mediterranean environment," was his assessment.

Miguel Torres has a stunning new estate in coastal Maule, known as Empedrado, set on steep, slate hillsides in splendid isolation. When the wines

emerge, they will only help boost Maule's stock. Producers like Gil more, Botalcura, Casa Donoso and Terranoble are

doing sterling work in the region. Many excellent Maule wines are made by producers who are not based locally,

includ ing

De Martino, Odfjell, Concha y Toro (Palo Alto), Valdivieso and San Pedro.

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