I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to Chile and Argentina this month by a very nice vendor of South American wines. Having never been I thought it would be polite to accept the offer of an 11 day break in the sunshine. Our host was Lee Evans (not the comedian) of Condor wines. Everything was going fine initially, apart from the taxi driver shutting the boot of the taxi on Lee’s head and him bleeding profusely all over Heathrow (apart from mild concussion he was fine in the end).
The flight to Santiago via Madrid makes you appreciate quite how far Chile is away from Scotland. It seems to be a heck of a long way to go to somewhere that on first impressions looks remarkably like Alicante in late summer. We drove 2 hours South along the Central Valley from the airport. The Central Valley is a fairly broad sweep of land that is sandwiched between the Andes and another, smaller range of hills that run parallel to the Andes quite close to the coast. As one drives South the dusty aspect to the land (think Alicante) turns to lush, irrigated land of mixed use. There are plenty of citrus farms and at some points vines line either side of the road as far as the eye can see.
We were staying at Bodegas Requingua in Curico Valley. Curico lies in an East-West orientation cutting through the coastal range of hills. This leads to cool air flowing down from the Andes and an alternate breeze from the cold Pacific. So, either way the wind comes, it is a cooling one. This prevents the grapes overheating in summer and also means that the nightime temperature is relatively cool (10 degrees Centigrade as opposed to nearer 20 elsewhere in Chile). This is critical to maintaining acidity in the wines, particularly the white. This gives Curico Sauvignon Blanc its refreshing zing, which we Scots so love!
One thing that struck me about the Chilean producers is there fixation on French grape varieties. The have planted plenty of Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet, Carmenere and Syrah ; but where are the Spanish varieties or Italians? Surely with their lovely Mediterranean style climate they would make some delicious Garnacha or Tempranillo or Primitivo? How about some Nero D’Avola from Sicily in the mix? Aparantly it isn’t their scene. However, they couldn’t justify their decision to be anti-Spanish and anti-Italian. Who knows why?
After a few great days tasting in Chile it was back up to Santiago for the flight to Mendoza in Argentina. Never before have I been on a plane that climbed at full thrust for 30 minutes whilst the ground just got closer and closer. Quite an unnerving experience I can tell you. The odd smouldering volcano didn’t help my anxiety either. Over the Andes the pilot chucked on the air brakes and we tumbled earthwards again into Mendoza.
The story continues next time…