Yet here we are — in 2014 almost one in four bottles of wine sold in Ireland was from Chile (23.5%).
Australia is now in second place (18.6%) having once been at close to 30% but their focus is now on the Chinese market.
France is third (14.5%) followed by Spain (11.8%), Italy (10.2%), USA (7.9%), South Africa (4.6%) and New Zealand (4%).
So how did Chile get to the top? Consistency and branding led by tremendously savvy producers like Santa Rita and Carmen is the simple answer.
It was impossible to resist the fruit and easy-going styles.
Look closely at labels these days and you will see that some of the new wines are from regions you have never heard of — Elqui, Limari, Pumanque (eg, SuperValu’s generally excellent Aresti range).
Winemakers are going up the Andes for altitude and also heading to the coast, to the Atacama desert in the North and to Patagonia in the South.
Santa Rita now have some of their best Cabernet fruit coming from a vineyard 800 metres above sea level in Maipo — this would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Climate change has of course forced some of these plantings and we’ll need to wait until 2030 to judge properly.
Speaking of Santa Rita, I tasted some fascinating old vine Carignan and Cinsault wines from them recently — I’ll let you know when they hit the shelves.
My selections this week are all from thoroughly reliable producers whose wines are worth exploring across their range.
I’ve gone strongly with Pinot Noir and these four wines show rather different approaches, some going for fruit and power and some (e.g. Secret) aiming for Beaune (they miss that great town but at least land in the general area).
Besides the wines below, watch out for Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and of course Carmenere (but only wines that are at least three years in bottle).
Stockist: O’Briens Off-Licences Nationwide
Los Vascos Cabernet was the first Chilean wine I tasted (in 1990) and it has featured here but I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned their Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes are sourced from the Casablanca and Curico Valleys and this is as grassy, fresh and zippy as you could hope for in a Sauvignon with a particularly noticeable grapefruit accent.
Stockists: O’Donovans Cork, McCabes Dublin, World Wide Wines, The Vineyard Galway.
Vistamar wines are overseen by Irene Paiva, one a few women winemakers in Chile. Paiva’s wines have balance and harmony and are all worth trying.
The Sepia Pinot has spicy red and black fruits on the nose, a fruit-driven palate with good acidity and a hint of earthiness for balance.
Stockists: Carry-Out Off-Licences, CostCutter
The Aviary range is a perfect example of why Chile is the number one selling wine category here. All the range is technically correct, fruit-driven and offers great value for money.
Merlot gets rather dismissed these days (the Sideways effect), but it’s very hard to argue with soft plums, chocolate and warm supple fruits.
Stockists: 1601 Kinsale, World Wide Wines, Florries Tramore, Wine Centre Kilkenny, 64 Glasthule, Kellys Clontarf
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon was arguably the first premium Chilean red wine that was widely available in Ireland and it still tastes great.
All the Alpha range is worth considering — the Pinot Noir has ripe red and black fruits, soft tannins and some earthy tones and acidity for balance.
Stockists: 1601 Kinsale, World Wide Wines Waterford, Mortons Dublin and Galway, Drinkstore.ie
The “secret” behind Viu Manent’s Pinot Noir is that it contains 15% of a secret grape variety which the winemaker believes adds depth and character. This is more savoury than the Montes Alpha with more red fruit character — cherries and strawberries — and a fleshy earthy undertone.
Stockists: Bradleys, JJ O’Driscolls, 64 wines, Amber Fermoy, O’Briens, The Corkscrew,
Cono Sur are Pinot Noir pioneers and have extensive holdings, particularly in Casablana. This is made from the best 20 barrels of Casablanca Pinot in the winery and has a fine velvety texture while still retaining its acidity and fresh red fruit character.