A few years ago on a visit to Chile I went for a swim in the Pacific Ocean at 7pm on a warm evening in mid-December, it was a little bracing but also blissfully refreshing.
The next morning I tried again at 8am and didn’t last 10 seconds, it was almost icy.
That’s the Humboldt Current for you, flowing from the south of Chile up the coast almost to the Equator.
Such is the effect of the Humboldt that even five degrees south of the Equator the sea is often not much warmer than in Bundoran in July.
Chile has a very long coastline of 4,200km and is an average of 175km wide, so if you can’t find a spot for your new vineyard near the coast you can head up the Andes, up to 2,000m, and failing that, head south or to coastal areas further north.
Chile has one of the most consistent climates in the wine world although climate change is disturbing this a little — 2017 for example was very hot and worked best for those that picked early.
Chile’s consistency allows for lots of reliable, inexpensive fruit-driven wines so it is unsurprising that 27% of all the wine sold in Ireland is Chilean.
This week however, I want to urge you not to stop at €9.99 but dig a little deeper.
Have you tasted old vine Chilean carignan, cinsault or país? Or modern smoky exotic syrah from Elqui and lmarí, or elegant fine-boned pinot noir and chardonnay from Casablanca?
I don’t usually like giving such prominence to one producer but I was very impressed with some of the top offerings from Cono Sur so I recommend four of their wines below.
Their 20 Barrels Chardonnay is from the coolest part of the Casablanca Valley and it has Burgundy-like elegance while its sister pinot noir is gorgeous, and big brother ocio is outstanding.
Top quality pinot noirs from Chile are always going to taste riper than those from the Côte d’Or but this does not mean they lack elegance.
I also tasted three vintages of Cono Sur Silencio, a silky textured, luxurious and long lived showcase cabernet sauvignon from Maipo that retails at €130 and is available from the same stockists as ocio below — a Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé price, but then that’s how it tasted.
Best value under €15
The National Off-Licence Association Gold Star Awards are due to be announced on October 7 and this is up for a medal.
Chile is very hard to beat for crisp fresh sauvignon blanc under a tenner and this is a really solid example — packed with zesty gooseberries and citrus and with lively freshness on the finish.
This is also up for a medal at the Gold Star Awards competing against two other Chileans (Kelly’s Patch Shiraz and Gato Negro Merlot) showing just how strong Chile is in this price range.
Bright blackberry fruits mixed with plums, supple and juicy on the palate with soft tannins. Perfect for a mid-week treat.
I debated whether to feature this or the Bicicleta Pinot Noir (€10.99) but for your extra €2 you do get a more plums and textured spicy fruits.
This is a Thursday or night wine, perhaps with a curry, while Bicicleta is for the Tuesday special takeaway pizza —- served a little cooler and its red fruits would be a nice foil for pepperoni.
Best value over €15
Casablanca is perhaps best known for Sauvignon and Pinot Noir but Chardonnay is the most planted variety at 35%. The cooler temperatures and misty mornings allow a nice slow ripening.
This has bright stony-mineral pear and citrus aromas, textured ripe and layered fruits.
Cono Sur are Pinot Noir pioneers in Chile, especially in Casablanca, and this selection is from the best 20 barrels produced in 2017.
Lithe and lively with raspberry and black cherry aromas and a hint of earth, supple and juicy on the palate with smoky hints, textured and complex.
Yes, a Chilean Pinot at the same price as many a Premier Cru Village Burgundy.
Ripe and darkly fruited with background forest floor aromas — developed and complex with silky tannins and compact layers of red and black fruits and flashes of spice and tobacco.