“Blank page” for exciting Chilean sparkling wine industry

In recent years, much like Chile’s still wine industry, sparkling wine has gone through dramatic changes. There has been a conscious shift from quantity for the domestic Chilean market towards quality sparkling wine for export.

Expansion into new territories to produce cooler climate wines has, by proxy, vastly improved the potential for quality sparkling wine in Chile. Movements to regions such as Limari to the north, coastal regions of Casablanca and Leyda, and Bio Bio to the south of Chile’s wine producing valleys, allow for cooling effects to moderate Chile’s warm, Mediterranean-like climate. This is essential for growing fruit suitable for sparkling wine, where acidity must be retained and alcohol cannot be allowed to reach to high a potential ABV.

These cooler regions have also seen a dramatic increase in plantings of the international Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties, the noblest of Champagne, which has also helped to increase quality. The styles still range from Brut Nature (no dosage) to sweet Dulce wines but there is a conscious shift towards the drier Brut style for export. Today, some wineries may also indicate single varieties, vintages or even specific geographic origins on the label, as long as 85% of the grapes in the wine correspond with the specified grape, year or origin.

Since 1990, Chile has been energetically planting and investing in its viticulture and wineries for the export market, which demands a high level of quality. However, you may be surprised to know that the Santiago-based winery Valdivieso has been producing sparkling wine since 1879 and was the first producer in Latin America to do so. Exports of Valdivieso sparkling didn’t occur until some time later, with the first recorded export in 1916. Valdivieso is still a major leader in sparkling wine production in Chile.

The domestic market Valdivieso forged remained popular throughout the 20th century but was largely dominated by average quality fizz from non-specific varieties. However, wineries such as Undurraga and an increasing necessity to focus on the export market (which accounts for 75% of Chile’s wine trade) has forced a change towards higher quality winemaking. The movement of viticulturists to plant in much cooler sites has been a key tool for sparkling producers to graduate up the quality scale.

Ernesto Muller, general manager of Undurrage winery – today Chile’s second largest producer of sparkling wine – cites the move to cooler climate areas as the key to providing Chile with a “blank page” for a new and exciting sparkling wine trade. Undurraga sources its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from newly cultivated plots in the Leyda and coastal Maipo regions. Valdivieso has also reportedly “radically repositioned” itself and is today sourcing grapes from higher quality plots, too. Valdivieso sources Pinot Noir from the cool Bio Bio region and the Andes foothills, where altitude provides a cooling influence, while most of its Chardonnay is from coastal areas. Cono Sur, another large Chilean producer, sources grapes from Bio Bio, while Concha Y Toro makes a wine called Casillero del Diablo Brut Reserva from grapes sourced from the northern region of Limari.

While most sparkling wines remain tank method, producers focused on export are increasingly moving to the traditional method – the same process used for making sparkling wine in Champagne and Cava. The result are wines less oxidative in style and much fresher, often with less alcohol. However, even the domestic market – where Chile is enjoying an economic boom and a growing middle class – has seen an increasing demand for better quality sparkling wine. In fact, there has been double digit growth in domestic demand for sparkling wine since 2007.

Japan and China are two of Chile’s largest export markets for sparkling wine, with many producers investing a great deal of money into the Chinese market. There is a huge prospect there for Chile to capitalise on. While other smaller markets like Colombia, Brazil, Equador and the UK are increasingly larger customers for Chilean wines.

Here are a small selection of Chilean sparkling wines I tasted recently:

Undurraga Brut Royal NV

★★☆☆☆
(how do my ratings work?)

Hails from: Leyda Valley, Chile; Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Retention of fruit is high, with a very fresh bouquet and a bright fizz. Orchard apple skins and zippy grapefruit. Acidity is refreshing with a more coarse style mousse. A nice, fresh alternative to Prosecco.

Sparkling wine (Tank method) made by: Vina Undurraga

Drink now. Circa £12.95 (find this wine). Tasted: October 2017

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Brut Rose NV

★★★☆☆
(how do my ratings work?)

Hails from: Maule, Chile; Grapes: 100% Pais.

Pale pink and a sweet nose, like bitter orange and juice-like. Lovely fizz in the glass. Bright flavours of orange with a tartness reminding me of just-ripe raspberries and crunchy redcurrants. Silly-easy to drink. There is some yeast autolysis character here, too. Very subtle but evident notes of brioche and yoghurt. Well balanced and rightfully simple in style, it’s very enjoyable!

Sparkling wine (Traditional method) made by: Torres Chile

Drink now. Circa £12.50 (find this wine). Tasted: October 2017

Miguel Torres Cordillera Brut 2013

★★★☆☆
(how do my ratings work?)

Hails from: Central Valley, Chile; Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir.

Interesting floral and a touch earthy nose perhaps indicating slight oxidative style. Aromas of buttery yeast. The palate is much fresher with a very lively mousse. White flowers, crisp citrus (more lemon and lime style) and a bitey finish with hints of wild red berries, cream and bread. Very clean style.

Sparkling wine (Traditional method) made by: Torres Chile

Drink now. Circa £13.50 (find this wine). Tasted: October 2017

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