For much of its history, the Chilean export wine industry has been dominated by big companies that farmed in the huge Central Valley region, which stretches 250 miles south of Santiago and includes well-known river valleys like Maipo, Maule and Rapel.
In recent years, interest has been growing in cooler regions, which have long histories of growing grapes for cheaper wines sold domestically.
Aside from the climates, what caught the eyes of ambitious winemakers were old vineyards on granite soils. Modern vineyards are generally arranged on wire trellises in neat rows, making automated agriculture easy, but these old vines were trained using an older method of shaping them into free-standing, goblet-like shapes resembling bushes.
These vineyards comprised grapes grown in Chile long before international varieties like cabernet sauvignon came to dominate the export market. They include red grapes like cinsault, carignan and pais, known in the United States as mission. Most of them are farmed without irrigation, and most are grown on their own roots, unlike 99 percent of the world’s commercial grapevines, which are grafted onto American rootstocks that are immune to the phylloxera aphid.
Beginning in the 19th century, phylloxera devastated vitis vinifera, the European species that includes almost all the familiar wine grapes. Chile, because of its geographical isolation, has been free of the aphid, although many modern vineyards do take the precaution of grafting.
This month we will look at cinsault wines from the Itata Valley region in southern Chile, near the coastal city of Concepción. While these are not exactly typical of the Chilean wines available in the United States, I chose them because they are among the most interesting Chilean wines that I’ve had. In that sense, they represent potential rather than actual achievement.
The three wines I recommend are:
Rogue Vine Itata Valley Grand Itata Tinto 2016 (Brazos Wine Imports, Brooklyn, N.Y.) $20
A Los Viñateros Bravos Itata Valley Granítico Cinsault 2016 (Ripe Wine Imports, New York) $18
Pedro Parra y Familia Secano Interior Itata Pencopolitano 2017 (Skurnik Wines, New York) $22
These wines are available in relatively small quantities, and not a lot of producers from this region are available in the United States. One I very much wanted to include was De Martino, but I could not find recent vintages in New York City.
If you happen upon De Martino cinsault from the Itata, don’t hesitate to snap it up. Otherwise, look for additional cuvées and vintages from these producers, or Itata cinsault from Garage Wine Company. If you discover others, let me know.
One interesting thing: These three producers are all related in a way. Leonardo Erazo is a partner in both Rogue and Bravos, which each use cinsault grown in different areas of the Itata Valley. Pedro Parra, a Chilean geologist who consults worldwide on terroir, is also a partner in Altos Las Hormigas, an excellent producer in the Mendoza region of Argentina, where Mr. Erazo is the director of oenology and viticulture.
As always, don’t serve these reds too warm. A half-hour in the refrigerator should be just right.
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