All retailing for under £25 or $30...
The entrenched perception of Chile is of a country providing keenly priced, reliably decent, consistent wine at the value end of the spectrum.
The dissonance (and resulting unease) comes when looking beyond these narrow parameters into the realms of more challenging, esoteric, offbeat – dare I say it, fine – Chilean wine styles, which are increasingly abundant and visible, especially to those who visit the country regularly or taste widely.
Scroll down for Peter’s best affordable Chilean wines under £25
But it’s interesting how often people seem to find this problematic, and simply revert to the former perception.The outstanding Andrew Jefford touched on this in a recent Decanter column when he criticised Chilean wine for having a repetitious ‘Chilean cast’, which he says mutes regional and stylistic diversity.This struck me as odd. But then, I’d just returned from one of my regular trips to Chile, tasting hundreds of wines from all kinds of producers across the country, from traditional to modern, from heartlands to hinterlands.
While perhaps absolute quality can still be defined as a work in progress, diversity was evident in abundance. Highlights included flor-aged Riesling grown at breathless Andean altitude, white País for which the vines grow wild up trees, amphora-aged Mourvedre and a fortified, barrel-aged Cabernet–Merlot–Syrah blend. Sameness was the last thought in my mind.
The problem for Chile lies in quantity, not just quality. Not enough of these wines are finding their way out of the country and into prime markets – maybe just enough to challenge preconceptions, but not enough to change entrenched cognitions.
Jefford, for example, was explicitly relating his comments to what he had tasted at the Decanter World Wine Awards. That’s one prism. Another, bigger prism is your local (or national) market. The issue here is market gatekeepers.
Researching this piece, it became clear that the excitement and diversity evident on the ground in Chile simply isn’t being well reflected or represented in mainstream channels in a major market like the UK.
My brief was to find high-street Chilean wines I’d recommend under £25 (mostly red, ideally with wide availability). Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it.
There was an endemic predictability to the selections of the big players, symptomatic of a desire to play things safe, not risk challenging perceptions, perhaps to keep Chile in a niche that serves both suppliers and retailers. Hence the paucity of wines in big retailers in my selection (albeit with a few, notable exceptions).
For now, independents are the best places to find the real Chile. It may not be quite as convenient, but they deserve your support and it’s worth it – there are some beautiful wines here, outstanding value for money in the global context, wonderfully characterful and diverse.
Of course, Chilean producers still can do more in the ongoing quest for ever-greater quality and diversity (and Jefford is absolutely right to encourage this). But, in the meantime, we also need to be ready to embrace some cognitive dissonance – and be prepared, if given sufficiently delicious evidence, to change our perception of Chile.
Who knows, in doing so we may even be able to convince the big retailers to do the same.