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Long lost Chilean País wine heads to UK shores

Wine produced from one of Chile's forgotten grape varieties, País, is set to become available in the UK. Decanter's managing editor, Amy Wislocki, reports on a taste of history in a glass.

In our special South America issue (October 2015), Patricio Tapia reported on the revival of the País grape in Chile – and in particular on a Chilean País wine being made by J Bouchon from vines discovered in a forested area of land owned by the company in Maule.

‘The vines climb the trees; nobody planted them there. They came naturally, perhaps from seeds that Julio Bouchon had planted more than a century earlier,’ wrote Tapia. Now the wine from those grapes has been unveiled in the UK, at a special tasting in London.

The País Salvaje (translated as ‘wild’) is delicious stuff – reminiscent of Beaujolais, it’s bright with pure, cherry-like fruit and hints of rose, has under 12% alcohol, and would be perfect served slightly chilled. A percentage of the fruit underwent carbonic maceration, and there was no yeast added, no fining and no filtration – just a little sulphur-dioxide for stability. Inevitably given the wild plantings, volumes are small: winemaker Felipe Ramirez has produced only around 1,800 bottles.

País – also known as Mission in the US and Criolla in Argentina – is a grape variety used in Chile’s past to make everyday drinking, jug wines. In the 1980s there were some 30,000 hectares planted, but that plummeted over the last few decades to today’s 8,000ha, farmed piecemeal by some 6,000 growers. It’s not an easy grape to work with, as the tannins can be rustic, but this new Bouchon wine (and still and sparking examples made by Torres) indicate that it’s a grape worthy of revival.

This is not a complex wine for cellaring, but it is a wine that delights. Just like Ventisquero’s Tara white wine from Chile’s Atacama desert, it’s a wine that pushes the boundaries, that makes you think differently about a country that has been known for playing it safe with wines of mass-market appeal. Ramirez’s next project will be a Semillon from 70-year-old vines, vinified in a mix of steel and oak. We like the direction that Chile is taking.

País Salvaje will retail for around £15. UK stockists from Bancroft Wines.

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