WINE O’CLOCK: Why we all like to chill with a Chilean
I HAVE an instinctive, and probably somewhat snobbish, preference for European wines over those from the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
In particular, I believe the best wine comes from France. But that sweeping statement can be hard to justify given that French production is often inconsistent and the product tends to be more expensive than that of its competitors.
So I’m not surprised to see French wines slipping down the Irish sales charts. The most recent Irish Wine Market Report puts France behind Spain and Australia and not far ahead of Italy.
Top of the ladder, by some way, is Chile, which supplies more than a quarter of all the wine drank in Ireland. Drinkers here quaffed about 29 million bottles of Chilean wine last year, or about six bottles for each man, woman and child.
Despite my Francophile tendencies, I must admit to downing my six and a few more besides.
They have been producing wine in Chile since the Spanish brought vines there in the sixteenth century but France has had a greater influence on Chilean production which leans towards the Bordeaux style, using Merlot, Cabernet franc, Malbec, Sauvignon blacn and Sémillon grapes.
The style is dictated by the climate. The vineyards of Chile fall between the latitudes of 32 and 38 degrees which, in the Northern hemisphere, would be the equivalent of southern Spain and North Africa. However the climate in Chile’s wine regions is much more temperate, comparing more closely to California and Bordeaux.
It lends itself to sharp, clean whites and smooth, smokey reds.
Latitude 35 degrees south crosses Chile’s Central Valleys region at the point where the San Pedro Molina Estate produces wines. It gives the name to a range called 35 South, probably the most popular Chilean wines in Ireland.
Under that label San Pedro markets a Cabernet Sauvignon, an organic Merlot and a Sauvignon Blanc which sell in most supermarkets for around a tenner.
If you want to be a little more adventurous try something from the ECO range. It has a nice blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (no special name, just read the label) at €13.99 from the Wine Centre, Kilkenny, which also offers a really good Chilean Riesling (Emiliana Riesling, €14.95). It’s sharper than most Rieslings with slight hints of lime and grapefruit.
From Kilkenny’s Le Caveau you might try El Grano Chardonnay (€14.90), subtle and soft or, from the reds, El Grano Carmenere (€14.90). Carmenere was a Bordeaux speciality. It was destroyed by blight some 15 years ago but flourishes in Chile’s Curico valley, where they produce this gentle little red.