Lately, I’ve heard rumblings through the drinks media that a new breed of Chilean winemakers have been fighting to disabuse us all (consumers, trade, and journalists) of the notion that wine from this slender, rugged South American country is innocuous juice produced from a few grapes, in a few regions, by several large-scale producers for the mainstream, value-oriented market (or premium Cabernet, red blend consumer). Last night, I discovered one such group during a tasting of the wines of MOVI Chile.
Chile stretches like a gaping black hole in my drinking resume – I usually forget to consider Chilean wines when selecting a bottle for dinner probably because I don’t stock any in my wine fridge, and I’ve rarely written about the country chiefly because I can’t recall ever having a coup de foudre moment — that lightning bolt-to-the-heart, in love with a bottle, butterflies-in-the-stomach reaction — with any of the wines. But my exposure, thus far, has been limited to a few big brands, so I’ve been on a quest to find boutique producers in the NYC market. They have to exist, right?
My travels around the world repeatedly teach me that the U.S. market never depicts the full and rich picture of a country’s wine industry – there’s always a renegade group (often several) on the ground, somewhere, making gutsy wine, testing new terroir frontiers and uncommon grapes, and pushing against conventional boundaries of both viticulture and style. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to visit Chile (for wine anyway) to survey the scene on the ground.
Well, ask and ye shall receive. Utilizing the power of social media to query contacts about wineries that might fit the aforementioned category, within an hour, my question had been answered: a colleague connected me with Derek John Mossman Knapp of Garage Wine Company via Facebook. Serendipitously, his group, MOVI Chile, would be hosting the last NYC tasting of the year on December 2nd at a West Village restaurant near my house.
MOVI stands for Movement of Independent Vintners. The group has 24 members, and was founded by 12 of them in 2009. The members are: Acrobata, Armidita, Attilio & Mochi, Catrala, Clos Andino, Corral Victoria, Erasmo, Flaherty, Garage Wine Co., Garcia Schwaderer, Gillmore, Kingston, Lagar de Bezana, Laura Hartwig, Meli, Merino, Peumayen, Polkura, Rukumilla, Starry Night, Trabun, Villard, and Von Siebenthal. (I don’t yet have a list of who is imported where.)
The MOVI manifesto, subscribed to by all members, pledges to make wines on a small, human scale (not by specs for a supermarket) that tell a story and share the personality of both the soil and maker.
One stated goal is to “seek emancipation for independent vintners, to free them from the constraints of the volume driven suppliers and offer them the opportunity to be artisans without need for scalability.” However, their objective doesn’t involve lambasting or repudiating the current Chilean wine industry paradigm – there’s no question that it has helped focus a measure of international attention on the country — but to expand it and “complement it by providing breadth of choice”.
By marketing themselves together, they harness the power and resources of the many to showcase the talents of the individual, and the farmer/winemaker can worry about the business of crafting wine, without wearing the additional hats of public relations rep, marketer, and salesman.
One representative from the group, Charlie Villard of Villard Wines, flew to New York to host the tasting of nearly twenty wines – almost every winery selected one wine for the event. An intimate group of local media and industry gathered at cozy, Latin-fusion restaurant Comodo for three hours of appetizers, wine, and discussion.
While the wines were not assessed in a flight format (as implied by the excerpts I’v scanned below), MOVI sought to introduce three broad concepts by which tasters could consider their wines. The first idea, “The New Chile,” presented wines from recently explored terroirs and/or less mainstream grapes.
The second, “The Classics – Reloaded,” showcased red blends from historic regions, re-interpreted without “corporate constraint.”
The third concept, “Old is the New ‘New’ in Maule and Atacama” highlighted old, bush-head vines from soils farmed for centuries, only recently reinvigorated.
I tasted through most of the line-up, and finally had my coup de foudre moment with Chile. Let’s hope lighting strikes twice.
Here are my ten favorites from a stellar line-up of wines, in order of tasting. Apologies for the lack of bottle shots, but I didn’t have my camera with me last night. (All images provided by MOVI.)
- Meli, Riesling, Maule Valley, ’14: Striking peachy, stone fruit nose. Tropical notes on fruity palate. Lots of bright acid with a chalky, mineral finish.
- Sofia, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Savory with black and red cherry nose. Hint of Elmer’s glue that blew off. Dried herbs, mineral tinged, good tension; fruit and earth in equipoise; the slightly charred wood finish makes me crave roast lamb.
- Villard, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Deep, fresh black berry and a leafy herbal note on nose. The aromatics pop out of the glass! The palate smacks with fruit and vitality. Juicy, spicy, alive. The kind of Pinot I’ve been hearing about in Chile but hadn’t yet tasted. Lots of layers but very approachable. Could be a high-brow consumer hit.
- Attilo & Mochi Tunquen, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Bright red fruit nose; classic Pinot aromatics. Hints of floral potpourri and spice notes on palate. Dried orange peel and brown baking spice. Quite elegant, fresh, and medium-bodied with a clean finish.
- Gillmore, Cab Franc, Loncomilla Valley, ’10: Berry fruit cough drop – like a Ricola on the nose. Herbs and deep, fresh black and blue fruit. The herbal note is a cross between eucalyptus and mint. Unusual. Medium bodied, with light, well-integrated tannins.
- Garage Wine Company, Cab Franc, Maipo, 2012: A complex, evolving nose. Floral with cherry, fresh pizza herbs, a savory leather note, hint of tobacco and spice. Medium body, good acidity, and integrated, slightly dusty tannins with a touch of grip. Really delicious.
- Trabun, Syrah, Cachapoal Valley, Requinoa, ’10: Aromas of a dusty, herbal tea shop in Chinatown. Ground, dried ginseng, layered over a black fruit, liqueur-like core. Nose belies palate which is all fruit with less nuance. Soft finish, could use more definition. Should be an attractive wine to many palates.
- Starry Night, Syrah, Maipo Valley, ’11: Pop of vibrant cassis and dark fruit on nose that nearly blows out my olfactory glands. Quite confected with a candied, smoked bacon edge. Ripe and rich and dense, but softens out and fades a little too fast.
- Vultur, Petite Sirah, Colchagua, ’12: Minty edged nose with confected black and red fruit. Very voluptuous on front palate but falls away softly on the finish, leaving a little tannin lingering behind. In like a lion, out like a lamb.
- Caballo Chileno, Carmenere, Maule, ’12: Herbs, spice, sandalwood, dried green peppercorn, and cherry. An intriguing nose. Palate offers additional hints of dried floral notes. Would love to taste this with grilled portobellos or roast duck.