Bringing small scale to the big stage: Some Chilean highlights from London Wine Fair

Amanda Barnes dives back into Chile, in London, while visiting the niche producers who came to London Wine Fair to share their old vines and artisanal wines.

There was one particular corner of London Wine Fair I was keen to taste through earlier this month. Although there were some exciting and diverse samplings from Greece, Georgia and Uzbekistan, it was the unassuming stand of ProChile that offered a rare glimpse at the international wine fair into the world of Chilean small-scale producers.

With the help of funds from ProChile, half a dozen small producers made their way to London to present a handful of their wines and seek importers in the UK. These Chilean producers were certainly some of the winemakers who travelled the furthest to present their wines at the Fair, and there were some real gems to discover within the stand. 

Of particular note were the old vines. Sarah Abbott MW delivered a masterclass on old vines on the last day of the fair, with a wide range of producers from around Europe and the New World, however I think that one wine on the ProChile stand could possibly take the trophy for the oldest vine wine at London Wine Fair… “The registry says they were planted in the 1600s!”, exclaimed Gustavo Martinez of his ‘El Carmen de Cucahcucha’ País, which comes from the old vine treasure trove of Itata in southern Chile. “Although we don’t expect all the vines to be that old, we do know they are for the majority at least 200 years old.”

País is the oldest grape variety in the Americas, first brought by the Spanish in the late 1400s and early 1500s, and dominates the old vine plantings in Chile as well as other South American countries. And Gustavo’s País — juicy but earthy with a spine of fine tannin — was one of the great examples of this old vine variety on the stand. Gustavo, whose portfolio spans several old vines and varieties from Itata, also had an interesting comparative tasting on offer — comparing this inland País with old vine País from more coastal regions (and fractionally younger vines). 

In the País tribe, there was also fellow Itata producers Zaranda and Vinos Copa. Zaranda has long been recognised as one of the fine wine pioneers of the region of Itata, started by chef and sommelier Juan Ignacio Acuña in 2011. He moved back to his family home in Guarilhue (the Grand Cru of Itata in my opinion) and started making the sort of wines he wanted to enjoy with food, and it grew from there. On show he had his vibrant and juicy range of not only old vine País, but also Cinsault and Moscatel de Alejandría. 

Vinos Copa is a relatively new project, but also with very old vines, started by two winemakers Rodrigo Concho and Sebastian Paganelli. It’s an ambitious but very well thought out project — looking for finesse and elegance with old vine expressions, in modern and delicate wines. Rodrigo makes his wines at an atelier, or custom crush, in Itata, where a handful of young winemakers and start ups are working together to drive the region forward. For me Vinos Copa really embraces the new movement with young winemakers that is happening in Itata, and it’s an exciting one to follow.

Another young gun at the show, who is keen to drive Itata forward, was Martin Männle. A multi-generational family winery in Itata, the Männles – like many families in the region – have a combination of old País and Criolla vines with some more recently-planted (but not necessarily that recent!) vines of Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault. One of the most exciting discoveries for me was the new Incógnito wine he’s making with a plot of 100-year-old Malbec in a field blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, among other varieties, which he found a couple of years ago. The wine is still a diamond in the rough, but certainly shows potential — and tells Chile’s long history with this variety that has become better known over the Andes.

Moving further up north and into the Secano Interior, Chile’s dry-farming region, was a new project and brand by quite a well-established wine family in Chile — the Cremaschi Furlotti family. The Cremaschi Furlotti family recently celebrated 130 years making wine in South America — marking the arrival of the first Furlotti from Italy, Angel Furlotti, who became one of Mendoza’s most important producers in the early 20th century. Since then part of the family established themselves in Maule, and have long had their Chilean vineyards there with a mix of Bordeaux varieties, as well as more experimental Nebbiolo and Zinfandel.  

It is also the story of immigration which unites the final producer at the show to Chile. L’Entremetteuse is the innovative and playful range by French expat Laurence Réal who established herself in Chile’s Colchagua valley. She includes some of the classic varieties from the region, like Syrah and Carmenère — both renowned in Colchagua — with her own interpretation, but also promotes the rediscovery of old vines in the region. And one of my favourite wines that I tasted that week is her humorously named Four Skins — a skin contact white wine of four varieties (Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Semillon). It carries a different 4-man punk band on the label each vintage, with The Sex Pistols taking the stage at the moment. I love that surprising touch of Rock n Roll that Chile can bring!

Although small in number, it was an impressively diverse showing of smaller Chilean producers eager to get into the UK market. “The UK is a really important market for Chilean wine, it’s about 35% of our export market and so it is very important to us,” explained Nicolas Poblete, Trade Commissioner at ProChile UK. “We are really happy to be here at London Wine Fair this year with some of these great premium wines from very different valleys of Chile, including lesser-known valleys like Itata.”

And I certainly hope some of these wines get snapped up by the UK trade — we could do with more diversity of Chilean wine on the shelves here. These are the sort of wines I love drinking while visiting the wine regions, and stock up whenever I can. I can’t wait to get back to Chile’s wine regions, and in the meantime, the showing from ProChile at London Wine Fair has certainly whet my appetite.