Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo Soto

I met Rodrigo Soto back in 2012 when I was visiting the Veramonte winery in Chile. (Sidebar: they have a really cool antique corkscrew collection there.) He’s been at the forefront of converting vineyards to organic farming for the Ritual, Neyen, Primus, and Veramonte labels.

Vineyards at Veramonte / photo courtesy the winery

Recently I had a chance to reconnect with him for an informal chat over some coffee. (We met at 8:30am, not prime wine time.) Before he caught a train to go up to Westchester (which gave me unpleasant commuting flashbacks), he left me with a couple bottles to take home.

Two of the topics covered I’d like to address here. One is the question of price and the other is regionality. And this first bottle points to both.

Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay Casablanca Valley 2016 ($50)

Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo SotoOne of the issues facing the wines of Chile is most people hear “Chilean wine” and only think “value.” Or the dreaded “cheap.” There is no denying that Chile has very high-quality wines at excellent prices. I’ve been a huge fan of its Sauvignon Blanc (and more) for that reason.

While there are some iconic (red) wines that command high prices, like Santa Rita Casa Real, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, it’s more of a slog for white wines. How do you get people to consider Chile a source for wines that cost $20, $30 and higher? If I gave you $50 and said get any wine you want, would Chile cross your mind?

Consider a wine like the Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay. It’s fermented in big ol’ oak barrels but only 18% of them are new. So you get more texture and less oakiness. (Some of the wine is also fermented in concrete eggs, which I’d call hip but they are getting so popular I don’t even know if that’s accurate anymore. Ok, they are still cool.) It’s rich, it’s elegant, it pleases.

The other issue Rodrigo Soto and I discussed is regionality. Everyone knows Chile makes wine, but how many people drill down into its distinct regions? This wine is from the Casablanca Valley and it’s one of many regions of Chilean wine worth exploring. (If you go here and click on the “See Chilean Valleys” tab you get an idea of how far these regions stretch up and down the country.)

Veramonte Pinot Noir 2016 ($11)

Though I’m steering you to think of Chile beyond budget wines, I have to toot its horn for very good Pinot Noir at outstanding prices. In my wine shop I’d have at least a three-case stack of the Veramonte Pinot Noir, with the top box meeting my exacting specifications for how you cut a case of wine with a box knife. Now I’m having flashbacks to sales reps and merchandisers with sloppy cardboard case cutting techniques. (Shudder.)

I always consider finding good Pinot Noir under $15 to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. (Sidebar: I recently saw the 1981 movie “Excalibur” for the first time in decades. The cast is spectacular: Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. It’s very weird, moody, and dark. Highly recommend.)

So the Veramonte Pinot Noir (screwcap closure, BTW) has a little bit of oomph. It’s not a light, delicate wine but more medium-bodied. Nice to note it’s 100% Pinot Noir. A lot of cheap Pinot has just enough Pinot Noir to be labeled as such, usually pumped-up with Syrah or whatever other grapes are lying around.

In conclusion: Chile is worth your premium dollars and is a multi-faceted country when it comes to regional wine nuances. You don’t have to spend $50 to experience this but if your ceiling for Chilean wine is, say, $15 and under, don’t hesitate to get into that $25+ range. Thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time and a thought-provoking conversation. It’s definitely the most consideration I’ve given wine at 8:30 in the morning, and possibly later in the day, too.

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