Wine Talk

Snooth User: Jake Pippin

The Rise of Chile

Posted by Jake Pippin, Aug 1, 2012.

I am Jake Pippin, a wine lover, wine explorer, newly a New Yorker and I have a question. Are Chilean wines on the rise, slowing and steadily gaining momentum and a foot hold in the US or is it new, catchy, the wine of the hour and likely to fade away? I want to know what Snooth members think.

Do you see Chilean wines on restaurant lists, by the glass or bottle?

Do you buy it or seek it out or do you shun it and retreat to more familiar corners?

Do you love or hate Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc from the long country at the edge of the world?

Do you know Chile makes Pinot Noir and have you had it?

Though I work for Wines of Chile, this is purely an individual interest and a personal adventure (and maybe I want to know if my hours of work pay off), but really I spend a lot of time with Chile and I would like to know the temperature on it, let's start a dialogue and explore.


Reply by Luciana Zotz, Aug 1, 2012.

Dear Jakob,

I like the expression ‘The edge of the world’.

Although I don’t live in the USA, considering the times I’ve been there, could notice that not only the restaurants (where wine is largely consumed) hold Chilean wines in their wine lists but also snack bars do so.  I remember I’ve been to a snack bar in Philadelphia where the first wine offered me was a pinot (by the glass).  It was one from Montes.

USA is the home land of Californian wines and the Italian and French ones have arrived first but I believe the rise of Chilean wines is undeniable.

I am not particularly a fan of Carménère but have tasted El Sueño, from Mario Geisse, which surprised me for its complexity. The vintage might be 2008, not sure.  The Syrahs in general show good potential; quite new Chilean regions become to be more explored by the wine specialized media and the movement of the small wineries has just popped up.

 All this together should contribute enough for the continuous rising.  I guess.

Reply by Jake Pippin, Aug 2, 2012.


I always like thoughts from outside the US! Chile is making an impact, particularly after the Great Recession of 2008, it began to appear on many wine lists and BTG ( By the Glass) lists because it offered affordable top notch quality an a huge a diversity of wines . That is really it's greatest strength, especially as pioneering wine markers continue to search for better vineyard sites in established regions and newer regions such as the Elqui Valley or Bio Bio Valley. As you noticed and tasted Chile offers Pinot Noir, Syrah, Carmenere to only name a few.

Carmenere is tough for some people initially. The compound called pyrazine can give Carmenere an aroma or taste of bell pepper, which can turn people off immediately. Either they don't like, think it's flawed or under ripe. Nowadays the latter two are rarely the case.

For the last 3 years in a row Syrah has won best of Show at the Annual Wines of Chile Awards, so it is showing some very good potential. The only problem is that Syrah is pretty dead in the US, with Malbec and Pinot Noir really taking it's place. That being said Chile producers some excellent "cool climate" Syrah.


Thank you for your insights and thoughts, I'd love to continue a dialogue with you.

Reply by GregT, Aug 4, 2012.

Jakob - Chile has been on people's radar for years, mostly as cheap wine in the sub-$10 range. It's been eclipsed by Argentina however, and with some reason.  The way we used to describe it is that Chile is on the wrong side of the mountains.  Therefore the less expensive reds almost always have a green note, although some of the Merlot has been quite good.  For my money, they're far better off not focusing on the Bordeaux varieties and trying things like Syrah or other grapes and if I money were no object, I'd look outside of France. Every country doesn't have to and shouldn't try to make wines only from the grapes found in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone.

But Americans don't know other grapes so to get the volume I understand the desire to stick with the better-known French grapes.  Again, I'd point to Argentina.  Nobody cared about Malbec from France and these days, few people even know it's made there.  Argentina just went with what it had and created an industry around it.  Chile is trying to do that with Carmenere but only after finding out that it's not Merlot and they would have been better off with something else IMO. 

They do wonderful whites however, and in that case they have the advantage Argentina doesn't - they're on the wrong side of the mountains.

I realize that's a gross oversimplification, but it's essentially what I see as the problem. And worst case, they produce wines that are both over-ripe and green, which is the worst of both worlds. I think there's still a lot of work to be done with finding the best locations, etc., and they're doing the same thing in Argentina BTW.  So I'm sure there's a lot more to come.  Best!

Reply by Luciana Zotz, Aug 4, 2012.

Hello Jakob!

Recently read a Pro Chile prospect pointing out the unique geographic conditions in which the country is settled in.  Apart from earthquakes (nothing is perfect) Chile’s geographic situation is outstanding. It seems god has touched his finger over there and said: ‘Here it will be found the ideal conditions to cultivate grapes and fruits in general’.

Coming from the south (Arctic), the cool sea currents, to the west and east there are the huge and high ranges of Andes Mountain’s protecting the country and, finally, to the north border there is one of the most radical deserts in the world: Atacama

Moreover, grapes are exposed to sunlight for a large period of time.  

All this together allows grapes to grow healthy. If you have in mind that the wine quality starts in the vineyard and the natural conditions help this a lot, it makes sense to say it’s possible to find top quality Chilean labels at very good prices.

Carménères and Merlots may please beginners because of their medium body and silky tannins (when in good hands, of course). Maybe for marketing reasons it would be interesting to choose an emblematic variety, as Argentineans have made with Malbec but you know, nobody misleads wine lovers.   For this slice, the first and most important point is that the wine should be good; the kinds of grape, region, soil, type of bottle, label design are secondary.  So, the question to be done is who for Chile wants to sell the greatest part of its wine, either to wine consumers or to wine lovers? Or both?

 Most cabernets, I think, are broad and mouth filling.   I am surprised to hear Syrahs are not popular within the US…

Sometimes Syrahs are not exactly dense, however, they are so expressive when bring those peppery and ripe fruits notes, that after the first sip, immediately, one’s palate turns on.  Casas del Toqui Syrah Gran Reseve (I’m not sure if it’s called this way in the US), from Cachapoal Valley, is comprised of some very characteristic spicy and leather notes. Its great structure shows an intense body offering much more thickness than the usual Syrah made in Chile.  Last time I visited Chile, could notice that there’s a “campaign” to introduce Chilean wines made of this grape to the market.    Waiters tend to offer it first. I remember having tasted a Syrah from Aconcagua that showed rich aromas and was very food friendly.   Americans might not have ‘discovered’ how potent and delightful a Syrah can be…

Reply by GregT, Aug 5, 2012.

Americans have discovered Syrah but it doesn't have an image and that's the problem with it. So even tho it can be very good, and Washington and California produce great Syrah, it is hard to sell.  Even harder from Chile, Italy, Spain, etc. Partly that's also due to the Australians, although most Americans don't even know that Syrah and Shiraz are the same. But nobody knows what to expect, so they avoid it. Growers in CA had high hopes for it because it can do well in both cool and warm climates, but it produces different wines in those climates so it's hard for customers to get a handle on it.

As far as being touched by God, well, many places on earth claim that. Chile's problem is that maybe there's great potential there, but they still haven't found the magic formula. And they've also become associated with the low-priced shelves, which is something Argentina did too, and it's very hard to recast their image into something more upscale once they're locked into the value tier of the customer's mind. 

If it were me, I'd focus hard on the whites. The whites will let them move up the prestige scale because they can do them so well.  And I think Chile can make great rosado as well. Other than that, they're hurt by the fact that there are just so many Cabs and Cab-based wines, there's a confused market for Syrah, and people associate Chile with Concha y Toro for $10.  If someone is going to spend $50 for a Cab, there are many choices that will come to the mind of most consumers before a Chilean wine will.  Finally, and believe it or not, this really matters, there's not a credible critic right now who can really move the market in the US for Chile.

Reply by Luciana Zotz, Aug 8, 2012.

 I agree it’s very difficult for a brand (whatever; either a winery or a country) to rise above the horizon if in its purpose of value, over several years, price has been more important than positioning it at a high level category.  A lot depends on consumer’s level of attention, but I’m sure that within the US, what’s on their minds is more important than their palate’s perception. Life’s rhythm tends to go so fast that eyes and ears play the most important role in perception.

I am surprised because here in Brazil ProChile has been investing a lot in marketing. I personally visited their office in Chile last year and the marketing plan listed actions and fairs focused exclusively on wines, in main Brazilian capitals.  In order to build a ‘Chilean Wine brand’, it is necessary not only one strong opinion leader. I think groups of ‘ambassadors’ divulging and publishing news about Chilean wines on the internet are a good way to develop the market too.  There are new groups of consumers arriving and each one has its own habits. Probably many of them won’t fit in with only one opinion leader as a master character, although it’s possible to make good wine at reasonable prices for these groups too.  Then, there will be more people talking about, tasting and drinking to at least satisfy their curiosity.

Cabernet is spread all over: by shelves and it’s widely cultivated. Except for those reasons, it may not have any other why syrah is not as popular as other grapes are.  I mean, cab is the only one which represents a real challenge.

It’s difficult to find a syrah which doesn’t have character. Moreover, if it’s not a varietal, then it’s blended to add special notes to a cabernet or merlot…  There are syrahs from New World showing intense dark berries aromas with lack of depth tough. Differently, cabs, sometimes, tend to show fresher red fruits for young and ripe fruits for oak aged ones.

However, syrahs can be as deep as cabs when revealing leather and oak notes, even if not exactly intense and full bodied.

Syrah is classified as an international grape and we both wouldn’t be discussing about it if it weren’t important among wine lovers. We would probably be discussing about any fine grape out of more than 4.000 which exist.

Honestly, I think wineries have been playing their roles.  The reason why it has been forgotten or put aside is the question that really matters. Or, maybe it is just a matter of time.






Reply by Etty Lewensztain, Aug 17, 2012.

Hi Jakob! I used to run the Wines of Chile campaign in New York...small world. Nice to meet you!

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