An­drew Jef­ford

‘One na­tion I would love to see show greater diver­sity is Chile’

Decanter - - DECANTER - An­drew Jef­ford is a De­can­ter con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor and the Louis Roed­erer In­ter­na­tional Colum­nist of 2016 for this and his 'Jef­ford on Mon­day' col­umn at De­can­ter.com/Jef­ford

One Of the plea­sures of co-chair­ing the De­can­ter World Wine Awards is that my col­leagues and I take a peep at wines from ev­ery­where – and with 17,000 wines in con­tention, that’s quite a priv­i­lege. the two weeks of judg­ing, more­over, lead us on a kind of trek from base camp through the up­lands of Sil­ver, Gold and Plat­inum to­wards the sum­mit of the 50 ‘Best in Show’. there’s grand scenery to ad­mire along the way. the jour­ney this year set me think­ing about the ques­tion of na­tional char­ac­ter in wine.

Should it ex­ist? Of course: ev­ery wine­pro­duc­ing na­tion sits in a cer­tain po­si­tion on the face of the earth, and is sub­ject to a par­tic­u­lar set of cli­mate pa­ram­e­ters. It may pos­sess pre­pon­der­ant soil types; then there are na­tional palates to please, with their own set of likes and dis­likes.

What the great­est wine-pro­duc­ing na­tions can of­fer, though, are a set of soundly con­ceived, gas­tro­nom­i­cally in­formed, ex­pres­sive val­ues, which are off­set by am­ple dif­fer­ences both re­gional and stylis­tic.

Italy and france both man­age this kind of vi­nous ‘theme and vari­a­tions’ ex­cep­tion­ally suc­cess­fully. Per­haps both na­tions are lucky with their va­ri­ety of key lat­i­tudes, sites and soils; both coun­tries, of course, have had many hun­dreds of years to re­fine re­gional dif­fer­ences. Since hu­mans only get to make wine once a year, it’s hard to short­cut this process. the key for newer wine-pro­duc­ing na­tions may be to in­crease va­ri­etal diver­sity, not so much for the print of the va­ri­eties them­selves but be­cause this lib­er­ates and en­cour­ages grow­ers to em­brace new styles and forms of ex­pres­sion.

Aus­tralia, this year’s DWWA showed, can boast more re­gional dif­fer­ences than many drinkers give it credit for, and its wine cre­ators, too, are clearly in­ter­ested in stylis­tic ex­per­i­ment. Spain grows in con­fi­dence and at­tain­ment ev­ery year. Among smaller pro­duc­ing na­tions, I was hugely im­pressed by what Canada is man­ag­ing to achieve: tiny pro­duc­tion, but a wide range of styles with of­ten limpid and un­fussy vine­yard ex­pres­sion.

If I had to pick one na­tion, by con­trast, which I would love to see show greater ex­pres­sive diver­sity, it would be Chile. Let me ex­plain, be­cause there’s a puz­zle here.

We’ve long known that Chile’s wine­grow­ing zones have an un­matched ap­ti­tude for viti­cul­ture; it’s be­yond ques­tion that Chile of­fers some of the world’s finest value wines. Chile’s re­mark­able ex­port suc­cesses would not have been pos­si­ble without skilled and sen­si­tive wine­mak­ers. Its wine­mak­ing com­mu­nity, more­over, un­der­stands the im­per­a­tives of fine wine­mak­ing and site ex­pres­sion as well as it does the de­liv­ery of value and con­sis­tency in branded wines.

for me, the chal­lenge seems to be viti­cul­tural. there is a ‘Chilean cast’ to too many of the coun­try’s wines, at ev­ery level, even those from newer re­gions or those made with the high­est qual­ity am­bi­tions. the frank herba­ceous­ness that was so fa­mil­iar in the past – par­tic­u­larly with Mer­lot and Car­menère – is on the wane; none­the­less even the most am­bi­tious wines seem to find it hard not to con­vey a sense of the green plant lurk­ing be­hind the fruit, cast­ing a faint shadow across the fruit. this is true of the white wines as well as reds. the puz­zle is that it of­ten ac­com­pa­nies am­ple ripeness; it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a trait of mixed ripeness or un­der-ripeness, as so of­ten else­where.

It’s not, let me be clear, a blem­ish; in­deed it may be that faith­ful fans of Chilean wines around the world lock on to this trait as be­ing some­thing they par­tic­u­larly like. I like it on oc­ca­sion; it can come across as fresh­ness. the prob­lem is its ubiq­uity, over-shad­ow­ing the re­gional and stylis­tic dif­fer­ences which might other­wise sing out.

for­get oak, of course. If Chile could suc­ceed in bond­ing its re­mark­able pu­rity and charm of fruit to whites of taut vi­nous struc­ture, and to reds in which tex­ture and ripe tan­nic struc­tures com­bine to ef­face the mem­ory of plant and leaf and ten­dril, it would have the world at its feet.

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