In his introduction to The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (Everyman’s Library, 2005) Christopher Hitchens calls Chile “a country shaped like a long, thin jagged blade, forming the littoral of almost an entire continent, and poised to crumble into the ocean leaving only the Andes behind. A place of earthquakes, wine and poets, like some Antarctic Aegean.” And Chris wasn’t too far off the mark with his Macbeth dagger analogy – Chilean wine is set to overtake SA in the all-important UK export market thanks to a 26% volume increase this year.
Chile is the whole world in one country: from the Atacama desert in the north to the ice fields of Cape Horn via rainforests, huge copper mines and giant valleys full of vines plus Easter Island with its inscrutable statues bearing mute testimony to the ancients who chopped down all the trees and made themselves extinct.
Unbeatable source material for writers in the school of “magic realism” like Gabriel García Márques and Ms. Allende whose uncle, Salvador, was the first Marxist president in the Americas who was bombed by the air force in his presidential palace La Moneda, with some of the damage still visible, thirty years later.
Perfect physical and human terroir for larger than life winemakers like Aurelio Montes who had the idea of planting Syrah on the precipitous slopes of the highest mountain in the Apalta Valley. An abandoned pear orchard full of rocks with a 45 degree slope was the special site he chose, confounding conventional wisdom which said it would be too expensive to clear, plant and would require a circus troupe of acrobats to harvest. And besides, as Australia proves, Syrah likes heat, not the windswept slopes of a blasted mountain.
The result is Montes Folly, the first ultra-premium Syrah from Chile, complete with a whacky label from artist Ralph Steadman which is nearly as wild as the contents. With wines like these in the cellar, it comes as no surprise to report that Chile dominates the wine list of Belo Horizonte’s top wine bar Enoteca Decanter: Loja de Vinhos. Number of SA labels on offer: zero. Perhaps its time for WOSA (Wines of SA – the exporters association) to venture out from their Notting Hill (London) comfort zones and promote SA wine in Chile’s backyard.