I am about to visit the wineries and vineyards of Chile, having last been there in January 2006, when I was judging for the 2nd annual Wines of Chile Awards with a group of UK wine professionals.
After 5 days of judging, we each presented to the assembled wineries giving our personal take on the relevance of Chilean wines in the UK.
We then spent the following week visiting wineries in the central region of Chile, from Cacablanca to Maule on the map below.
We were fortunate to be invited to the opening of the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta winery in Colchagua, as well as many other prestigious producers.
Clos Apalta Winery, buried into the foothills of the Andes.
A highlight of the visit was a helicopter trip up into the Andes, to a ski resort named Portillo, but no skiing as this was summertime!
Fast forward to 2018, and Chile has moved forward considerably. Each spring I judge on the Chile panel of the Decanter World Wine Awards, and see real progress in the diversity and scope of wines offered by Chile.
Traditional wineries from the established centre regions still do well -Maipo Cabernet and Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Carmenere and Chardonnay are all in evidence, but the excitement has been in the far north- Elqui, Limari and Choapa valleys, and in the south Bio-Bio, Itata and Malleco.
Here we find riesling, syrah/shiraz, pais, muscat, carignan and cinsault, as well as pinot noir and chardonnay of exceptional quality.
The vineyards in San Antonio valley, many of which were newly planted in 2006, are now mature and produce wines of real complexity and pleasure.
Chile is rediscovering grape varieties once dominant in their vineyards like semillon, and traditional techniques like the terracotta tinajas used both for fermentation and maturation by wineries like deMartino, not unlike the qvevris I saw in Georgia in November.
Hopefully this trip will allow me to see the very special terroir that is often spoken of by the producers of Limari and Elqui, as well as reacquainting myself with the cuisine and culture of this country.