Although many would think of the Carménère grape as being the signature grape of Chile, perhaps it is the lesser-known País varietal that more rightfully deserves this title.
Having travelled to Chile in the 16th century upon Spanish colonial vessels, legend has it that the first plantings were propagated from seeds found inside raisined berries carried by the Conquistadors, the history of País in Chile is obviously a little longer than that of French varietals such as the aforementioned Carménère.
Thought to be the same genetically as California’s Mission and Argentina’s Criolla Grande/Chica, this thin-skinned varietal was up until the turn of the 21st century Chile’s most widely planted grape. Viewed for many a century as a grape suitable only for sacramental or low-quality jug wine, it’s only relatively recently that some Winemakers in Chile’s southern regions have begun to take it a little more seriously, with some of the country’s bigger players now beginning to take notice of this humble almost-forgotten berry.
Some of Chile’s País vines have been dated back a couple of centuries, which is quite astonishing when one thinks about it. The grape is naturally vigorous, and capable of producing some pretty heavy yields without the need for heavy irrigation.
Capable of making an extremely pleasant lighter style of wine (if not the most complex), País wines are often thought to be reminiscent of Beaujolais, with their abundant aromatics of red cherries, strawberries, and an intriguing floral element… and that is no bad thing in my book. The grape also brings a thrillingly rustic funk to the glass, something that I can see a certain subset of Sommeliers getting extremely excited about.
Rediscovering this ancient and historied varietal is just another step in the right direction for the Chilean wine industry, and we cannot wait to seeing more wines from this fascinating grape.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s looking forward to seeing a few more of these wines.