There’s something relaxing and low-key about the wines of Chile and I have been buying them for about fifteen years now. I started trying them out because they were “good value” — but now drink them because I really like them, and besides, I am finding an intriguingly wide variety in the LCBO nowadays. I’m so happy to find out that my guests can no longer silently sneer at my “down-market” taste just because I’m serving Chilean wine. Apparently, according to Beppe Crosariol, the Globe and Mail’s wine writer,
“Chile is moving up in the world. Once synonymous with inexpensive, cheerful wines that paired well with jeans and T-shirts, the South American country is in the midst of a jacket-and-tie makeover.”
Anyway, I’m sure that some of you are looking forward to our up-coming “Sips, Tips and Tidbits” wine tasting evening on April 30th, when Peter Kline our sommelier will be pairing wines from Chile with toothsome “tidbits” contrived by Carl Dahl from Oakville’s Julia’s and Ritorno restaurants. Peter, as most of you know, is the sommelier at the wonderful Quatrefoil restaurant in Dundas, but also has his own company Bacchus Sommelier Services. I, alas, will be on vacation during that period and not able to attend the evening. So I had Peter give me a primer on wines from Chile, just to whet your appetites.
Chile has long been known for its red wines, especially cabernet sauvignon, its flagship variety, but it has also been producing excellent cool-climate white wines such as sauvignon blanc and chardonnay for decades. But Chile also offers its own particular signature grape called carmenère. Carmenère grapes generally produce a deep, dark, fruity-spicy wine which is great with red meats and well-seasoned international favorites such as Indian curries, meaty lasagnes and other spicy pasta dishes and even with Mexican cuisine.
Peter notes, however, that the terrain in Chile is extremely diverse in climate, altitude and soil types, so that the extensive varietals, married with the diverse geography offer a multitude of styles. It is hard not to think of Chile as a long, narrow vertical country, but curiously, it’s not the distance from the equator that plays the dominant role in wine making; rather it’s the proximity to the Pacific Ocean or the Andes Mountains that makes the difference. Essentially, Chile has much greater diversity in soils and climates from east to west than from north to south.
Wine making has a long and distinguished history in Chile. Wine grapes first came to the Americas in the 16th century with the early Spanish missionaries and colonists. By the time Chile achieved its independence from Spain in the early 19th century, trans-Atlantic travel was more accessible and France was the destination of choice. Travelers returned with the latest trends and scientists with the latest technology and vines. Large European style mansions appeared on the outskirts of Santiago, surrounded by vineyards boasting noble French grape varieties. By mid-century Chile’s wine was already attracting attention around the world. And while Chilean wine was enjoying this burst of energy and quality, the European vineyards were being devastated by phylloxera, a root-eating louse native to North America, that had entered Europe with plants brought by collectors. For some as yet unknown reasons, Chile, unlike the rest of the world, has never been affected by the pest and varieties that disappeared in Europe have always remained alive and well in Chilean vineyards. As Peter says:
“Chile is a naturally occurring “organic island” that offers the opportunity for Old World wine makers to employ New World techniques, using the fruit of vines descended from the Old World. The new and old combine to create superb quality wines that offer some of the best value available globally.”
Most recently, the technologically advanced wineries are employing sustainable and eco-friendly techniques to devise world class wines which are still available at wonderfully affordable prices. The big, well-known companies such as Concha y Toro, Santa Rita and Cono Sur, all advertise sustainable and eco-friendly production methods. The industries seem to have a real commitment to ecologically sound practices and have even sponsored the development of a National Sustainability Code that establishes definitions and guidelines for environmental and social responsibility.
I’m so sorry that I’m going to miss this evening, although there still are a few seats available for latecomers. Last weekend I tried a Chilean wine with carmenère
grapes for the first time and teamed it with a delicious pasta dish called Spaghetti alla Carbonara, since I really don’t know anything about Chilean food (Reminder to self: add “wine and food tour” of Chile to already endless bucket list!). The wine is called Casillero del Diablo RSV (LCBO 620666). It’s a beautiful, rich colour and paired very nicely with the Carbonara.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s The Classic Pasta Cookbook
500 g (1 lb) dried spaghetti
30 g. (1 oz) butter
30 ml (1 tbsps.) extra-virgin olive oil
125 g(4 oz.) pancetta, cut into thin strips
90 ml (6 tbsps.) dry white wine
4 egg yolks
3 tbsps. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1tbsp. freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1 tbsp. finely chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Pour 4 litres (7 pints) of water into a large saucepan or pot and place over high heat.
2. Put the butter and olive oil in a small sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the pancetta and cook until it is well browned but not crisp. Pour in the white wine and continue cooking until it has reduced by about half. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. When the water for the pasta is boiling, and the sauce is off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and drop in the pasta all at once, stirring until the strands are submerged.
4. In a mixing bowl large enough to accommodate the pasta, lightly beat the egg yolks with the two grated cheeses, the parsley, a pinch of salt and several grindings of the pepper mill.
5. When the pasta is cooked al dente, return the pan with the pancetta to a high heat, then drain the pasta and add it to the mixing bowl containing the egg yolks and cheese. Toss until the pasta is well coated with the egg and cheese mixture and add the hot pancetta. Serve at once.
A lot of recipes for this dish call for cream, but I find the combination of egg yolks and cheeses is rich enough. Be careful not to overcook the pasta because, actually, this tastes a bit like bacon and eggs with spaghetti and you don’t want it to have a mushy consistency.