Though our hearts–and our focus–around here is and has always been focused on the great growers of France, Italy, and the US, every so often something from outside our comfort zone grabs hold of us and demands some time. This is what happened when we tasted these two absolutely wild Chilean natural wines. I imagine the glimmer of excitement that hit us when we first tasted these could not have been unlike that felt by pioneers like Kermit Lynch first discovering natural Beaujolais in the 1980s. The wines, made naturally and by hand to the extreme, are the most compelling argument for the state of Chilean viticulture these days. They are nothing like the wines we’ve come to expect from Chile–and that is what makes them incredible.
STORY Gonzales Bastias is one of the oldest continuously-owned wineries in all of Chile, dating back centuries. And, that’s not the only thing that dates back centuries. They own one, four hectare parcel of País vines in the Maule Valley, the oldest of which were planted in 1800(!). A real novelty, their bush vines are farmed naturally and with serious care for these elderly beings.
País is noted for having been the first European grape variety brought to the ‘New World’ by the conquistadores. An identical genetic match to Listán Prieto, which used to be common in Spain’s Castilla-la-Mancha region, it flourished across South America, but was quickly overshadowed by more popular varieties that were thought to produce more interesting wines. It was eventually brought over into the US, first in Texas and then in California, where it was known as ‘Mission’ due to having been brought over by missionaries. That said, it quickly fell out of favor in favor of other varieties that produced bigger, riper wines. Today, País is most popular in Chile, although until recently it was minimally exported. Like many conquered wine regions from Corsica to Sicily that once favored well- known international varieties, it’s simply taken conscientious growers treating native varieties well to make a name for these varieties. This is just that. Light in the glass yet concentrated with tropical fruit notes, this País combines the drinkability of great Beaujolais with the minerality of a great Rhône red.