Grapevine Archive for Chile

Fri 17 Oct 2014

Carignan Regardless

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Living with a wine adviser can be a tortuous and trying existence… or so my partner Lisa tells me.

I am forever sticking a glass under her nose and saying ‘absorb the bouquet on this’ or ‘what are getting from this?’ She always obliges me, occasionally throwing a flippant ‘I can smell wine!!!’

Old carignan vines in the south of FranceOld carignan vines in the south of France

However, I have found one way to guarantee a favourable response: to offer her a wine that has a sizeable proportion of the carignan grape.

Originating from Aragon and believed to be named after the ancient town of Cariñena, carignan is a very old grape variety. It was originally planted for its high-yielding, rather than palate-pleasing, attributes. However, it has since seen its coverage half in the last 40 years as a grubbing up programme took full effect. Dismissed by many, the grape has never really had many critical admirers.

For me, however, this much-maligned grape offers dark fruit in abundance backed up with smooth spiciness that cannot only plump up a blend but also carries itself as herb-infused sweet-scented wine, featuring in offerings spanning Chile to Spain, such as Priorat, via some of my favourites from the south of France (such as Monpeyroux and Collioure).

In Spain, carignan contributes to the blend in our popular Latria red (£7.95 per bottle), offering a fragrant meaty style, as well as ‘baby Priorat’ Blau (£8.95).

For a full-on and densely flavoured wine, a good Priorat always fits the bill. Try Cal Pla (£11.50), possibly with a venison casserole. To experience the more aromatic nature of carignan try Tomàs Cusiné’s Mineral del Montsant (£9.95).

Chile offers the bold Undurraga TH Maule Carignan (£12.50) where the grape brings its trademark fruit but also a firmness that makes this particular example great with slow-roasted belly pork.

Carignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinkingCarignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinking

In France, the grape helps to produce an uncomplicated quaffable warming red in the form of Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes Rouge 2013 (£6.25). This is soon to be a members’ favourite, I am sure, alongside Duo des Vignes, Vin de France 2013 (£5.95), which sees carignan blended with merlot.

Some current members’ favourites also owe a lot of their appeal to having carignan in their blends, in various proportions too. Domaine Laborie IGP 2013 (£5.75), Minervois, Château Sainte-Eulalie 2013 (£7.50) and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Château de Pena 2012 (£6.75) spring to mind, as well as our ever-popular Society’s French Full Red (£5.95).

Each of the above is different in style but share a dark fruit-driven feel with a backbone of spice that makes them at once easy drinking and yet with the ability to compliment any hearty autumnal meal.

For an example of to what heights carignan can achieve when yields are kept low try the elegant Domaine Aupilhac, Le Carignan, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile 2010 (£16.50) or Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Les Calcinaires Rouge, Domaine Gauby 2012 (£14.50).

So as the leaves fall, the nights close in and the temperature outside drops, raise a glass and carignan regardless.

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

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International Wine Challenge 2014 Wine Club of the YearLast night the ‘Oscars of the wine trade’, the International Wine Challenge awards, were held at London’s Grosvenor Hotel.

Ten members of Society staff from around the business were there to see The Wine Society awarded

• Wine Club of the Year for the fourth consecutive year
• Specialist Merchant Award for Chile for the eighth time in nine years
• Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace for the seventh consecutive year

In addition, The Society was shortlisted for Direct Merchant of the Year and Specialist Merchant for Portugal.

Head of buying Tim Sykes, campaign manager Yvonne Blandford and chief executive Robin McMillan with the award for 'Wine Club of the Year'Head of buying Tim Sykes, campaign manager Yvonne Blandford and chief executive Robin McMillan with the award for ‘Wine Club of the Year’
The judges called it ‘a testament to The Society’s extensive range of wines and events, as well as excellent customer service.’

A number of individual Society wines also received awards earlier in the year.

Such recognition is always a pleasure and we would like to thank the IWC. Above all, however, we would like to thank our members for their continued loyalty and support for their Society. We exist purely for members’ benefit and look forward to further enhancing our services in the coming year while continuing to provide the best of the world’s vineyards at the best possible prices.

Tue 28 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Machas

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Machas

Machas are Chilean saltwater clams. They are bivalves with the scientific name mesodesma donacium. Their flesh looks like a stone-age flint head.

They are grey when raw but turn a lovely pink when cooked. The flavour is quite mild.

Machas

One of the most common dishes you will find on a menu in a Chilean seafood restaurant is Machas la parmesana, a gratin of machas with cheese, which is rarely parmesan in Chile.

Creamy dishes are giving way to lighter dishes where the favour of the seafood takes centre place. Today Peruvian cuisine has made it to Chile.

This mixed ceviche enjoyed at La Mar, an excellent Peruvian seafood restaurant in Santiago, has a macha in the foreground.

Machas

But where’s the wine? Look out for a number of seafood-friendly Chilean finds in our forthcoming South America offering, available from 3rd February.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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I went to visit the unusual Itata Valley, 400 km south of Santiago, Chile, with Sebastian De Martino and winemakers Marcelo Retamal and Eduardo Jordan.

Itata Valley

Left to right: Eduardo Jordan (winemaker) , Sebastian De Martino (sales director), Marcelo Retamal (head winemaker) standing in the old cinsault bush-vine vineyard from which the De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault comes from.Left to right: Eduardo Jordan (winemaker) , Sebastian De Martino (sales director), Marcelo Retamal (head winemaker) standing in the old cinsault bush-vine vineyard from which the De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault comes from.

It’s unusual for Chile because there is 1100mm of rainfall and vines need no irrigation. Indeed it felt quite European. There is much greenery and evidence of moisture from the mushrooms.

Mushroom in Itata Mushrooms in Itata

Most vineyards in Chile are irrigated, trained on wires and on flat land so it was novel for me to see in Chile unirrigated bushvines on rolling hillsides.

Itata

There is mainly cinsault and muscat planted here. De Martino’s Gallardía del Itata Cinsault 2013 is now available for £8.95 per bottle.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Mon 20 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Picoroco

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This is the oddest thing I have eaten.

Picoroco

It is delicious with a taste in between a scallop, brown crab meat and a clam. Called picoroco in Chile, it’s a giant barnacle (austromegabalanus psittacus).

Picoroco

It is often served in seafood stews over there. It can be boiled or steamed but the best way to cook it is to put it on the barbecue and pour a few drops of white wine into the cavity. It squirts out juice when ready, like a mini volcano erupting.

Picoroco

Pull out the claw and the edible part is attached to it. There’s not much meat but it’s delicious.

Picoroco

While you can’t find this in England at the time of writing, a perfect accompaniement would be our first sparkling wine from Chile, Subercaseaux, named after Don Melchor’s wife’s surname, a delicious pinot and chardonnay sparkling wine from Limarí.

Look out for this wine in our forthcoming South America offer, which will be available from 3rd February. Substitute grilled scallops for the picoroco!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Fri 17 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Pan Casero y Pebre

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The way you start a meal in Chile is with lovely warm, rustic homebaked bread, pan casero, straight from the oven and a spicy salsa called pebre made of coriander, chopped onion, olive oil, garlic and ground or pureed spicy aji peppers. It is sometimes made with tomatoes too and varies in spiciness.

Pan Casero y Pebre

This is to whet your appetite for our South American offer, which will be available from 3rd February!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Tue 02 Jul 2013

Chile: Realising Its Potential

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Earthenware amphorae ('tinajas') at De Martino in Isla de Maipo.Earthenware amphorae (‘tinajas’) at De Martino in Isla de Maipo.
I have just returned from a five-day visit to Chile to meet the pick of The Society’s growers in this most friendly and exceptionally beautiful country.

It has been an eye-opening experience, and it has confirmed to me that Chile, despite its established place in the UK market, still has considerable untapped potential as a quality wine-producing country.

My first visit to Chile was in the 1990s, when the industry was, from an international perspective, very much in its infancy. The majority of wines, with a few notable exceptions, were simple and eminently drinkable, but without much character. Most vines were planted in the country’s rich and highly productive flatlands, known as the Central Valley, south of the capital, Santiago, but little thought had been given to which climates and soils best suited particular grape varieties.

Over the years a gradual transformation has come about. Producers began matching the right varieties to the right microclimates in the traditional grape-growing areas, with sauvignon blanc, for example, being replaced in the hotter regions with red varieties better able to cope with the heat. At the same time, a number of cooler climates were identified in parts of Chile previously untouched by the vine.

The first such area was Casablanca, north-west of Santiago, where pioneer winemaker Pablo Morandé planted some of Chile’s first cool-climate vineyards. More recently, regions such as the Leyda Valley, located a few kilometres from the coast and benefiting from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean, was planted with varieties such as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and the results have been very impressive. The Society’s Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, made for us by the eponymous Viña Leyda, are good examples of the quality potential of this part of Chile.

Ventolera in the Leyda Valley.Ventolera in the Leyda Valley.
During this trip I visited Ventolera, the other star of the Leyda Valley. My only visits to Leyda have been in winter, when coastal fog shrouds much of the region. This visit was no exception, with the sunny 18°C temperatures of Santiago, around 100km away, giving way to fog and a chilly 11°C. Stefano Gandolini, Ventolera’s winemaker, took my buying colleague Toby Morrhall and myself through an impressive range of sauvignons and pinot noirs in their tasting room with a view looking out over their foggy vineyards.

In addition to seeking out cooler-climate regions and matching the right grape varieties to climatic conditions, a great deal of work has been undertaken in recent years in Chile to map the soils of vineyard areas.

Ventolera is one of a handful of wineries that has dug a series of calicatas (pits) to better understand the soil profiles in the vineyard before matching the right clone of the appropriate variety. Try the 2012 Litoral (ie coastal) Sauvignon Blanc (£7.75) or the 2011 Ventolera Pinot Noir (£13.95) for a taste of Stefano’s labours.

Calicatas at VentoleraStefano Gandolini in the calicatas at Ventolera.

Another producer that has taken the subject of soil mapping very seriously is Viña Tabalí, who excavated no fewer than 500 calicatas on their properties in Limarí, 400km north of Santiago, to ensure that their new vine plantings would perfectly match the mosaic of different soils on their land. The results are most impressive, with the chardonnays from their Talinay property (Chile’s coolest vineyard) demonstrating the strides Chile is making in its quest to be taken seriously as a producer of world-class wine.

Sebastian De Martino.Sebastian De Martino.
In addition to the work being carried out to maximise the potential of Chile’s diverse vineyards, a number of producers are finding ways to improve wine quality in the winery, not all of them as hi-tech as building computerised soil-profile maps.

For example, De Martino, whom we visited at their winery in Isla de Maipo, are ageing some of their wines in tinajas, which are large earthenware amphorae collected from the length and (admittedly narrow) breadth of the country. Sebastian De Martino (pictured) showed us an entire warehouse full of assorted sizes of these elegant containers that are a throwback to ancient times. The shape and porosity of the amphora are well suited to the fermentation and gentle ageing of wine. Members might like to try the delicious, savoury 2012 Viejas Tinajas Cinsault (£9.50), made from old vines located in the Itata region, almost 500km south of the capital.

Another company harking back to the past, but this time adding a modern twist, is Miguel Torres. The company is using país grapes, a drought-resistant variety traditionally used for blending (and still the country’s second most widely planted variety), to make a table wine. The twist is that they are employing the technique of carbonic maceration (used widely in Beaujolais) to soften the wine and make it more approachable when young. Miguel Torres has also recently launched a traditional-method rosé sparkling país which will undoubtedly have the champenois raising an eyelid in years to come.

These wines neatly encapsulate all that is good about the Chilean wine industry today, and demonstrate unequivocally that Chile has a bright future.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

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Tue 29 Jan 2013

Chilean Cabernet Takes On The World

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On a windswept January night in London, Chile’s cabernets took on the world in a boldly imagined and thoroughly enjoyable tasting. The event was hosted by Santa Rita Estates, determined as they are to spread the gospel of the country’s premium wines.

‘Premium’ is the operative word: no doubt conscious that Chile is the place more UK consumers look to for a good-value glug rather than a sophisticated splash, the organisers placed four top-end Chilean cabernets in among a 12-wine line-up (all 100% cabernet or cabernet-dominant blends) for us to taste under blind conditions. No prizes for guessing, we were assured: just a chance to see what we thought.

Of course, this didn’t stop the assembled tasters trying to guess the wines, and debate was lively throughout, predictable when considering the clientele. The great and the good of the UK wine trade were out in force, with Steven Spurrier – who, of course, knows a thing or two about these international blind tastings – Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Anthony Rose, Alex Hunt MW and Tom Cannavan all in spirited symposium when it came to relative merits and possible identities.

The wines
Ranging between about £10 and over £100 per bottle, this diverse line-up hailed from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages. While some revelled in their youthful charm, others inevitably were a little surlier. I certainly felt this to be true of the first wine, which turned out to be the Te Mata, Coleraine, 2009, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand, c.£40 per bottle; 52% cabernet sauvignon, 43% merlot, 5% cabernet franc). This is a difficult wine to taste young, but it ages magnificently. For its obviously high quality, then, on the night the 2009 struggled to free itself from its formidable wall of tannins sufficiently to wow the tasters. It will be lovely, but it needs time.

On the other hand, the Petaluma Cabernet-Merlot, 2008, Coonawarra (Australia, c.£28 per bottle; 60% cabernet sauvignon, 31% merlot, 9% shiraz) was intense and exuberant – perhaps even a little aggressively so. So too was the Carmen Gold Reserve, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£50 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), whose almost implausibly dark fruit flavours were conspicuous and gratifying; however, I suspect those who prize complexity above curvaceousness may not enjoy this wine as much as others.

The wines

Next was Sassicaia, 2009 (Italy, c.£105 per bottle; 85% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc). Noticeably lighter in colour than the first three wines, its cedary, leathery and complex aromas seemed to scream ‘claret’ at first. The palate, however, ended Bordelais suspicions, balancing the weight of this warm vintage with delightful, refreshing acidity and red-fruit flavours, all with mesmerising intensity.

From the same vintage, Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan, 2009 (France, c.£60 per bottle; 66% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 6% petit verdot) needed a few swirls of the glass to compose itself and reveal some very fine fruit from under the (currently rather dominant) oak. This wine had an interesting mixture of flavours, feeling at once polished but rather rugged too. Tasting it blind, it was obviously of very high quality, but I found it hard to love at this young stage. It would be fair to say that the least favourite wine of the night for most was the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch, 2008 (South Africa, c.£10 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), critiqued for being rather ‘hot’ and coffee-like. Then again, this was by far the cheapest candidate and with that in mind, it certainly did not embarrass itself.

Jancis Robinson MW
The second half of the tasting commenced with what turned out to be the Santa Rita Casa Real, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon). Pure and satisfying with lovely lifted fruit, complexity and a finish just on the right side of ‘oaky’, both its overall quality and Chilean qualities were rightly singled out by the tasters. An excellent performance, all the more so when one considers that, along with the 2008 vintage shown later in the tasting, it was the second-least expensive of the wines.

Far less straightforward for the panel was the beautiful, atypical Cullen ‘Diana Madeleine’, 2009, Margaret River (Australia, c.£60 per bottle; 88% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 2% malbec). Markedly subtler than the other wines, this was not a ‘blockbuster’ at all, eschewing oaky brawn in favour of gorgeous, soft red-fruit flavours and invigorating freshness. Most were conspicuously insecure when trying to identify what it might be, but it was deservedly popular and several singled it out as their favourite wine on the table.

Next came perhaps the polar opposite of this style, in the form of the Seña, Aconcagua, 2008 (Chile, c.£75 per bottle; 57% cabernet sauvignon, 20% carmenère, 10% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 5% cabernet franc). Intense, extroverted and sweet, this was crying out for hearty food to anyone who might listen. On the other hand, the quietness and classicism of the Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2008 (France, c.£80 per bottle; 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot) made it quite a difficult wine to pin down, and rather like the Te Mata I felt it was not happy to have been disturbed at this age, with quite a lot of oak yet to integrate with the rest of the (excellent) wine.

Tim Atkin MW
The 2008 vintage of Santa Rita Casa Real (Chile, £23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon) followed, with a nose I’d describe as ‘Bordeaux on steroids’. With a delicate touch of sweetness to the fruit and some delicious menthol and tobacco notes, this was full-bodied and certainly very serious, but also really rather good fun too (I should note that this is not meant pejoratively: wine is supposed to be fun, after all!). An excellent wine and again, it is worth bearing in mind its price within this line-up.

‘Backward’ is a word that wine tasters bandy about rather a lot when it comes to young wines, but those seeking the apotheosis of this term should try the last of the flight, Ridge Monte Bello, 2009 (USA, c.£90 per bottle; 72% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 6% petit verdot). Actually, don’t: it would be a terrible shame to broach this before it’s ready. Indeed, this wine was so ‘backward’, it was almost as though the stuff wanted to board a plane to California and reattach itself to the vines. Society buyer Pierre Mansour has said in the past that the elegant greatness of Monte Bello can often be missed in teeth-staining blind tastings, and I’m inclined to agree: compared to many of its peers it is a lover, not a fighter. Peppery, full-bodied and rather smudged by oak at the moment, it nonetheless showed plenty of finesse. Its best is undoubtedly a way off and when that time comes, I can only cross as many appendages as possible that I might get the chance to try it.

So, how did Chile do?

World-renowned wine consultant Brian Croser (left) leads the discussion
When it came to the Chilean wines, the general consensus was that they were among the easiest to spot, and generally in a good way. They seemed to be the ‘friendliest’ of the wines, particularly considering how young most of the bottles in the tasting were. For those weary of or unwilling to negotiate drinking windows and chance ‘dumb stages’ in their wines, this is an advantage that should be taken very seriously.

In all four of the wines, the fruit was a little sweeter, the tannins were soft and the secondary flavours erred more on the satisfyingly peppery side of things than the challenging rusticity found in some of the other wines. Perhaps one or two were a little too exuberant for their own good. Society buyer Toby Morrhall has rightly noted elsewhere that, save a few isolated exceptions, Chile only reached international standard around 20 years ago. Pitted against regions such as Bordeaux then, the greatness of whose wines has been extolled for centuries, this was an impressive performance.

Particularly, it must be said, for Casa Real. The two vintages of this cabernet were noticeably more restrained than the other two Chilean wines on show, and considering they made up two of only four wines in this tasting priced at under £30, their ability to stimulate the intellect as much as the palate was all the more striking. Indeed, the 2010 vintage was certainly among my personal ‘top 3’, alongside the far more expensive wines from Sassicaia and Cullen.

It is a testament to Toby’s efforts that Casa Real has occupied a place in The Society’s multi-award winning Chilean range for some time now.

To this end, the tasting fulfilled its objectives and proved that Chilean cabernets are capable of being delicious, distinctive and attractive at a very high level; not to be sniffed at, but sniffed, swirled, imbibed and enjoyed.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Chile, Wine Tastings
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The Andean Museum at Santa Rita

When visiting a winery, one expects to spend time standing in front of barrels, tanks and sorting tables; less so a selection of ancient percussion instruments. Known as ‘clavas’, they form part of the enviable pre-Colombian art museum at Viña Santa Rita in the upper Maipo.

Clavas were used to symbolise power among tribal chiefs – in some ways perhaps a fitting metaphor for Santa Rita, established in 1880 and now the third-largest producer in Chile. Though The Society’s award-winning range includes a number of arguably more romantic finds from smaller producers, the expertise of some ‘chiefs’ such as Santa Rita provides a superb source of excellent wines.

Indeed, the approach to winemaking here is far from typical of how such companies are often perceived. They own vineyards in and source grapes from many of the best parts of Chile. A case in point is the inexpensive yet wonderfully drinkable Lascar range, which Santa Rita makes exclusively for The Society.

Following my visit to the winery earlier this year, I chose to serve the Lascar Carmenère, 2011 (£5.25 per bottle) at my wedding reception in November. When I had the chance recently to speak to the winemaker, Carlos Gatica, I resisted the urge to blame him directly for a 69-year-old guest’s overexuberance on the dancefloor, focusing instead on finding out more about how they are able to produce this level of quality at a modest price.

Santa Rita is able to invest wisely in an extensive array of vineyard holdings with a committed focus on quality. ‘We have a team of three experts driving around Chile to find the best sites and the best parcels,’ Carlos explains. ‘They do this all the time.’
All the time?’ I asked.
‘ALL the time – they don?t even have an office!’

When asked about what he looks for in the grapes they select for these wines, Carlos replied: ‘In the case of Lascar, we do not worry too much about high yields: it’s more about whether the fruit has the right balance. We have access to surplus of some more expensive wines from Santa Rita’s portfolio, which we can select and blend into the wines as well, if we feel it would benefit them – here we try to find a little more ‘peppery’-tasting fruit to give greater complexity.’

Santa Rita vineyards at Alto Jahuel

Indeed, the merit of Lascar’s wines is in their fruit rather than anything that happens in the winery. ‘I would say as much as 99% of the effort is finding the right grapes,’ says Carlos. ‘In the winery, we do very little pumping over. It is not a high-intervention process.’

This is not to say by any means that Santa Rita restrict themselves to lower-priced wines, and the philosophy of minimal pumping over is also used for their flagship cabernet, Casa Real (the 2007 vintage is available from The Society at £23). This wine has emerged as one of my personal favourite red discoveries this year. A bottle of the 2001 vintage served earlier this year was showstopping, redolent of fine left bank Bordeaux on the nose with delicious, complex, cedary flavours.

Toby Morrhall, The Society’s buyer for Chile, sums up Casa Real’s appeal very well in his wine note, writing that ‘[its] concentration comes from the vineyard, not the winery.’ In the case of Lascar, the same is true of whence its value comes, attested by Carlos’ explanation of the supreme importance of the fruit.

In general terms, the Chilean wines I tend to find the most enjoyment from sit between the price ranges of Lascar and Casa Real: the £7-£15 segment has never been more fertile for wines that have broad appeal but that excite the senses too. Society members have several options to choose from Toby’s range. At both modest and high-end prices though, it is good to see this thoughtful colossus of a winery banging the clava for this ever-exciting wine-producing country.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Chile
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Congrio-Colorado-224x300

The congrio colorado is perhaps Chile’s most emblematic fish. Its meat is firm and white, stays whole when grilled or stewed. Its like monkfish but perhaps with a slightly superior taste.

Indeed it is so good that Chile’s famous poet Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about it called ODA AL CALDILLO DE CONGRIO. A caldillo is a type of stew or chowder. In the photo here it was grilled and served with black butter and capers. There are also congrio dorado (golden) and congrio negro (black) neither of which are as firm or tasty.

Congrio-Colorado-dish-300x224

It superficially resembles a conger eel (congridae family), or a ling, but is neither, although you will find it lazily translated as conger eel. It is more closely related to the South African kingklip (genypterus capensis). In fact it rejoices in the wonderful name of the pink cusk-eel (genypterus blacodes)!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer

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