Break The Bank
First the bad news. Once the dust settles on the Beijing Olympics in 2008, wine prices for the world’s icon wines will rise significantly. Romanée-Conti, Pétrus, First-Growth Bordeaux and Château d’Yquem will be out of range for all but the mega-rich. This pressure on supply will affect prices for second-tier fine wines and have a trickle-down effect.
Why? Because the wealthy Chinese will witness how Western businessmen entertain in Beijing hotels and restaurants — and millionaires like to have what other millionaires have. Namely, the world’s great wines. There is only a limited supply of each vintage of the above-mentioned wines, which means that their prices will go up.
Now the good news. Regions that hitherto supplied the market with wallet-friendly but eminently drinkable wines will fill the gap with more elegant — and slightly more costly — versions of wines they already sell.
This eureka moment came to me while I was tasting the 2005 and 2006 wines from Chile’s Casa Lapostolle in a restaurant recently. Chile has been sending us wines in the $10–$15 price range that cannot be matched anywhere in the world for their bold fruit flavours.
The country has a bizarre geography. It runs down the west side of the Andes like the spinal chord of South America, it’s 4,270 kilometres long (slightly less than the distance between Toronto and Regina), and yet it’s only 177 kilometres wide on average.
Chile grows roughly 5 per cent of the world’s wine production. The wine-growing regions are located in 13 river valleys — from the Elqui Valley in the warm north to the Malleco Valley in the cool south. The range of temperatures and soils allows Chile to grow and fully ripen every desirable wine grape from Syrah to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay to Riesling, as well as its own signature variety: Carmenère. Added to this, the country has never experienced phylloxera! To plant a new vine, all a producer has to do is bury a cane and cut it free from the mother vine when it takes root.
The climate is such that Chile could — if the winery executives had the will — be the first wine country to go totally organic. In 2006, 2,443 hectares were certified, or in the process of being certified, organic. In 2007, this figure rose by 30 per cent. In the coming years, organic wines, I predict, will be a major part of environmentally conscious consumers’ cellars.
If Chile is a grape grower’s paradise, why, you might ask, is its production not much larger? Today there are some 114,000 hectares under vine, which is equivalent to the entire Bordeaux appellation. The problem is that Chilean vineyards were traditionally planted on flat land to take advantage of the runoff water from the Andes that was channelled into the vineyards. It is only in the last thirty years that vintners have begun to plant the foothill slopes and use drip irrigation.
The improved irrigation techniques coupled with more scientific vineyard management have meant better-quality wines. So Chile is poised to make really good wines in the $15–$25 price range, in the same price/quality league as New Zealand. Currently Chile has been enjoying sales the way Australia was five years ago. According to Liquor Control Board of Ontario figures, sales of Chilean wine for the first time are showing more growth than Australia. Watch your liquor-store shelves. You’ll see a lot more Chilean wines in the coming year, and they’ll begin to replace other New World favourites in your heart and on your palate.