Forgotten Vines

Some wines are friendly, designed just to drink and enjoy. In France, they’re called vin de soif, intended to be little more than thirst quenching and delicious. In Chile, they’re called vino pipeño, made by country folk with little desire to send them far from home.

Though I’d been traveling to Chile regularly since 1989, I’d never tasted—or heard of—a pipeño until several years ago, when Patricio Tapia brought a bottle to dinner in Santiago. It was a simple wine, with joy in the bottle, an earthy refreshment from Louis-Antoine Luyt. A Frenchman who settled in the south of Chile, the home of pipeños, he had started to bottle some for export, effectively setting off a small controversy: These were wines for drinking where they were made, soon after they were made. Many Chilean wine insiders either ignored them or believed they presented the wrong quality image for the country. Two years later, I convinced Tapia to accompany me on a journey to Concepción, to visit Luyt and other growers in Itata and Maule.

I fell in love with Manuel Moraga’s ancient país vines growing in trumao, the sandy volcanic soil where their roots had survived in the midst of rabbit warrens for centuries. And I fell in love with the light-bodied essence of the place he bottled as pipeño. But having been disappointed by so many vins de soif I had imported from France or other points in Europe, I continued to believe the wine would not likely travel well.

Recently, Sam Benrubi invited me to join him on The Grape Nation, a show he presents on Heritage Radio Network, and I brought a pipeño along. It was Renan Cancino’s 2013 Huaso de Sauzal, a wine Cancino had poured for me with a lunch of braised lamb, sautéed onions and fries at his house—in Sauzal, a small hamlet in Maule’s coastal hills. In its hometown, the wine was so compelling that I’d brought a few bottles back to share them with friends in the business. This was my last one, and it had been sitting behind my desk for two years. I worried that it might be shot. In fact, when I opened it for Benrubi, it was still fresh and delicious…and it kept improving with air. It took me back to Chile, to the sunny hillsides of Maule and the dry-farmed país vines that have survived for centuries.

Today, you can find a number of these wines in the US, and so we asked Patricio Tapia to give an introduction to vino pipeño in this issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these wines convinced you to plan a trip to Chile, as they continue to tug me back.

Mourvedre is the other, rather unlikely focus of this issue, a variety that has caught our attention through our tastings—both from California and from the Rhône. Luke Sykora makes the case for Sierra Foothills mourvedre, while Josh Raynolds considers why the vine is gaining prominence in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s not the first time there’s been an upwelling of interest in the variety—as Patrick J. Comiskey points out on the back page, and in his new book, American Rhône. But this time, finding its sweet spot in a changing climate, mourvedre may be here to stay.



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