The Second Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols Bristol hosted a Chilean wine dinner last night in collaboration with Sunday Telegraph wine writer and Saturday Kitchen regular Susy Atkins.
Susy shared and celebrated somewhat undiscovered gems from the young guns of South American wine-making, found during her travels in Chile, which were flavour-matched to four courses prepared by Harvey Nicks’ award-winning and always on-point head chef Louise McCrimmon. Keen to keep us on our toes from the off, Susy hit us first with the summery and, as she confessed, strangest tipple: trendy Tinto de Rulo Pipeño, whose Pais grape – a “workhorse variety” previously used for basic jug wine and rosé – is thought to have roots in Mexico. Paired with empanadas – mini Chilean pasties – it certainly was an unusual opener that divided the table straight down the middle; one side enjoying its light pippiness and the other slightly unnerved by its new-wave nature. Making use of cutting-edge techniques in winemaking, with low sulphur and low intervention, and fermented in clay amphorae just south of the Central Valley – where it’s cooler due to higher rainfall – it’s what all the Chilean hipsters are guzzling, by all accounts.
“People will look back on this decade as one where a lot of the most important vineyards went in and matured,” Susy told us. “Chile is a country that is still planting its most important vineyards.”
Next, however, we went a little more trad. “Riesling gets a bad rap,” said Susy, “but this couldn’t be further from the German stuff.” True, too; the fresh acidity and apricot fruitiness of the Matetic, Corralillo Riesling cut right through Chef McCrimmon’s pastel de jaibas – a divine Chilean crab casserole that was almost like a savoury creme brûlée with its rich, cheesy sauce, and whose singular, meaty claw, poking out from the surface, seemed to point at its drinking partner approvingly.
With New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc now so ubiquitous (with undeniably good reason) it was nevertheless refreshing for the subsequent super-fresh seabass and citrus ceviche – really complemented with a mint-leaf garnish – to be buddied up with a palate-cleansing 2017 Sauv from Undurraga, in the cooler coastal area of the Leyda Valley. Relatively newly planted and having benefitted from the natural drip irrigation that comes from being so close to the snow melt of the nearby Andes, it was no poor cousin.
Seared onglet steak with creamy corn pie and pebre salsa was matched with a De Martino, Carmenère, of warmer climes, whose wood-spice makes it great for the likes of lamb curry too. Then, heading back to the coast with a strong (14.5%) Spanish-inspired EQ Syrah, we dived into a lightly chilli-laced dessert of dulce de leche alfajores – a traditional Latin American confection comprising soft cookies affixed with the sweet caramel characteristic of typical Chilean flavour profiles – topped with toffee popcorn.
Offering a closer look at this exciting New World country’s wine, beyond the big brands and obvious styles, and perfectly matching it with layers of delicately spiced Chilean flavours à la Louise McCrimmon, the evening forged a fine introduction to how modern Chile is pushing its boundaries with its evolving regions, styles and grapes, and went a long way to explaining why, as Chilean wine’s third largest export market, the UK is loving the stuff.