It was a sunny afternoon June 14 in NoHo at the edge of the East Village in Manhattan – the kind that would be perfect for hanging out in Washington Square Park nearby. Instead, I was heading inside to the Astor Center, packed with some of the most important people from the world of Latino Wine. Close to a hundred wine makers from across Latin America, along with brand ambassadors, critics, and sommeliers, crowded together to taste and talk about their wines, some arriving to the US for the first time ever.
This event was to celebrate the publication of the 2016 edition of Descorchados, or “Uncorked”, a comprehensive guide to the wines of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. While the guide series has existed for many years in Spanish, this is the first year the guide was published in English as well, marking a big turning point for producers and consumers alike in the relationship between the makers of the South and the enthusiastic drinkers here up North.
Written and compiled by one Chilean, Patricio Tapia, Descorchados represents over 15 years of wine knowledge across nearly one thousand pages of information. Tapia is the premiere specialist of the South American wine world. His books are considered by far the best wine guides to the Southern Hemisphere.
He began his work in 1999 cataloguing the wineries of Chile when large commercial wine operations were dominating production. Tapia got to work understanding the country’s terroirs beyond what anyone had done before, investigating and composing intricate critiques on the potential for truly high quality wines grown in Chilean soil. Building his reputation in the region as a keen wine critic, in the early 2000s, he expanded his work to neighboring South American countries, places where many exciting wines were to be discovered but still, little had been documented.
As a young journalist and wine enthusiast in Santiago, I regularly read his column in the wine and food section of El Mercurio, one of the biggest newspapers in Chile. I never could have imagined in those days that I would be invited to take part in this moment of Descorchados arriving to the Gran Manzana (the Big Apple), exchanging tweets with Tapia himself during the train ride on the way.
Fast-forward to the Astor Center. As I circled the floor, I found myself face-to-face with varietals that have existed in these South American countries for a long time but have not yet been exported or exposed to international consumers at scale. While big exporters often make decisions in winemaking based around what is trendiest and easiest to sell, these wine makers are all driven by the art of their wines – finding traces of possibility and innovation in their vines and expressing their terroirs whole-heartedly. I tasted many exciting things: Albariños from Uruguay, Torrontés from Argentina prepared in the style of a red – fermented with all seeds and skin to create a super full-bodied glass, and new sparklings and reds from Brazil that have elevated the flavor standards to world-class heights for their industry.
From Chile, I was inspired by the work of Rogue Vine, from a little-known region in the called Itata Valley, nestled between Chillán and Concepción in the southern part of the Coastal Range. Winemaker Leonardo Erazo shared his vision with me about creating wines with “a strong sense of origin that reflect the uniqueness of the Itata Hills” from old vines found in the steep slopes that have been neglected for more than 300 years. Using primarily three grapes, País, Carignan, and Cinsault, he seeks to revive the reputation of these historic but lesser known Chilean varietals. And his wines are precise and refreshing, with well balanced acidity. Production is extremely limited, so we are lucky to carry a few bottles in Grand Cata.
One of the most exciting things about the Descorchados event was to realize how many of the book’s estrellas are already available on our shelves. We hope to continue connecting with these winemakers from across Latin America in new ways and showcasing their unique work right here in DC, bringing the insights directly from the countries we also call home.