All of a sudden, it’s seriously summer. The step slows, and the craving for lightness—be it in entertainment or in foods and beverages—soars. Enter my favorite wines: racy, ethereal rieslings; bright, bubbly sparkling wines; delicate, dry, fruity rosés; vivacious, bracing, light-bodied reds. All are treats in their own right, but also terrific with a nearly endless array of foods: savories and salads, sandwiches and crudités, charcuteries, even chips and dips all spring to mind. With exquisite timing, Canto a Lo Divino, produced by A Los Viñateros Bravos (“to the brave vigneron”) has arrived from Chile’s Itata Valley. Bingo! My idea of a perfect summer red to stock up on.
Itata lies south (way south) of Chile’s higher-profile wine regions like Maipo and Casablanca. Its capitol, the port city of Concepción, is the point of the original Spanish colonization. The first grape variety here, called Pais—also known as the Mission Grape—was brought by the conquistadors in the 1550s. Widely scattered vine plantings soon spread across the rolling hills north of the capitol, blessed by a cool climate tempered by the Pacific Humboldt current, generous winter rainfall, and granitic loam and clay soil that retained water through dry periods. Grape vines, grown as small bushes, dry-farmed without irrigation and worked traditionally with axes and horse plows thrived in these conditions on small family farms that provided wine for local consumption, with no intentions to expand production or export wine to the global market.
The Itata farmers, following a long tradition based around heeding cues from their environment, were the original ‘natural wine’ makers. Their instinctive organic approach produces deep-rooted, gnarly vines that live exceptionally long—many to more than 100 years of age—and has not changed for more than five centuries. Though the so-called modernization of viticultural and winemaking methods, along with the uses of herbicides, pesticides, and international grape varieties took hold in northern Chile, where the success of bland bulk wines nearly wiped out the very popular Pais, in the south the traditional, natural, small-scale approach was never lost. Fortunately for us, a new generation of enterprising, small-scale producers arose in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, eager to stem the tide of big, modern wine companies who had stamped out the unique qualities traditional Chilean wine had to offer. One such producer is Leonardo Erazo, who founded A Los Viñateros Bravos in the heart of Itata’s steep hills.
A talented young winemaker and viticulturalist with a degree in Agronomy and Enology from the University of Chile, Leonardo traveled the world for ten years to learn about and gain experience in classic and remote wine regions and their diverse terroirs. During this time he studied biodynamic methods in California, soil types in South Africa, and geology in New Zealand, among other adventures. In Itata, Leonardo has worked with the scattered local farmers’ old vines—many well over 100 years, still growing as dry farmed, untrained small bushes—to enhance their traditional natural practices to align with biodynamic guidelines. His mission, throughout this journey, has been to bring a sense of place into the bottle. With his 2014 Canto a Lo Divino, we can firmly say it’s a mission accomplished.
A very small production of only 900 cases, ‘Canto a Lo Divino’ is made from 100% Cinsault from the Nipos subzone of Itata. Handpicked, the grapes were fermented with natural yeasts and aged in concrete tanks to produce a vibrant, almost zesty, medium-minus bodied wine. Exceptional balance of red fruit with a subtle thread of earth, food friendly acidity, and modest alcohol means this wine is terrific chilled—my summer wont. Refreshing on its own but still deep and complex, it really showcases room temperature meats, especially those nice fatty, salty ones that are so addictive, such as Speck or Jamón Ibérico. Because this wine is fairly new to the market, it’s also an absolute steal for a tiny production, natural old vines wine—certainly worth snapping up before future vintages, when others are wise to the seductive pleasures of A Los Viñateros Bravos.