Editor of the renowned UK wine industry publication, The Drinks Business, Patrick Schmitt is a Master of Wine with a unique insight into the UK market and tendencies in wine. He visited Chile last week to taste the wines and novelties of the wineries, and journey into the regions of Elqui and Limari. Amanda Barnes catches up with him for an interview to get his insight into Chile’s strengths, weaknesses and undiscovered potential – and asks him how to survive the grueling Master of Wine exam…
You recently became a Master of Wine, congratulations! Do you have any pearls of wisdom or words of advice to share with any aspiring students?
It helps to be in a market where you have wines from the world to taste. Why aren’t there more fine dining restaurants in Santiago with international wines? I don’t know if it is because there’s no market for them, or if there’s no imports, although I see an opportunity. Santiago is the centre of wine businesses, with many wine people, tourists and expats who would love to drink more foreign wine.
I also recommend that anyone who wants to become an MW, looks carefully at what is required before starting. You need to be proposed to be a Master too, so it is good to discuss with them very closely if you think you have the motivation to do the studying required.
Put simply, the Master of Wine is a test of experience.
Having now visited Chile three times, what do you find is the greatest difference from what the books say and the reality visiting the wine regions here?
It is much more exciting than I believed from limited exposure in the UK. But my curiosity was peaked during my first visit!
After visiting Chile I also went to Argentina, which was very fashionable in the UK at the time, but after my visit to both countries I think that Chile offers more excitement for the wine drinker. It combines skilled handling of classic noble varieties and (within the last two to three years) an adventurous element that has shown me as a wine writer plenty to report on, safe in the knowledge that new projects are being handled by skilled winemakers.
Chilean Chardonnay is underrated and has been vastly improved making it now even more underrated. I’m pleased to see an evolution of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch more freshness and lower alcohols and
generally more brightness. Pinot Noir is also definitely one to watch! Also I really like what Chile is doing with Mediterranean grapes.
You are about to head to Elqui and Limari for a couple days. What are you hoping to discover?
I felt there’s a lot of writing about the South of Chile, and I wanted to see what was happening in the North. I was interested in the Chilean Chardonnay and I wanted to visit Limari. The journalist in me wanted to see the challenge of growing grapes in semi-desert conditions and find out how they will cope if the situation worsens.
The Drinks Business, of which you are Editor, does different Masters series in blind tastings of varieties around the world. Are there any tips or observation points you can share about Chile’s performance overall?
Although I think the style of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is very appealing, I wonder if it might benefit from more texture. I think Chile has an opportunity for oaked Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends.
With Cabernet Sauvignon I would like to see a bit more brightness and I think the UK market are more accepting of tannins, so we would like to see Cabernet with more brightness and a tannic structure. It’s not something to be feared!
Chardonnay I think is on course, and the price-quality ratio in Chilean Chardonnay is exceptional from the coastal regions.
I would like to see a focus on some great white wines to compliment the reds, perhaps some Mediterranean white varieties could perform well in this country.
I think Chile is wrongly perceived by some as boring, it is anything but!
By Amanda Barnes