From £11.95, 1,823 yen, CA$20.15, €14.60, $21.74
You can imagine that there are some challenges choosing our wines of the week. We try to recommend wines that are as widely available as possible and of course it is generally the dullest wines that have the best distribution. There are some wines whose story is so relatively obscure that I sometimes don’t even bother to investigate how many listings they have on wine-searcher.com since I assume they are irredeemably difficult to track down.
One of those wines was Clos des Fous, Locura 1 Chardonnay 2012 Cachapoal, a truly excellent wine that I gave 17 points out of 20. It is made by a new, small, independent producer based in Maule, southern Chile, the region that has until very recently been regarded as an outpost of winemaking civilisation. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that the wine is currently available, according to wine-searcher, in the UK, US, Canada, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Japan, and Chile of course (although maybe ‘of course’ is not appropriate since so many Chilean wines are designed exclusively for export). Whoever is in charge of exports deserves a medal.
The ‘fous’ (fools) in the winery name are four friends, including winemaker François Massoc and Pedro Parra, Chile’s terroir genius, who met in Burgundy. Locura 1 apparently means ‘Crazy 1’ (same root as loco presumably), reflecting the Clos des Fous philosophy of scouting great vineyard sites outside traditional Chilean wine areas, especially those in the extreme conditions further south and east – described as ‘craziness’ by their peers. Pedro Parra explains: 'The name is because we wanted to not follow the Chilean mainstream idea about Coastal chardonnay. We wanted to get higher natural acid.'
Pedro’s philosophy is that rocky soils result in lower vine vigour and deeper roots, which he believes gives better balance and more finesse to the wines. There certainly is proof of the pudding in this exceptionally refined wine. It apparently took Pedro and the Clos des Fous team four years to find their vineyard north of Maule in the Alto Cachopoal in Coya, 26 kilometres into the Andes and very close to the snow line at 950 metres elevation. This is Chile's highest Chardonnay vineyard, based on deep sandy clay rich in volcanic rocks and pebbles, which helps promote deep roots. Extreme conditions indeed.
The 2012 debut vintage was exceptionally hot but you wouldn’t know it to taste this handsomely packaged wine. Clos des Fous operates on the fashionable minimal intervention principle, inspired by the partners’ experiences in Burgundy. The fruit was whole-bunch pressed, fermentation was slow and cool, and malolactic conversion was suppressed but the wine was aged for 12 months on the lees à la bourguignonne with just 5% in old oak. There is no overt hint of oak on the wine, which has the most disarming combination of a seriously nervy, flinty nose and very rich palate. There is fabulous tension in this wine, which has great depth and integrity. I would drink it over the next two years. It has 14% alcohol and the remarkably low pH (attention, geeks) of 3.11. A great buy, it is currently on offer from Slurp.co.uk (though they seem to have increased the price from the £10.44 advertised at the end of last week to £11.95 since the publication of this article – tut, tut) and many other independent retailers in the UK.
Next month I'm planning to spend a few days in Chile for the first time in far too long. Wines like these demonstrate just how fast the country's wine scene has been expanding and evolving.