Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ambassador Mariano Fernandez

And the Chilean Spirit (s)

This summer, Michelle Bachelet made history by becoming the first female President of Chile. (I wonder when the US will join the ranks of the progressive countries around the world with female leadership…)

President Bachelet’s life and political action is the stuff of inspiring novels and films, to be sure. Heroic, determined, modern – downright revolutionary, in my humble opinion – she is by far one of the most admirable women on the planet, today.

With her assumption of the highest position of power in Chile, came the changing of the guard, so to speak. I was lucky enough to meet the newly appointed Chilean Ambassador to the United States, Mariano Fernandez, and his wife, Maria, upon their arrival in Washington DC, this summer, just before I moved back to California. In addition to an impressive political career and several top-tier Ambassadorial appointments (London, Madrid, Rome), His Excellency is a wine connoisseur and bon vivant. His charm and knowledge left me feeling quite lucky to have had the opportunity to be one of the first journalists to interview him at the Embassy, a mere three weeks after settling into his new post.

I am writing an article about Ambassador Fernandez for an upcoming issue of a premiere glossy DC Magazine... However, I have been wanting to share a few tidbits from my first interview with Ambassador Fernandez, regarding Chilean wine and native spirit, Pisco, with the Liquid Muse Community since July! Finally, here it is:

In the world of wine, the Ambassador’s credentials include being Honorary President of the Chilean Sommelier Association and a member of the exclusive, invitation-only International Wine Academy. Ambassador Fernandez sits on many juries and enjoys his involvement as a “wine taster.” He refers to his own cellar (made up of thousands of bottles) as “reasonable” but does not consider himself a “collector” as he intends for his wines to be drunk, rather than merely amassed and abandoned.

While the Ambassador says he does not hold a preference for Chilean wines, per se, he admits that he “loves to inspire interest in Chilean wines in the US.” He notes some of the biggest selling points of Chilean wine are: the good price for the quality, the volume of annual production and the undiscovered jewels produced in his country.

In Chile, the growing conditions are so favorable, while land and labor remain reasonable, that attaining a reasonably priced quality product is relatively easy. To give an idea of pricing, a $10 Chilean vintage will be quite acceptable. Something in the realm of $50 can be quite exceptional. Ambassador Fernandez outlines Chile’s big advantage as, “Our ordinary, simple wines are very drinkable compared to others in well known countries.”

An enthusiast of all types of “vino”, the Ambassador chooses his wine to fit the occasion. He explains, “I love simple wines with a salad, when in a hurry. I enjoy what I call ‘meditation wine’ with a small piece of bread or cheese.” The Ambassador also revels in “very special, impressive wine” though he keeps that indulgence in moderation. Of those revered moments he says, “I love high quality wines but it is impossible to drink those every day. You need the necessary place to drink them, and the time to reflect on them, talk about them, appreciate them.”

Bustling with over 5 million residents, Santiago is surrounded by mountains and boasts a Mediterranean climate – dry, warm in summer, cold in winter, slightly rocky terrain… in other words, ideal wine-growing conditions. Vineyards lie within 100 miles of the capital city, making wine tasting an accessible pastime for local residents and tourists.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990's, Chilean wines exploded onto the international stage. Today, like previously colonized regions (such the US, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.) Chile’s grapes are poised to rival their Old World ancestors. Where did they begin? Chile's wine history runs deep.

According to Ambassador Fernandez, the Conquistadors first brought grape vines to produce wine for mass. By 1557, 10 years after the Spanish came, Chile was producing wine in such amounts that it could be exported to surrounding regions. The Ambassdor highlights that when mining became big business in Chile in the mid-19th Century, wealthy mine owners began to import French Oak barrels, and vines from Bordeaux, enhancing Chile’s wine production. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling are among Chile’s thriving grape varietals.

As a matter of fact, the French Carmenere grape, a medium-bodied grape used in smoky, bold reds, has all but disappeared in France, due to crop disease. Luckily, Carmenere had already been planted in Chile, and became one of its flagship grapes. Interested in trying a Carmenere blend for yourself? The Ambassador suggests Coyam (a word borrowed from the native Mapucha tribe) which blends carmenere grapes with cabernet sauvignon, merlot syrah and mourvedre. At less than $25 per bottle, it is a must-try!

A couple of other suggestions include:

Marques de Casa Concha’s 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, described in May 2006 by Wine Spectator as, “Very solid, with ripe cassis, blackberry and boysenberry fruit offset by vanilla, mineral and cocoa notes.”

Casa La Postole’s 2000 Merlot and 2002 Sauvignon Blanc

On to Pisco!
I have already written about the battle between Chile and Peru regarding Pisco, a clear, strong spirit made from distilled from grapes, on The Liquid Muse, and encourage interested readers to check this post called “Sour Grapes?” for more detailed info. Still, having the Chilean Ambassador before me, however, I could not resist asking his opinion on just who has the right to claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink!

Officially, the Chilean Embassy graciously shares the right to the Pisco Sour with their neighbors. However, Ambassador Fernandez did admit, “I would prefer not to have the argument. Both countries drink it. Pisco is produced in Peru and Chile but we produce 10 times the amount than Peru.” Beneath a layer of seriousness, he adds with a twinkle in his eye, “We won the battle.”


Deb said...

What a great post! I love his input: "I love high quality wines but it is impossible to drink those every day. You need the necessary place to drink them, and the time to reflect on them, talk about them, appreciate them.”
I often wonder, when did we lose our ability to honor, reflect, talk and appreciate food & wine? I say let's all slow down and get back to REALLY living!

Viviana Herrera Liviero said...

The truth is that "producing" more Pisco does not make Chile the rightful owner of this marvelous spirit. Peru produces Pisco way before the 16th century and there is even a port south of Lima called Pisco from where the Spanish conquistadores shipped this liquor to Europe, back in the 16th Century. A fact that Chileans cannot rebate; their "ownership" relies solely on volume. Peruvian's determination to rightfuly proof that they own the brand is based on HISTORY and the real way Pisco is produced, (totally unadultered process of the grape) versus the adulteration process of the Chilean product. During the war between Chile and Peru (19th Century), Chileans "stole" the word Pisco and the idea of reproducing something similar in their country, but they did not take away with them the recipe, therefore the obvious difference in the making.

Thank you,
Viviana Herrera Liviero