Exploring Moscatel & Itata Valley’s Resurgent Star, País

Exploring Moscatel & Itata Valley’s Resurgent Star, País.

When it comes to Chilean wines, our minds often drift to the familiar notes of Carménère, Syrah, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet, within Chile’s vast expanse of over 214,000 hectares of vineyards lies a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. In this piece, we delve into Chile’s unique position in the world of wine, spotlighting the lesser-known but deeply cherished Moscatel and its newfound champion, the País variety.

Diverse Wine-Growing Zones

Chile’s wine-growing regions can be divided into three main zones: Andes, Entre Cordilleras, and Costa. Among these, the Maule Valley reigns supreme, stretching over 32,000 hectares approximately 300 kilometers southwest of Santiago. What sets Chile apart is its diverse microclimates, a result of its unique geography. This diversity yields wines with unparalleled complexity, where each sip transports you to a different corner of the vineyard. To uncover the essence of Moscatel and País, we journey to the heart of the Itata Valley.

Itata Valley: Cradle of Moscatel and País

Nestled some 500 kilometers south of Santiago lies the enchanting Itata Valley, spanning approximately 10,000 hectares across a 100-kilometer stretch from north to south. Its name derived from the confluence of two rivers, the Rio Itata and the Rio Ñuble, this region encompasses the towns of Chillán, Quillón, and Coelemu. While Cinsault, Semillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon claim their space, it’s the illustrious País and Moscatel grapes that dominate, comprising around 70% of the vineyard landscape. Once favored for their role in crafting sweet wines in the 1700s, these grapes have undergone a remarkable transformation, as we explore below.

Our 4-day tour through Itata Valley showed us a richness of Moscatel and Pais vines and wines.

Moscatel: Beyond Sweetness

Known for their sweet wines and for Pisco, a popular grape brandy in South America, there is plenty more to discover about this well-known grape variety.  When we discuss Moscatel we should speak of a family instead of a single varietal. Moscatel is the name for Muscat in Spain and Portugal, and generally refers to Muscat of Alexandria. Moscatel and Muscato grapes hail from the same overarching Muscat family, which is one of the oldest and most widely-planted grape families in the world offering endless variations. Itata valley offers a very distinctive terroir where wineries have well-considered planted their vineyards accordingly to produce dry, elegant, and refreshing Moscatel wines. What the wineries we visited have in common is that they intervene as little as possible and let nature speak for itself. This means dry farming, no cutting grass and so on. Viticulture with respect of nature proves to be a success for Itata valley. Signature wines that are fresh yet elegant on the palate.

País: A Resilient Heritage

Though not a newcomer, País has experienced a resurgence in recent years, reclaiming its status as a Chilean favorite. Introduced by the Spaniards in the 16th century, this red grape once graced the tables of the Catholic church and fortified the spirits of soldiers. Known as the ‘Mission grape’ in the United States, País embodies lightness, freshness, and approachability. Its popularity waned with the rise of Cabernet Sauvignon until a revival in 2010 breathed new life into its vines.

The families in Itata Valley have worked and nurtured their old Pais vineyards for centuries.

Elevating País to Excellence

Despite its humble origins, País has undergone a metamorphosis, transcending its past to emerge as a refined and elegant wine. In Itata, we encountered a community of winemakers united by their passion for País and its inherent versatility. From reds to blends and even sparkling variations, País defies expectations at every turn. 

We tried dozens of País wines during our stay in Itata valley and none were the same. The terroir (mostly clay, chalk and quarts) combined with the micro-climate provided a unique combination of flavors. Each winemaker passed on their philosophy in the winemaking process. As little intervention as possible, respecting nature, dry farming, manual grape harvest and selecting only the best grapes. We tasted natural País wines which pair fantastically with a quality farm meal, as well as light and fruity País wines which are a pleasure to enjoy on their own, slightly chilled. 

With meticulous grape selection and tender handling throughout vinification, aging, and bottling, País emerges as an elegant wine, evoking the essence of a Pinot Noir with a distinct Chilean flair. Infused with finesse, depth, and structural integrity, it captivates the palate with its nuanced complexity.

Itata Valley producers are increasingly developing and refining the styles of their wines.

A Toast to Diversity

Our journey through the vineyards of Moscatel and the resurgence of País has been a revelation. We extend our gratitude to the dedicated producers who labor tirelessly to bring these exceptional wines to fruition. Special thanks to Vinos MasintinAtelier MassocLakura Wines, Viña Mardones and La Vieja Parra for sharing their passion and craftsmanship with us.

If you would like to learn more about Itata Valley check out our article Itata Valley: Unveiling Chile’s Heritage Through its Vineyards.

This article was written by our own Kirsten Andringa, after our visit to Chile’s Itata Valley, with support of ProChile and Viñateros del Valle del Itata.