NOVEMBER 2023: An Older World

by Leslie Pariseau

There exist some deep-rooted beliefs about wine that often go unquestioned. One of them is that there is such a thing as "old world" and "new world." Old being European and new being everything else. But have you ever asked what it means or why or if it's even true?

As the first edition of our brick-and-mortar club, I'd like to bring you into the world that we are building at Patron Saint. It's a world into which you can dig as deep as you'd like or just skim along the surface of, but no matter where you land, we delight in the smashing of assumptions and preconceived notions.

In the case of this club—apropos of Thanksgiving—I'd like to propose rebelling against the notion of worlds "new" and "old" and think about a particular place on its own terms, specifically Chile.

The prevailing sentiment about European wines—the reason they are called "old world"—is that the vines from which they grown are older than those in the rest of the world; therefore, they often get elevated to the top of some imaginary wine hierarchy. (More about this here.) In reality, there are old vines in more places than Europe; and some of the vines we're talking about today are 200 years old, and own-rooted vines rather than grafted vines.

Decoding: The majority of the world's vines are grafted due to a root-eating disease called phylloxera; just like in apple orchards or citrus groves, grape vines get grafted onto one another too—usually to create a plant that can resist the ravage of phylloxera. On the other hand, own-rooted vines are those that haven't been grafted onto other rootstock; they're simply their own vines, doing what they do without the influence of another vine type.

That said, neither is above the other. They are simply different. The point is, Chile has old vines. Very old vines. Vines doing what they've been doing for over a century, which is nothing to sniff at. (Or maybe it is.)

Onda Brava "Rosado" Itata Valley, Chile 2021

The first time I encountered Dani Rozman's La Onda wines at All Time in LA, I vowed I would figure out how to get them wherever I lived one day. That day has arrived. DJ Piazza of Disco Liquids, a new natural wine distributor in New Orleans, has brought them to us, and it's a dream realized. We carry every single one of Rozman's wines we can get our hands on, including this singular Rosado from Onda Brava, his Chilean collaboration with Leo Erazo in the Itata Valley.

"We are really interested in terroir, granitic soil, and finding really special hillside vineyards of old, ungrafted, unirrigated bush vines," says Rozman. Really old = 150 to 200 years old. (See photo above.) When it comes to vines—and own-rooted vines—that's really quite old. "The idea that Itata is new world is an absurd concept. Viticulture there goes back to the late 1500s and a lot of the practices of how vineyards are farmed today come from the older wisdom of farming."

This Rosado, made from 100% país—a grape brought by Spanish colonizers way back when—is stuck in my brain on a loop. It's savory with saline purity and bright tangerine fruit. Rozman describes it as "winter rosé" and insists that we do away with the concept of saving certain wines for certain seasons. Yes to this.

Rogue Vine "Grand Itata" Itata Valley, Chile 2021

Rogue Vine is almost always on our shelves if it's available. These wines from Leo Erazo (see above) and Justin Decker, an Indiana man, are simply fantastic. The Grand Itata is from vines that are at least 60 years old, and is a blend of cinsault and país, straightforward and delicious. It's wine for everyone and all seasons—not too thinky, a weather-toggler, wonderful with food or not. My advice: Drink the whole bottle the day you open it. It's ephemeral and will be best in one sitting this year (share, please).

Laberinto "Arcillas" País, Valle del Maule, Chile 2022

Rafael Tirado's vineyards are planted in maze-like patterns on 23 hectares of volcanic ash over granite in the Maule Valley, hence the name "Laberinto" i.e. Labyrinth. He works in a gravity-fed system, eliminating the need for electricity and pumps. Tirado's vines are younger than those of our other two wines, but this single vineyard release expresses the potential of a winemaker considering país with the same treatment as a grape that might be considered "more serious." Spicy with bright cranberry fruit and casual structure, it's wonderful food wine, great for the cool weather. País that will likely age well, along with the vines from which it is grown.