A Crash Course in Chilean Wine With Alpana Singh at Chicago Gourmet

Wine pour

Wine tasting begins. Sip carefully!

“All good wine tasters spit,” Master Sommelier Alpana Singh told her audience Saturday at Chicago Gourmet. Singh, who has gained celebrity as the host of Check Please, drew a good crowd for her crash course on Chilean wine, and straight off she laid down the tasting ground rules.

“You may think you want to actually drink your money’s worth here today, but if you drink everything you’re passed you’ll be ducking out quietly by 2 p.m. It might feel weird, but that’s why wine tasters spit.”

A solid piece of advice I thought, as the six wine glasses in front of me were filled with generous tastes. Drink them all, and I’d have a steady buzz before lunch! That would be no good for a event like Chicago Gourmet, even though there’s a wine tent around every corner, because one of the best parts about the event is taking the opportunity to learn about food and wine from experts. Missing out on that because of over sampling would be an absolute shame.

The group assembled in the Choral Room behind the stage was certainly there to learn from Singh, and the wines she shared paired nicely with her fascinating stories about finding them at vineyards owned by the country’s elite captains of industry.

Alpana Singh

Alpana Singh.

“Let me start by saying that I’m not always particularly fond of Chilean wine,” Singh said.

Huh. Really? Then why do a seminar about it?

Because Chile turns out a huge amount of wine, most of which is sold very inexpensively in the US, and Singh was curious about that, so she hopped on a plane to Chile after the earthquake to learn more and literally get the lay of the land.

Like all vineyards, production and the taste of the grape crop in Chile hinges on climate and soil, and it’s geography that makes Chilean wine taste so drastically different from say… a popular Malbec from Argentina. Chile also has drastic climate differences across its landscape, and faces a unique challenge because of the way the ground shifts during an earthquake there.  The dumbed down Reader’s Digest explanation is that the ground pushes up, rather than shifting from side to side like it does in California, sometimes uprooting trees and destroying or altering casks of wine in production.

Chilean picks

Chilean wine picks.

Singh did ultimately find many wines in Chile she likes and sees a lot of growth potential for wine there, especially pinot noir.  Tasting wise, you’ll recognize a Chilean wine easily from the get-go because it smells and tastes like bell peppers and jalapenos. Singh is still not overly fond of Carmenère, Chile’s signature wine that for some time was mislabeled and sold as merlot, and thinks its earthy toned taste is better blended with other grapes. After having some, I’m inclined to agree. But the bottom line is you can try some great Chilean wine for $15 or less, and because there’s so much of it, you’ll likely find it at Jewel.  It’s a worthy tasting exercise for a developing palate and good prep for the more expensive Chilean wines that are also worth a try.

An unrelated but interesting side note: Singh is now in Portugal touring and learning about port, much like she did Chilean wine. She says there’s a push to serve port more in the summer and that tawny ports are excellent slightly chilled. In fact, she suggests serving white port over ice with a touch of club soda. Yum! Makes you just want to hold on to summer a tad longer doesn’t it? Thanks for following us on Twitter Alpana!

As media, we attended this event free-of-charge.

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