Chilean wines make a splash in Vancouver

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      Yeah, I guess it’s one of the perks of the job.

      I was scrolling through Instagram recently and noted a post from national wine importer Lifford Wine & Spirits. That post shared news that the Chilean wines of winemaker Louis-Antoine Luyt (pronounced “loot”) are beginning to make a splash in our market.

      The labels in the image were quite attractive, and I’d heard good things about Luyt in the past, including Levi Dalton (the New York–based host of the popular I’ll Drink to That! podcast) referring to him as “one of the most exhilarating winemakers working on the planet today”.

      Intrigued, I sent a quick note to see if I could have the opportunity to taste the wines. Not 48 hours later, I was sitting in my Gastown office with Maude Renaud-Brisson, one of Lifford’s Vancouver-based wine representatives.

      Hey, I can’t always just summon wine like that, but it never hurts to go for it, right? (In saying this, boy—do I ever love Krug Champagne, but it’s been a while and I think I’ve forgotten what it tastes like…)

      As she pulled the corks from two bottles we were to taste, she refreshed me on the story behind the wines I’d only read or heard snippets about before.

      It begins with Louis-Antoine Luyt—the proprietor and winemaker behind his eponymous labellings—who grew up in the French countryside between Paris and Burgundy. His family had a fondness for food and wine because they had plenty of good options for both close to home.

      In his early 20s, Luyt was bitten by the travel bug, feeling that it was time to learn more about himself, and he made his way to Chile. He began working in a restaurant, starting as a dishwasher, then worked his way up the ranks over time, eventually becoming the wine buyer. He’d opened his palate while attending sommelier school, though he was taken aback by how most of the Chilean wine he tasted was awfully industrial compared to other fine wines of the world.

      Intrigued by the idea that things didn’t have to be that way, he thought he’d have a go at winemaking.

      The next few years saw Luyt travelling between Chile and France, gaining much of his winemaking chops working with the famed Beaujolais family behind Domaine Lapierre. It was while working with them during the course of five vintages that he gained an appreciation for their noninterventionist style of winemaking, crafting “natural wine”, if you will. The idea was to return to Chile for good and make wine in this style, far from the country’s common, industrial output.

      He originally had a couple of partners and sourced fruit from various regions, but he ended up flying solo, leasing and farming eight hectares of vineyard land while still maintaining relationships with a handful of growers. Through his exploration of opportunities, he was intrigued by Paìs, an ancient grape variety brought to Chile by Spaniards in the 16th century. Although not popular with the masses, the variety that generally produced lighter reds with (sometimes harsh) rustic edges was common in rural areas and seen as peasant wine.

      Luyt aimed at, and succeeded in, working with growers to farm organically, lower yields, harvest earlier, and employ Beaujolais-style winemaking methods like carbonic maceration, which allowed the variety to authentically express aspects of its terroir. It’s a noble move to champion and improve on the quality of Paìs, as there’s an incredible pedigree to these plantings, with some of them more than 200 years old.

      His instincts have paid off; the wines I’ve had the opportunity to try are awfully fascinating.

      Of course, I wasn’t the only one for whom Renaud-Brisson opened those bottles. After visiting me, she toured around town, sharing Luyt’s story and his wines. I was hardly the only one stoked on ’em. You can now try his wines for yourself at places like Chambar (568 Beatty Street), Merchant’s Workshop (1590 Commercial Drive), and Bows & Arrows (4194 Fraser Street).

      You can also pick up a bottle (or two) of the following wines for yourself at Liberty Wine Merchants’ East Van location (1622 Commercial Drive) at $35.99 a pop, both in one-litre format.

      Louis-Antoine Luyt Pipeño Santa Juana 2016 is juicy and mighty crushable. It’ll have you falling fast for the Paìs variety, with its abundant red and black berry fruit, black licorice, and a fine dusting of espresso on the finish.

      Louis-Antoine Luyt Pipeño Blanco 2017 is a cheery blend of Muscat of Alexandria, Sémillon, and Chasselas. There’s a little skin contact in the winemaking process, so it has a nice touch of grip among notes of young almond, jasmine, litchi, and fresh lime. Perfect with local seafood or simply on its own.