Into the Kintu

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The name Kintu sounds Japanese, like the name of some kind of sushi bar. But a web search revealed that according to an old Ugandan legend, a man called Kintu was once the only person on earth and lived alone with his cow. At least he got free milk, though I don’t suppose the conversation was very stimulating.

If I’d had the sense to look at the bottle label first, I’d have found out that the name Kintu is also an ancient Chilean word meaning a “fine view”. This is presumably why the front label shows a drawing of a snow-covered Andean mountain with Spanish galleons in the foreground.

Parinacota: a volcanic mountain in Northern Chile. (Photo: Gerd Breitenbach)Parinacota: a volcanic mountain in Northern Chile. (Photo: Gerd Breitenbach)

European vines were being trundled across the oceans to Chile even when Shakespeare was a boy. The Chileans have been making wine there ever since, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Chilean industry acquired an international reputation.

Kintu Chardonnay 2012 (white), Chile (Bt. 399 @ Tesco-Lotus)

This pale gold wine has a refreshing floral aroma of peaches, honey and a faint tang of fresh lemons. It’s got quite a soft texture but it’s also zesty with lively acidity and a long, fruity and slightly citrusy finish. Although it’s a dry wine, there’s just the faintest hint of sweetness on the palate. It has an attractive sprightly character and would make a jolly good apéritif. The balance is just about right, without an over-the-top fruitiness that could easily dominate food. Talking of which, it works well with smoked salmon. And yes, I tried, since you asked. The dash of acidity would make it a good partner for many Thai and Indian dishes too. It would go well with roast chicken and many other fish dishes, including the good old British fish and chips, especially if the fish has a dry, flaky texture.

Actually, I’ve tried fish and chips in some of the local places but most of them just can’t seem to get the chips right. They’re invariably soggy and hard in the middle, exactly the opposite of what a chip should be. The problem of course lies with the potatoes. Believe me, there’s no way you’ll ever make decent French fries with the big local potatoes, largely because there’s too much water in them. I’ve experimented endlessly without success. Strangely enough, just over the border in Laos they grow small waxy potatoes that are perfect for French fries. And did you know that there are nearly 5,000 different varieties of potato in the world?  No, I thought not. Most of them can be found in Peru, where there’s even an International Potato Centre. But I’m starting to ramble. (Yes, I’d noticed – Ed.)

Kintu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (red), Chile (Bt. 399 @ Tesco-Lotus)

The first thing you’ll probably note about this wine is its striking colour, assuming you bother to look at it before having a swig. It’s a dark purple, but you’ll need to be a bit patient with the aroma. Give it about twenty minutes air contact, ideally by pouring it into a decanter. You’ll be rewarded with a lovely brambly smell of red and black berries. There’s an enticingly soft mouth-feel and plenty of dark, rich fruit on the palate. It’s a medium-bodied dry wine with an attractive foundation of tannin and a long, dry finish. It’s rather a serious wine too; dark in colour and dark in mood. In many ways, it reminds me of red Bordeaux. Perhaps this is because the Chilean vines are grown in a loamy, sandy soil in the Maule Valley that’s very similar to the soil in parts of Bordeaux.

Although I describe the wine as “serious” don’t let this put you off, because it’s quite an easy drinker. However, the back label suggests that you could drink this wine with pizza and pasta. Well sorry chaps, but I beg to disagree. To my mind, drinking a Bordeaux-style wine with a pizza is just being silly. Traditionally a cheap and cheerful Italian meal, pizza really goes best with a cheap and cheerful Italian wine. A light Bardolino, a Valpolicella or a chirpy Chianti are far more appropriate. Keep this Chilean wine for classic red meat dishes. It would work perfectly with steak.

Of course, in polite society there are certain things we simply don’t do, like holding our dinner knife like a pencil, blowing our nose during the meal or knocking back red Bordeaux with pizza. So don’t let me catch you swigging Bordeaux with your Four Seasons, otherwise you’ll receive a poke with a pointed wooden stick and I shall never speak to you again.