• Sarah O'Kelley

Pais: The Under the Radar Red Wine


From Argentina: Durigutti Proyecta Las Compuertas Criolla Parral (from 80-year-old vines!)   From Chile: Lomas De Llahuen Pais (a liter bottle!) Aupa Pipeno Pais/Carrignan (available in bottle or 250ml CAN!) Vina Gonzalez Bastias Matorral Pais

There’s something I need to get off my chest…somehow over the past 2 years I have let myself slip into being a less adventurous wine lover. Perhaps I have already mentioned this? Another trait of the last two years – a muddled memory!

But back to my original confession – yes, sadly I have gotten in the rut of mostly drinking my favorite varieties and regions on repeat. Of course, it was quite understandable when things were so so bleak in the depths of the pandemic; yet, somehow I never quite rebounded. Suffice it to say I have drank a lot of Loire Chenin, “affordable” Burgundy, and balanced new world Pinot over the past 24 months! Sure there was an occasional outlier, but not enough!

So without further adieu, I am breaking out! And a perfect starting point was the totally lovely Catena Marchigiana Criolla Chica that we enjoyed last week. Never heard of Criolla Chica? You are most definitely not alone. This is the Argentinean synonym for a thin skinned red grape known as Pais in Chile, Mission in Cali, and Listan Prieto

in its native Spain. It was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers, and its hardiness ensured that it has survived for hundreds of years. Yep, you read that correctly, this is a grape that escaped the dreaded vine disease of Phylloxera in many of its locations, and consequently we find extremely historic examples!

Another astounding and outstanding characteristic of this overlooked variety is that despite often coming from vines that are hundreds of years old (a rarity in the wine world) the prices remain absurdly low! And final selling point? The widespread quality of all examples I have come across. Most are Pinot Noir-esque deliciousness for $20-ish.


Some folks compare Criolla/Pais/Mission to Beaujolais, and I would say that’s also an apt description. Suffice it to say if you love Pinot Noir or Gamay you are a terrific candidate for becoming a lover of this new world phenom. My only caveat – it’s on the lighter side for sure – so keep your pairings on the lighter side as well. Put a chill on it and think burger rather than ribeye! Or order pizza! Or enjoy it with some spice. Reds and spiciness can be challenging, but I enjoyed the Catena Marchigiana Criolla Chica with Szechuan take-out. It was a match made in heaven!!

Here are some of my fave examples of Criolla/Pais/Mission…

From Argentina:

Catena Marchigiana Criolla Chica

Durigutti Proyecta Las Compuertas Criolla Parral (from 80-year-old vines!)

From Chile:

Lomas De Llahuen Pais (a liter bottle!)

Aupa Pipeno Pais/Carrignan (available in bottle or 250ml CAN!)

Vina Gonzalez Bastias Matorral Pais

(this one is from 200-year-old vines!)

From Cali:

Monte Rio Mission


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