Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level

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Way back in the dark ages of wine retailing (circa: 1970s), fine wine shops had Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Chile was nowhere to be found and even California was an afterthought. As the years went by and California gained prominence with the Judgement of Paris, Chile got into the marketplace with its cheap Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots. Often found in sale bins, these became the drinking wines of budget conscious wine imbibers. I drank so much of these bargain basement wines that I ended up throwing the whole class into the “good value” category. As an active retailer in San Francisco in those days, the wines of Chile gave me something “to stack high and let them fly.”

This is no longer the case. While Chile took a back seat to Australian Shiraz and Argentine Malbec, producers started to find the right fit with varieties and vineyards, including Chile’s flagship variety, Carmenere. This wise move is still working its way into the hearts and minds of international wine consumers. More exciting is the work being done with cool climate Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca and mineral-like Chardonnays from Limarí, not to mention major statements being made with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and blends. While the country is still known for value wines, production over the past decade proves it shall be known for quality as well.

Jake Pippin, USA Market Manager for Wines of Chile, recently presented an array of a dozen top Chilean wines that would measure up with top wines from anywhere in the world. So while I cut my teeth on cheap Chilean Merlot in the 1970s, I know have been introduced to some of the world’s very top wines and they are Chilean. It is time for Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and yes, the Napa Valley to share the spotlight; the Chileans are making a huge statement. Isn’t great to revisit an old friend and see how they have evolved into something greater? Here is a trio of super fine Chilean wines that will bring you up to speed on where Chilean wines are today.

The 2014 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay, – rich and creamy, but with a zippy layer of minerality to keep it fresh
The 2012 Calcu Cabernet Franc  – yes, Cabernet Franc can shine here, with earthy, peppery spice and dried fruit character
The 2012 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – classic producer with a classic, quality Cabernet – it says Chile and Cabernet in a concise, easy-drinking way.

New Zealand: A New Way of Thinking

Perhaps I was getting too lazy and missed all of the good things going on in New Zealand wine growing regions. Yes, I’ve tasted many of the country’s top wines over the last two decades, but I did not absorb what I do now.  This year is different. I was in New Zealand as a guest international judge in the Marlborough Wine Show; from second I arrived in Auckland and then onto Blenheim, the itinerary would be nonstop.

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Hola Garnacha #GarnachaDay

When did Grenache/Garnacha become such a big deal? In the youthful days (the early to mid- 1970’s) of my wine career, I remember drinking Ridge wines with then winemaker and now winemaker/CEO Paul Draper at the winery on Monte Bello Road, sipping Grenache in cool mixed red blends. I always found those wines compelling and fun, but what did Grenache contribute to those wines? Was it just a part of the bigger picture? Could this grape stand alone and be successful and also play nicely in a mix with other varietals?

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Rating Wines: Is it Art or Science?

WWglassWhen I was in my 20’s and had just gotten a taste for wines, I thought, “Wow!” This is fun! I also  had the perfect forum to launch my wine-loving career. My family owned and operated Ashbury Market, which was a mere two blocks from the infamous Haight-Ashbury corner. What a place to begin what would become a lifetime of tasting wines. Continue reading “Rating Wines: Is it Art or Science?”

Braving the Willamette Valley front: Oregon Wine Month

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There is a belief among wine cognoscenti that grape vines must suffer before they can produce great wines. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, not only does that happen, but everyone in the wine business undergoes an annual pain called, “The Harvest.” Is Mother Nature going to be good to us, or will we be left to our own devices and suffer unruly weather? Unlike other regions in the world, such as Australia and the Napa Valley in California, the Willamette Valley proves unpredictable, and provides vintners with unhappy grapes from difficult vintages. While all wine growing regions suffer good and bad years, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just like the varietal in Burgundy, paints a picture of extreme variance.

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