The Pregnant Palate Drinks Chile

Last Wednesday night I participated in an online tasting hosted by Wines of Chile. The virtual tasting featured 8 wines, all red blends, and over a time period of two hours, with the help of streaming video and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, approximately 50 wine bloggers tasted these wines while interacting with the 8 winemakers. The red blend theme was a great choice to showcase the diversity and potential of Chile. Each wine was distinctly different, and the blends were each unique. Yet each wine also tasted distinctly Chilean. That is what I took away from this tasting. So often I taste wines that seem one-dimensional or factory-made. Though I may not love every wine we tasted over the evening, I appreciate the fact that each wine tasted authentic to its sense of place, respecting the grape and the terroir from which it came. Though I was unable to taste with the recommended food pairings (stuck in an office, no kitchen), there were some definite wines that I think were meant for the dining table, and though there was no group tasting with me, I had a few colleagues taste through the wines beforehand for some added feedback to share.

Though hard to pick a favorite, I especially enjoyed the Estampa Gold Assebmlage and the Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol. And of course, the Maquis Lien was an excellent value. And…a fair warning on my pregnant palate: everything seems to taste more acidic and bitter, meaning these two aspects in wine can be a bit overpowering, particularly with reds, so take that into consideration while reading these reviews! 

Wine 1: Valdivieso Eclat 2005 Maule Valley (56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah) $27
To be honest, I am rarely a fan of straight Carignan, and blends are a mixed bag for me. But this one was quite pleasing. It definitely struck me as more old-world in style. One colleague noted leather and black cherry notes. I found great red berry fruit and a touch of tobacco (also noted by another taster). The consensus here – light in body, full in flavor, great acidity and a grip in the palate. This was one of the wines I found would be a great match for food.

Wine 2: DeMartino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "Las Cruces" 2006 (66% Malbec, 34% Carmenere) $45
This is what I call a 'Chile meets Argentina' blend, and it is from the Cachapoal Valley, which lies in the northern area of the Rapel Valley, just north of Colchagua. Herbs and chocolate were the descriptions I got from my colleagues. One found it a bit sour. I noted a blend spice, berry and herbalness, plus a touch of licorice. Though it was a touch acidic for me, I noticed that it opened up in the glass with some time. The tannins leaned towards green (perhaps the sour note the other taster perceived) but were definitely more noticeable when first poured. As the fruit emerged in the glass, the tannins seemed better integrated.

Wine 3: Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008 (57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot) $22
Not only did I like saying this wine, I was impressed by the taste, too. I'm a general fan of Carmenere – I like it's softness and it's blend of ripe fruit and smoky, meaty flavors. In this wine the Carmenere shows through, with soft ripe fruit undertones, a meaty character and some great acid. The other Cabernet grapes give this a bit of tightness, suggesting it may be too young right now. Though the tannins are soft, this wine would benefit with decanting or even a few years of bottle age. If you're a fan of Carmenere, this is a wine to try… unfortunately I could not find who imports this wine or if it is available in the US yet!

Wine 4: Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere) $15
It is a blend true to itself as I get many more Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics than Carmenere. Eucalyptus comes through, red and black fruits and, as many other tasters noted, a touch of barnyard (but not in a Bret way, more of a greenish Cabernet undertone way). Tannins are a bit green, but the wine is straightforward in a way that is pleasing. Good value for a good wine. Montes is a classic winery that typically focuses on single varietal wines, but I enjoyed the blend.

Wine 5: Maquis Lien 2006 (42% Syrah, 30% Carmenere, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec) $19
I've loved Maquis Lien since I first tried it when I visited Chile in 2006. Coincidentally, I was there when the grapes for this wine were being picked! Maquis is a family estate that makes just one one wine with a very cool label. This vintage is not as "jammy" as the 2001 I tried back in 2006. It is much more floral, with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy and dry, with gripping tannins. It is quite delicious, but a wine I would love to pair with some grilled meat and other foods. Stay tuned because we will have a deal on this wine this week!

Wine 6: Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol 2008 (31% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Carmenere) $23
Also impressed with this wine. Dense black fruit and a spicy long finish sums up the profile, but also in the nose mint jumped out at me. Another colleague noted menthol, but mint was stronger for me. Definitely herbal though, backed by ripe fruit. The palate had good acidity, firm, but tangy tannins and a really lovely finish.

Wine 7: Emiliana Coyam 2007 (38% Syrah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Mourvedre) $29
This wine is a favorite of one of our IT guys. I'd not had it yet, but was immediately taken in with the nose, which offered chocolate and licorice notes, dark fruits and a touch of spice. Also a hint of oak here. The palate was smooth and ripe, with all components well integrated. Good, complex flavors here that I definitely enjoyed.

Wine 8: Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve 2007 (61% Syrah, 26% Merlot, 13% Pinot Noir) $50
First, I'll express my disappointment with the weight of the bottle. It had to be at least twice as heavy as all the other bottles. What is it about a higher price tag that makes wineries decide to use heavier bottles? There is no need and it's not environmentally friendly. I find this practice prevalent in South America and I wish people made more of a stink about it.
Onto the wine – this was something a little different with Pinot Noir in the mix. This wine is from Casablanca Valley, which has a cooler climate ideal for Pinot Noir. Sadly, my palate was shot by the time I got to this wine, so I had to just enjoy the nose and use my co-worker's thoughts on the palate. The aromas were full of black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of herbs and licorice. The palate was "smooth" as I was told, easily coating the mouth and very balanced. Round and rich, this wine had layers of fruit and spice, and a nice finish to boot.

Finally, a few tidbits on Chile:
– Chile has a unique climate, perfect for grape-growing. With the Andes to the east, the Pacific to the west, dessert up north and ice fields in the south, the country is isolated. Probably why it remains phylloxera free and has little problems with vine disease at all.
– Chile's wine industry has really come into its own the past 10 years. Lots of investment, both locally and from outsiders, has brought the wine trade to new levels. Great values and solid collectibles are produced, bringing Chile to the forefront of the international wine world.
Carmenere is the country's signature grape, but has only become so in the past 15 years. In the mid-1990s, DNA testing in the vineyards showed that many vines though to be Merlot were, in fact, Carmenere. Though similar to Merlot, Carmenere is very distinct, with rich and ripe fruits, soft tannins and a smoky, meaty characteristic that is prevalent in the aromatics. The warm climate of Maipo and the Rapel Valleys are ideal for this grape.
Sauvignon Blanc has become a trademark for Chile, with great values coming from the Casablanca Valley. Known for their crisp acidity, citrus and vegetal like aromas and flavors, it's a perfect wine for warm weather or when munching on shellfish.

Roads of the Rhone

The Rhone Valley is one of my favorite wine growing regions in the world. Perhaps part of this reason is because I have the privilege of visiting the area almost every summer. Not only are there delicious warm summers with fields of wild lavender and rosemary wafting to your nose, but there’s some pretty spectacular wine as well.

Two things that make the Rhone stand out to me – diversity and quality. The northern and southern Rhone are so distinctly separate, both in geography and style, that were there not a river to connect them, they would easily be two separate appellations.

I drink more southern Rhone wines by far, which I assume is true for most people. Northern Rhone wines are known for being a bit more structured, age-worthy, collectible and expensive. Thus our value-driven wallets and drink-it-now palates are drawn to the south, where these styles of wine abound. And yet, the northern Rhone has some excellent wines that could be considered great values.

A quick northern Rhone cheat sheet: Syrah is the exclusive red grape, though most regions can blend a small percentage of white grapes into the wines (except Cornas, which is 100% Syrah). Viognier is the exclusive grape of Condrieu, while Marsanne and Roussanne join Viognier in most other northern Rhone white wine blends. Vines are trained high on steep, terraced slopes with granite-based, gravelly soils.

A few gems to look out for in the north:
Crozes-Hermitage – the little step-sibling to Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage is a great way to introduce your palate to the northern Rhone style, at a lower price tag. Guigal and Delas make some excellent examples.

St.-Joseph -Though Cornas is one of the more talked-about regions in the north, I love to find a good St.-Joseph. Sometimes they are a bit less… rustic than a Cornas and more approachable. They can range from great value to slightly collectible (see Guigal).

Southern Rhone cheat sheet:Grenache is the primary red grape, though almost all wines are blends, and include red grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Whites are more rare, but are also blends, with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette leading the make up of most blends. Vines are often bush trained over flat terrain, with a warmer climate than the north.

Gems of the south:
Yes, I love a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a refreshing Tavel or a spicy Gigondas. But a few others I look out for are:
Cairenne – I think Cairenne will eventually be elevated to “cru” status, just as the Cotes-du_Rhone Villages Vinsobres was in 2004. Cairenne, one of the 18 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, is totally worthy of a try – it has the depth and complexity of many cru wines from the southern Rhone, but often with a lower price tag. Domaine Alary is a favorite of mine, but most Cairenne labels deliver beyond expectations.

Cotes-du-Ventoux – move over Cotes-du-Rhone, this is where you can find the new values! Offering refreshing and fruit-driven whites as well as rich and fruit-driven reds, this is a region I am watching. Loving that more and more wines are coming in from here.

It is Rhone Week at, so it's a good time to stock up.

No matter what your palate, the Rhone most likely has something to satisfy it.


The Pregnant Palate: Tasting with a belly

Being 16 weeks pregnant, I thought I'd try to incorporate this hindrance – and benefit – into my blog. The obvious hindrance would be my inability to drink. The benefit? My enhanced senses for tasting. It's not easy carrying around a belly in the wine business, but it does give a different perspective!

This is my second time around at this, and I am very grateful for nature, who swoops in and makes wine absolutely unpalatable for the first few months and gets you used to not drinking. When the taste buds return, they come back full force, with additional receptors that seem to pick up on everything. Which is where tasting becomes so interesting.

So over the next few months, as I taste (and spit) wines that I deem worthy to share, they will be noted from a different palate – my pregnant palate.

d’Arenberg: A profile

In 2007 I had the pleasure of visiting the great wine country of Australia. The two things I noticed there: the country is REALLY big and the people are REALLY nice. And I mean genuinely nice.

One of our favorite properties we visited was d'Arenberg. Not only did we enjoy a personal tour with d'Arry himself, but we got to taste some fantastic wines.

One of things that makes d'Arenberg stand out – other than the wild hair and loud shirts of Chester Osborn – are the labels. All the d'Arenberg labels have the signature red stripe that runs diagonal through them, which make them stand out on a shelf. Plus each wine's name has a story behind it. A few of my favorites are:

The Laughing Magpie – this name comes from a story of Chester's little girl. Finding the word kookaburra too difficult to pronounce, she called the bird a laughing magpie instead. Laughing Magpie is a Shiraz+Viognier blend that earns great reviews every year and is a perfect representative of the blend in Australia – usually available for under $25!

Love Grass Shiraz – the flowers on the label make me think Grateful Dead, but the story comes from actual grass that is so sticky, they call it 'love grass' since it is so hard to detach from you. See the picture attached!

The Dead Arm Shiraz – a personal favorite and's feature today. Dead Arm is named for the disease that affects the vineyard that Dead Arm grapes come from. The disease is called Eutypa dieback, which is actually a fungus, most often found in older vineyards. Most vineyards are trained with two arms out to the side. What happens with "dead arm" is that one arm of the vine becomes infected, and eventually dies off, leaving the other arm to receive all the vines energy and nutrients. The result is very concentrated grapes, which lead to a very concentrated wine, as you get in d'Arenberg's The Dead Arm. It's dense and jammy, but with layers of delicious fruit and spice. The sweet spice aromas actually remind me of the holidays, which makes it perfect for the season.


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