Tag Archives: chile

Chile 101

guest post by: Constance Chamberlain

Chile has exploded onto the wine scene in the past few years particularly because they consistently offer premium wines with a good quality-price-ratio across the spectrum. Coupled with good value, the wines of Chile really communicate their sense of place throughout the country’s 14 wine growing regions, each offering something unique to discover.

Part of this is thanks to the four natural barriers: the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes to the East, Patagonia to the South, and the Pacific Ocean to the West. In fact, despite being a country that is over 2,700 miles long, Chile’s climatic differences vary greater from east to west than from north to south—the proximity to the coast or the mountains, and the altitude influence the wine even more than the latitude. In addition to the creation of unique microclimates, these natural barriers act as a protective shield and to date Chile remains one of the only places in the world that has not been affected by phylloxera, the louse that destroyed much of the world’s vineyards in the 1800’s.   So unlike vines in most of the rest of the world which are grafted onto phylloxera resistant American rootstocks, Chile’s vineyards are on natural roots which many specialists say contributes to truly unique wines.

The sheer size of Chile also offers great opportunity for variation in terroir and specialization of varieties in certain regions. As a result, wines that fall into this category have really been a focus of the winemakers and vineyard plantings have expanded further north and south over the past few years.

Chile is dominated by red wines by 70%, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with the growth of coastal regions, Sauvignon Blanc has also taken a share of the spotlight as well as other cool climate wines such as Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Smaller projects throughout the country have allowed various grapes to shine such as with dry-farmed, old vine Carignan in the south.

Perhaps Chile’s most unique variety is Carmenere – a red grape that was thought to be extinct after phylloxera hit Bordeaux in the 1800’s. However, in 1994 careful analysis revealed that the once called “Chilean Merlot,” was in fact Carmenere.

Chile’s wine industry is really a mix of old and new world. Many of the world’s most prominent winemaking families such as Lafite Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, recognized the country’s potential long ago and have been producing wines in this region for decades. Additionally, many of Chile’s young winemakers have spent time training in prestigious winemaking regions such as Bordeaux so stylistically they are quite similar. These techniques combined with new technologies consistently allow Chilean wines to outshine their competitors.

Overall, the most important thing to remember about Chilean wine is this: quality-price-ratio. It’s unlikely that one will find the diversity of wines, but with such consistent quality at an affordable price anywhere else in the world making Chile a natural choice for a go-to bottle of wine.

 

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.

Los Vascos Le Dix – this is a wine that can age…

While we always love a wine that is ready-to-drink, it's particularly exciting to pull out a bottle of wine that has some age on it and realize, I was SO smart to leave this one in the cellar. Yet, by the same token, it can be depressing as you are quite put out when you realize that was your only bottle. Why oh why did I not buy more?

In this instance it was the Los Vascos 2001 Le Dix from Chile.

A bit about the winery: Vina Los Vascos is owned by the Lafite family, who of course, is more will known for Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux. Chile is actually boasts a number of wineries owned by French families who saw great potential in the country and invested in vineyard land.

Mike and I visited this property in 2006 and it is definitely a destination. It sticks out a bit as a grand estate in a small, rural town where horse-pulled carts are the typical mode of transportation. We had the chance to taste the line up of the Le Dix, among other wines. The 2001 vintage was the first made by current winemaker, Marcello Gallardo, a jolly man (see picture of him playing the guitar late night with us) with a load of energy and passion. Not only did we love him, but we also loved his wine – there was a marked difference in the tasting when we moved from previous vintages to the 2001 and the following vintages. Gallardo brought a different winemaking style that brought the wine to life. We remember loving the '01 as well as the '04.

I read the Wine Spectator review for this wine, which said "Drink through 2007." Wow, were they wrong. Opening the wine we were worried that it may be past it's prime, or have a bit of brett, or even just be lacking fruit and showing too much of that "meaty" "smoky" character typical of Chilean wines. And wow, were WE wrong. This wine not only tasted fantastic, but it probably had a few more years on it! The fruit was still going strong, backed by dried herbs and a touch of wood. Yes, there was that smoke/meat element I get from Chilean wines, but it was not prominent by any means. We smelled even a touch of eucalyptus. Pairing it with a grilled, NY steak, the fruit came forward immediately. I love it when food changes a wine.

Le Dix is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – at least, that was the '01 vintage. Since 2006, smaller percentages of Syrah, Carmenere and Malbec are adding to the blend. Unfortunately, the 2001 vintage is long sold out. The 2007 vintage is what is out right now. Sadly, much of the stock of this wine was destroyed in the earthquake last February. We hope to showcase the 2008 vintage when it releases, and if you do find the '07 out there, pick it up and hang onto it, as it's sure to do well in that cellar.

As Mike said, "God, I love this wine," followed by a hefty swirl, a deep inhale and a loud slurp. Well put, dear.

Perfect Spring Sippers

Though Spring has been here for a couple of months, it certainly has not felt like it all the time… particularly in the NW. However, temps are finally getting up there and I'm ready to pop open some wines that fit the weather. Style wise, for whites, we're talking Light & Crisp. Reds mean Light & Fruity.

In whites, three perfect choices are Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino and Chenin Blanc. My picks are:

Montes Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2008
I recently arranged this to be the white for a rehearsal dinner party in April. People who thought they did not like white wine – or were usually beer drinkers – LOVED this wine. As did I. There was not a drop left by the end of the night (as you could see by some of the moves on the dance floor). It is wonderfully aromatic; citrus-driven, a touch of grass and herbal notes, and so deliciously crisp. The Leyda region in Chile is very cool and this wine shows how great the region is at Sauvignon Blanc.

Bonny Doon Ca' Del Solo Albarino 2008
I said it once, I'll say it again: I've not yet met a Bonny Doon wine I didn't like. And I mean really like. This Albarino is a perennial favorite. Even in the cold weather it's a delicious aperitif or pairing with seafood. But it just tastes so delicious in the spring. It's what I'd call CLEAN. Bright apple fruits, crisp backbone, citrus and some herb notes. Made with Biodynamic farming, which may be from where its sense of purity comes.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2009
Another favorite, particularly for the price. Chenin Blanc is a grape that South Africa does VERY well and Mulderbosch is makes a classic version. Again, we're talking Light & Crisp, so you're going to get citrus, and bright acid. But you also get some riper tropical fruits in this one, with kick of spice, too.

Moving on to red recommendations…
Beaujolais, Pinot Noir & Cotes-du-Rhone are my top wines for Spring. Some of my picks include:

Duboeuf Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents 2008
Do not be fooled – Beaujolias, particularly "cru" Beaujolais is good stuff! Duboeuf is a classic producer of Beaujolais, the large region in the south of Burgundy producing bright wines from the Gamay grape grown on granite soils. When you talk Beaujolais, you're talking bright red fruit, some spice and acidity, but the key term for me here is bright. It's a red wine that is light and almost crisp. Perfect for warmer weather and light foods.

Escarpment Over the Edge Pinot Noir 2008
I love this wine. Mainly because I was so impressed when I tasted it and found out it was under $15! This is a "savory" style Pinot Noir, with lots of berry fruit, some sweet spice and some spicy spice, as well as a touch of dried herbs. Just lovely all over. Good finish, great for a juicy burger or some grilled salmon.

For my Cotes-du-Rhone, I have two picks. And they are both a bit more pricey, but totally worth it I think as they are from Cairanne. Cairanne is my favorite "villages" of the CDR and I think it will the next "cru" (the way Gigondas, Vacqueyras & Vinsobres were upgraded). Your choices are:

Dom. de L'Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Cuvee Prestige 2007 or Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2007
Both wines are full of upfront fruit and sweet spice. The Oratoire St Martin has quite a bit of Mourvedre in the blend, so you will get more peppery spice notes and some earthy tones. The Alary (which I am very partial to) is more on the rich, sweet spice side, with a silky smooth texture. Either way, you're getting great grill-friendly wines that are perfect for spring.

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Drinking Chile – Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir

The next wine we tasted from Chile this week was the Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir from Chile is getting big. Not necessarily in style, but in wine circles. When I visited Pinot Noir in early 2006, I tasted a few Pinot Noir from a few wineries, but as of yet, had only seen one (from Leyda) in the United States. Nowadays, there are plenty more.

It makes sense. Chile has fantasticl cool climate regions like Casablanca Valley and Limari, and grape growers are finding new regions every year.

I tasted Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva about 2 years ago, and was impressed. For $12, it was a delicious example of Pinot Noir. Fresh berry fruits, but with nice spice, a touch of smoke and that savory characteristic I always seek in my Pinot Noir.

The other night I got to taste the Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir – a slightly higher end version than the Reserva.
Well, yum. I have to say it was excellent. It was also darker and more dense than most Pinot Noir, and while I knew what I was pouring myself, my father tasted it and was surprised when we told him it was a Pinot Noir – it has typical flavors of the grape – cherry, berry & spice – but it’s not delicate. We paired it with some rotisserie chicken, rice and a big salad and it was great. It could also hold up to some grilled meats, though, considering it’s dense nature.

If you like fuller bodied, more fruit-forward Pinot Noir, this is a perfect wine for you!

Don’t forget that this wine is in our Support Chile program, so stock up before March 31!