Somm things I think about: The Reds of Southern Rhône

Most people have some degree of familiarity with the Rhône wines of Southern France. They have typically heard of Grenache, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Côtes du Rhône. However, many people  may not be aware of some of the other red wine regions, such as Vacqueyras, that can produce amazing reds for great value. This blog will try to explain a little about the history and basics of the southern Rhône and the wines that come from the Southern Rhône Valley region. Hopefully this will inspire you to discover and enjoy the Rhône as much as I do!

The Rhône Valley is a wine region in southeast France and is named for the Rhône River that runs through the region on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhône River separates the Alps from the Massif Central, an elevated and mountainous part of southern France. The north is mountainous ancient granitic rock. The south is partially an ancient seabed with calcareous clay and limestone. The river has deposited sand, flinty pebbles, and clay silt as well.  This gives growers a wide variety of different soils and terroir to choose from in the Rhône.  And given the range of soils as well as the variance of elevations in the region and the diversity of available grape varieties, styles of wine vary greatly from big, long-aged Syrahs to bright and cheery rosés.

Rhône wines are some of the most ancient in France. Evidence has suggested that the Greeks were growing grapes in the fourth century BCE in Marseille and in the first century BCE in the northern part of the Rhône Valley. A good deal of the success was due to the presence of sandstone clay deposits allowing the Greeks and Romans to easily make their earthenware jars, amphorae or dolia, which were used to transport wines as well as the famous roman fish sauce.

The Romans had a lasting impression on the area. They established many of the towns and vineyard sites that still exist today. At the height of the Roman Empire, the Rhône Valley wines were rivaling those from Italy in terms of quality and production. Yet after the fall of the empire, the export markets for Rhône wines dried up and great interest wasn’t renewed again until the Catholic Church rediscovered the amazing wines of the Rhône in the middle ages.

As with many wine regions in France, the Catholic Church has had a role in forming the wines made in the present day and establishing some of the best vineyards. In the late 13th century, the French king Louis VIII granted a parcel of land to the Catholic church around the town of Avignon called Comtat Venaissin.

Also in the late 13th century, riots and general unrest ushered in a chaotic time for Rome.  Politically speaking, the church had lost the respect and control of the nobles around Rome to the point where they no longer granted military protection. Following the election of French bishop Clement V to the papacy, he moved the papacy to the Southern Rhône region around the town of Avignon. A general rumor at the time was that the goal was to cozy up to the King Philip of France for political power. Regardless of the explanation, this ushered in the Avignon Papacy that lasted from 1305 until 1378. While this blog is not about Châteauneuf-du-Pape (French for “new castle of the Pope”), it is worth noting that the church ushered in a renaissance of Rhône wines and invigorated the region. The quality summarily increased, vineyard sites were replanted, and the export markets began to grow again.

Even though the popes eventually moved back to Rome, the Rhône was on the map and the wines were firmly established. Trade was flourishing due to the high reputation of the wines, and local ports were busy. Due to increased popularity, local wine regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee provenance and quality. First known as Côste du Rhône, the famous name of Côtes du Rhône was established in the mid-18th century and validated by the courts in 1936.

Baron Le Roy, a grower in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, championed the establishment of a governing body to maintain and regiment wine appellations. The Baron also successfully lobbied for the first AOC in the Rhône in 1933. The terms and limits he set forth became the standard for all subsequent AOC regions (appellation d’origine contrôlée, or controlled area of origin). To this day, the entrants follow limits on growing area, grape varieties, local practices, cultivation methods, minimum alcohol content, and harvest periods. Baron Le Roy later became involved in the founding of the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité), the governing body that eventually took over the governing of all AOC regions and entrants, and presided over it from 1947 to 1967.

The Southern Rhône accounts for nearly 95% of the total Rhône wine production, and the majority of that is red. Most of those are wines based on blends with Grenache as the star player. The popular blend is called a GSM, as it consists of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, and Cinsault is frequently included as well.

Côtes du Rhône

The Côtes du Rhône is the largest appellation and the base designation for wines for the entire Rhône. While it’s possible that a Northern Rhône Syrah could be de-classified down to the Côtes du Rhône level, it is more than likely to be a Grenache-based wine from around one of 17 different villages or a blend of all the villages intended to achieve a certain style. Usually lower in price than the more prestigious regions, the quality for the price is very high.

A great example that we like is:

Guigal Cotes du Rhône Rouge 2011

90 Points. “A perennial favorite, it’s reassuring to see that the quality continues to remain high even from Guigal’s least expensive cuvee. Red fruits—cherries and raspberries—marry easily with hints of clove, cracked pepper, black olive and espresso. It’s round on the mid-palate, showing more focus and ample length on the finish.”

Wine Enthusiast

90 Points. “Deep ruby. Smoky cherry and blueberry aromas display very good clarity and a touch of cracked pepper. Showing its Syrah component, with sappy black and blue fruit flavors sharpened by a spicy nuance. A sexy floral note comes up on a gently tannic finish that lingers with very good persistence. As usual, this wine punches well above its category and should reward at least another four or five years of patience.”

– Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Côtes du Rhône-Villages

Imagine a large pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid is the base (and obviously the largest part)—this is the space reserved for Côtes du Rhône. The next level up is referred to as the village level. As of 2016, there are 17 villages or communes, and the label must bear the name of the village as well as the title Côtes du Rhône. In this case, Seguret is that village. If it is a blend from more than one village, the village names will be left off and just “Villages” will be present.

A great example we like is:

Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Villages Seguret Grande Reserve 2011

93 Points. “In the same ball park and another incredible effort from this producer, the 2011  Côtes du Rhône Villages Grand Reserve is a blend of two-thirds Grenache and one-third Syrah that was aged in 60% barrel and 40% tank. Awesome on all accounts, with a thrilling bouquet of raspberry liqueur, crushed flowers, spice, licorice and herbs de Provence, this medium to full-bodied beauty has no hard edges, beautiful purity of fruit and a heady, lengthy finish that pumps out loads of fruit while staying fresh and clean. It’s a superb effort that should not be missed.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

90 Points. “This is solid, with a nice core of crushed plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit, lined with lightly briary tannins and framed by a graphite note on the finish.”

Wine Spectator

Gigondas

Some of the communes and villages have been awarded their own AOC designations or named areas, and these make up the next-highest level in the quality pyramid. Gigondas is made from at least 50% Grenache, and compares to its more famous cousin Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a lot of ways including soil type, ageing, and winemaking.

A great example we like is:

Famille Perrin Gigondas Clos des Tourelles 2012

94 Points: “Ratcheting the quality level up a notch, the 2012 Gigondas Domaine du Clos des Tourelles comes from a property, purchased in 2008, that’s located just outside the village of Gigondas and that’s completely enclosed by a stone wall (hence the use of Clos in the name). It’s also the only wine not vinified at the Famille Perrin winery (which is located just north of Beaucastel) and is vinified in Gigondas. Serious on all accounts, with stunning aromas of sweet black and red fruits, bouquet garni, dried flowers and dusty soil notes, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, loads of textured and chewy tannin. Improving in the glass, this beautiful Gigondas will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 12-15 years of total evolution. Drink 2016-2027.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

92 Points:  “A ripe, silky style, with lush boysenberry and plum confiture notes that glide along, maintaining definition as hints of fruitcake, anise and chocolate move throughout. Drink now through 2022.”

Wine Spectator

Vacqueyras

Larger than Gigondas and known to be a bit more rustic, the same rules apply, as does the similarity to more famous regions with better value. This region can have more variable quality due to its size but if you look carefully, you can find some great wines.

A great example we like is:

Dom. La Garrigue Vacqueyras La Canterelle 2012

92 Points  “Bright violet color. Sexy aromas of black raspberry, cherry compote, potpourri and incense. Supple, pliant and focused on the palate, offering intense red and dark berry fruit and floral pastille flavors that deepen with air. The long, sweet, intensely spicy finish features silky tannins and a suave, lingering suggestion of candied flowers. These vines reportedly range from 80 to over 100 years of age.”

–  Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

Lirac & Cairanne

Similar to Gigondas and Vacqueyras in that Grenache is the star but not as well-known, these regions produce great value wines (but not necessarily cheap). They sit above the village level and are a great choice for lovers of richer, new-world-style wines.

A great Lirac we like is:

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac La Reine des Bois 2012

93 Points  “Even better, and a smoking Lirac that vies for the top wine of the appellation, the 2012 Lirac La Reine des Bois has gorgeous crème de cassis, licorice, pan drippings, wood spice and hints of graphite. Offering knockout purity, full-bodied richness and ultra-fine tannin, it tastes like a top flight  Châteauneuf-du-Pape and will drink nicely for over a decade.”

– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

A great Cairanne we like is:

Domaine Roche Cairanne 2012

90 Points:  “A sexy wine made under the auspices of globe-trotting oenologist Philippe Cambie, this 2012 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne was produced from 40 to 105-year-old vines. The blend was 70% Grenache (aged in concrete) and 30% Syrah (aged in barrique) from yields of 20 to 30 hectoliters per hectare. It exhibits a delicious, up-front, front end-loaded, richly fruity style with lots of raspberry, black cherry, roasted herb, loamy soil and underbrush notes. This corpulent, fleshy red can be enjoyed over the next 4-5 years.”  – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you enjoy your wine travels through the Rhône. There is so much more still that has not been mentioned here, including the amazing whites, rosés and dessert wines to try. Cheers!

Memoirs of a Malbec

malbecSometimes I feel like nobody really knows the real “me.” Ever since I moved to Argentina, I’ve been fitting in really well. In fact, I’m probably the most popular guy here. I’m having a great time laying out in the warm sun all day, enjoying the dry heat — I barely even have to worry about fungal disease these days! And at night, when it cools down, I can rest easy knowing that I’m ripening nice and evenly. When I’m at high altitude, it can be a bit of a challenge to get the nutrition that I need to thrive, but ultimately my hard work pays off as I develop more complexity. The laid-back, easygoing lifestyle here has made me soft and approachable, and I tend to get along with everyone I meet. But a part of me worries that I might soon forget where I came from.

You see, life wasn’t always so easy for me. I grew up in the drained swampland of Bordeaux, where I began life as a very small fish in a big pond. There, while constantly battling difficult weather conditions to avoid disease or death, I contributed color and tannin to local blends — but I was never the star of the show. It’s not so much that I need the attention — I’m just an outgoing guy. So after a devastating frost in 1956 during which I lost 75% of my crop, I decided to focus my energy on my second home in Cahors, just southwest of Bordeaux. There, I changed my name back to Côt, and alongside Merlot and Tannat, I began to shine, as I had been respectfully replanted by those who appreciated me. Meanwhile, back in Bordeaux, they decided they were better off without me, and these days you’ll rarely find me back in my former home town. I’m not bitter, I swear — really, I wish all the best to my old friends Petit Verdot, Merlot, and the brothers Cabernet. I know they talk behind my back about my susceptibility to coulure and downy mildew, and my lack of maturity in colder years — but if I have to be in a blend with them, I’ll be perfectly cordial.

I set down roots in Argentina back in 1868, when I was brought over by a French agricultural engineer who recognized my potential. Life was always comfortable there, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that I “went viral,” effectively becoming the national grape of my adopted homeland. I’m happiest living in Mendoza, but I’ve made my way throughout the entire country. Wherever I go, I am always well-received by locals and foreigners alike!

When I’m in my native France, my personality is rather different. I guess you could say I live a more “rustic” lifestyle there — I’m not afraid to get a little dirty, and my tannins are a bit tougher. Probably because of the thicker skin I tried (and failed) to develop amidst the bullying in Bordeaux. Sometimes I like to vacation in the Loire Valley, where I can relax and let my aromatic side come out. But nowadays most people never get to see that side of me. I don’t want to brag, but thanks to my success in Argentina, I’ve become a bit of a world traveler. Apart from France and Argentina, I’m now planted in Chile, California, Oregon, Washington, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and a few other countries. Everywhere I go, people ask, “hey, aren’t you that guy from Argentina?” I’m very proud of my recent success, so I smile and say yes, and occasionally I’ll pose for a picture. But with each encounter, I think back to my humble beginnings and consider saying, “if you like me in Argentina, you should see me in France.”

Is Hangover-free Wine Finally Here?

hangover

In news that will excite over-zealous (and just moderately zealous) wine drinkers everywhere, researchers at UC Davis have just revealed a successful new endeavor that will allow hedonistic oenophiles to enjoy an all-you-can drink evening of indulgence — without the painful hangover the following morning. It sounds too good to be true, but a team of viticulturists has been quietly working for nearly a decade to develop a grape variety that contains all of the pleasurable elements needed to produce wine, with none of the harmful effects (although they will not accept responsibility for your regrettable karaoke decisions after a few too many glasses).

There is a known link between phenols, a group of chemical compounds that affect the color, aroma, and taste of a wine, and anthocyanins, which contribute color but little else. Anthocyanins are also known to contain antioxidant properties, which carry great health benefits. Phenols, on the other hand, are the main culprit causing your wine hangover. In a series of lab tests beginning in 2007, scientists discovered that some phenols are worse than others, and the goal of the recently completed project was to isolate the set of phenols that lack detrimental characteristics.

The new grape variety, known as Gueule de Bois, is a crossing of Gamay, which is notably low in phenols, and Saperavi, a darkly pigmented ancient Georgian variety with high levels of anthocyanins. A special enzymatic treatment is used to remove harmful phenols. The resulting wines have a deep purple hue, firm tannic structure, and aromas and flavors of violets and blackcurrants.

After perfecting the production process in the lab, Davis researchers decided to use their conveniently available population of undergraduate students in order to test the wine. Unsurprisingly, it has been a massive success. Olivia Marshall, a junior majoring in communications, raved about her experience with the new beverage, explaining, “I was able to drink two whole bottles of Gueule de Bois. I don’t remember much — I think it tasted pretty good — but I do know that I managed to make it to my 9 a.m. econ class the following morning and ace my exam on marginal utility!”

The first bottlings of Geule de Bois are expected to hit retail shelves and restaurant wine lists in fall of 2016. We can’t wait to experience our first night of guilt-free gluttony, but until then we will all have to keep our Advil and Gatorade close to our nightstands.

Niven Family Wine Estates Winery Focus

Niven with brands

Somm Things I Think About:
A Winery Focus

Niven Family Wine Estates
Recently Christian Roguenant, the famed winemaker of Niven Family Wine Estates, visited Wine.com and led a Master Class on Albariño. Not only did I learn a lot about Albariño, I was humbled by the amount I didn’t know, and the differences in terroir and subregions within the larger Rias Baixas DO(Spanish wine region). He then compared his Albariño to the the Spanish styles to show that Tangent Edna Valley Albariño was a true balance between California fruit and Spanish soul.

Niven Family Wine Estates is a truly unique winery. They have several labels, each with a focus on purity. They use different labels, but not for lower quality, rather for differentiation. Most larger wineries have 2nd labels for lower price options for the grapes that don’t classify for their reserve or Grand Cru offerings. Niven Family Wine Estates currently has 6 labels, yet none are lesser than the others, they each have a unique offering and design, some even pay homage to the traditional homeland where the grape originates. Though price range differs, each label is special and unique for its own specific qualities, vineyard block, appellation or grape.

Niven Family Wine Estates started over 40 years ago by Jack Niven, who pioneered Chardonnay grape-growing n the Edna Valley at Paragon Vineyard. Now, the family boasts 6 appellation-specific wine labels and each with their own focus. Jack Niven unfortunately has passed away but the next generation has ensured that the Niven Family Estates will continue to be family run and even SIP certified sustainable, so that future generations can continue with their success. In the late 90’s they brought in world-renowned winemaker Christian Roguenant and gave him carte blanche to construct the winery of his dreams. With the family running the day to day operations, and a Burgundian winemaker in the cellar, they have started to set the world of wine on fire!

Here are all the offerings we currently carry, Enjoy!

True Myth
Representing a tightly focused modern option for the famous Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, these wines celebrate the Central Coast. The Chardonnay fruit comes from the the Edna valley, the coolest wine region in the state, while the Cabernet comes the warmer Paso Robles region about 30 miles to the north. Both wines are rich and delicious, representative of each of their appellations, and show the diversity in San Luis Obispo County.

2014 True Myth Chardonnay – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $14.99

A classically styled Chardonnay from the Edna Valley showcasing aromas of pear, white peach, pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of beautiful tropical fruit with mineral undertones and textured creaminess are balanced with refreshing acidity, a hallmark of Paragon Vineyard, that keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to finish. All topped off with the perfect complement of vanilla bean and toasted oak.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles $19.99

Sourced from 20+ year old vines grown on calcareous soils in a region with the greatest temperature swing from day to night in California comes a bold and rich Cabernet, loaded with blackberry jam, cherry, black currant, exotic spices and cola, with notes of caramelized oak…classic, yet individual.

Tangent
A true Chardonnay-free zone, this label focuses on alternative white grapes and Sauvignon Blanc, all grown in the cool Edna Valley. A project developed to be food driven, these clean, lively wines are fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.

2014 Tangent Pinot Gris – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $16.99

Aromatics of orange blossom, pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of pepper are followed by concentrated flavors of ripe peaches, tangerine and green apple. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a creamy mouth feel, it pairs well with a wide range of foods including seafood, pasta with light sauces, even grilled sausage.

2014 Tangent Albariño – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points “An excellent example of New World Albariño, the 2014 Tangent has keep the wine’s purity just as one would expect a first-class vintner would do. One can close their eyes and imagine themselves in Galicia while enjoy a glass this one. Medium straw in color; bright aromas of ripe citrus and a hint of mineral; medium bodied, smooth on the palate; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright citrus peel and core fruit flavors; medium finish, lively, smooth aftertaste. – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com

2014 Tangent Sauvignon Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard$12.99

90 Points “Classic and yet distinctive in aromatics, this bottling from the Niven family’s cool-climate vineyard shows cut grass, wet cement and a touch of struck match on the narrowly focused nose. The palate intrigues, with fresh-cut thyme and oregano lifted by a white pepper element” – Wine Enthusiast

2013 Tangent Viognier – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

92 Points: “This wine has renewed my faith that California vintners can make a superior Viognier, the very exciting 2013 Tangent Viognier makes it way past most others as it gives the palate plenty of rewards; aromas and flavors of apple and peaches are joined with light flowers and mineral; finish with an almost pixy straw/lime citrus note. Since I am a big lover of
Vietnamese cuisine, I thought of The Slanted Door Charles Phan and his Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com

2012 Tangent Grenache Blanc – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $13.99

90 Points: “More juicy and fresh, with better acidity and overall integration, the 2012 Grenache Blanc is well done. Offering up big crushed stone-like minerality, green herbs and citrus aromas and flavors, it’s a medium-bodied, lively and pure white that’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s also a superb value and should be purchased in multiple bottle lots.”
– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

Baileyana
In the late 70’s Catharine Niven, Jack’s wife, planted her own 3 acre vineyard on their home property in the Edna Valley, she dove head first into the male-dominated wine world. Named for a place that she met her husband. It produces cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are rich, complex, beautifully balanced and refined. 30 years later they have moved out of the project phase and has become the family’s legacy wines!

2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay – Edna Valley $20.99

90 Points: “A classic, rich San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay, the 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay is rich with tropical and core fruit flavors, nicely balanced with sweet French oak. Stays steady and cohesive with all of its elements creating a fine aromatic, textural and full experience. This wine stands up well with richly sauced seafood dishes.” Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points: “Smooth and juicy with minerals, pineapple and rich pear; soft, lush and showing a core of crisp acidity; long and balanced. Sustainable.” – Tasting Panel

Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir 2013 – Edna Valley $22.99

91 Points: “The 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir drinks so well. Yes this is yum wine that is sure to please a wide range of wine drinkers (Old World-New World, wine aficionados and wine novices alike. Just grill some lamb and see how quickly the wine is imbibed. Medium to deep garnet in color; aromatic, red fruit aromas, light note of flower; medium bodied and nicely textured on the palate; medium acidity, fine balance; pleasing and delicate red fruit flavors; medium to long finish, supple aftertaste.” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com

92 Points: “Juicy and lush with bright, ripe cherry and tangy Burgundian style; round and fresh with sweet oak, balance and a long, elegant finish.” – Tasting Panel

90 Points: “The Niven family winemaker, Christian Roguenant, teases smoked meats, blackberry paste, dark slate, aromatic red cherries and concentrated hibiscus from the nose of this wine. The palate shows plenty of ripe, red fruit, but is made interesting by woody herbs, including oregano and marjoram” – Wine Enthusiast

Zocker
It means the gambler in German and this label is one of their biggest gambles yet – but it payed off big! The Zocker label captures the central european wine styles with two very distinctive varieties; Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just another example of how the Niven Family is breaking the molds and showing that they are up for a bit of a risk, or in this case, a gamble!

2014 Zocker Gruner Veltliner – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $21.99

Rich and round but with great acid structure, this wine is steely with pronounced minerality. It has a bit of an earthy characteristic, a strong white pepper note, and flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail.

2012 Zocker Riesling – Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard $19.99

90 Points: “A riesling with style and character, the well-defined 2012 Zocker Riesling exhibits a hint of fusel along with its green apple aromas and flavors; firm and well built on the palate, the wine sails nicely into a crisp and well defined finish. A generous riesling, a fine choice with shellfish, perhaps a bouillabaisse with a glass or two of this wine in your future! Yes, why not?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com

91 Points: “This shows petrol, honey and brie cheese rind notes on the nose, and is quite creamy once sipped, yet the edges are punctuated with orange peel bitterness. The tartness ensures cellaring potential, so drink 2018–2025.” – Wine Enthusiast

90 Points: “Even better, with beautiful lychee, citrus blossom and floral notes, the 2012 Riesling is medium-bodied, balanced, fresh and clean, with a hard-to-resist quality that will have the glass empty before you know it. It’s worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and should drink nicely for a couple years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

I hope you have a chance to explore the wines and visit their tasting room!
Niven Family Wines

 

A New Era for Chilean wine

chile

When you’re looking for a good every-day wine on a tight budget, you might find yourself turning to the wines of Chile. This long, narrow, and climatically diverse South American country has developed quite a reputation for value over the last couple of decades. But thanks to recent shifts in winemaking and marketing philosophies, Chile has increasingly become a source of interesting and high-quality wines that is worth keeping a close eye on. Much of the wine is still eminently affordable, but it now has quite a bit more to offer for the money!

Let’s take a look at some of the trends that are currently changing the face of the Chilean wine industry:

Experimental viticulture:

In a warm, dry, and geographically isolated country with little threat of disease or pests (Chile is the only major wine-producing country that has managed to remain completely free of the devastating phylloxera louse!), large quantities of wine can be produced with relative ease. However, in an effort to step up the quality and complexity of their wines, many producers are experimenting with techniques in the vineyard that stress the vine and facilitate even ripening, resulting in smaller yields of more concentrated fruit with balanced acidity and alcohol. Some of these methods include higher altitude plantings, early picking, the revival of old vines, and the exploration of cooler climate vineyards. Some regions to look out for include Leyda, Bio Bio, Limarí, and the Casablanca Valley.

A new approach to marketing:

With consumers becoming increasingly educated about wine and improving their understanding of their own personal preferences, wineries are beginning to step up their game from entry-level to higher-end and premium wines. While the Chilean section of the wine shop remains an excellent place to find sub-fifteen-dollar bargains, a new focus is beginning to emerge on smaller producers and more serious wines. Taking a page from Tuscany’s book, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, a superior-quality Bordeaux-style blend, established the category of “Super Chilean” wines with its 1989 release. It has since inspired comparable wines of top pedigree including Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserva, Emiliana Ge, Almaviva, and Lapostolle Clos Apalta. These blends often include Syrah and Carménère in addition to traditional Bordeaux varieties.

Grape Diversity:

A wide range of grape varieties can easily be grown in Chile’s versatile conditions, so many producers are looking to differentiate their wines either by putting their own spin on internationally beloved varieties, or using uncommon or locally historic ones, like País, a variety brought to Chile in the 1550s by Spanish missionaries (hence its North American synonym, “Mission”). This grape is shedding its reputation for overly tannic, unappealing bulk wine to make way for brighter, fruitier wines often made using whole cluster fermentation and/or carbonic maceration. Chile has also begun to consider some less common varieties from European countries, such as Spain’s Mencia, Portugal’s Touriga Nacional, and Italy’s Greco, Fiano, and Aglianico.

Meanwhile, the more common international varieties are showing no signs of slowing down.  Cabernet Sauvignon will always have its place, but classic Rhône varieties like Grenache and Syrah are picking up steam, encouraged by favorable climatic conditions and soil types.  Malbec, much more closely associated with neighboring Argentina, is another one to keep an eye on, especially when old-vine plantings are utilized. In cooler climate regions, fresh and light Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced with low alcohol and refreshing acidity, but don’t call them Burgundian — these wines are intended to express Chile’s unique terroir. Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blancs set themselves apart from those found in New Zealand with methods such as early picking, barrel fermentation, and lees contact to create a softer, less herbaceous or grassy style.

Old-world influence in the winery:

In addition to grape-growing techniques aimed at reducing yields, alcohol, and sugar levels in the vineyard, practices in the winery as well are moving in a direction inspired by the balance of old-world wines. This includes eschewing the use of new oak in favor of concrete eggs or large vats made of neutral wood to create food-friendly, approachable wines with round, silky tannins. When new oak is used, the goal is to create better integration with fruit flavors. Additionally, efforts in the vineyard to reduce alcohol levels in wines are further carried out in the winery during the fermentation process.

If you’ve been pigeonholing Chile as the land of bargain wines and bargain wines alone, now is the time to take a closer look as this country embarks on an exciting renaissance of wine production!

The Official Wine.com Blog