Dinner With Winemaker Cristobal Undurraga

Terrapura_Sauvignon_Blanc_Label_mainDating back to the 1880’s the Undurraga family has played a significant role in the Chilean wine industry. As it relates to Chilean wine in the US they were the first to export here. And when Chilean wine started to find a significant home on US shelves they led the charge in brand recognition. In 2006 they sold their namesake winery, brand name and vineyard. But instead of retreating from the wine business they approached it anew. Alfonso Undurraga Mackenna great nephew of Undurraga founder Francisco started a new brand with his sons. Thus Koyle Winery was founded. I recently had the chance to sit down with winemaker Cristobal Undurraga and taste the wines he’s making with and for his family winery. The goal at Koyle Winery is two-fold. They want to show off the fact that Chile can produce small lot premium wines. And within that focus their goal is to over deliver on each release. Throughout dinner, Cristobal who is a charming speaker told us very passionately about their goals for the Koyle brand. Before tasting the Koyle wines though we tasted through the family’s value brand Terrapura.

The wines in the Terrapura range are varietal selections. With 25,000 cases of each made they’re going to be widely available on US shelves. Each of them has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Carmenere are the Terrapura wines we sampled. There is also a Cabernet Sauvignon in this line. While I felt they were each well made and more than fairly priced, two stood out as favorites for me:

Terrapura – 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. This first wine of the night also turned out to be one of the favorites for both myself and others at the table. It’s loaded with lots of very fresh fruit flavors. Citrus abounds. It has tremendous acidity and a touch of creaminess on the finish. For $10 this wine is a steal.

Terrapura – 2008 Merlot. This offering has a big an alluring nose filled with rose petals and cherry aromas. Throughout the palate it features continued cherry, as well as chocolate and plum notes. The finish is beautifully dry with earth, chicory and spice. This Merlot is well balanced with good acidity. It’s tough to find a Merlot in this price category with this type of varietal character. That’s going to make this selection hard to beat.

Cristobal spoke knowledgeably about the Terrapura wines though he doesn’t make them. One of the decisions the family made when they started anew in 2006 was to operate their value and premium lines as separate wineries as opposed to different lines in the same winery. I can’t speak to what they would have tasted like if they didn’t make that decision. But I can tell you that what they decided worked very well. There are style differences in addition to qualitative differences in these wines that make them distinct.

Koyle Winery was named after a purple plant that can be found in their mountain vineyards. The wines are produced from both estate fruit and sourced grapes. The fruit they source comes from long term growers who have relationships with the Undurraga family that date back many years, assuring they get the quality they are looking for. Currently Koyle has four releases. The total case production for them stands at around 12,000. This encompasses two Cabernet Sauvignons and two Syrahs.  Each wine has a standard release ($16.99) and a “Royale” ($25.99) which is their version of a reserve offering. The 2007 vintage that we tasted is the first for the Royale wines. My impressions of these offerings follow:

Koyle_Syrah_2007_BottleKoyle - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This selection also has 12% Carmenere blended in.  This Cabernet has a really big and expressive nose showing lots of dark, brooding berry fruit. Berry flavors continue through the palate joined by spice and earth notes which lead to a nice finish. This wine has firm tannins. If you’re drinking it now decanting is heartily recommended.

Koyle – 2007 Syrah. 13% Carmenere is also blended in. Blueberry, plum and blackberry are all prominent in the nose of this wine. The palate has an appealing jammy feel to it. It seems to find a sweet spot that nestles itself between the very ripe offerings that often come from Australia and the more reserved old world selections. This would pair beautifully with barbecue foods.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec (9%) and Carmenere (6%) are blended into this selection. I found this Cabernet to have even darker fruit than its counterpart.  It also has bigger, firmer, chewy tannins and a notably lengthy finish. This wine is nice now, but I don’t think it’s close to being at its best yet; 5 years of proper storage should help this one really evolve. It should drink well for several years after that.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Syrah. 11% Malbec and 4% Carmenere are blended into this wine. The nose of this Syrah is loaded with floral notes. Cassis, blackberry pie and copious baker’s spice emerges throughout the full bodied and rich palate. Dry fruit and espresso notes kick in on the lengthy finish. As with the Cabernet this wine will easily get better in the upcoming years under proper storage conditions.

Speaking with Cristobal throughout the evening and tasting the wines his family is producing was a noteworthy experience. His passion for wine in general and the promise of Chile in particular shines through with every word he utters. The Undurraga family has played a key role in the history of Chilean wine. It stands to reason that they will be one of the producers that causes the world to realize, on a larger scale than they currently do, that Chile stands not only for value but for premium quality as well.

Most impressive to me is that each of these wines does meet their stated goal of over-delivering on their price-points. That’s no small feat. If you drink Chilean wines, keep your eyes open for the Koyle and Terrapura wines, they’re well worth giving a shot. If you currently don’t drink much wine from Chile, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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