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It’s a lot of fun to discover a musician or band at the very beginning of their career, before they’re a household name. If you do that, when they achieve success it’s likely you’ll feel a stronger connection than in the case when you stumble across an already well known artist because you heard all their hits. In essence, that’s how I feel about the wines of Viña Koyle. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking them since their first vintage. That has given me the opportunity to watch them grow. The vines have aged and already good wines have gotten better one vintage after another. Winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga is constantly tinkering and refining his winemaking approach, adding varietals to blends, using new techniques, and launching new wines. I’ve had the opportunity to taste his wines with him on numerous occasions and each encounter has been a treat. In part that’s because the wines are really, really good, yet still improving all the time. However, it’s also because the raw passion Cristóbal has for winemaking is palpable the moment you encounter him. Whether he’s speaking about sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, aging wine.... Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.
There was a time when Chile wasn’t known for producing ultra-premium wines. Budget-friendly offerings were the calling card. While there are now copious examples of great high-end wines coming out of Chile, it was one wine that started the sea change. Concha y Toro produces a diverse and widely scoped range of wines, something for virtually everyone. One of those wines is the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, which was introduced with the 1987 Vintage. In doing so Don Melchor quite literally started a new wave of high end wine production in Chile. Lucky for us in the U.S., many of these ultra-premium wines have now reached our shores. And lucky for me I sat down recently with their winemaker, Enrique Tirado, to sample four vintages of this wine. They went as far back as 1995 and up to 2009. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the Rest.
Petit verdot is one of those grapes the average wine drinker doesn’t think of too often. Usually it shows up in Bordeaux-style blends as a complementary player to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and the like. When I talk to winemakers, they often mention that in those blends a little petit verdot goes a long way. So in the rare instance when one is bottled as a single varietal offering it could well be worth paying attention. That was the case with one from Chile that I recently drank. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.
Concha y Toro is the largest winery in Chile. The depth and variety of their portfolio spans many styles, price-points, and varietals. They employ several winemakers; each focuses on a different tier of wines. I recently had lunch with Marcelo Papa at Haven’t Kitchen. He’s the Concha y Toro winemaker responsible, among others, for the Marqués de Casa Concha line. These offerings are single vineyard, site-specific wines. Over lunch we tasted a number of the selections in this range, each paired with a food that showcased a different global influence. The goal was to highlight the ability of their wines to pair with cuisine of various styles from all over the world. If wine pairing is performance, this was a tour de force showing. The foods prepared by Concha y Toro executive chef Ruth Van Waerebeek worked fabulously with Marcelo’s wines. Prior to sitting down to lunch we tasted a few newly launched wines outside the Marques line. Here are the six wines from this afternoon that really struck a chord with me. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.
Earth Day is a good time to celebrate some of the innovations in the wine industry. In this particular case I’m thinking of Chile’s Concha y Toro. They’re the largest producer in Chile with a vast portfolio of wines in varied styles and price tiers. They also continue to push the envelope when it comes to earth friendliness. They do this in a variety of ways including lighter glass bottles to lower their carbon footprint as well as being the first winery to measure their water usage footprint. And that’s just a couple of examples. Here’s a delicious wine that comes from a vineyard in a cooler area that naturally withstands the effects of climate change. Concha y Toro 2012 Serie Ribera Gran Reserva Chardonnay – This offering is from a series of wines Concha y Toro has released that focuses on grapes grown near one of Chile’s major rivers. This selection is 100% Chardonnay and all the fruit came from the Ucuquer Vineyard in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. It has a suggested retail price of $16.99. An inviting nose is lead by lemon curd, apple, and vanilla bean aromas. The palate shows off a pure and unadulterated burst of yellow delicious apple and Anjou pear flavors. Supporting bits of spice are present as well, Mineral notes, tart granny smith apple and wisps of lemon ice which marks the long, crisp, clean and pleasing finish.
Sauvignon Blanc from Chile gets a lot of attention, and rightly so as it’s one of the great countries for that grape. However it seems to overshadow the Chardonnays, which is a shame because Chile produces quite a few excellent ones. This particular example from Concha y Toro is not only delicious it’s also a terrific value and represents their dedication to earth friendliness. That is certainly something to tip a glass back to any day of the year but particularly on Earth Day!
There are moments in history that set a standard and change the game. For the Chilean Wine Industry the launch of Don Melchor was that sea change moment. This super premium Cabernet Sauvignon that can compete with the big boys from any region of the world served notice to wine lovers when it arrived in 1987. That message indicated with clarity that Chile makes a wide range of wines, not only in the value category but in the premium and luxury categories. Since its inaugural vintage Don Melchor has consistently been among the best Cabs in the world. Chile continues to surprise and impress with a breadth of diverse offerings that expands our understanding of the great things they can do there. Don Melchor stays the course and continues to wow. Here’s a look at the 2008 vintage of this wine.
The Concha y Toro 2008 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced at the Puente Alto Vineyard which is located in the Upper Maipo region of Chile. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (97%), there is also some Cabernet Franc (3%) blended in. The fruit was harvested by hand. After fermentation the wine spent 15 months aging in French oak. Don Melchor has a suggested retail price of $95. Cherry, leather and cigar box aromas fill the sexy nose of this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is deeply layered and proportionately intense with cherry, earth and bits of chocolate filling its core. Black pepper spice, minerals and espresso are all present on the finish which is impressively long and persistent. The tannins here are firm but yield with some air. This wine is delicious now but will age gracefully over the next 12-14 years. If you’re going to drink it now, a couple hours in the decanter is recommended.
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon and have yet to experience Don Melchor, it should be on your short list of wines to try. It’s not only one of the best wines from Chile year after year it’s also a benchmark example of Cabernet Sauvignon. Whether you drink it now or lay it down, the 2008 vintage is a fine example of an iconic wine.
Chile is a country whose wines have been of interest to me for a long time. It’s an interest that has grown over time as the wines have increased in quality and diversity. Exciting things are happening in Chile and some of them are with long standing producers and others with newer ones. Vina Koyle is one of the younger wineries that has stood out too me time and again in their early history. It’s been a pleasure to taste their wines on numerous occasions alongside their winemaker Cristobal Undurraga. Cristobal’s family has been in the wine business in Chile since 1885. They owned and eventually sold the massive Undurraga Winery. At that time he and his immediate family purchased property and created a new winery to focus on premium wines; thus was born Koyle, named after a flower. One of the many things that becomes apparent from speaking to Cristobal for any length of time is the passion with which he approaches everything in life. To hear him speak about his property, winemaking techniques and the like is both a revelation and an inspiration. One example of his limitless reservoir of enthusiasm for technique is the Sauvignon Blanc he has made for two vintages now which gets fermented in a trio of different vessels, In particular the concrete eggs he uses have really excited him with their possibilities. Cristobal is also constantly planting new varietals to see what works on their property. This is a piece of land that they have revived from being practically barren to having a thriving eco-system that is farmed sustainably and bio-dynamically. Here’s a look at a couple of my favorites amongst the current releases of Koyle wines. The Koyle 2012 Costa Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced just 9 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean in Paredones Colchagua Costa. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Three different lots were sourced from a trio of exposures in this vineyard. Each was vinified separately and uniquely. The methods utilized were Burgundy barrels, stainless steel, and concrete eggs. This wine spent 10 months on the lees. 3,000 6 bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24.99. White flower aromas, citrus and spice are all part of the nose here. The palate is rich and mineral laden with depth and complexity to spare. Tropical and citrus fruit flavors abound. The mouth feel is lush and rich and the finish is long and lusty. There is a lot of solid Sauvignon Blanc coming out of Chile these days, however here’s one that sets itself apart from the pack. This is a remarkable wine only in its second vintage; it’s likely to get even better over the upcoming vintages as they hone their block selection and other methodology even more finely.
The Koyle 2010 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced at the winery’s Los Lingues Estate in Colchagua. This offering blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Syrah (8%), and Malbec (7%). Fermentation took place over 2 weeks in a temperature controlled environment. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in French oak. 8,300 cases were produced and this Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $16.99. Plum and violet aromas dominate the nose of this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Koyle Reserva Cabernet has a rich and mouth-filling palate loaded with deep black fruit flavors. Cinnamon and cloves are part of a treasure trove of spices that add depth and complexity. Earth, tobacco and dark, dusty chocolate notes are part of the above average finish. This wine is a real winner in its price category.
The Koyle 2007 Royale Syrah was produced from grapes sourced at the Estate Vineyard. In addition to Syrah (93%), a small amount of Malbec (7%) was also blended in. The fruit was hand harvested and select clusters were used. Vinification too place in stainless steel; 18 months of aging in French oak followed. 2,200 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25.99. Dark cherry and red raspberry fills the nose of this 2007 Syrah. Berry flavors lead the way on a palate that is loaded with depth and remarkable minerality. Bits of smoked meat and earth are part of the finish whose length is terrifically long and persistent in both complexity and proportionate richness. This is a knockout example of Syrah from Chile. At its price point it’s a steal too. Grab it up while it’s still on shelves.
While this trio of wines represents my favorites from the recent dinner with Koyle winemaker Cristobal Undurraga it’s important for me to note I feel strongly about their portfolio in general. While their family has been in the business a long time, the Koyle brand is still a new one. The strides they have made in a few short years are impressive; their future is bright and sure to be full of delicious wines.
Viña Ventisquero - 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc / 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir / 2010 Grey Carmenère / 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon
When I was in Chile last month I participated in a virtual Blogger tasting. I’d taken part in previous tastings of that kind from home before. But on this occasion I was onsite in an adjacent room while the winemakers discussed their varied offerings a few feet away. Getting to mingle with a roomful of winemakers before and after the tasting was one of many highlights that dotted a wonderful week in Chile. There were several standouts for me that day; one of them came from producer Viña Ventisquero. The Cabernet Sauvignon from their Grey tier of wines really made an impression, so once I was back home I decided to take a closer look at a few of their current releases. Here are my thoughts on four of them including the Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted while in Chile and had the opportunity to revisit for this story. The Ventisquero 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees for a period of four months. This offering has a suggested retail price of $12.99. The nose here is fresh and lively with citrus and orchard fruits in abundance; hints of spice play a supporting role. A grassy undercurrent underlies the palate which is framed by lemon zest, orange and grapefruit characteristics. Limestone, white pepper, and a touch of vanilla bean lead the finish which is light, fruity, zesty and crisp. This Sauvignon Blanc will pair wonderfully with entrée salads, soft cheeses and roasted veggies to name a few choices. It’s also quite delicious all by itself. There are quite a few excellent Sauvignon Blanc’s coming out f Chile at a host of different price points with a variety of intents. In the roughly $10 range this selection from Ventisquero is a terrific value that is indicative of the great things being accomplished with this grape in Chile. Drink this wine over the next year or so when it’s young, vibrant flavors are at their most exuberant.
The Ventisquero 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir was made utilizing fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. This offering is 100% Pinot. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled open tanks. The wine was aged in a combination of French oak (70%) and stainless steel (30%) over a period of 10 months. This Pinot has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Bing cherry, wild strawberry and vanilla bean characteristics are in full evidence on the nose of this wine. Hints of mushroom and gentle red fruit flavors make up the even keeled palate. Cranberry, pomegranate leather and spices are part of the finish which has solid length and persistence. This is a perfectly dry wine with tons of varietal character, two things often not in evidence in Pinot Noir at this price level. The bottom line is this wine is an extraordinary Pinot Noir for the price. This would be an excellent wine to buy a case or more of. If you’re searching for a wine to have around the house to give out as stocking stuffers or last minute gifts look no further. Your Pinot loving friends and family will thank you for turning them on to this tremendous little value.
The Ventisquero 2010 Grey Carmenère was produced from fruit sourced at Trinidad Vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley. This is a 100% varietal offering. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in French oak over 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. An additional 8 months of bottle aging occurred prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Boysenberry, vanilla and violet aromas burst out from the nose of this Carmenère. The palate is juicy and pleasing with plums, blackberry and berry fruit flavors galore. Green herb notes underscore things here and play a supporting role. Black tea, plum pudding spices, minerals and black pepper all emerge on the finish. There is a lovely balance in this wine with loads of eager fruit buoyed by lots of spice and a lovely collection of herbaceous characteristics. The Ventisquero Carmenère works equally well paired with full flavored foods as it does on its own.
The Ventisquero 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon was made using fruit sourced from within Block 38 which is a hillside section of the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), this wine also has some Petit Verdot (6%) blended in. This wine was entirely aged in French oak over 18 months; 33% of the barrels were new. No less than 8 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. The Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Cherry and raspberry aromas dominate the nose of this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. White pepper and hints of anise support the plate which is loaded with red fruits in the form of wild strawberry and cherry. Hints of black fruits are present as well and they dart through from time to time. Clove, cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg emerge on the finish along with cocoa, minerals and continued cherry and other warming red fruit flavors. This is an elegant, well structured and beautifully proportioned wine for the money. A Cabernet at this level of quality from some other regions would easily retail for $35-$40. This wine is delicious now and will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’ll be at its best over the next 5.
It’s fair to say I was highly impressed with this quartet of wines. The Reserva line offerings are excellent buys in their price range. If you drink wines for around $10 you’re going to be really happy with what you get for your money here. The Pinot Noir in particular is brilliant. There are very, very few Pinot Noirs under $15 that are worth spending much time talking about. This example from Ventisquero is amongst their tiny number. The Grey tier wines are quite lovely as well. It was nice to see that the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally notable when I re-tasted it at home roughly a month after sampling it in Chile. Their portfolio, like that of many Chilean producers is vast, with the quality of these 4 selections I look forward to exploring it further and reporting on my findings; I suspect their will be some other gems to be had.
Terroir is one of those ideas that is thrown around a lot as a buzz word in the wine industry. Depending on who it is bringing it up there can be a bit of controversy surrounding it. And while it may seem a little out there to some folks to think that Cabernet Sauvignon for example planted in a specific spot can be imbued with very different characteristics than a Cabernet Sauvignon planted a few hundred feet away, the truth is in the bottle. All one really needs to better understand the concept of Terroir is a taste, once you’ve experienced it first hand it’s easier to believe. Of course it’s a sliding scale and not every wine or more specifically every place will impart that. Furthermore some wines are made in such a style that their Terroir ends up being masked. That’s a different part of the subject for another day. This is about wines that do show their sense of place. I attended Vinos De Terroir hosted by Wines of Chile. The concept was a focused look at 10 great examples of Terroir driven wines from Chile. The event took place at Colicchio & Sons, hosted by Pedro Parra PhD and Terroir expert, author Mark Oldman and Sandy Block Master of Wine. Over the course of a couple of hours we took a long hard look at 10 wines in a classroom style format. After that we sat down for lunch and the same 10 wines were available to taste with our meal. These wines were uniformly excellent examples of Terroir. What follows are some reflections on the ones that were my personal favorites. The one white wine from this particular tasting was the Casa Marín 2011 Cipress Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. This is a 100% Varietal wine sourced from a vineyard at the very top of a hillside. The fruit came from 6 blocks within this specific vineyard. It sits 4 km from the ocean and is one of the most extreme plantings in all of Chile. The conditions are very windy and result in low yields. This wine has a suggested retail price of $28. There’s a huge burst of lemon characteristics that explode from this Sauvignon Blanc. They’re joined by bits of green herb to form a pleasing nose. Citrus, tropical fruits and lots of mineral notes are all part of the complex and layered palate which has excellent weight. Lemon curd, bits of candied tropical fruits and a bevy of spice notes are part of the persistent finish. This Sauvignon Blanc is a real knockout, impressive in every way. It’s well worth making a special effort to locate. I can't overstate how phenomenal this Sauvignon Blanc is, grab some and taste its excellence for yourself.
Concha y Toro’s 2008 Carmín de Peumo is a blend of primarily Carménère (90%), with Cabernet Sauvignon (7.5%) and Cabernet Franc (2.5%) blended in. The vineyard this fruit was sourced from has river bench soils with alluvial clay loams. It’s a cool area that promotes a long growing season. The wine was aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak. This offering has a suggested retail price of $150. Bits of green herb emerge from the nose of this wine along with red and black fruit aromas. Blackberry and cherry flavors are in strong evidence on the palate along with spices to spare, and minerals aplenty. The finish is tremendously pleasing and impressive in length and perseverance; sour black fruits, hints of smoked meat and continued spice and mineral notes all play a role. This is an impeccably balanced example of Carménère that shows off oodles of eager fruit as well as the wisps of green herb that are part of this varietal when it’s well made. When Carménère isn’t properly grown or handled it goes too far in one direction or the other. This wine sits perfectly in the middle. Carmín de Peumo is a stunning and world class example of a varietal that’s on the rise.
Lapostolle’s 2009 Clos Apalta is a blend of Carménère (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (19%), and Petit Verdot (3%). The fruit for this selection came from hillside vineyards in Apalta that feature diverse soils. Aging occurred in entirely new French oak over a period of 24 months. This wine has a suggested retail price of $90. The 2009 Clos Apalta has a nose loaded with mission figs and plums with bits of red fruit interspersed as well. The juicy and willing palate is absolutely studded with velvety, dark fruit flavors, savory spices and bits of graphite. There is tremendous depth here from the first sip to the last impression this wine leaves. Fruit, spice, minerals and bits of earth reverberate for a long while after the last bit has been swallowed. This has been one of the benchmark wines of Chile for a number of years now. The 2009 vintage simply continues that reputation forward and proves again that it’s a well deserved one. If you have never tasted Clos Apalta before you owe it to yourself to do so; the 2009 vintage is as good a jumping off point as any.
Finally we have the Montes 2009 Folly. This is a 100% Syrah wine. The fruit for this wine came from the highest slopes of the La Finca de Apalta vineyard. Aging of this wine occurred over 18 months in New French oak. The suggested retail price is $90. Dark fruit aromas gush from the nose of this Syrah with stunning conviction. Blackberry and plum flavors dominate the palate along with minerals, spice, coffee, chocolate sauce and more. The finish shows off dusty cocoa as well as continued spice and dark fruit flavors. This is a wonderful example of Syrah that is delicious today but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age. It will work particularly well paired with full flavored foods.
There are two things exhibited by this quartet of wines as well as the others tasted alongside them. First is the fact that terroir does matter and it is being utilized in Chile to make wonderful site specific wines. Second, these wines underscore the notion that Chile is producing wines at a wide array of levels, including offerings that can compete with the best in the world. The bottom line is whatever sort of wine you’re looking to drink and regardless of how much money you want to spend, Chile should be on your radar.
My recent trip to Chile was impressive on a number of different levels. One thing that stood out to me in particular was the diversity of the winery properties we got to visit. They ranged in size, scope and style. One of the more beautiful and historic was Santa Rita. The property there is simply gorgeous. Beautiful gardens within large expanses of property, a chapel, historic hotel and an authentic restaurant and more come together to form a wonderful destination for wine lovers as well as anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of the earth. They offer a diversity of touring and tasting options that should appeal to visitors of all sots. Check their website for specific details. While at Santa Rita we toured the property and facility, had lunch at Doña Paula their onsite Restaurant; most importantly however we tasted through the portfolio. As is common in Chile Santa Rita has several tiers of wines. Their entry level wines start at around $9 dollars and their top shelf selection runs around $75; in between are a host of selections in various prices with varying styles, intents and palates in mind. In total we tasted through 15 selections during our formal sit down tasting, what follows are my impressions of a handful of my personal favorites from that day.
Santa Rita 2011 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc D.O Casablanca Valley: This is a 100% varietal wine made from estate fruit. The cool climate of Casablanca is one of several areas in Chile that are particularly well suited for this grape. The Reserva tier of wines has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Pineapple aromas and flavors are apparent throughout this wine which has a lovely nose and medium weight palate. Pear and citrus flavors play a role as well. This wine has a crisp finish and zippy acidity. All three Sauvignon Blanc’s we sampled were well made and appealing. However I found this one to be the knockout value of the trio.
Santa Rita 2009 Reserva Malbec D.O. Colchagua Valley: This release is a blend of primarily Malbec (85%) with a healthy dollop of Merlot (15%) blended in. This wine was aged in American and French oak barrels for approximately 8 months. It has a suggested retail price of $12.99. This is a classically styled Malbec where black fruit aromas and flavors dominate. The palate is layered and persistent with plum and raspberry flavors. Hints of espresso emerge on the finish along with copious spices. The tannins are chewy and substantial but yield with some air. This is an excellent Malbec that has plenty of willing fruit flavors but also isn’t overwrought in any way. For the money this is an outright steal that may just completely change your view of the quality of under $15 Malbec forever.
Santa Rita 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Maipo Valley: This wine is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon (95%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc (5%) blended in. The vines utilized have 15 years of age on them. Barrel aging occurred over 14 months in a combination of 1st, 2nd and 3rd use oak. The Medalla Real range of wines has a suggested retail price of $19.99. This wine has a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose of red and black berries laced with hints of toast and wisps of vanilla bean. Boatloads of cherry flavors dominate the palate and lead to pomegranate characteristics on the finish along with earth and black pepper. This is a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20. A Cabernet of this quality, depth and persistence from Napa Valley to use one point of comparison would easily fetch $35-$40.
Santa Rita 2007 Triple C, D.O. Maipo Valley: This offering is a blend of Cabernet Franc (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Carménère (5%). The Carménère vines utilized have more than 70 years of age on them. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in new French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $35. Triple C is lead by an explosive nose loaded with cherries, leather and violets. Throughout the complex palate cherry flavors continue to dominate the show, Pencil lead, earth and spices reverberate throughout the lengthy finish. Firm but yielding tannins mark this wines impressive structure. This blend is a bit on the young side now, but oh so delicious and impressive. For it to really shine it needs a couple of years in the cellar or 2-3 hours in the decanter. In any case it’s a lovely blend that it sure to impress. This is one of a number of wines I tasted on my trip to Chile that indicate with confidence that Blends will be the key to Chile’s rise in the wine world over the next few years.
This tasty quartet of wines represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Santa Rita portfolio. What I had the opportunity to taste was a well made array of wines whose tiers are well defined. Sometimes tasting 3 or 4 examples of one varietal from a single winery leaves me shaking my head. That’s because they are often far too similar because a house style has prevailed over letting the fruit speak. This was most definitely not the case at Santa Rita. Tasting these wines side by side the distinction between vineyards, range and stylistic choices guided by the winemakers was clear. I urge you to try a wine from Santa Rita in a price range you’re comfortable with and them dabble in various directions after you discover what I did: how well made, delicious and value driven their wines are regardless of price-point. And if you're in Chile, make Santa Rita one of your destinations.
Cabernet Sauvignon was king when I first started drinking Chilean wines some 20 years ago. And not just Cabernet in general, but specifically bargain priced Cabernet. Most wine drinking folks I know rifled through bottles of $6 or so Cabernet Sauvignon looking for gems; we found quite a few. And for many people that’s the lingering impression of Chilean Wine. The trouble is it’s no longer a valid image. Sure you can still find a bargain and some of them are Cabernet Sauvignon, but there is so much more Chilean wine on U.S. shelves deserving your attention and your dollars that it would be a real shame to limit yourself. I knew this before I went to Chile last week. So one of my goals in visiting was to verify it and see what they had going on that might be less obvious from 5,000 miles away. So I’ve compiled a handful of strong impressions of Chilean Wines gleamed from the trenches.
- Argentina gets the attention but Chile makes some ass kicking Malbec: It’s Argentina’s signature grape so they should be at the forefront. In some ways they are, the general public thinks about Argentina first for Malbec. Some of them are terrific, but unfortunately way too many examples are made in an overtly fruit forward style with a lackluster body and no finish to speak of. I was a little surprised with the number of Malbecs I got to taste in Chile. While I knew it was there, its presence is larger than I would have guessed. More importantly the ones I tasted where almost all uniformly well made. By and large they were elegant, balanced and well proportioned. Often times they were made from old vine fruit. I hope we start seeing Chilean Malbec on our shelves in reasonable numbers soon.
- Tiers baby: I’ve often written about wineries like Rodney Strong in Sonoma County whose tiered approach to their portfolio is consumer friendly. This is true in a very large percentage of Chilean Wineries. They often have 3 or 4 tiers of wine. Often the entry-level wines retail for around $10 on our shelves and they have a top-level that might reach into the $30’s and $40’s, as well as occasionally higher. In between are wines in the teens and $20’s. What’s remarkable is that there is more often than not quality, value, and diversity to be had at each tier. In Chile wineries that produce what we view as very large quantities of wine often do so at a high level. One of the main reasons for this is simple: estate fruit. By owning the vineyards outright or having fruit under long-term contract they have a say in precisely how the vineyards are maintained. This can (and often does) lead to high quality in the bottle at each price point. The intent of a producer’s $8 Sauvignon Blanc and their $20 one are often quite different as are their appeals and projected end user. But what's important is getting value regardless of price; in Chile that is often the case.
- There are some delicious small production wines being made: Sure there are lots and lots of excellent Sauvignon Blancs coming from Chile and some tasty Pinot Noirs now too, but that’s not all. I had the opportunity to taste a delicious and marvelously dry Gewürztraminer made by Nimbus (part of the Santa Carolina Family of wines), as well as a lovely sparkling wine from Cono Sur to name a couple. Viognier is making some ripples in Chile too and hopefully before long we’ll see a greater number of them available in the US as well. I've mentioned a few whites but the same can be said for reds. More than one example of varietal Petit Verdot I had was lovely as were a couple of tastes of Carignan. In some cases these wines aren't on our shelves in the US yet, but they’re important to mention for the coming diversity and quality they represent.
- Blends will set Chile apart: Almost every winemaking culture has some blends. In places like Bordeaux they’re everything. In a lot of other places, well quite frankly they’re doing their best to mimic Bordeaux. Certainly Chile works to make great wine and learning lessons from places like Bordeaux or Napa to name two examples is part of the equation. But I also got the very strong sense that Chile is happy to be writing their own rule book when it comes to blends. Sure some of them contain the usual suspects of Bordeaux varietals. However grapes like Carménère that have been marginalized or fallen by the wayside in Bordeaux often steal the show in Chile. Additionally with red blends Syrah often makes a mark too as well as some others. Some of the most impressive wines from Chile I’ve tasted over the last 5 years have been blends. This remained constant on my trip last week where I tasted lots of delicious blends. It’s important to note that with blends like with varietal wines there are values at many price levels.
- Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon can still be a great value: While there are no longer boatloads of awesome deals on $6 Cabernet Sauvignon there are still many deals to be had. Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile when it’s grown in the right spot and treated properly in the winery can blow away a lot of countries on QPR. What I found on this trip is that the Cabernets in the $15-$25 range were particularly noteworthy in terms of value. These are balanced wines that are often perfect for everyday enjoyment as well as drinking over the next few years. At a higher cost there are some truly age-worthy wines. One example was the Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Rita. We tasted both the current release (2009) and a 15 year old bottle (1997). Jameson Fink, a fellow writer who was on the same trip wrote about this particular experience and it’s well worth a read.
- Diversity is King of Chile now: Everywhere we went there was something unique to taste. In some cases it was a Sparkling Rosé made from an almost lost grape. Sometimes it was a Moscato that stunned us all by how lovely and dry it was. On one occasion it was an Old Vine Sauvignon Gris. These are just a couple of examples. Chilean winemakers are experimenting in the vineyards with new farming techniques as well as plantings of new varietals or the reclamation of abandoned old vineyards. In the Winery they’re also experimenting with how they utilize oak, what they blend together and frankly just about every decision they make. What that means to us is we’re going to get to taste a wide swath of different wines from Chile.
In short I was pretty knocked out by what they have going on in Chile. I’ve really enjoyed drinking the wines from there for a long time now. But in 2012 instead of thinking of them for one thing, I think of Chile for an ever widening variety of different varietals, blends and more. Grab some Chilean wines and taste the quality, value and diversity I was lucky enough to witness firsthand.
Years ago when I first started drinking Chilean wines I tasted some juice from a host of producers, many of them blurry to the memory at this late date. However a select few of the names still resonate for me; one of those is Veramonte. I recall drinking and enjoying several of their varietal wines, which make up the Reserva tier, consistently, the Sauvignon Blanc in particular has long been a favorite value wine of mine. My interest shifted to a higher gear for me when they first released Primus, a Red Blend. That was an impressive wine for the money when it was first released. As time went on I drank more and more Chilean wines but kept returning to the Veramonte releases. In the last few years that’s included the Ritual line of wines as well as the expanded lineup under the Primus name. So when I found out Veramonte was on the itinerary of Winery visits for my Chile trip I was thrilled. There is something particularly interesting and exciting to me about visiting a winery for the first time whose wines I’ve enjoyed for close to two decades. I wondered what I’d learn, that the contents of all those empty Veramonte bottles hadn’t taught me.
Most of our visit was spent with Winemaker Rodrigo Soto as our guide. He’s the Director of Winemaking for Veramonte and prior to his current gig he most recently spent six years working at Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma County. Benzinger is well known for their Sustainable and Biodynamic winemaking practices. In speaking to Rodrigo it was fascinating to learn what he has planned for Veramonte. This is a successful winery that already makes delicious wines, but he and owner Agustin Huneeus aren’t satisfied with that. Their drive is to completely change the farming practices, eschewing herbicides and the like for sustainable and natural methods. The goal is Sheppard these vineyards for future generations, as well as of course making even more delicious wines. Rodrigo made the point that Chilean wine in general stands today where California did a couple of decades ago. As such, the perspective and knowledge Rodrigo gained working in Sonoma will serve Veramonte well on their move to the next level. After a tour of the winery and a look at some vineyards we sat down and tasted some highlights of the current portfolio. What follows are some brief impressions of a couple of my favorites.
Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc – This wine is richer and riper than the entry level Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a bit more heft than the average Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a spicy and round wine with a mineral laden finish. Most of the fruit was sourced from two high performing blocks. Their goal of proactive farming as opposed to winery manipulation shines through in this release.
Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Pinot Noir - This wine has a fresh nose with cherry, strawberry and bits of herbs. Fruit leads the palate with savory/spice playing a lesser but present role. Black cherry and a touch of plum are present. The 2011 has a solid finish. This continues to be an excellent value.
The Ritual wines have been noteworthy to me since their release a handful of vintages back. The current editions do nothing to dissuade me, if anything the style has come fully into view with several consistent vintages under their belts. If you enjoy the Veramonte Reserva tier of wines, the releases in the Ritual range are an obvious place to go next. The Ritual wines are generally available under for $20.
In addition to the Veramonte wines we had the opportunity to taste Neyen This is a partnership between Raul Rojas who founded it in Apalta in 2002, and Agustin Huneeus. The wine is sourced from Old Vines in Apalta planted to Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon. Neyen is their take on a single spectacular wine made from old vines in an area already regarded for some highly respected Chilean releases. This wine sells in the US for around $45 and the current vintage is the 2008. If you like big mouth-filling reds with depth and character it’s one to consider. As delicious as it is today, my sense is that it will improve in the bottle over the next 5 years and be quite lovely for another 5 or 6 after that.
Veramonte was a place I was really looking forward to visiting. Not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them on many levels. I’m excited by the plans they have to take things to a new level going forward. These wines are already well made, delicious and more than reasonably priced. More natural farming practices in the vineyards and around the winery in general stand to enhance what they’re doing. I’m excited to continue drinking these wines for years to come, you should be too!
In the late 1970’s when Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild where planning Opus One Winery In Napa Valley they had a singular vision; to create one wine that could stand alongside any other in the world in terms of quality and recognition. That’s a monumental undertaking but they had a bit of a head start. The Mondavi Family for their part chipped in with prime vineyards in the heart of Napa Valley as well as significant experience making wine in that very place. The Rothschild’s brought their experience of many years, and both families invested a lot of capital to achieve execute their plan for one great Bordeaux inspired wine.
Norwegian businessman Alexander Vik has gone to Chile with a similar vision; to make one world class wine. Unlike the Opus One Project he started from scratch assembling a team and providing the financial resources. To start the team he assembled visited more than 50 vineyard sites before settling on the land Mr. Vik eventually purchased. In studying the land they were about to purchase they spent a full year with the soils, pulling 6,000 samples. In short he has invested massive resources into this project, a bet of sorts on his vision for greatness. This week I had the opportunity to visit Viña Vik and meet some of the members of his wine-making team.
And what a property it is 4,325 hectares of which 382 are currently planted to vine. The plantings are all high density something which is becoming increasingly popular in Chile. That said the average is currently 4,500 per hectare. Our group was given an extensive tour of the property which is breathtaking in its size and scope as well as the attention to detail being paid to each block of fruit. Each one gets its own tank and its about 15 months after vinification that they begin to work on making a final blend of their wine. We were able to taste the 2009 and 2010 vintages of the finished wine as well as components that are under consideration to be used when they assemble the 2011.
The Viña Vik 2010 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (56%), Carménère (32%), Cabernet Franc (5%), Merlot (4%) and Syrah (3%). It was fermented with native yeasts and spent 23 months in barrel prior to bottling this past April. This wine has a spectacular nose loaded with Cherry and leather characteristics. The palate is layered with depth and complexity to spare. Cherry and hints of black fruits star. This is a juicy and mouth-filling wine with an impressively lengthy finish. It’s a young wine that will benefit from proper cellaring and should have at least 10 years of enjoyable drinking ahead of it. We tasted it several times both by itself in a formal setting and paired with lunch where it had been decanted. When it had the opportunity to showcase itself alongside food it really impressed.
This wine will sell in the U.S. for around $135. There is no question that they have made a wine that should make Chile proud. As the vines gain age, the team learns their property even better, there is a likelihood that future releases will be of even higher quality. Case in point the 2010 vintage was significantly more elegant and noteworthy than the 2009. They are a massive property in the process of building an impressive underground winery and they are making one wine in small boutique quantities. For those willing to spend that sort of cash on a bottle of wine whether it’s to age, drink today or have Chile’s version of a trophy wine in their cellar, there’s no question it’s a very nice wine. I’ll be quite curious to follow their story on a go forward basis to see how they do and how future vintages of this wine turn out. The pieces are in place to win their bet, now we’ll see how the market responds. People love a story and they love to have collectibles, the bet here is that they will be successful.
A couple of hours after arriving in Chile I found myself in the lobby of our hotel meeting up with my travelling companions for the next week. We were heading to lunch. The first meal together with a bunch of folks you don’t know can be telling. This particular lunch screamed, fun week ahead. I’m lucky to be travelling and learning about Chile with a friendly, diverse group that’s as thirsty for knowledge and well wine as I am. We proceeded to walk a few blocks to Miguel Torres Restaurante De Vinos the sight of our first meal together and, as it turned out later, a nightcap. What we experienced was a wonderful meal accompanied by some terrific wines. And speaking of wine the first sip I took on Chilean soil was a marvelous welcome. One of the folks on the trip noticed a sparkling wine she’d tasted prior and loved so we all decided to give it a shot. The wine was the Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rosé. This wine was produced from the grape Pais which played a large role in Chile prior to the influx of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. I can’t speak to other examples as to the best of my knowledge I’d not tasted the grape prior. One thing is certain I’m curious to taste some additional ones now. This was a really lovely Rosé, perfectly dry with persistent red fruits, spice and a more than reasonably long finish.
The food at Miguel Torres was as delicious as the wine. A feast of appetizers laid out in front of us disappeared quickly as did the first wine. Chickpea Fritters and a traditional omelet with potato and Piquillo peppers were my favorite bites amongst the appetizers. Both worked really well with the Rosé as well as the next wine, the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carmenère. The Miguel Torres portfolio has several tiers of wines and Cordillera is one of them; it represents smaller craftsman productions. This wine blends Carmenère with small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Delicious off the bat and featuring appealing black fruits, it really came into its own after getting a little bit of air. Carmenère promises to become a bigger and more widely known varietal for Chile, perhaps a calling card of sorts as Malbec is for neighboring Argentina. This example from Miguel Torres only strengthens that notion for me. We followed that wine up with the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carignan. One of my hopes for this visit to Chile is to taste many examples of things like Carignan, varietals that aren’t getting as much attention yet as they perhaps deserve. That said this wine was a good place to start that journey for me. It was interesting to compare to the Carmenère we’d just finished, particularly as it was not just from the same producer but also in the same tier. Sometimes producers fall into the trap of each tier being overworked by a house style that overwhelms the grapes characteristics. This was happily not the case here. Each wine stood out on it’s own with varietal character to spare. The Carignan was a bit more reserved and slightly austere where the Carmenère was juicier and more giving up front. It would depend on my mood and what I was eating on any given day but as it developed in the glass my preference shifted to the Carignan. It played hard to get a little and perhaps that was part of it. In any case I’d happily drink either one. And if they were paired with the wonderful foods we enjoyed at Miguel Torres, all the better.
Our meal ended with a selection of desserts accompanied by the Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardía Reserva Privada, a Late Harvest Wine made from Riesling. This was a sweet and lovely ending to the meal. As delicious as it was I’d bet this particular dessert wine would be even better served paired with a cheese course.
I mentioned a nightcap earlier and it took place in the same spot. After lunch we were given a tour of downtown Santiago. This afforded us the opportunity to see quite a few sections of the city; both the newer financial district where we’re currently staying as well as older areas that feature distinct architecture dating back to about 1910. After the tour was over we went back to the hotel for some downtime followed by dinner. After dinner our party was split into two, three of us chose well needed rest and the remainder of us chose more wine. We decided to go back to Miguel Torres and once there the obvious choice to drink became the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Syrah. We’d had and loved the other red selections in this tier earlier so it seemed natural to close the day out with this offering. In addition to Syrah some Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier were blended in. Red cherry fruits filled the nose along with some darker berry components. They all carried through the palate along with spices and bits of chocolate. The finish which had a touch of smoke and green herb also showed nice length. In short this wine was what I expected after tasting the other two in the tier; a well made Syrah that showed off the varietal. It was delicious by itself but will sing with its supper.
That last bottle of wine was a wonderful way to cap my first day in Chile. The wines, food and people I spent the day with all came together and formed a harbinger of what promises to be a brilliant week, tasting and exploring what Chile has to offer.
Wines from Chile are making an ever increasing impact with US wine lovers and one of the big reasons is Carménère. This red grape is grown in other areas of the world but it’s best known for the wines produced with it in Chile. Today I’ll look at the current vintage from well known producer Concha Y Toro. The Concha Y Toro 2009 Marques de Casa Concha Carménère was produced using fruit sourced in the Peomo Vineyard which is located in the Rapel Valley of Chile. This offering is 100% Carménère. The fruit for this selection was harvested by hand. After fermentation this wine was aged over a period of 18 months in French oak barrels. This Carménère has a suggested retail price of $19.99.
Blackberry, eucalyptus and tobacco leaf aromas fill the nose of this 2009 Carménère. Crushed red cherry and plum flavors are joined by copious spice elements throughout the fresh and layered palate of this wine. Wisps of dark cocoa emerge on the finish along with dark fruit flavors that continue echoing with conviction along with hints of vanilla bean. This wine has firm acidity and it’s a natural partner for food.
Carménère is a full flavored grape that produces wines that are often intensely flavored with dark fruit. This example from Concha Y Toro is such a wine. For $19.99 (a bit less if you shop around) this is a fine example of the varietal that provides solid value and plenty of drinking pleasure. Consume this wine over the next couple of years while it’s flavors are young, vibrant, and exuberant.
Veramonte has been a consistent source of quality wines from Chile for over 10 years. The two wines in particular that have stood out to me over and over again for quite awhile are the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and the Primus Blend. Of late more selections have been added under the Primus umbrella. Today I’ll take a look at the brand new release Cabernet Sauvignon and the latest vintage of The Blend. The Primus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit grown in the Marchigue Vineyards in Colchagua Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (92%) this wine also contains a small amount of Syrah (8%). After the fruit was picked the grapes under went two manual sorts to ensure careful bunch selection. Aging was accomplished over 15 months in French oak; 25% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.
Aromas of plums, violets and black raspberries fill the nose of this 2009 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. A host of dark, brooding fruit flavors fills the palate of this wine. Blackberry, black currant and blueberry are of note. Hints of pencil lead creep in as well. The finish of this Cabernet, which has good length for the price point, shows off kirsch liqueur, sweet dark chocolate, black tea, and espresso notes. This wine has soft, supple tannins and firm acidity. This Cabernet is delicious both by itself and paired with things like roasted meats or hard cheeses.
The Primus 2008 “The Blend” was produced using fruit grown and sourced in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This offering combines Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Syrah (21%), Carmenère (19%) and Merlot (15%). Barrel aging was accomplished over 14 months in French oak; 25% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.
Red raspberry, bramble, green herb and hints of licorice are all part of the inviting nose on this 2008 blend. Strawberry and rhubarb characteristics along with a core of spices form the backbone of the tasty and multi-layered palate of this wine. Sour black fruit and continued herbs emerge on the finish. This wine has a lengthy close that’s smooth and lush with a bit of racy acidity punctuating it. This is an excellent food wine that would be particularly suited for southern Italian cuisine.
This was the first time I tried the Primus Cabernet Sauvignon and I was glad to see that it’s another well made wine in the Veramonte line that provides good varietal character and excellent value. The Primus Blend continues to impress. It’s been a consistent value year after year, offering lots of bang for the buck. The 2008 continues that trend. Check these wines out, you’ll be glad you did.
Chile’s Santa Carolina has a history that dates back more than 130 years. Like many producers from Chile they have several tiers of wines priced from budget friendly to premium. Santa Carolina has vineyards planted throughout Chile and are amongst the producers leading the charge of innovation. Today I’ll take a look at two of their current releases of Carménère. The Santa Carolina 2009 Reserva Carménère was produced using fruit sourced at La Rinconada Vineyards in the Rapel Valley. This offering is 100% Carménère. Grapes were hand harvested. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $10.99.
Heady dark fruit aromas lead the nose of this 2009 Carménère. Earth and tree bark characteristics are present as well. Blackberry, plum, huckleberry and chicory flavors are at hand in droves throughout the palate which shows good density. Black pepper, sweet dark chocolate and hints of espresso bean are present on the finish which has reasonable length for the price-point. This is a very appealing Carménère that’s super juicy from the word go. This wine will have wide appeal and for less than $10 if you shop around it’s one you can pour for at a large gathering without breaking the budget.
The Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Carménère was produced from fruit sourced at two vineyards; La Rinconada and Los Lingues, both located in the Rapel Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. All of the fruit was hand picked. This offering is available nationally and has a suggested retail price of $19.99.
Violet and plum aromas are joined by toast and vanilla on the nose of this 2008 Carménère. The palate of this wine has depth, complexity and precision. It features blackberry, raspberry and bramble as well as a host of spices; black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg. Smoked meats, chocolate, earth and bits of licorice emerge on the finish which has terrific length and persistence. From start to finish this wine is full bodied and muscular while at the same time maintaining tremendous balance and proportion. This is a really nice example of Carménère and for less than $20 you’re likely to impress a lot of your friends with it. Pour it for them blind. Even if they peg it as Carménère, they’ll never get the price-point, it drinks richer than it costs.
The Veramonte 2009 Ritual Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced exclusively in the Casablanca Valley of Chile. This offering is 100% Pinot Noir. After hand harvesting each batch of grapes went through double sorting. Fermentation was aided by wild yeasts. Barrel aging took place over a period of 12 months in all French oak; 40% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99. When I first tasted the Ritual Pinot Noir with the previous vintage I was pretty knocked out with the quality and varietal character that wine offered for under $20. Since that time I’ve gone back to that release on a number of occasions and each time I’ve found the quality and value to be consistent. So when the time to taste the 2009 arrived I was both excited and a bit hesitant. My hesitation came from fear that it might not live up to what came before. Thankfully that fear was unfounded.
Aromas of fresh red fruit, strawberry and cherry in particular fill the nose of this 2009 Pinot Noir. A layer of herbs underscores this and provides a nice counterpoint. Red and black berry fruits are prominent through the palate which has good weight. Black and red cherry, raspberry, blueberry and wild strawberry are all in play here. A hint of jam emerges on the lengthy finish along with hints of toasty oak and copious spice notes. This is a full bodied Pinot Noir that will pair well with richly flavored foods.
This Pinot will drink well over next 3-4 years. For best results I suggest decanting it for about an hour. The folks at Veramonte continue to turn out well made, reasonably priced wines, keep their name on your radar for delicious value.
Cabernet Sauvignon really rules the roost in a number of different wine regions. Chile is one of the countries that has really made a mark with this classic varietal. Long before the average consumer recognized Chile as a go to country for good values, wine geeks recognized that Chile was exporting a ton of terrific Cabernet at hard to beat prices. These days you can get Cabernet from Chile at every conceivable level of quality and for just about any price point. Today I’ll look at one from Koyle. The Koyle 2008 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit sourced at three areas within the Colchagua Valley. All of the fruit was hand harvested. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (86%) this wine also contains Carmenere (14%). After fermentation aging took place in a combination of French Oak (60%) and stainless steel tanks (40%). The wine is filtered once prior to bottling. This Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon has a suggested retail price of $16.99.
Aromas of crushed fresh berries fill the nose of this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. A little wallop of herb underscores that along with touches of vanilla and white pepper. Both red and black cherries are prominent on the palate with the red taking the lead. Raspberry kicks in as well and these flavors are joined by a solid core of spices such nutmeg and clove in particular. Black pepper, espresso, cranberry and pomegranate notes emerge on the above average finish along with hints of black tea. This wine has soft, yielding tannins and firm acidity.
What appeals to me most about this Cabernet is the juicy, ripe mid-palate which is incredibly engaging. This wine is also well balanced and will pair well full flavored foods in particular. This Cabernet Sauvignon is best suited for drinking in its youth when the fruit flavors are going to shine. I recommend drinking this between now and 2015 for best results.