The Chileans are Coming! Preview Notes for You

Flag of Chile

Every year we look forward to our pinnacle wine event, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.  Next year’s event will be Feb. 27 – March 4, 2012.  What does this have to do with Chile?  Chile is the theme country for the Festival!

A group of Media, myself included, were invited to a preview of the Chilean wines we can expect to see at the Festival, plus give us some background into this long, thin country.

My Experience in Chile

Karl aka MyWinePal at Casa Lapostolle

Two years ago I travelled down to Chile and visited wineries from the Aconcagua, Maipo, Casablanca, and Colchagua Valleys.  Some of the wineries were Casa Lapostolle, Montgras, Montes, Errazuriz, and Casas del Bosque.   I was impressed with how much the wineries cared for their vineyards and the production of their wines.  One of the nice thing with Chile, is that it is dry due to it’s location on the west coast of South America, and the Andes Mountains on it’s eastern border.  The dry climate, plus topography, and soil factors have made the area a great place to grow grapes.  There is very little, or no, phylloxera louse to attack the grape vines, plus the dryness keeps fungus and mold at bay.  So less pesticides and/or herbicides are needed here.  Many of the wineries in Chile indicate that they are organic or follow organic principles.

Chile’s Natural Advantage

Chile is a wine maker’s paradise.  They get 3 weeks more ripening time than in Bordeaux and 300 + days of sunshine each year.   The cool air from the Andes cools the grapes in the evening so that the grapes mature slowly so that they reach full phenolic ripeness; lots of ripe fruit and a good backbone of acidity. The adjacency to the coast, and the cool Humbolt Current helps produce coastal fog which cools the grapes near the coast, such as from the Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley.

What Grapes Grow in Chile?

There is a wide range of red and white grapes grown in Chile.  The top 5 red grapes in order of volume are:

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Merlot
  3. Carmenere
  4. Syrah
  5. Pinot Noir

Montes M, Folly and Purple Angel wines

Cabernet is King is Chile.  With the 300+ days of sunshine, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce very full-bodied, ripe, supple wines.  Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor is one of the top quality wines for this grape.  Merlot and Carmenere come in, in 2nd and 3rd place.  Yet they were thought of both being Merlot for many years.  The grapes were planted together in the same vineyard and the grapes and leaves of both vines look very similar.  It was only fairly recently that the Carmenere grape was identified (it’s a Bordeaux grape btw), and has become a signature grape for Chile. A second signature red grape is coming through the ranks, and that is the Syrah grape.  I think people started to recognize Syrah’s potential in Chile, with Aurelio Montes‘ plantings in the Apalta Region of the Colchagua Valley.  There he produces an ultra premium Montes Folly wine from Syrah.

For white grapes, the top 5 varieties are:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc
  2. Chardonnay
  3. Moscatel of Alexandria
  4. Riesling
  5. Viognier

Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc and Reserva Chardonnay

Most people probably think of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay when they think of white wines from Chile.  Probably also the Casablanca Valley, where a lot of very good Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are produced. An upcoming region for Sauvignon Blanc is slightly south of the Casablanca Valley and much closer to the coast is the Leyda Valley.  While the Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Casablanca Valley can be more tropical fruit, from the Leyda Valley, expect more citrus and herbal aromas and flavours.  Have you ever heard of Moscatel of Alexandria?  You might not have, but you probably have tried some Chilean Pisco.  Pisco is produced from the Moscatel grape.  Riesling and Viognier and two grapes with great potential.  I don’t think a particular region is well-known enough for these grapes, but I would hazard to guess that the Riesling grape would be very good in the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys while Viognier would shine in the more inland, warmer regions, like Aconcagua, Maipo and Colchagua Valleys.

Wines We Tasted at the Media Preview

Montgras Santa Carolina and Undurraga Sauvignon Blancs

We enjoyed 3 Sauvignon Blancs and a range of single varietals and red blends.  The three Sauvignon Blancs:

  • Montgras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Leyda Valley). Light straw colour with a green tinge. Gooseberry and sweet honey nose. Light body with medium plus acidity.  Gooseberry and citrus flavours.  Medium length. My favorite of the these 3 wines.
  •  Vina Santa Carolina Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Leyda Valley). Light lemon colour with herbal, asparagus and mint on the nose.  Round mouth feel with light body. Herbal, citrus and green apple fruit flavours with some minerality on the palate.  Quite sour on the finish.
  • Undurraga Terroir Hunter Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Leyda Valley). 2008 was a later harvest than the other years, resulting in riper more tropical fruit flavours.  This wine was light lemon/green in colour.  Tropical fruit, lees and oak on the nose.  Light body,  round mouth feel but also has a good backbone of acidity. Oaky, smoky, citrus flavours.  Long length.

Wide range of Chilean red wines

Our red wines included single varietal Pinot Noir, Carmenere, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends.  The wines are:

  • Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2009 (Casablanca Valley). Medium ruby, Vanilla and cherry aromas. Medium body, dry, but full fruit, cherry flavours.  Vanilla in the back ground and some spiciness and raspberry leaf.  Slightly sweet cherry finish.
  • Emiliana Vineyards COYAM 2007 (Colchagua Valley). This is a biodynamic wine, which goes beyond organic wine making principles. Opaque garnet in the glass with ripe black fruit, vanilla, dark chocolate and cherrie aromas.  Full body, very round, with milk chocolate and ripe cherry flavours.  Some spice, raspberry leaf and vanilla on the finish.  A very high quality, balanced wine. You can read about biodynamic wines at this link.
  • Vina Maipo Gran Devocion Carmenere Syrah 2008 (Maule Valley). This blend is 75% Carmenere and 25% Syrah.  Deep ruby colour.  Meaty sausage and ripe cherry aromas. Full body, round with minerality.  Cherries, blueberries and vanilla flavours.   Medium plus acidity gives this wine bright flavours.
  • Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009 (Apalta Valley).  Some dustiness on the nose, along with ripe cherries, capsicum and vanilla.  Medium minus body with high acidity and soft tannins.  Dark chocolate and cherry flavours with a mineral streak running through the wine. Not mouth filling but very pleasant sensation in your mouth.
  • Vina Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Carmenere 2010 (Colchagua Valley). The nose on this wine was a little closed, but I did get some nutmeg and cherry aromas. But on the palate, nutmeg, cedar and dark fruit flavours jump out.  Round mouth feel, dry with some spiciness.
  • Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Maipo Valley). Deep garnet in colour with cedar and ripe fruit aromas. Full body, rich feeling ,with  ripe dark fruit flavours and vanilla.  Dry with soft tannins and cedar on the finish.  This is a real good value wine at $19.99 a bottle. Also try their Medalla Real Pinot Noir!
  • Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Maipo Valley). This wine I think is starting to show it’s age as there is a slightly brownish tinge to an otherwise garnet colour in the glass. Some dark fruit on the nose.  Medium body, light mouth feel, with juicy black fruit flavour.  An elegant wine.
  • Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet 2009 (Maipo Valley). Deep dark core with a ruby rim in the glass. Vanilla, dark fruit and oak/cedar aromas. Full body, round mouth feel with soft tannins.  Light vanilla with some mintiness.
  • Vina Chocalan Gran Reserva Blend 2009 (Maipo Valley). This is a blend of 6 grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.  Opaque garnet in the glass. Nice cedar, allspice and vanilla on the nose. Very round in your mouth with soft tannins. Allspice, cedar and ripe black fruit flavours.  Nice texture.  A favorite wine of many of the media I spoke with.

If these wines have enticed you, you may want to buy advance tickets to the Playhouse Wine Festival.  Here is my link to the tickets.  Enjoy and Salud!

Chile Day 6 – Errazuriz

Chile Day 6. Today I visited one of the largest wineries in Chile, Errazuriz. Errazuriz is located in the Aconcagua Valley, north of Santiago. I was first met by Mr. Pedro Olivia Farias in Public Relations who showed me part of the vineyard, plus their winery processing facilities. It was very informative. Pedro showed me the upgrades that Errazuriz has done to the winery, and changes upcoming to make it more sustainable. Gravity fed, using thermal heating from the ground, natural lighting and more. He also provided me a brief history of the Errazuriz winery, which started in the late 1880’s up to today. Today the winery is completely owned by 4 family members. He also described to me the different wineries owned by Errazuriz, which include Arboleda, Sena, and Caliterra, and the different emphasis of each winery. I found out that Canada is the 2nd largest market to Errazuriz, behind the UK. That was quite amazing.

After the tour by Pedro, I was handed over to winemaker, Mr. Rodrigo Zamorano. Rodrigo spent a lot of time with me and went into much depth about the Aconcagua Valley and each of the 9 different wines we sampled together. Errazuriz is the largest winery in the Aconcagua Valley and is the only valley to have a continuous valley up to the Andes. This allows the coastal fogs to reach far in land moderating the temperatures in the Aconcagua Valley. He also mentioned that they started a new vineyard area called Manzanar near the coast in the Aconcagua Valley where they are trying white varietals plus pinot noir. They are just starting to produce wines from this area so time will tell which varietals produce the wines up to their standards.

As i mentioned, I tried 8 different wines, from the Estate Level, Reserve Level, and their top level wine, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve. To keep this blog brief, I will tell you about one white and one red I enjoyed, and then provide the full tastings notes when i am back in Canada. For the white wine, I enjoyed their 2007 Wild Ferment Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley. This is a 100% barrel fermented wine, using all French oak. One third of the wine went through malolactic fermentation to provide a more round mouthfeel and butteriness. I’ve tried this wine in the past in Vancouver, and enjoyed it this time with the wine maker Rodrigo. The wine had lots of vanilla, caramel and tropical fruit on the nose. Very aromatic. Full bodied, with tropical fruit and vanilla flavours. Very smooth, but still had some acid to balance it. It had a long length with a spicy finish. Rodrigo suggested aging it for a year to integrate more in the bottle, but I thought it was fine already.

For the red wine, I enjoyed the 2007 Max Reserva Carmenere from the Aconcagua Valley. This wine spent 12 months oak aging. 2007 is the first vintage for the vines selected for this wine. It had a deep purple color in the glass. Cassis, smoke, black cherry, and oak on the nose. Black cherries, vanilla and cassis flavours. Smooth tannins. It had a long length, with a spice and red cherry finish. Highly recommended.

That is all for now. Tomorrow is visiting the Maipo Valley. Three wineries in one day. Should be a big day. Saludos!

Wines from Mendoza, Argentina

Most people probably don’t know about the Mendoza area, but enjoy the big Malbec wines that come from that part of Argentina. Mendoza is located in mid-west of the Argentine Republic and at the feet of the Andes. Mendoza is the center of Argentina’s wine industry and accounts for approximately 70% of the country’s total output. Nearly all the major wineries are concentrated in this province. Its signature grape is the Malbec. The climate and terroir in Mendoza are the ideal setting for the full expression of this grape variety. Being high altitude, it gets nice warm sunny weather during the day, and cool night time temperatures, which prolongs the grape ripening season and keeping acidity in the grapes.

Argentina is the 5th largest wine producer in the world. Mendoza has over 140,000 hectares of vineyards. Mendoza exports approximately 90% of Argentina’s wines.

Mendoza produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera, Riesling, Chenin, Ungi Blanc, and Semillon and others, in its over 1220 vineyards. 79% of vineyards are planted with red varietals and 21% with white varietals.

Malbec is the most popular varietal for international markets. With typical black cherry, blackberry and spice aromas, this wine is usually produced in a Bordeaux style, often aged in oak, for a result that is soft, deep, and velvety.

Besides being a great place to produce full bodied wines, the town of Mendoza has a large artist base. So lots of great artwork as well.