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
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:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
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:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Moscatel of Alexandria
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
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.
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!