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Chile 2010, part II

text and photographs ©2007 Tom Cannavan

This is part II of this feature, including winery profiles and tasting notes

go to part I

September is a month of fiesta in Chile, as circuses roll into every town and stalls selling colourful kites and flags line every roadway. Restaurants are decorated with balloons, lanterns and streamers, all centered around the celebrations for Independence Day. September 2010 will be a helluva party, as Chile celebrates its 200th anniversary.

It had been four years since I last visited Chile, a period in which the world's wine industry has seen much change, and not all of it for the better. Global oversupply, downward pressure on prices and scrutiny from certain sectors of the health lobby, have all contributed to tough trading conditions for winemakers around the world.

Chile boasts 40 per cent of the world's copper reserves beneath its soil. Copper accounts for 47 per cent of the value of all exports, and behind comes lumber from a huge forestry industry. Fish and fresh fruit are the final linchpins of the Chilean export economy: Chile is the southern hemisphere's biggest producer of apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines and grapes - though those are table grapes: the vineyards that feed the wine industry are of a relatively small scale by comparison.
  

But Chile is a country that is hungry for commerce and to assume as prominent a role in the world economy as its natural resources, 15 million citizens, and their skills and ingenuity will allow. Since my last visit, an astonishing new motorway has carved a much-needed north-south artery through Santiago. The fact that the Mapocho River was the only strip of undeveloped land in this densely packed city did not stop Chile's momentum: they simply drained the river, excavated massive tunnels beneath, and then let the river flood over the top again.

Renowned for its Phyloxera-free vineyeards and crystal-clear landscape, read part I for my account of the various movements and trends in the Chilean wine industry as it marches towards 2010, but for now, here is a snap-shot of some of Chile's producers and their wines, from my visit in Autumn 2006.

Valdevieso, Curico

Valdivieso is currently looking at expanding exports into the middle and far east amongst others, where there is the hope of a better profit margin that the more traditional markets like the UK and USA. Their search, and of course the holy grail for many, is not necessarily to sell more wine, but to sell it at higher price.

   Aware that better bottom line profitability for a wine company comes through raising quality, quietly but steadily, Kiwi winemaker Brett Jackson (left) has been improving Valdivieso's wines across the board. He has built a 'winery within a winery' at their Curico base, with a sorting table, basket press and battary of specially-designed fermenters where he creates an expanding range of super-premium wines that really impressed me.

The non-vintage multi-blend Caballo Loco, one of the first Chilean 'icon wines' is now onto edition eight, and was sensational. But a new premium Rhône blend, from 80-year old Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah, was excellent, and a soon to be released top of the range cuvée called Plenus uses a selection of the very best Cabernet and Malbec to brilliant effect. It will be the new flagship wine. Valdivieso's wines are imported into the UK by Bibendum.

See current stockists of Valdivieso on wine-searcher

Valdivieso (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc 2006
As always, Brett gets a pungent, Marlborough-style vegetal note to his Sauvignon, with plenty of green bean and herbal notes, and hints of tropical, pineapple fruit. On the palate plenty of sweet, ripe fruit, with very nice texture and richness, and fine lemony acidity, with lots of passionfruit and tropical notes, but retaining bite and freshness.

Valdivieso (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Reserva 2006
Lots more phenolic, asparagus and vegetal aromas, with green beans and dry fruity quality. Less tropical, with more of the vibrant, cool, Marlborough-style character.

Valdivieso (Chile) Malbec 2005
Rich, dry, bramble and cedary character, with good fruit on the palate, lots of rich, mouthfilling black fruit. Lovely quality here.

Valdivieso (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
A touch of cedar and a touch of green character, but lovely richness of fruit in the mouth. Develops a little chocolate and nice tannic background.

Valdivieso (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2004
Mostly Maipo fruit, 12 months in barrique. A lot of menthol and almost eucalypt character, with very fine blackcuranty fruit and a lovely sweetness on the palate. Quite dry on the mid-palate, with an inky density, but that palate coating, rich, quite extracted black fruit coats the tongue. Becomes more chocolaty and plummy. Lovely quality.

Valdivieso (Chile) Carmenere reserve 2005
The first year Brett has made this wine, it has been developing and now he is happy he has the quality. Has that tell-tale smoky, slightly dusty quality of Carmenere, there is a touch of hollowness perhaps, but fruit comes through and this finishes with good power and fruit.

Valdivieso (Chile) Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard 2004
Rich, smoky, almost toffeed plushness, with very sweet, vanillin quality to the oak. Lots of chocolate and raisiny intensity, with currant and blueberry richness to the fruit. Violetty sweetness and aromatic intensity. Lovely.

Valdivieso (Chile) Caballo Loco No 8
Lovely aromatics, lots of cedar and Sandalwood, with very refined black fruits and a real sense of elgance. On the palate this has fine, racy, elegantly definted black fruit with a real black cherry bite, plenty of crispness and vibrancy with fine tannins and good acidity, but a silky, mouthfilling txture and compsed fruit quality.

Valdivieso (Chile) Eclat 2004
Mostly 80-year-old Maule Carignan with Syrah. Fine, rich, ripe black fruit, and very ripe and dark without being jammy. Very fine, coats the palate with a hint of raspberry and cherry brightness and biting acidity, and then that infill of broader, juicier blackcurrant and racy, fine tannins gives a full, but nicely delineated and easy to drink quality.

Valdivieso (Chile) Plenus 2002
Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, this is a wine I tasted with Brett from barrel in 2002, when it was as yet unnamed, but of superb quality. Now, after four more years in barrel, it is meaty, rich and full, with very plush, concentrated aromatics and flavours. The palate it just flooded with plum and mulberry and suede-like texcture of fine, solid black fruit. Beautifully plush tannins. Fantastic quality and very fine, rolling, tobacco-tinged character. Outstanindg

San Pedro

   The San Pedro name will be best known for their massive-selling supermarket brands 35 Sur and Gato, that are staples of British supermarket shelves.

Recently appointed winemaker at the company's Molina winery is Marco Puyo (left), previously of Los Vascos, and who along with consultant winemaker Paul Hobbs from California, is charged with developing the company's reserve lines. The 500,000 cases of 35 Sur have their own winemaking team in place.

Marco sees his challenge as improving quality, and he is moving towards single vineyard wines for the 1865 and Cabo de Hornos ranges. San pedro's wines are imported into the UK by Buckingham Vintners.

See current stockists of San Pedro on wine-searcher

San Pedro (Chile) Castillo de Molina Sauvignon Blanc 2006
All cool vineyeard fruit, including 3% Casblanca, 12% Leyda, 85% from Elque valley to the far north near the Atacama dessert. Quite green and asparagus-like, with a vegetal, nettly streak. A nicely underripe character, with a dry, bay leaf note. Lemony, green-streak to the fruit, but bottled just 10 ago so may be a little shocked. Seems very vibrant beneath.

San Pedro (Chile) Castillo de Molina Chardonnay 2006
Also bottled only one week. 70% femented and aged in oak, 30% stainless steel. All Casablanca fruit. Quite a bright, verfy fruity nose, with lots of pear and melon fruit. Very clean. A little phenolic bite on the paate, with an edge to quite skinny, lemon and orange fruit, with just a small almond note of oak in the finish.

San Pedro (Chile) Castillo de Molina Pinot Noir 2005
Rather nutty, earthy character, with plenty of oak (French and a little American oak for one year, 25% new). Cherry and raspberry fruit comes through. Has so much overlay of oak at present that it is hard to taste. Bright and focused, with plenty of acidity and firm, crisp tannins. A real orangy tang.

San Pedro (Chile) Castillo de Molina Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Big, sweet, creamy mint humbug nose with very ripe fruit and plenty of American oak influence. Only bottled One month. Most fruit from the home Curico vineyard. Very nice fruit quality, with plenty of cassis and a creamy, dusty, bittersweet black cherry character. (50/50 US and French oak). Nice structured finish with a roughening edge of tannins, but balanced and juicy.

San Pedro (Chile) 1865 Syrah 2005
18 months in French oak, half new and half used. Dusty, creamy, quite ceadary character. Blackcurrant and raspberry notes. On the palate creamy black fruit, with a certain cedary spice. Creamy and cool fruit, plenty of concentration. Becomes quite chocolaty in the finish. Nicely made.

San Pedro (Chile) Cabo de Hornos Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
One and a half years in bottle. 100% Cabernet from 60-year-old vines. All French oak, with a lovely toast and cedary finesse. Racy, fine pencil shaving blackcurrant fruit. Very nice quality on the palate: concentrated without being harsh or over-extracted. Big, dry, but supple tannins and mouth-coating texture. Very impressive in a big style, but with balance. Excellent. Will be around $35 US.

Aresti

The Aresti group is family-owned. As well as their sizeable wine operation with 400 hectares of vines, Aresti also has the largest rice company in Chile, the No. 2 pet food brand, and is one of the top 10 producers of fresh fruit. Around 40 per cent of Aresti's production is still shipped in bulk, but the quality of their bottled wines is proved by a clutch of gold medals in the International Wine Challenge and competitions in Europe and Chile.

Espiritu de Chile is a new range, made primarily for the UK and German markets, in a 50/50 partnership between Racke of Germany and Aresti. Aresti produces the wines in Chile, with some input from German winemakers, and Racke uses its expertise to sell and distribute in Europe.

See current stockists of Aresti on wine-searcher, and of Espiritu de Chile

Aresti (Chile) Winemakers' Sauvignon Blanc 2005
100% Leyda valley fruit, 'Winemakers' is second top of the Aresti range, just below Family Resreve. There is one white and one red in this range, and the blend might change each year to reflect the best wine of that year. This has a tropical character to the fruit, with nice sweetness and richness, pineapple and just a touch of herbal background. It is dry and has a ripeness of pear and apple, with some juicier orange and nectarine notes. There is a spiciness, with a tangy mandarin finish.
  

Espiritu de Chile (Chile) Carmenere 2005
The Aresti name does not appear on label of this brand, which is an easy drinking style focused on the UK and German retail trade. Starting 2006, it is imported into the UK by Thierry's. Bright and smoky fruit character, with a small percentage of oak treatment (staves). Nice fruit expression - quite rounded and ripe, with that smokiness and spice running through, and a crisp cherry acidity abit of grip. They expect this to sell at around £4.99, with £3.99 possible to promote it.

Espiritu de Chile (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve 2003
15% Carmenere in the blend, this reserve wine will be priced at £6.99. Very minty and chocolaty Cabernet, with plush, spicy chocolate and rich berry character. Very flattering and commercial. Mouthfilling, with a cool, creamy cassis character and plenty of spicy oak coming through. Sweet fruit, but enough acidity though it is soft and in the background.

Espiritu de Chile (Chile) Merlot Grand Reserve 2003
Big, creamy, vanillin and chocolate nose with lots of taosty oak. A thick mulberry and spiced plum fruit quality. In the mouth it is big and spicy, with lots of rich, chocolaty plum and spice fruit that fills the mouth, Nice structure here and texture. Good length and very plush and long.

Aresti (Chile) Carmenere Reserva 2004
30% new oak, mainly American. Winemaker suggests this will need 3 to 4 years in cellar. Slightly baked, leathery quality. A very solid blue/black fruit quality, but lacks some of the characteristic Carmenere fragrance? Good, solid fruity palate, with a creamy texture and decent balance, but doesn't finish as harmoniously for me. Available in the UK on-trade only (restaurants, bars, etc.)

Aresti (Chile) Merlot Reserva 2004
Slightly green quality on the nose, with pepper and spices. Again that slightly baked, leathery quality comes though, with a slightly hollow feel. Slightly hollow on the palate too perhaps, though a cool, minty fruitiness comes through.

Aresti (Chile) Family Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
A touch of more dank, vegetal character that adds interest, with cedary qualities and a rich, dark berry character. On the palate lovely supple qualities, with softness and smokiness, and the crisp, balanced quality of fruit, and very good length. Nice and spicy and good fruit quality here.VCEry nice On-trade only, but should be around £12.

Millaman, Curico

   Wine production on this estate in Curico goes back several centuries to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores. The Hacienda El Condor winery with its adobe walls and traditional manor house dates from the early 20th century. Though the Millaman name is less familiar to UK fans of Chilean wines than some, this is a premium wine estate where quality struck me as extremely high.

Winemaker for Millaman (the name means 'golden condor' in an ancient local language) is Pascal Marty (left) who has worked at Mouton-Rothschild and Opus One amongst others. Pascal has very definite ideas about his vineyards and terroir here in Curico.

Pascal retains the old high trellises pictured for Sauvignon Blanc because it suits the vines, but has adopted low-trained systems for others, all in a relentless quest to match vine to soil to viticultural practice. The UK importer of Millaman's wines is Alexander Hadleigh.

See current stockists of Millaman on wine-searcher

Millaman (Chile) Estate Chardonnay 2006
85% of the grapes come from Millaman's home estate, 15% from Santa Cruz, and only 10% of the blend is aged in second-use French barriques. Lovely balance of tropical, ripe, pineapple fruit with a much fresher, jucier citrus. This has very good palate weight, with a racy, cool fruit quality, but very ripe and full, and with fine balance.

Millaman (Chile) Shiraz Malbec Reserva 2004
50/50 blend Syrah and Malbec, from Curico and Maipo. Shiraz is grown on trellis with drip irrigation, Malbec on old flood-irrrigated trellises, planted in 1939. The wine sees 12 months in oak, 85% French. Beautifully appealing, deep-fruited nose, with rich, mulberry and cassis fruit and plenty of spice. There are lovely violetty and super-ripe, creamy fruit notes. In the mouth this has plenty of richness and depth, with jammy, full fruit and plenty of smooth, unctuous depth.

Millaman (Chile) Carmenere Reserva 2003
15% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. 85% from San Clemenete, 15% from Curico. 100% matured in French and American barriques. Green pepper and spices on the nose, with a dusty, smoky quality. Some leathery notes to solid black fruit. Juicy and fresh on the palate, with lovely fruit. Becomes quite fine and cedary, with very nice savoury fruit and oak quality, a nicely grippy tanninc edge and good acidity. Very fine indeed.

Millaman (Chile) Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec Reserva 2004
60/40 blend from 100% Curico fruit, the Malbec trellised in 1939, the Cabernet Sauvignon 1954, both with flood irrigation. This wine sepnds 12 months oak, 70% of it French. Lovely minty quality on the nose, with tight, muscular aromatics of black fruit and tight, leather and coffeeish oak. On the palate it is tight too, with a supple, dry, savoury fruit quality, but very nice, supple, fine tannins and a bite of plum and plumskin acidity.

Millaman (Chile) Zinfandel Reserva 2005
5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot join the Zinfandel in this blend, aged 12 months in barrique, mostly American, but also some French. A very aromatic red, with distinct quince jelly notes, and lots of old rose and floral qualities. Plenty of toast, and spice too and rich, red fruit character. On the palate lovely raspberry and bright cherry and red fruits, with a soft fudge and chocolaty background, and quite an expansive, mouthfilling fruit quality. Very interesting zesty finish is juicy and moreish.

Via

Via was established as a contract winemaking operation, with quality vineyards across Chile. The last few years have seen a change of philosophy: Via is still an important contract winemakers (all of Tesco's own label Chilean wine for example), but is trying to change the operation to also become known as a producer of premium quality estate wines.

A significant part of that plan was the recruitment of winemaker Ed Flaherty. Though Flaherty has moved on since my visit (to Viña Tarapacá), his remit was all about improvement and change. Via's vineyards were planted during what Flaherty calls "the red boom," but under his direction there has been a move towards whites, and a programme of re-grafting Cabernet Sauvignon to other varieties.

Organic farming of one large vineyard has also been abandoned after nematode infestation dramatically affected the vines. Flaherty's mission was to improve the matching of vines to soils and climates, and that work goes on. Via's wines are distributed in the UK by Bibendum.

See current stockists of Via on wine-searcher
  

Via (Chile) Agua Fresca Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Lovely vegetal nose, with fine, vivid aromatics and punchy fruit character. Lots of tropical notes, and plenty of gooseberry and elderflower perfume. Good fruit: very fresh and vivid fruit, with gooseberry and plenty of crisp, citrussy fruit too. Nice length.

Via (Chile) Rui Azul Chardonnay 2006
30% barrel fermented. Candy floss, softly vanillin nose, with orchard fruit character. This retains lots of freshness and a really nice lemony core of fruit, with fine wrappijng of nutty, more tropical richness. Lovely balance and weight here.

Via (Chile) Piedra Feliz Pinot Noir 2005
From Chilcas estate vineyard. There is soft, fine strawberry fruit. Ed vinifies the wine mostly in closed tanks with punch-down, as this is a more aggressive technique to overcome quite fierce tannins in this fruit. 10 months in all French barriques. Lots of vanilla and soft, sheen of oak over soft red berry fruit. Good quality fruit here and a nice Pinot expression.

Via (Chile) Chilcas Red One 2005
50% Syrah, 18% Cabernet, 18% Malbec and a little Petiti Verdot. A soft bramble character, with an earthy note too and plenty of spice (12 months in 50/50 French and American). Beautifully mouthfilling fruit, with savoury, cedary character and plenty of spice. 5% of 2006 Syrah blended in to add a little freshness. Very fine quality with a rich, tangy finish.

Via (Chile) Tierra Oscura Cabernet Franc 2005
Ed has expermineted with Aconcagua Cabernet Franc, but he finds the results better with the Chilcas fruit. Bottled just the week before I tasted it, it is a little closed and dull at present, but a fine, raspberry and pepper edged fruit. Lots of chocolate and fudge-like soft, earthy fruit. Very nice potential here.

Via (Chile) Colina Negra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
10% Malbec, but all Maule fruit. Quite closed, with a slightly baked quality here. 12 months in oak, a combination of American and French. There's a nice solidity about it, with supple, dark fruit, but it remains a little closed and flat for me, and is not as expressive as the Cabernet Franc, and certainly not as impressive as the Red One.

Terranoble, Maule

1994 was the first vintage for this winery, created by a group of Chilean investors. The estate comprises to 85 hectares of vines, with vineyards in Maule and Cholchagua. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Chardonnay, Malbec and Merlot are the main varieties planted, with some Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah too. There are four ranges, topped-off by the Gran Reserva, with the introductory Valle Andino expected to retail for around £3.99 in the UK. Yields are relatively low, grapes are picked by hand, and oak is used judiciously. Constellation Brands is the UK importer of these wines.

See current stockists of Terranoble on wine-searcher

Terra Noble (Chile) Carmenere Gran Reserva 2005
Rich, fruity blackcurrant nose, with some peppercorn and earthiness, and plenty of solid black fruit. Very smooth, ripe, rich mouthfeel, with very supple, ripe tannins. Lovely quality of blue/black glossy fruit. Nice supple, ripe tannins and a nice core of black fruit. Very good quality, ripe and solid core of fruit and very good length. Around £8 if it appears in the UK

Terra Noble (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard Selection 2006
This has an overtly green nose, with lots of herbs and asparagus notes. Fine tropical notes coming through. The palate has a big rush of sweetenss, with lots of very ripe fruit, but a slightly sweet/sour character. Los of power and persistence in its way, but for me a rather undrinkabale style. About £4.99 in the UK.

Viña Calina

   Calina is a modern estate owned by California's Kendall Jackson, who bought it from its former Argentine owner when the Argentinean Peso was devalued around 2000.

Kendall Jackson also owns Yangarra in Australia, Villa Arceno in Tuscany and Château Lessague in St Emilion amongst others, and indeed, I found the range of wines being produced here to be distinctly 'international' in style. But the wines are excellent, and do retain a distinctive Chilean personality. That's not just though vinifying grapes like Carmenere, but from a local team given plenty of autonomy and led by Chilean winemaker Marcela Chandía (top left) who has worked in California, South Africa, New Zealand, Portugal and France, and Vineyard Manager Ricardo Marín Irigoyen (bottom left).

During the last four years of Kendall Jackson ownership the vineyards of Viña Calina have been transformed, with flood irrigation techniques replaced by drip-systems, and a new regime of vineyard management to avoid excess vegetation of both leaves and bunches, cutting back yields quite drastically. Kendall Jackson has its own UK importing business.

See current stockists of Calina on wine-searcher

Calina (Chile) Carmenere Reserva 2005
20% of Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and all Carmenere from this vineyard. Nice, rich, smoky, creamy blueberry and blackcurrant nose, with a soft, silky mouthfeel. Very rich, prune and plummy darkness, with fine, soft, earthy finish. Six months in barriques, but after blending they may add some staves to the tanks if they feel it needs some more oak. $10.99 - $11.99. Maybe £6 - £7?

Calina (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Alcance 2004
Alcance range are vineyard designated wines, from Maule vineyards. 85% Cabernet, 15% Merlot. Very rich, ripe mulberry fruit, with a spicy, plummy character. A touch of vanilla and soft, creamy oak. Onto the palate it has a savoury, rich, plummy richness with lots of savoury, smoky oak. Very fine, lip-smacking richness and good acidity. Very nice Cabernet Sauvignon. 13 months in French oak, 25% new. $16.99 - $18.99.

Calina (Chile) Merlot Alcance 2004
Big, plummy, ripe nose with slightly bloody notes and lots of fine, cherry fruit. Soft, caressing tannins in the mouth, but plenty of juicy fruit and a savoury, racy quality with grippy tannic edges and good acidity. 85% Melot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13 months in French oak, 25% new. $16.99 - $18.99.

go to part I