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Tasting notes from Chile

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Chile, North to South.


VC Family Estates is the winemaking arm of the Córpora Group, which also owns the Explora hotel group - one of the most upmarket groups operating in Chile and Argentina. Its wine portfolio includes brands like Gracia de Chile, Agustinos, Porta and Veranda - a recent distribution deal with Bibendum Wines in the UK will make these names much more familiar to UK wine lovers.

Viticulturist Carlos Carrasco (right, by the Bío Bío River) showed me around their large estate, emphasising the diversity of soils from sand, to silt, to stony soils, to volcanic stones in clay. "The stony clay soils are capable of much better quality than the silty and sandy soils," he tells me. "This allows the vine to build a big volume of roots to let it better withstand stress." All vineyards are sited close to the river and its tributaries, to help mitigate frost damage in Spring and reduce the temperature a little in mid-summer. "Temperature here during bud break, flowering and harvest is moderate, with temperatures similar to Casablanca," Carlos tells me. "But rainfall is much greater at around 1100 mm annually.    carlos

"There is much more organic matter in the soils too because of the wetter conditions, with more than 5% carbon, whereas north is nearer to 2%." There is natural grass cover throughout the year, and 30ha is being farmed organically and will be certified in 2011.

vineyard    Carlos came here in 2003 and faced a legacy of vineyards that had been planted 10 years earlier, before the valley's true potential was recognised. Those plantings were done by agricultural consultants "People in charge of pears and apples," says Carlos. Carlos was one of the first graduate cohort of the viticultural course at Santiago university in 2000. "Since then there has been an explosion of knowledge and expertise in Chile's vineyards - everyone now knows we need to understand our soils and be honest when they are just not good enough." He is now planting and replanting at 10,000 plants per hectare, up from 4,000 in the original plantings. Left: the 'little Mosel' vineyard.

The winemaking team here has a particularly Burgundian accent. Consultant is Pascal Marchand, ex winemaker at Domaine de la Vougeraie, and in day to day charge is Louis Vallet, son of Bernard Vallet of the eponymous Burgundy domaine. It is little wonder perhaps that Pinot Noir seems to be something of an obsession, including new clones being developed in a joint venture between VC Family Estates, the University of Concepción and UC Davis in California.

The clones will be specifically suited to Bío Bío, and VC Family Estates will have the rights to 60% of the plants - the remaining 40% will be sold commercially for new plantings where the conditions are right - not on flat areas, and within specific soil and temperature constrictions. Louis Vallet tells me "Part of the idea is to encourage new, prestigious wineries to the Valley - Córpora cannot take the whole of Bío Bío area forward on its own."

Indeed, Louis' wish may well come true: Bío Bío's credentials as a Pinot hotspot of the future might be cemented by the news that Burgundy négociant and producer Nicolas Potel is also moving into the area, to make wines in a joint venture with a local vineyard owner. After nine years travelling the world as a winemaker, with stints in Central Otago, Oregon and California, will Louis return to his roots one day? "I will go home in future," he tells me. "It is where my family is and where my heart lies. But not yet: I love this place and this project."

white wines

This tasting incorporated wines from various brands within VC Family Estates. UK agents for VC Family Estates is Bibendum Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Gracia Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009
Bío Bío fruit. A touch of honey to some tropical fruit, passionfruit and a touch of gooseberry. On the palate this has a ripeness, but the fruit is very cool and citrusy. There's a tropical fruit sweetness at its core, with a nice balance and drinkability. 86/100. £6.49

Agustinos Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009
Bío Bío fruit. There's a touch of tropical, mango fruit here, and seems a little riper. Big mineral hit on the palate, with a salty tang and a bit of fat to the texture, but that dry, lemony acidity comes through nicely. 87/100. £7.49

Veranda Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Bío Bío Quinel Estate. 20% fermented in stainless steel barrels with a lot of lees stirring. Experimented with oak barrels, but even with older barrels it marked the wine too much. Big, unctuous nose, with lots of punchy tropical fruit and a herbaceous, powerful edge. Big, palate filling mouthful of exotic lychee and mango fruit, a little of that herbal character and lovely acidity. Very nicely done. 89/100. £10.99.

Agustinos Riesling 2008 Reserva Privada 2008
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Mineral nose, with a touch of waxiness and some pear skin quality. The palate has nice freshness and acidity, but it lacks a little complexity and seems more powerful than subtle, and perhaps a little too much so. 85/100. £9.49

Veranda Chardonnay Oda 2008
Bío Bío Valley, Miraflores Estate. Wild yeasts and very hand-off winemaking, only 15 - 20% new oak. Lovely nose, with lots of fragrant honey and vanilla quality, almond and subtle apple fruit. The palate has a lovely lemon meringue character with a touch of creamy vanilla and very clear pure fruit. The vines here are very young, and this perhaps lacks a little intensity on the mid-palate, but the acidity is elegant and the finish long and fine. 90/100. £24.99

Agustinos Viognier Reserva 2009
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Lovely Viognier nose with little herbal, greener notes to peachy fruit. The palate has nice weight and richness, a bit of leesy, skinny grip, but the freshness is good and the wine has nice punch and balance. 87/100. £9.49

Agustinos Gewürztraminer Dry Reserva Privada 2009
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Nice Gewurz nose, with a bit of herbal, nettle character, and the more exotic lychee nose. The palate has a little bit of the same grippy, slightly phenolic character as the Viognier, but I like the freshness and the varietal character here. 87/100. £9.49

red wines

Agustinos Pinot Noir Reserva Privada 2008
Bío Bío Valley Santa Carla Estate. 11 - 12 tons per hectare. Lovely juicy nose, with some bright, strawberry and cherry fruit, with a creaminess and a touch of cedar. The palate has lovely freshness - there's good fruit and sweetness, and a touch of aromatic tea, with nice grippy tannins and a fine finish. 88/100. £9.49

Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Superior 2008
Santa Ana Estate. 10 tonnes per hectare. A meatier nose than the Agustinos, with richer fruit and some more truffle notes. Thick, full sweetness on the palate, with great concentration. Lovely liquoricy edge to dark, plumy fruit but retaining the freshness. Lovely wine. 89/100. £9.99

Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Lo Mejor 2008
Santa Ana Estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Part whole bunch for this and the Pinots that follow. Smokier, slightly more graphite nose, with briar and some mushroom and a nice red fruit character. The palate has lovely silkiness and weight, the tannins quite grippy and the acidity lean, giving again a nice balance and sense of focus to the wine in the finish. 89/100. £10.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Oda 2007
Miraflores estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Nice briar and slightly tobacco nose, with some leaf tea notes. The palate has fine cherry and orangy acidity, with terrific clarity and focus. Lovely wine with great balance again and elegance. 90/100. £24.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Oda 2008
Miraflores estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Herbs, liquorice and some ashy notes to this, with a fine cherry and plum fruit. The palate has a terrific juiciness, with very fine acidity and that leafy, slightly tobacco and ashy character really pushing through. The earthy, truffly character is delightful and complex. 91/100. £24.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Millerandage 2007
Santa Carla estate, Millerandage Vineyard. 6 tonnes per hectare. A selection of the bunches and grapes that are smaller, normally because they have got cooler conditions in Spring. The berries are more concentrated. They are separated at harvest time. All the vineyard and winery processes follow the biodynamic moon calendar. The wine is 100% whole-bunch. Fabulously deep, plumy, chocolate and briar nose, with a fine earthiness and a delicately herbal note of sage and smoky thyme. The fruit on the palate is very pretty - it has substance and weight, with a plumy character, but the lithe, fine tannins and the elegant acidity are delightfully poised, with a touch of orange in the finish and some spice. 92/100. Around £50.00, Harrods.

Veranda Carmenère Oda 2007
Colchagua, Apalta Valley. Minty, chocolaty ripeness. A touch of herbal quality, with earthiness too and plenty of creamy black fruit and vanilla. On the palate this has deliciously slick, svelte, velvety black fruit with a tang of blueberry and plum skin acidity. Nice spice and toast and a plush, thick palate. 91/100. £24.99.

Agustinos Malbec Gran Reserva 2007
Bío Bío, Santa Ana Estate. A touch of herbaceous character on the nose, with a farmyard undertone and the black fruit of the Malbec just coming though. The more floral character just peaking though in this wine. The palate has good freshness and balance, with some liquorice but a slightly under-fruited mid-palate, the oak and spice dominating the finish. 86/100. £14.99.

Agustinos Cabernet Sauvignon Organic 'Maiten' 2007
Aconcagua, Colunquen Estate. Certified organic vineyard. Very minty nose, with lots of mint leaf and High, floral notes. The palate has a cherry and red fruit, more herbs and a dried herb and pot-pourri character. Quite an unusual style, the plumy depth of fruit and fine tannins coming through. £9.49. 87/100.

Veranda Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère 2007
Colchagua, Apalta Valley. A 70/30 blend. A touch herbal and ashy, with tight blackcurrant fruit and a little hint of cherry and herbs. A little less plush and rounded than the straight Carmenère, with a slightly lean character. The sweetness is good, and this does have a raciness and richness. Very drinkable. 88/100. £10.99.

Veranda Syrah Oda 2008
From Aconcagua fruit, this has delightfully plush, velvety aromas of deep-set cherry and blackberry fruit, with a little lifted note of violet and kirsch, and a subtle, creamy spice. On the palate it is mouth-filling and has terrific fruit sweetness. There's a dry, savoury plum and cherry skin grip, with the tannins rich and supple, but adding plenty of structure, and the acid balancing the sweet fruit and creamy, spicy oak with a peppery bite. Very nice Syrah this, marrying ripeness and power with a little bit of lithe, savoury structure too. 92/100. £24.99

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