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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.


Under Elqui's 320 days per year of perfectly, brilliantly, luminously blue skies, UV radiation is 10 times higher than in Europe. "By law," says Falernia's co-owner and oenologist Giorgio Flessati, "all vineyard workers need full UV protection - clothes and creams - to be provided by their employers." This is just one of so many things that must seem alien to Giorgio, who comes from Trentino in Northern Italy, splitting his time between the two countries.

The Falernia story began in 1998 when Giorgio and local Pisco producer Aldo Olivier got together and hatched a plan to make wine in Elqui. The pioneers planted on various sites, including the boulder-strewn 'Pedragal', an old river bed now planted with Syrah, Carmenère and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. "It was a huge amount of work to level and add a layer of soil," Giorgio tells me. Looking at these adjacent planted and unplanted sections (right), that is apparent.

The company is currently the only producer with its own winery in the Valley, making
wines under the Falernia and Mayu labels: Mayu is a separate company owned by Aldo's son Mauro, a grape grower who started producing his own wines with Falernia in 2005.

   The highest vineyards at close to 2000 metres are mostly old vines of Pedro Ximenez, once grown for Pisco, but now making table wines (including Marks & Spencer's very good own label dry white Perdro Ximenez) or being grafted over to Sauvignon and Torrontel - the same variety as Argentina's Torrontés.

This is a high quality operation, with selection tables manned by six people during harvest time de-selecting underripe grapes. "It's a quiet, relaxed winery," says Giorgio (left), "We play soft music and make gentle wines". Giorgio also shows me their special tanks fitted with pistons that regularly and gently submerge the cap during fermentation "This is one of the reasons people think our wines have more residual sugar than they actually have - the softness of the tannins allows the fruit sweetness to stand out more."

white wines

Falerina's wines are imported into the UK by Great Western Wines, Mayu's by Guy Anderson. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Falernia Antakari 2009
Late harvest Muscatel and Semillon with fine floral, peachy fruit. Quite full and rich, but sweetness is moderate and it finishes with a bit of bite through some phenolic richness and good acidity. 88/100.

Falernia Pedro Ximenez 2009
Juicy, pear and apple scents, small floral aspects and a touch of talcum. The palate has fine fruit sweetness (though only 2.9g/l residual sugar). There's something leafy and herbal too, almost chicory like, with a nice bite of lemony acidity. 86/100.

Falernia Chardonnay 2009
95% stainless steel, the rest in old barrels. And yet the nose has a creamy richness from battonage. The palate is very crisp and juicy, with lots of lime and lemon fruit. 87/100.

Falernia Alta Tierra Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Pronounced, leafy nose - touches of marjoram and tomato plant leaves. |Lots of tight, sharply focused fruit character. The palate has a scything cut of lemon juice and leafy acidity, and a really crisp, fresh mid-palate. 88/100. £8.09, Laithwaites

Falernia Alta Tierra Viognier 2009
Delicate, slightly spearminty notes, a touch of peach and apple and some floral aspects. Fresh, crisp, nicely delineated palate with no weight and ponderous character, but very crisp, leafy and almost Sauvignon freshness. 87/100. £8.09, Laithwaites

Mayu Pedro Ximenez 2009
Perhaps not quite so expressive as the Falernia bottling, with small lemon confit notes and a touch of leafiness. The palate is drier than the Falernia, with a very tight, white apple acidity and lovely fresh, zesty palate. Drier and tighter, but very delicious. 86/100. (the £5.49 own-label PX in M&S is made by Mayu).

Mayu Torrontel 2009
Beautifully floral nose, with lovely musky aromatics and typical jasmine notes of Torrontés. Terrifically zesty palate too, with lots of crisp, juicy apple acidity and a little bit of leafy endive bite. 87/100.

Mayu Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Similar herbaceous nose, perhaps even more pungently green, delivering capsicum and green bean qualities. Very punchy and vibrant on the palate, with really nice balance of striking fruit and acidity, and a dry, decisive finish. 89/100. 2007 vintage in Asda at £6.87

red wines

Falernia Carmenère Syrah 2007
One third of the 60% Carmenère Is 'Amarone' style from grapes dried on the vine until June. A touch of herbaceous character, with some blackcurrant fruit beneath. The palate has a notable sweetness, though only 4.5g/l of sugar, that is very smooth and cherry-flavoured, with a touch of chocolate and a nice fresh, cherry skin and lemon bite in the finish. 87/100. £8.95, Great Western Wine.

Falernia Carmenère Reserva 2007
100% from dried grapes. Similarly leafy, though oddly not as pronounced as the blend with Syrah. That herbal edge carries on the palate, with a certain leathery note but also a fine, very cool linearity with delicious chocolaty notes and a touch of sweetness and lift. Becomes chocolaty and lip-smacking, with great richness abut freshness too. 88/100. £10.95, Great Western Wine.

Falernia Alta Tierra Syrah 2007
Very hedonistic, deep, dark and velvety fruit, with a hint of pepper and some exotic incense. The palate has weight and density, the fruit dry and plummy, those dry chocolaty tannins adding a lovely weight and full texture. 91/100. £9.99, Laithwaites

Mayu Carmenère Syrah Rosé 2009
Ripe, cherry and rosehip aromas. Very nice mouth-filling fruit, with lots of punch and vivacity, a little creamy note and plenty of soft strawberry fruit. 87/100.

Mayu Syrah 2008
There's a slightly leafy note to this, with good white pepper character. Creamy red berry fruits beneath. There's a nice bit of chocolate and some nice creamy, dark oak. 88/100.

Mayu Syrah Reserva 2007
There's a beefy, more meaty note to this, with some herbal notes and powerful berry fruits. There's a huge sweetness to the fruit here - not sugar - although this perhaps doesn't push through with the same plushness as the Falernia. 89/100.

Mayu Syrah Organic 2008
Went to Limari for a certified organic vineyard, though they have Elqui vineyards in certification. Seems lighter, with earthy and herbal aromas, and a nice fresh fruitiness. Palate, has a blue/black fruit freshness, with a nice lie and energy about it. A lighter, but delightfully fresh and juicy style. 89/100.

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