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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.


The oldest plantings here were amongst the first in the valley in 1999, Garcés Silva being one of the small group of pioneer producers who built the pumping station and lines to the Maipo that brought the possibility of winemaking to Leyda. A family-owned company (the family also having a share in Montes) I had lunch with winemaker Francisco Ponce (right) and two of the brothers Garcés Silva, general manager Matías Alberto and José Antonio.

The neat, efficient and carefully thought-out cellar was built in 2002 and its first vintage was 2003, but already it is being extended to cope with a production of 25,000 cases.

Francisco tells me "We've plenty of vineyard land to expand too, though we think around 200 hectares will be the natural limit of really good vineyard land." Extra grapes are sold off "it's a very good business here in Leyda," says Francisco, "as the price of Leyda grapes is about the highest in Chile."

Surprisingly, Francisco tells me that even in this recently developed region of rolling hills, there was a movement initially to plant only on the flat lands. This is the same story as that of the Central Valleys, where decades before, the 'easiest' sites were developed on the flat before producers learned the advantages of planting at higher altitudes and in the different soils of the slopes. It surprised me to hear that the lessons hadn't been learned by the time Leyda was planted: "But now we understand the hills and need for different expositions, so newer plantings will hopefully produce new higher level wines eventually."

In 2007 Amayna's first Syrah was bottled, giving five wines in the range. But they have experimental plots of Riesling, Gewürz, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. "Leyda has a big potential with sparkling wine, with good acidity and minerality too," according to Francisco. But the cool Valley has its limitations: "Carmenère probably wouldn't ripen here, and Cabernet Sauvignon definitely not." Garcés Silva's neat, efficient gravity-flow winery has lots of natural light and freshness, exposed to the fresh breezes from the coast.

white wines

UK agent for Amayna is Alliance Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2008
A blend of two clones - one from Davis and one from France. The former gives tropical aromas, the latter gives citric and finesse, The nose has a rich, ripe, almost liniment-like quality, with some soft herbs and seeds and a background of mango-like, tropical fruit. The palate has a powerful, skinny weight and texture, with plenty of acidity, but a richness of flavour and bit of phenolic grip. "Made with a philosophy of being drunk with a nice plate of food - iodine flavours of seafood". 89/100. £12.99, Oddbins, Harvey Nicholls.

Amayna Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2007
1,000 cases. Exactly the same grapes as the unoaked Sauvignon, but fermented in 100% new Taransud oak given a heavy, sweet toast. Gently nutty, seed-cake notes, touches of honey and fig. The palate has real sweetness of fruit, layered with a little vanilla, even notes of cream. Some green bean too, with lots of punch and brightness. A certain waxiness to this, and a big burst of orangy acidity - even a touch of marmalade, and a warming hint of toast in the finish. 91/100. £18.49, Oddbins.

Amayna Chardonnay 2007
Much tighter and more closed at this stage, with the barrel characters subdued, though a nice honey and vanilla background. Fruit slightly suppressed too aromatically, with just some white fruit notes coming through, and little of that green bean, vegetal quality in a warmer year. The palate has a much tighter, juicier lemony character. A powerful, tight palate, with extremely good focus of fresh, decisive fruit and plenty of lemon and more salty, mineral acidity. 91/100.

Amayna Chardonnay 2006
A 50/50 blend of barrel-fermented and tank-fermented wines, with no malolactic. The oak is not all new, with second and third fill oak too. Big, green bean and vegetal ripeness here, with buttery notes and lots of green fruit, ripe fig and quince and some vanilla. The palate has that background of toasty oak and quite herbal qualities, with lots of racy fruit, a real sense of salty minerality and a clean, fresh finish with an ice-water coolness. Long and tangy, with good natural acidity. 91/100. £14.99, Oddbins.

red wines

Amayna Pinot Noir 2007
Most of the fruit from very stony soils near the winery. Simple vinification, with long cold maceration followed by ferment and malolactic in tank, then into barrels with 15-20% new, all French oak. Natural acidity. I find a disconcerting, slightly cow-pat note to this, as well as a roasted chestnut, slightly burnt quality, neither of which I really like. There's a cherry edge to the fruit, but I find that earlier note off-putting. The sweetness of the fruit and a silkiness comes through beautifully on the palate, there is lovely weight and texture here, with a chicory bite in the finish. Lovely palate, but that aroma... oh dear. Was it a bad bottle? 82/100

Amayna Syrah 2008
Have been reducing yields. A blend of clone 174, which is elegant and floral, and 300 which has a rustic character. Intense, liquorice and clove aromas, lots of spice and pepper, a touch of violet and black olive and robust, chunky black fruit. The palate has density and power, with a real fruit sweetness, giving depth and silkiness, with quite a chunky, robust finish to the tannins and acids. 89/100.

See all stockists of Amayna on wine-searcher.

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