Tom Cannavan's   

Odfjell Vineyards, Chile

by Tom Cannavan, 07/13

Arnaud Arnaud Hereu (right), chief winemaker of Odfjell Vineyards, came to Scotland recently to host a tasting of his wines. The theme of the tasting was around organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking, as Odfjell practise these techniques, though interestingly, without seeking certification.

Odfjell is a Norwegian family name. Shipping company owner Dan Odfjell set the business up 25 years ago after "falling in love with Chile," according to Arnaud. Born in Bergen, Mr Odfjell "could not resist the attraction of the austral sun in this Virgilian setting," apparently, and so the project began with the purchase of vineyard land in the Maipo valley, and then further south in Curico and Colchagua too.

Arnaud says that "From the beginning, sustainability was a concept at the heart of Odfjell. We take a very long term view of business: we want to sell, but we are not in a rush." Arnaud goes on to say that Odfjell is considered a boutique winery in Chile. They have strong export sales to Brazil and the USA, but everything is made in "relatively limited" quantities. Old Vine Carignan has become a speciality, and Arnaud talks of a small group of wineries becoming specialised in the grape, and beginning to work together to promote Carignan as potentially Chile's most interesting variety. In fact, Odfjell's specialisms are somewhat unusual for Chile, including Malbec and Syrah. "All we are trying to do," says Arnaud, "is produce wines with a real identity, reflecting each specific vineyard site."

bottle Perhaps it was through his time having studied in Bordeaux, but Arnaud also has a soft spot for Merlot. But he says "There is no great Merlot in Chile. It is too warm and dry." And yet he is determined to make Chile's first Merlot-dominated 'icon' wine: "It's a complicated grape to work with. You have a very short window to pick in this climate but one of our big projects is to make a very high level Merlot for Chile."

Though Arnaud is clearly serious about wishing to express his Chilean varieties and terroirs, the company is clearly quite attuned to the marketplace too. On the subject of oak, Arnaud says "We are using less and less oak because the journalists say that is what people demand," though he goes on to say "But I am not sure the public agrees - at a certain level they want to smell and taste oak in a premium wine." He also employs spinning cone technology to reduce alcohol, but only in wines destined for certain markets that are particularly sensitive to high levels of alcohol. "It does lower quality a little, so for other markets we are picking a little earlier to lower alcohol by just half to one degree, which is enough."

Having discussed the mechanics of biodynamic farming for some time, it became obvious that Arnaud takes a very pragmatic approach, convinced by organic farming and some of the homeopathic treatments employed in biodynamism, but less sure about some of the more esoteric practices (cow's horns, stag's bladders, etc). It did still come as something of a surprise that the wines were not certified bioydynamic or organic, but Arnaud's answer to that was equally pragmatic: "We are not Demeter certified because it costs 2% of the invoice," he says, a price that I presume is one step too far in these days of squeezed margins.

Odfjell's wines are very good. They are wines that for me mostly lie in the upper-middle ground of quality, extremely well made, some very interesting, and representing good value for money. I am not sure that any of them speak with the truly distinctive voice that Odfjell is striving for, but the range and specialisms of this estate are fascinating and it is a name to watch.

the wines

The UK distributor for Odfjell is Alliance Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Odfjell Vineyards, Armador Merlot 2010, Chile
Armador is the entry level range. From Maipo, this has a lovely, deep, sonorous nose with chocolaty tones, a gentle note of game and earthiness. Nice light and juiciness on the palate, with good balance given by the gentle freshness alongside hints of mocha and plum. 87/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Armador Carmenère 2011, Chile
From Maipo, and to contrast with the next Carmenère, harvested at 12 tons/hectare. Nicely spicy and chocolaty. Plenty of fruit that is cassis and plum, spice and mocha notes too. The palate has a similar juiciness and freshness to the Merlot, but there's a tobacco and smoky quality to the plum and earth that is attractive. 87/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Carmenère 2011, Chile
Orzada is a level above Armador in the range. From Maule, this Carmenère is harvested at just 6 tons/hectare. Much more cedar, spice and old world earthiness and hints of game here. Beautifully juicy in the mouth, a firm liquorice edge, the whole picture more structured and serious. 89/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Armador Syrah 2008, Chile
From Maipo. Floral and ripe, with lots of kirsch and cassis, hints of bacon fat too, all very authentic and an attractive Syrah expression. On the palate it has sweet fruit, that juicy mouth-watering glugability. Again very well made, and slips down so easily (even with 14.5 abv). 88/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Chile
From Maipo. Lovely nose, a touch of green, a touch of earth and leafiness, with good, ripe black fruit beneath. The palate has delicious rounded juiciness, nice chocolate and spice to the tannins. 87/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Chile
From Colchagua. More minty and espresso ripeness and richness, a really big, full-fruited wine, big in aroma and flavour, a blast of chocolate and great depth of black berries. The tannins are big and dry, with lots of dry, savoury depth. 89-90/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Cabernet Franc 2011, Chile
From Maule. Quite minty, quite deep, with a touch of herbal aspect and a rolling, juicy fruitiness. There is a herbaceous, slightly green character and a big, meaty, dry personality that is powerful, but the sweetness really comes through. 89/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Carignan 2006, Chile
From Maule and the Tres Esquinas vineyard which has 100-year-old vines, worked by horses. Beautiful nose, very deep and resonant, with a wonderful cocoa and spice-dusted deep fruit. The wine still shows plenty of toasty, full oak, but there is a broad-chested depth married to a sinewy, firm, tight acid and tannin structure. Massive stuff, very spicy, perhaps a touch raisiny? 90/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Carignan 2008, Chile
Lovely depth, the oak seems a little less pronounced, the serious, meaty depth of the wine allied to a more juicy freshness of the fruit. This just has more edge than the 2006, a more vital, spicy juiciness and lovely balance and length. 91/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Carignan 2010, Chile
More subtle oak again, with a nice sense of fat and ripe black fruit but an edge of grippiness and cedar. Fine tannin and spice and has that juicy liquorice quality. Fresh and very delicious. 90/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada Carignan 2011, Chile
Much more pure fruit, lots of ripe cherry and blackcurrant black fruit. Superb freshness, clarity and length. A real sense of purity and fruit concentration. Marvellous balance and a very natural feeling of intensity. 92/100.

Odfjell Vineyards, Odfjell 2007, Chile
Sumptuous nose on the flagship wine, 100% Malbec from the Lontue Valley and 50-year-old vines. The sheer depth of ripe, fat black fruit impresses, with edges of tobacco, cocoa and cedar, a gently wisping incense. The palate has a huge silkiness and smoothness, both the texture of the wine and the refinement of the tannins. Delicious and huge natural concentration and presence. 93/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.