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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.


It was nice to meet up again with Marco Puyo (left), whom I'd last visited in 2007, hundreds of kilometres south at this giant company's HQ in Molina. Previously of Los Vascos, Marco along with consultant winemaker Paul Hobbs from California, is charged with developing the company's reserve lines. Over 80 hectares have been planted in Elqui "with more to come," according to Marco. Though most of the planting is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, they have recently planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard in Elqui, as well as Riesling. The oldest blocks are Syrah, planted in 1997.   

Pinot is viewed by many as being better suited to vineyards further south, but Marco says "we have the soils, ranging from volcanic colluvial soils, through the stony riverbed, to sandy soils on the terrace. We also have perfect weather, with very cool nights, so I do not know why it won't work - I am very confident it will be good".

Viña San Pedro is today a massive player: in 2008, already a wine group with various labels in its portfolio, it merged with Viña Tarapaca / Southern Wine Group to form Viña San Pedro Tarapaca (or VSPT). Today VSPT is the third largest wine producer in Chile, second biggest exporter of Chilean wine and owns the large Cristal brewery. Heineken owns 30% of VSPT.

Having such a large and business-orientated group invest so heavily in Elqui perhaps demonstrates the belief in this unique Chilean territory, though the tasting staged for me in Elqui included a range of Marco's premium wines from across the company's estates.

white wines

UK importer of San Pedro is Les Grand Chais du France. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Castillo de Molina Elqui Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Fine, herbal nose, with lots of grassy, fresh cut green beans and ripe, peachy fruit. The palate has a lovely blast of tropical fruit, with lots of lime and lemon zest and glittering acidity. Really fresh stuff, with a nicely dry, mouth-watering finish. 89/100. £7.49, Majestic

1865 Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Much more subdued, misses all that piercing green fruit character of the Elqui wine, with just a soft leafy background and a passionfruit character. The palate has good, fresh fruit - lots of lemony zest, and really punchy fruit, perhaps a little more body and texture, and a bit of grip in the finish. Not in UK. 88/100.

Castillo de Molina Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2009
Nicely creamy with a touch of oatmeal and a touch of green fig and toast. On the palate this has a trace of something slightly bitter I find: the wine has lovely freshness, and a clean, chilled melon and apple fruitiness with just a hint of more tropical fruit, but the freshness and acidity - and the length- are all good. 88/100.

red wines

Castillo de Molina Maule Carmenère 2008
Around 25% aged on year in new French oak, the remainder in older French oak. Really lovely, ripe, quite glossy fruit here, with cassis and thick, sweet black berries. Gentle, smoky toastiness in the background. Lovely fruit sweetness and very soft tannins, there's an almost creamy strawberry fruit to this and a very soft, chocolaty finish. Delicious and fresh in the finish. 89/100

Castillo de Molina Maule Valley Syrah 2008
Picked a full month before the Carmenère. Bright, creamy red berries. A touch of cigar box and incense spice, a touch of pepper. The palate is well-balanced and fine, with a nicely racy character. Fresh in the finish, though lacks a touch of flesh perhaps, but balanced and delicious. 87/100. £7.49, Majestic.

Castillo de Molina Cachapoal Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
A more meaty character, with a touch of coffee and just a little touch of black olive, savoury character. It has a dry, savoury character, with plenty of firmness and a nicely grippy finish. Structured and food-friendly. 88/100.

1865 Cachapoal Syrah 2007
A single vineyard wine. Rich, balsamic character, with lots of smoky, meaty notes. Lovely mouth-filling texture and fruit sweetness to set against slightly austere, dusty tannins. Structured and quite complex this and should develop. 91/100. This wine in available through the restaurant trade in the UK.

1865 Maule Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Rich, thick, sweet black fruit, with a cedary character and a real gamy, meaty edge again. This has lovely fruit sweetness and a rich, chewy texture. The oak is dark and coffeeish, and the soft but quite grippy, sinewy tannins add nice freshness along with good acidity. 90/100.

1865 Limited Edition Elqui Valley Syrah 2007
Only the second ever limited edition Syrah, and the first from Elqui - 1,000 cases. From the oldest vineyard, planted in 1997. Big, coffeeish, rich nose, suffused with smoky bacon and dark, mulberry fruit. The palate has a great richness and smooth, silky texture. There's a massive fruit sweetness on the palate and lovely freshness. A big wine, but balanced and long. 91/100.

Cabo de Hornos 2006
The name means Cape Horn. 80% Curico Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cachapoal Syrah and 5% Maule Malbec. Eighteen months in mostly new French barrels. Lots of Sandalwood and incense aromatics, with a dusty, blueberry and blackcurrant fruit. The fruit is fresh on the palate, with a bit of cherry fruit and very silky tannins. The palate has lovely sour orange acidity and lots of grip, the Malbec perhaps adding a little extra damson skin and plumy darkness. 91/100.

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