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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.


Before heading to their beautiful estate in the Enchanted Valley (right - click for larger version), winemaker Felipe Müller took me on what seemed like a never-ending drive along dirt tracks through a wilderness of forest and scrub in the coastal mountains. Finally we reached Tabalí's newest, and clearly what Felipe regards as most exciting, vineyards that lie just 12 kilometres from the sea.    Tabalí

"This is the only marine terrace in Chile," Felipe told me. "It is full of shells and fossils and is pure limestone overlaid with chalk." Planted with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling, Felipe says "This soil is particularly good for making mineral wines - the Sauvignon Blanc from here is unique. The limestone is very fractured, so it is easy for vines to put their roots down. These are new aromas and flavours for Chile."

Temperatures at the new site are also 2ºC lower than at the home vineyards. Tabalí's home estate is truly stunning; an oasis carved into the desert surrounded by lavender fields, acres of manicured lawns and the winery set in a hollow so it is barely visible from the surface. Here, the last glaciation period filled the valley with mountain material which the rivers eroded, leaving a series of river terraces. Tabalí is on the fourth and highest terrace. Felipe is quick to point out that this is similar to Bordeaux where there are six terraces of the Gironde, and all the best Châteaux are on the 3th and 4th.

   Felipe arrived at Tabalí in 2006 from De Martino, and says a lot of his work has been on understanding the soils and depth of root systems. They now have a much finer control of their vineyards. "I no longer pick whole blocks - it is easy to send the machines out and harvest a couple of blocks in a day, but we now have analysed our plantings using electro-connectivity mapping (measuring clay depth and soil profile) and can see the depth of clay or amount of limestone beneath for example. We will pick the same block three times at quality A, B and C - these might go into $50, $20 and $10 wines." An irrigation regime dumps a lot of water on the vines only every 20 days, to encourage roots to go down through the clay layer to find deeper water.

Back to those coastal vineyards in the mountains, Felipe says that next year they will be planting one-hectare experimental blocks of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot and Carignan to see what this 'unknown' terroir can bring.

white wines

UK agency for Tabalí wines is Boutinot. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Tabalí Reserva Chardonnay 2008
Unoaked. Creamy, soft, slightly floral perfume on the nose, with gentle nutty notes and some herbal notes. The palate has cool, lemony and mineral character, with a touch of that leafy character, quite a rich texture and a nice, pleasantly focused and clean. 86/100. £6.95.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2008
Comes from the higher quality parts of the vineyard, fermented in Burgundian French oak and aged 10 months. Beautifully creamy, hazelnut nose, with aromatic spices and notes of fennel and flint. The palate has a core of salty minerality, with a creamy texture, but quite a tight, focused fruit quality - citrus and fresh cut apple juiciness, with an orangy note to the acidity. Quite lean and delicious. 90/100. £9.99, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2009
The first release from the new Calica vineyard near the coast that I visited. A Sauvignon in the stony, flinty, mineral mould, with only very subdued green aromatics, leafy herbs and a huge core of citrus. There is terrific bite and decisiveness to this, with that cool and flinty core to it. Very concentrated. 90/100. £9.99, The Wine Society

Tabalí Reserva Viognier 2009
Very aromatic - lots of pepper and lots of floral aromatics, with little notes of ginger and even a certain smokiness. On the palate it is fruity and fresh, with really good acidity and a lovely freshness in the finish. A really nice, easy drinking Viognier that it not too phenolic or rich. 88/100. £6.95, Virgin Wines.

red wines

Tabalí Reserva Rosé Pinot Noir 2009
Quite a ripe strawberry fruitiness, and nice touch of cherry and rose-hip. The palate has lovely fruit but a sense of lightness too. Good cherry skin nip of tannin and good lemony acidity. Fresh and very appetising. 87/100. £6.95, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008
Only 20% of the oak is new. Lovely, deep, chocolate and spice nose, with nice aromatic oak, lots of fennel and exotic seeds and spices. Delicious strawberry fruit with only gentle leafy and truffle and those little spice and chocolate notes offset by good acidity and fine tannins. Very good quality at the price here. 89/100. £9.99, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Syrah 2008
Just a touch of camphory, leafy green to this, with tomato skin notes, some spice and red berry fruit. The palate has a real edge of freshness running through it, with some really nice, rich fruit beneath and blackberry tartness and sweetness. Quite chocolaty tannins and very good elegance and structure. 88/100. £7.99, Virgin Wines

Tabalí Reserva Especial Syrah 2008
Comes from a very special block that was about to be re-grafted because yields were so poor. Felipe has worked on the vineyard, which still produces low-yielding, small bunches. Now around 3,000 case production. It still has that touch of green herbs, but adds in extra smoky, peppery qualities. There is a meatiness to this - smoked meats - and really dense fruit as well as a coffeeish quality. The palate has lots of fruit sweetness and concentration. Quite silky too, with a smooth, rounded, but quite forceful tannic grip. There's a dry savouriness too, with black olive and that meatiness. 91/100. £9.99, The Wine Society.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Red Blend 2007
70% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Aged 18 months in French oak. Some stewed tomato and deep mulberry fruit, with lots of ripeness, a touch of chocolate mint and a deep, slightly smoky quality. There is a really nice fruit quality here, the sweetness and focus of fruit filling the palate. Tannins are quite fine-grained and smooth, but fine acidity drives this through, with a freshness and long, supple, poised finish. 91/100. £14.99, Boutinot.

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