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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.


Viña Ventisquero is one of the 10 biggest wineries in Chile, "But the only one to use only its own grapes," adds Chief Oenologist Felipe Tosso (right).

Another privately-owned company, Felipe says the owner's other business interest are extensive, and the wine business is "only around 2% of turnover, so he can treat it as a hobby in terms of sales volumes - as long as we work hard." Having entered the UK market only in 2002, this is a little more than a hobby, as Ventisquero and its 'Yali' brand are now in the top five of all Chilean brands in the UK based on sales.

Yali is named after a local wetland, and a donation from sales goes to educational programmes for this important eco-system where 25% of Chile's bird species can be found. A business that is almost obsessive about it carbon footprint (with offsetting of emissions and lightweight bottles for almost all wines already in place), Felipe is bullish when I point out that their flagship wine, Herü, comes in one of the heaviest bottles available: "But we just love the package. It is less than 0.01% of our production, so let's be sensible about this."

Further evidence that Chile has changed completely in the past five years or so - mainly in understanding its vineyards and the terroir - comes from the mass of inspection pits in the vineyards wherever you go. We jumped down into a pit dug between rows of Carmenère vines, with a sandy, loamy clay soil that is ideally suited to the variety, and where Felipe produced a bottle of the wine from this very vineyard to taste in situ. "This is perfect Carmenère terroir," he told me. "But it is not interesting for Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah - understanding this is what is making a difference for Chile today."

Felipe is also doing a lot of work with canopy management to reduce photosynthesis, whilst harvesting just a little earlier, in an effort to reduce alcohol in the final wine. Now their wines are naturally around 13.5%. They are also training vines to get their roots down further through irrigation controls: "Once below two metres they manage to find a balance that means they achieve riper tannins and phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels."

Aurelio Montes is consultant winemaker here, but John Duval, legendary ex-winemaker at Penfolds, has consulted on the 'icon' wines since 2003. Indeed he is a business partner in the premium Vertice and Pangea bottlings, sharing profits with Ventisquero.

white wines

UK agents for Viña Ventisquero is PLB Group. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Yali Wetland Sauvignon Blanc 2009 From Lolol, coastal vineyards, this was a Wine of the Week on wine-pages recently. There's a mineral, green fruit and a minerality here, with a bit of skinny grip. On the palate incisive fruit and a big streak of herbaceous cut through the palate with some lemon and mineral acidity. 86/100. £6.49. Tesco and Majestic

Yali National Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Casablanca fruit. Quite a delicate nose, with gentle tropical fruit and a more peachy soft edge. On the palate this has nice texture and more of that peachy quality, with a nicely lemony, firm finish. 86/100. £6.99

Yali Three Lagoons Sauvignon Blanc 2009 From a single block whose orientation means it ripens more slowly. This has a fine, punchy, very finely-tuned nose, with much more verdant punch and explosive quality. The palate too has a big hit of punchy, herbaceous fruit with a nice lemon and grapefruit tang. 88/100. £8.99,

Ventisquero Pinot Grigio Reserve 2009 Lolol fruit. A touch of creamy smokiness, with a mineral edge. Has that grippy, apple skin edge and lemony fruit just hinting at something more peachy and ripe. 86 £7.49,

Yali National Reserve Chardonnay 2008 Casablanca fruit. A touch of gentle toast, with a dry-edged, mineral quality. There is a nice pear skin fruit and a bit of that grip again, with a minerality in the finish. 86 £6.99

Yali Three Lagoons Chardonnay 2008 75% of this was aged in French barrels, around 20% new. Attractive, gentle hazelnut and cashew. Nice ripe apple and pear fruit. The palate has a lot of lemony quality, with a slightly astringent bitter lemon touch in the finish, but it plays against some sweeter fruit quality and some vanilla. 88 £8.99

red wines

Yali Wetland Merlot Rosé 2009 Nice, gentle, cherry sweetness and a floral touch. The palate has a creamy, strawberry fruit, with a bit of residual sugar but a nicely dry, fruity finish. 86/100 £6.49, Majestic

Ventisquero Queulat Pinot Noir 2008 Granite and clay soils, mixed with sand and silt. 15 - 20% new oak, the rest in older oak. Nice schisty, smoky nose with a touch of graphite and Sweet earth . The palate has lots of easy-drinking, ripe red fruit and a certain silkiness. Tasty Pinot, offering good fruit and a bit of meaty substance. 87/100. £7.99

Herü Pinot Noir 2007 100% granite subs oils beneath clay. 35% new oak, the rest 2nd and 3rd use. South-facing, cooler slope in Casablanca. Only around 400 cases. Quite a complex nose, with some herbal notes, a nuttiness and a sweet, damp earth. The palate has a rich, full texture, with a chewy density to the fruit, but it stays nice and bright, the tight tannins and good acidity offsetting some chocolaty character and more of that sweet, earthy Pinot quality. 90 £18.99

Yali Wetland Merlot 2009 Cedary berry nose, with a touch of graphite. Big, ripe, plummy mouthful of fruit, with a chocolaty richness and nice tannins, the acidity quite low, but a big, soft, pleasing mouthful of wine. 86/100. £6.49, Tesco

Yali Wetland Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère 2008 60/40 blend. Has some cedar and some chestnutty character, a touch of black olive. The palate has a rich, sweet berry fruit, with an underpinning of tannin and dark, chocolate that has a cherry edge that brightens the wine. Low acidity again, and another tasty wine with a touch more structure and edge than the Merlot. 87/100 £6.49, Majestic

Yali National Reserve Syrah 2008 Tight, cherry and raspberry fruit, with a little floral lift and a little touch of green. There's a touch of liquorice and a grippy, edgy quality that keeps this very fresh. There's a touch of dark, briary quality and this is food-friendly and savoury. 87. £6.99

Yali National Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 From Colchagua. 70% aged in oak. Lovely big, creamy nose, with some coffee and cedar, and sweet, dark, spicy earthiness. There's a very warming, creamy density to this, the tannins quite soft and ripe, and a red fruit acidity just nicely persisting through the finish. The coffeeish quality adds some plump weight to the finish. 89/100. £6.99, Majestic

Yali Three Lagoons Merlot 2007 From the Yali Valley home site. 100% barrel aged, around 20% new oak. Lovely nose, the sweet, smooth red and black fruits and a creamy, dry, blueberry fruitiness. Touches of pencil-shaving finesse. The palate shows more oak, with lots of cedar and coffee. This is perhaps a touch too oaky for me (or the fruit is slightly overpowered), but there's no denying a big, sweet, rich core of fruit, with a plushness and chocolaty ripeness to the tannins, with an edge of cherry liquorice lifting the finish. 87/100. £8.99,

Yali Three Lagoons Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Same as Merlot, with 20% new oak in a barrel-aged wine. Dry, slightly ashy and smoky character, with a touch of olive and herbs. The fruit has some good red fruit and an earthy, dark fruit too. The palate has lots of sweetness and ripeness, with big, rich coffeeish tannins and a nice firmness at its core. Drinks nicely through the firm, rounded but fleshy and sweet mid-palate. Structured, but deliciously enjoyable too. 89/100. £8.99,

Ventisquero Grey Carmenère 2007 Eighteen months in barrel. From the block I visited in Maipo with the inspection pit. Beautifully pitched, sweet violet nose, with a dusty fruitiness and an elegant appeal. There are soft, aromatic herb notes - but not green, much softer and more earthy. The palate has a beautiful sweet fruitiness, with tight, refined tannins and lovely acid structure, the wine persisting beautifully, with lovely balance. 91/100. £11.99, Roberson, etc.

Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Also from the same vineyard, but a patch that is more colluvial over granite. Lovely nose, the pure cassis with a touch of mint chocolate, and a big deep pool of ripe fruit. The palate has spice and warmth, with delicious, sweet, smooth tannins and a fine edge of cherry skin acidity. Terrific, deliciously drinkable wine. 91/100. £11.99, Roberson, etc.

Ventisquero Vertice2006 From Apalta, the vineyard planted on high slopes on the hillsides on red clay. The name comes from the highest part of the mountain. A blend of Carmenère and Syrah. Sophisticated, smoky nose, some herbal qualities and a certain dustiness. The fruit is quite bold and red-fruited with a plumy over-ripeness. There's a ripe, plummy fruitiness on the palate too, with a nice tangy edge and some cedar. Fresh, with a liquoricy grip, and a suggestion that this will age. 92/100 £19.00.

Ventisquero Pangea 2006 100% Syrah, the wine first made in 2003. Comes from wines at around 250 metres altitude. £29.00, mostly on-trade - in Old Course in St Andrews for example. Bold, fruity nose, with nice lifted qualities showing some violet and blueberry fruit. The palate has a big, plush, seamless quality, with real chocolaty tannin suppleness. I like the richness, smooth texture and suppleness here. Long, powerful, great structure. 93/100

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