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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.


Viticulturist James Maxwell French's first action was to leap down into his 'calicata', or inspection pit (right), where he monitors and maps root growth and depth in the vineyard. "This helps me decide everything," he says, "including irrigation cycles and compost regimes." The soils in Viña Casablanca's vineyards are mostly granitic and are some of the closest to the ocean in the valley, just 19 kilometres from the coast. Along with winemaker Ximena Pacheco, James' work is crucial, as is the final member of the triumverate, 'Terroir Consultant' Pedro Parra. Parra is a specialist in soils and vine-matching, who also works for Viña Leyda and several other estates, helping them understand their sub-soils in immense detail.   

   Viña Casablanca is part of the Santa Carolina group, and sister to Santa Carolina winery. Both take fruit from these vineyards. There's a strong environmental conscience at work too: with relatively little rain in the valley they have their own water recycling plant, and the production is certified as carbon neutral, for the whole process of manufacture and transport. The group also plants an acre of native forest for every acre they plant to vine, and a move towards lighter weight bottles is their next objective.

Winemaker Ximena Pacheco (left) has worked in Hungary, making white wines and a little Tokaji, and has been with Casablanca for just a year. She explains that Casablanca's entry-level 'Cefiro' range and their premium 'Nimbus' range are named after the valley's wind and clouds respectively - the two elements that make the Casablanca Valley so suitable for fresher wine styles.

There is Pinot planted here, but also increasingly, Syrah. For the 'bigger' red varieties the group takes fruit from the Maipo Valley and Colchagua. The Maipo fruit comes from the Alto Maipo, being the highest part closest to the Andes, whilst the Colchagua fruit is also from a cooler part of the valley, also closer to the mountains.

white wines

UK agent for Viña Casablanca is Source Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Viña Casablanca Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Fresh, breezy, lots of crisp lemon zest aromas and a touch of green nettle and grass. The palate too has a big stripe of nettle and lots of lemon, and this is not so much fruit-driven, as driven by that mineral/citrus acidity, herbal notes and sharpness. Mouth-watering stuff. 88/100. Around £8.99

Viña Casablanca Nimbus Gewürztraminer 2008
Cold maceration and very cold ferment in stainless steel with battonage. Quite subtle, but smoky and with a tropical fruited quality beneath. The palate has plenty of crunch and crispness, with a green streak again and a really light, crisp, vibrant palate. Very cool and though lacking a bit of Gewurz typicity for me, a nice and balanced wine. 87/100.

Viña Casablanca Cefiro Chardonnay 2008
Entry level Chardonnay, from more clay soils. No malolactic, and part fermented in barrels. Nice nose with a hazelnut aroma and gentle, apple and orange fruitiness. The palate has a fairly tight, lean core, with a lemon and quite salty, mineral qualities and the oak butting against the acidity a little in the finish. 85/100. Around £6.99

red wines

Viña Casablanca Cefiro Caberenet Sauvignon 2008
Tight, cherry and blackcurrant fruit, with a certain lushness coming through, berry fruit and a chocolate note. The palate has plenty of forward fruit sweetness that is juicy, rounded out by vanilla, and finishes with good freshness - dry, but only moderate tannins and cool acidity. 87/100.

Viña Casablanca Nimbus Merlot 2008
From Colchagua. Very dark, seductive aromas with lots of damson and plum and a slick of vanilla and some cedar. Very creamy, with a coffeeish, warming oak quality and plenty of depth. Fills the mouth with a rich texture and smoky, fat, mouth-filling texture. 89/100.

Viña Casablanca Nebulus 2007
The "icon" wine, produced in good years. Previous vintage was 2005. 600 cases. Ninety percent Syrah regrafted on to 30-year old roots (mostly Cabernet) and 10% merlot all from Casablanca. Only 12.5% alcohol. Quite subtle but dense and attractively polished black fruit. There's an immediate suggestion of elegance. In the mouth there is lovely purity. The tannins are a little dry perhaps, but they are very fine and the fruit is dense and sweet, sitting at the core of the wine. This is a arguably a little simple for the likely price, but then it has terrific polish and fruit purity, with elegant tannins and acidity into a long finish, and is very impressive. 91/100. £20-£25

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