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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 MAR

Viña Mar is part of the VSPT wine group, owners also of San Pedro, Tabalí, Tarapaca and Missiones de Rengo - "Big enough to take on Concha y Toro," jokes winemaker is Sebastian Ruiz. In fact, VSPT is the third biggest wine producer in Chile. It owns 4,137 hectares of vineyard (275 of them here in Casablanca) and has 12.5% of Chile's market share as opposed to Concha y Toro's massive 35.5% share).

   I met with Sebastian and viticulturist Camilo Vianni (left), though California-based consultant Paul Hobbs is also an important part of the team here. On my visit the afternoon temperature soared to the mid 30s, despite a typically chilly start to the morning (Viña Mar has an overhead sprinkler system to help avoid frost damage in the winter). Was the heat atypical for the famously cool Casablanca Valley? "We can see the harvest moving steadily earlier," says Camilo Vianni. "I am certain it's a symptom of climate change."

So is the future ominous for cool climate wine-growing here if this continues? "We absolutely intend to move into cooler sites for the future," says Camilo. "But the problem is we have such good, old vineyards here and this will only happen slowly. We also have to really understand the terroir of new sites and not rush into planting." If climate change does eventually change Casablanca from a cool to a warm viticultural zone, then perhaps the white wines, sparkling wine and Pinot Noir they make here will be exchanged for Bordeaux varieties, which currently they buy from Maipo and Maule.

For now, those cool climate varieties remain the focus of course, with fairly dense planting at around 4000 plants per hectare. Camilo tells me there is a Botrytis problem with morning fogs, but the wind builds through the day so usually keeps it under control. In terms of his wine making, Sebastian says there has been a big philosophical change in Chile: "Ten years ago the message in Chile was to stress the vines, but that gave very dry tannins and not enough sugar for real phenolic ripeness."

white wines

UK agent for Viña Mar is Corney & Barrow. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Viña Mar Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Stony soils in Maule Valley, with little bits of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Semillon. Quite delicate peach skin and passionfruit character, with some floral aspects and a touch of the Gewurz exoticism coming through. Lovely wine in a commercial style and a good value, with plenty of fruit, that herbaceous streak and good balance. 86/100. £4.99

Viña Mar Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Casablanca, loamy soils with plenty of gravel. Canopy used to shade fruit and accent herbaceous aromas. A bit of a salty, mineral character here. Some leafy, chicory and herb notes. The palate has plenty of crunchy, green vegetable and herb character and a big lemon acidity. Powerful and concentrated, though perhaps a little too green for me in the finish. 87/100. £6.99

Viña Mar Chardonnay 2009
Grapes from the Central Valley appellations, though they try to source grapes from cooler areas close to coast and mountains. 5% each of Sauvignon and Riesling in the blend. Nicely bold apple and pear fruit, with a certain richness and a little skinny, grippy character. The palate has a breadth and even slight waxiness, and a nice grippy finish against the fat fruit. 86/100. £4.99

Viña Mar Cuvée Chardonnay 2009
From one plot in Casablanca, only 2000 cases produced. Some of the wine matured in older oak. Soft oatmeal and cream nose, with waxy lemon skin fruit and a touch of peach or ripe Ogen melon. The palate has a touch of bitter lemon quality, gives some grip and structure and seems to be a little bit of a Casablanca style? Nice fresh fruit and the acidity and grip sits nicely against sweet fruit. Seems a little bit hot in the finish. 87/100 (14%). £8.99

Viña Mar Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Recently bottled. Lemon and lime, fine herbs and a bit of gooseberry punch. The palate has a really precise, focused lime fruit spiked with green herbs and lots of minerality. The palate has plenty of depth and weight and a very finely focused finish. 90/100. Around £12.99 in UK through Corney & Barrow.

red wines

Viña Mar Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Rosé 2009
A saignée rosé from their red wines, dominated by 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Syrah. Quite a deep colour and sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit. Good freshness, a little creamy raspberry quality, and a nice dry finish, 6g/l of residual sugar just adding some flattering breadth and ripeness. 85/100. £4.99

Viña Mar Carmenère 2008
Very smoky, with a bit of bacon-fat smokiness and earthiness. Made with oak chips and staves. Ripe black fruit beneath. The palate has very good black fruit sweetness, with a little mushroom and truffle character. There is a nice liquoricy acidity and tannin that adds some pleasant rusticity to this. A fine, big, fruity and hearty mouthful of wine this - I wish the smokiness could be reined back slightly. 86/100.

Viña Mar Reserva Carmenère 2008
Forty percent aged in barrel, and little touches of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the blend. The bold, blue-black fruitiness of this comes through much more confidently, though the smoky quality is there, it is much more in the background. There's an element of vanilla here too. On the palate this has smooth tannins, more plush mouth-feel and deep berry fruits. There's a touch of mocha and an expansive finish. Good acidity and balance. 88/100.

Viña Mar Reserva Cabernet Franc 2008
From Rapel, this sees 35% barrel ageing and it is 100% Cabernet France. Earthy, undergrowth note is quite rustic, but the deep quality of black fruit comes through with touches of spice and some tobacco leaf. There's a big, solid core of tannins in this (which is not yet shipped), and it is massively grippy, but I really like the rustic, roughening tannins and the fruit and acid are both very good, so this could be very good. 88/100. £6.99, Co-op.

Viña Mar Cuvée Carmenère 2008
A careful vineyard selection from Rapel, closer to the ocean. From stony soils. There is 8% Syrah and 3% Cabernet in the blend, and 80% was aged in new and second use barrels. Big, deep, chocolate and smoky nose, with some pepper and spice and a meaty note, as well as a plummy touch. The palate has very ripe, sweet fruit, much more chocolaty and svelte than the Reserva, with good, tight tannins and beautifully integrated with the fruit, acidity and the warming spice of the oak. 90/100. £8.99

Viña Mar Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Alluvial stony soils in Rapel, with 7% Syrah and a couple of percent each of Carmenère and Cabernet Franc. It was oak aged in a mix of new and older barrels. The nose has some deep-set black berry fruit set against a certain earthiness and a touch of gravelly minerality. The oak is quite subtle and fragrant, giving a delicate spice. On the palate the fruit Is good - this is a smooth, dense wine with good, tight structure. 89/100.

Viña Mar Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008
Beautifully expressive, chocolaty nose, with ripe, deep berry fruit. There is some smokiness and briary, sweet undergrowth, but it is driven by that opulent fruit. The palate has delightful fruit too, with a silky density and rich, sweet, chocolaty tannins. A really beautifully poised, plush but elegant Pinot. 91/100. 12.99

Viña Mar Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Maipo fruit. Beautifully sweet, minty, cassis nose. Delightfully dusty, typical Cabernet Sauvignon, with small herbal nuances. Very nicely balanced palate too, with some cedar and graphite notes and a balanced finish showing quite tight tannins. 90/100.

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