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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.


Morandé and Vistamar belong to the same group and each has vineyards in Casablanca as well as in other valleys. I met up with them at Morandé's smart restaurant just off the highway that runs through Casablanca. Separate tastings with the key personnel from each operation had been set up in adjoining rooms, suggesting that whilst they share common ownership, they like to be seen as distinct operations.

Technical Director Pablo Morandé's name is renowned throughout the Chilean industry. It was he who first planted vines in Casablanca way back in 1982, whilst as Concha y Toro's senior winemaker he developed the top Don Melchior label, before leaving the company in 1996 to start Viña Morandé.
   morande restaurant

macarena morande    Winemaker for Morandé is Pablo's daughter Macarena (left). Macarena takes specific responsibility for the Reserva level wines, and seems to relish following in her father's pioneering footsteps. "In 1982 Concha y Toro simply didn't believe in the valley," she tells me, "which is why my father planted the vineyard on his own."

Today Morandé owns 133 hectares of its own prime vineyard in Casablanca, with most to be found in the Belen estate, an old cattle farm at between 280 and 350 metres altitude, which was not planted until 2004. Macarena tells me they have identified eight distinct terroirs within the farm, with varying soils and micro-climates. She is also excited about a new premium winery, which will be built at Belen in 2011.

The gently sloping vineyard sits in a particularly peaceful spot, framed by rolling hills of loamy soil over red clay and quartz. A lake in the middle of the vineyards gives good conditions for Botrytis, so Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Semillon have been planted there. Planting is extremely dense for Chile, with 10,000 plants per hectare to encourage inter-vine rivalry and a natural stress. "10,000 plants per hectare is a lot of hard work," says Macarena. "Much harder than looking after 4,000, which is normal for Chile, but already we are seeing quality."

There's another woman winemaker in charge at Viña Vistamar, the delightful Irene Paiva whom I'd met before, but neither of us could quite place where: Irene has a formidable CV and has worked with some of the world's best winemakers. She came to Vistamar from Viña San Pedro where she was chief winemaker, and has served her time at both Caliterra and Errazuriz before that.

Irene stresses the freedom she has, currently planting new vineyards and developing new products and new ranges from the various valleys within the Vistamar brand. The main winery in is the Rapel Valley, though the company stresses that expressing regional character is key within the three tiers of its range.

white wines

UK agent for Viña Morandé is Bottle Green. See all stockists on wine-searcher. UK agent for Viña Vistamar is Discovery Wine. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Viña Morandé Pinot Grigio Reserva 2009
Made from Casablanca fruit. No oak, but some cold-soaking. Fine, lemon confit and peach skin notes. The palate has lovely delicacy, with 9g/l of residual sugar adding plenty of sweetness, but the rest of the wine fitting in very harmoniously with the sweet fruit and little bit of skinny, peach skin grip. 87/100. £7 - 8, but on-trade label.

Viña Morandé Sauvignon Blanc Edicion Limitada 2008
Casablanca fruit fermented in foudres. Six months lees ageing. Lovely honeyed nose, with a slightly nutty character and delightfully poised peachy fruit. Very concentrated and complex. The palate has lovely fruit, with lots of orangy fruit and acidity and a very long, beautifully focused finish with great acidity and lovely texture. Terrific Sauvignon Blanc. 93/100. £16 - £17 pounds.

Viña Vistamar Chardonnay 2009
Central Valley. Will be renamed "breeze" soon. Staves in tank for fermentation only, then stainless steel. Nice orangy and gently nutty nose, with some Cox's Pippin fruit. The palate has very sweet fruit, and an easy-drinking, melon and orchard fruit palate. Nice wine, with a bit of the oak influence on the finish. 86/100. In on-trade, but if retail would be £4.99.

Viña Vistamar Sepia Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Casablanca fruit. Not a fantastic year for Sauvignon, and has a little touch of Gewürztraminer and Riesling in the blend to lift the aromatics. Delightful nose, the Gewurz lifting into the floral, muscaty aromas, with a herbaceous streak beneath. The palate has very nice fruit, bursting across the tongue with a tropical edge and good lemony acidity. 87/100 If in retail would be £6.49

Viña Vistamar Late Harvest 2009
Moscatel de Alexandria from Limari. Dried on mats in the sun for 10 days or so. Floral, fragrant, delicately herbal nose. A bit of honey and leaf tea, as well as some lemon. The palate has lovely sweetness - a very clear, pretty wine, with very good fruit reminiscent of honey and nectarine, and a toasty note develops in the finish with lots of style and lovely acidity. Only 12% alcohol and 110g/l. 89/100. £6 per half bottle.

red wines

Viña Morandé Pinot Noir Reserva 2008
10 months in a mix of sizes of French oak barrels, with cold soaking. Very careful grape selection. Nice, tight, dusty black fruit with some elegance. A touch of herby, earthy character. Nice fleshiness and richness, the sweet fruit with a really good edge of tart cherry skins. Good balance and a little savoury complexity. 87/100. £7 - 8

Viña Morandé Merlot Gran Reserva 2007
From a Maipo Valley vineyard very close to Santiago - but Macarena Morandé's favourite vineyard that crops very low. Quite an earthy, leathery character, with some cedar and spice. Broad, structured palate with juicy fruit and lovely depth, but tight, sinewy tannins and good acidity. 88/100. £10 - £12.

Viña Morandé Syrah Gran Reserva 2005
Cold maceration after fermentation then 14 months in American oak. "After 14 months American oak is really gentle in tannins." Nice, ripe, blueberry and black skinned plum and damson fruit. Real bite on the palate, with a lovely edge of acidity and very firm tannins. It has plenty of pepper and spice and a lovely cool-climate grip and focus. 90/100. £10 - £12

Viña Morandé Carignan Edicion Limitada 2006
Hugely fragrant, incense-like, with some sage and marjoram notes and toasty, earthy, undergrowth notes. The fruit on the palate has plenty of sweetness and elegant raspberry and redcurrant poise, excellent freshness with lithe, but grippy tannins and fresh, quite citrusy acidity. 90/100. £11.99, Marks and Spencer.

Viña Morandé House of Morande Red Blend 2005
Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot. Very low yielding vines. Long, cold maceration and gentle fermentation. "We try to touch it as little as possible after that, with as few pump-overs as possible". Sixteen months in mostly new Taransud oak. Deep, leathery, earthy nose with some polished wood and black fruit beneath. The palate has a rounded fruit sweetness, with lovely weight. 91/100. £25.00.

Viña Vistamar Carmenère 2009
Central Valley. Almost no oak. Most of the fruit comes from two farms owned by Morandé in Maipo and Rapel. Stainless steel ferment but at lower temperature than most reds. Glossy, bright fruit, with cherry and delicate, almost Beaujolais character. On the palate it has really nice, sweet, ripe fruit, a touch of plum or prune, but still that bright cherry fruit to the fore. Very delicious, straightforward Carmenère. 86/100

Viña Vistamar Sepia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Maipo Valley fruit. Stainless steel with staves and some parts barrel-aged. Slightly sweaty, leathery character, with robust, chunky black fruit beneath. On the palate the black fruit is sweet but quite tight and muscular, with drying tannins and the oak well integrated. A bit of spice and chocolate in the finish. 87/100.

Viña Vistamar Gran Reserva 2006
Alto Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, so a little cooler than Maipo. Big, minty, rosemary and fresh herb nose, with plenty of lift. The cassis fruit is cool and clear, perhaps with a little cherry edge. The palate has thick, rich, dusty tannins and fruit through the mid-palate, with a dry but sweet fruit extract. The tannins are very dry in this, but then the good acidity and the purity of the fruit matches up, making for a very nicely balanced and delicious, ultimately fruity wine. 91/100. If in retail would be £14.99

See all stockists of Viña Morandé on wine-searcher.
See all stockists of Viña Vistamar on wine-searcher.

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