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Archive for October, 2012

The State of Chilean Wines Today: Quality, Value, and Diversity

Posted by Gabe on October 30, 2012

Some of the Diversity I tasted in Chile

Cabernet Sauvignon was king when I first started drinking Chilean wines some 20 years ago. And not just Cabernet in general, but specifically bargain priced Cabernet. Most wine drinking folks I know rifled through bottles of $6 or so Cabernet Sauvignon looking for gems; we found quite a few. And for many people that’s the lingering impression of Chilean Wine. The trouble is it’s no longer a valid image. Sure you can still find a bargain and some of them are Cabernet Sauvignon, but there is so much more Chilean wine on U.S. shelves deserving your attention and your dollars that it would be a real shame to limit yourself. I knew this before I went to Chile last week. So one of my goals in visiting was to verify it and see what they had going on that might be less obvious from 5,000 miles away. So I’ve compiled a handful of strong impressions of Chilean Wines gleamed from the trenches.

Argentina gets the attention but Chile makes some ass kicking Malbec: It’s Argentina’s signature grape so they should be at the forefront. In some ways they are, the general public thinks about Argentina first for Malbec. Some of them are terrific, but unfortunately way too many examples are made in an overtly fruit forward style with a lackluster body and no finish to speak of. I was a little surprised with the number of Malbecs I got to taste in Chile. While I knew it was there, its presence is larger than I would have guessed. More importantly the ones I tasted where almost all uniformly well made. By and large they were elegant, balanced and well proportioned. Often times they were made from old vine fruit. I hope we start seeing Chilean Malbec on our shelves in reasonable numbers soon.

Tiers baby: I’ve often written about wineries like Rodney Strong in Sonoma County whose tiered approach to their portfolio is consumer friendly. This is true in a very large percentage of Chilean Wineries. They often have 3 or 4 tiers of wine. Often the entry-level wines retail for around $10 on our shelves and they have a top-level that might reach into the $30’s and $40’s, as well as occasionally higher. In between are wines in the teens and $20’s. What’s remarkable is that there is more often than not quality, value, and diversity to be had at each tier. In Chile wineries that produce what we view as very large quantities of wine often do so at a high level. One of the main reasons for this is simple: estate fruit. By owning the vineyards outright or having fruit under long-term contract they have a say in precisely how the vineyards are maintained. This can (and often does) lead to high quality in the bottle at each price point. The intent of a producer’s $8 Sauvignon Blanc and their $20 one are often quite different as are their appeals and projected end user. But what’s important is getting value regardless of price; in Chile that is often the case.

There are some delicious small production wines being made: Sure there are lots and lots of excellent Sauvignon Blancs coming from Chile and some tasty Pinot Noirs now too, but that’s not all. I had the opportunity to taste a delicious and marvelously dry Gewürztraminer made by Nimbus (part of the Santa Carolina Family of wines), as well as a lovely sparkling wine from Cono Sur to name a couple.  Viognier is making some ripples in Chile too and hopefully before long we’ll see a greater number of them available in the US as well. I’ve mentioned a few whites but the same can be said for reds. More than one example of varietal Petit Verdot I had was lovely as were a couple of tastes of Carignan. In some cases these wines aren’t on our shelves in the US yet, but they’re important to mention for the coming diversity and quality they represent.

Blends will set Chile apart: Almost every winemaking culture has some blends. In places like Bordeaux they’re everything. In a lot of other places, well quite frankly they’re doing their best to mimic Bordeaux. Certainly Chile works to make great wine and learning lessons from places like Bordeaux or Napa to name two examples is part of the equation. But I also got the very strong sense that Chile is happy to be writing their own rule book when it comes to blends. Sure some of them contain the usual suspects of Bordeaux varietals. However grapes like Carménère that have been marginalized or fallen by the wayside in Bordeaux often steal the show in Chile. Additionally with red blends Syrah often makes a mark too as well as some others. Some of the most impressive wines from Chile I’ve tasted over the last 5 years have been blends. This remained constant on my trip last week where I tasted lots of delicious blends. It’s important to note that with blends like with varietal wines there are values at many price levels.

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon can still be a great value: While there are no longer boatloads of awesome deals on $6 Cabernet Sauvignon there are still many deals to be had. Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile when it’s grown in the right spot and treated properly in the winery can blow away a lot of countries on QPR. What I found on this trip is that the Cabernets in the $15-$25 range were particularly noteworthy in terms of value. These are balanced wines that are often perfect for everyday enjoyment as well as drinking over the next few years. At a higher cost there are some truly age-worthy wines. One example was the Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Rita. We tasted both the current release (2009) and a 15 year old bottle (1997). Jameson Fink, a fellow writer who was on the same trip wrote about this particular experience and it’s well worth a read.

Diversity is King of Chile now: Everywhere we went there was something unique to taste. In some cases it was a Sparkling Rosé made from an almost lost grape. Sometimes it was a Moscato that stunned us all by how lovely and dry it was. On one occasion it was an Old Vine Sauvignon Gris. These are just a couple of examples. Chilean winemakers are experimenting in the vineyards with new farming techniques as well as plantings of new varietals or the reclamation of abandoned old vineyards. In the Winery they’re also experimenting with how they utilize oak, what they blend together and frankly just about every decision they make. What that means to us is we’re going to get to taste a wide swath of different wines from Chile.

In short I was pretty knocked out by what they have going on in Chile. I’ve really enjoyed drinking the wines from there for a long time now. But in 2012 instead of thinking of them for one thing, I think of Chile for an ever widening variety of different varietals, blends and more. Grab some Chilean wines and taste the quality, value and diversity I was lucky enough to witness firsthand.

Posted in Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chardonnay, Chile, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Moscato, Rosé, Sparkling Wine, Wine | 1 Comment »

A Visit to Veramonte in Chile’s Casablanca Valley

Posted by Gabe on October 29, 2012

Rodrigo Soto, Director of Winemaking

Years ago when I first started drinking Chilean wines I tasted some juice from a host of producers, many of them blurry to the memory at this late date. However a select few of the names still resonate for me; one of those is Veramonte. I recall drinking and enjoying several of their varietal wines, which make up the Reserva tier, consistently, the Sauvignon Blanc in particular has long been a favorite value wine of mine. My interest shifted to a higher gear for me when they first released Primus, a Red Blend. That was an impressive wine for the money when it was first released. As time went on I drank more and more Chilean wines but kept returning to the Veramonte releases. In the last few years that’s included the Ritual line of wines as well as the expanded lineup under the Primus name. So when I found out Veramonte was on the itinerary of Winery visits for my Chile trip I was thrilled. There is something particularly interesting and exciting to me about visiting a winery for the first time whose wines I’ve enjoyed for close to two decades. I wondered what I’d learn, that the contents of all those empty Veramonte bottles hadn’t taught me.

Most of our visit was spent with Winemaker Rodrigo Soto as our guide. He’s the Director of Winemaking for Veramonte and prior to his current gig he most recently spent six years working at Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma County. Benzinger is well known for their Sustainable and Biodynamic winemaking practices. In speaking to Rodrigo it was fascinating to learn what he has planned for Veramonte. This is a successful winery that already makes delicious wines, but he and owner Agustin Huneeus aren’t satisfied with that. Their drive is to completely change the farming practices, eschewing herbicides and the like for sustainable and natural methods. The goal is Sheppard these vineyards for future generations, as well as of course making even more delicious wines. Rodrigo made the point that Chilean wine in general stands today where California did a couple of decades ago. As such, the perspective and knowledge Rodrigo gained working in Sonoma will serve Veramonte well on their move to the next level. After a tour of the winery and a look at some vineyards we sat down and tasted some highlights of the current portfolio. What follows are some brief impressions of a couple of my favorites.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc – This wine is richer and riper than the entry level Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a bit more heft than the average Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a spicy and round wine with a mineral laden finish. Most of the fruit was sourced from two high performing blocks. Their goal of proactive farming as opposed to winery manipulation shines through in this release.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Pinot Noir - This wine has a fresh nose with cherry, strawberry and bits of herbs. Fruit leads the palate with savory/spice playing a lesser but present role. Black cherry and a touch of plum are present. The 2011 has a solid finish. This continues to be an excellent value.

The Ritual wines have been noteworthy to me since their release a handful of vintages back. The current editions do nothing to dissuade me, if anything the style has come fully into view with several consistent vintages under their belts. If you enjoy the Veramonte Reserva tier of wines, the releases in the Ritual range are an obvious place to go next. The Ritual wines are generally available under for $20.

In addition to the Veramonte wines we had the opportunity to taste Neyen This is a partnership between Raul Rojas who founded it in Apalta in 2002, and Agustin Huneeus. The wine is sourced from Old Vines in Apalta planted to Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon. Neyen is their take on a single spectacular wine made from old vines in an area already regarded for some highly respected Chilean releases. This wine sells in the US for around $45 and the current vintage is the 2008. If you like big mouth-filling reds with depth and character it’s one to consider. As delicious as it is today, my sense is that it will improve in the bottle over the next 5 years and be quite lovely for another 5 or 6 after that.

Veramonte was a place I was really looking forward to visiting. Not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them on many levels. I’m excited by the plans they have to take things to a new level going forward. These wines are already well made, delicious and more than reasonably priced. More natural farming practices in the vineyards and around the winery in general stand to enhance what they’re doing. I’m excited to continue drinking these wines for years to come, you should be too!

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chile, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine, Winery Visit | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Viña Vik in Millahue, Chile

Posted by Gabe on October 24, 2012

On Property at Viña Vik

In the late 1970’s when Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild where planning Opus One Winery In Napa Valley they had a singular vision; to create one wine that could stand alongside any other in the world in terms of quality and recognition. That’s a monumental undertaking but they had a bit of a head start. The Mondavi Family for their part chipped in with prime vineyards in the heart of Napa Valley as well as significant experience making wine in that very place. The Rothschild’s brought their experience of many years, and both families invested a lot of capital to achieve execute their plan for one great Bordeaux inspired wine.

Norwegian businessman Alexander Vik has gone to Chile with a similar vision; to make one world class wine. Unlike the Opus One Project he started from scratch assembling a team and providing the financial resources. To start the team he assembled visited more than 50 vineyard sites before settling on the land Mr. Vik eventually purchased. In studying the land they were about to purchase they spent a full year with the soils, pulling 6,000 samples. In short he has invested massive resources into this project, a bet of sorts on his vision for greatness. This week I had the opportunity to visit Viña Vik and meet some of the members of his wine-making team.

And what a property it is 4,325 hectares of which 382 are currently planted to vine. The plantings are all high density something which is becoming increasingly popular in Chile. That said the average is currently 4,500 per hectare. Our group was given an extensive tour of the property which is breathtaking in its size and scope as well as the attention to detail being paid to each block of fruit. Each one gets its own tank and its about 15 months after vinification that they begin to work on making a final blend of their wine. We were able to taste the 2009 and 2010 vintages of the finished wine as well as components that are under consideration to be used when they assemble the 2011.

The Viña Vik 2010 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (56%), Carménère (32%), Cabernet Franc (5%), Merlot (4%) and Syrah (3%). It was fermented with native yeasts and spent 23 months in barrel prior to bottling this past April. This wine has a spectacular nose loaded with Cherry and leather characteristics. The palate is layered with depth and complexity to spare. Cherry and hints of black fruits star. This is a juicy and mouth-filling wine with an impressively lengthy finish. It’s a young wine that will benefit from proper cellaring and should have at least 10 years of enjoyable drinking ahead of it. We tasted it several times both by itself in a formal setting and paired with lunch where it had been decanted. When it had the opportunity to showcase itself alongside food it really impressed.

This wine will sell in the U.S. for around $135. There is no question that they have made a wine that should make Chile proud. As the vines gain age, the team learns their property even better, there is a likelihood that future releases will be of even higher quality. Case in point the 2010 vintage was significantly more elegant and noteworthy than the 2009. They are a massive property in the process of building an impressive underground winery and they are making one wine in small boutique quantities. For those willing to spend that sort of cash on a bottle of wine whether it’s to age, drink today or have Chile’s version of a trophy wine in their cellar, there’s no question it’s a very nice wine. I’ll be quite curious to follow their story on a go forward basis to see how they do and how future vintages of this wine turn out. The pieces are in place to win their bet, now we’ll see how the market responds. People love a story and they love to have collectibles, the bet here is that they will be successful.

Posted in Blends, Chile, Winery Visit | Leave a Comment »

First Day in Chile: Lunch at Miguel Torres Restaurante De Vinos

Posted by Gabe on October 21, 2012

A couple of hours after arriving in Chile I found myself in the lobby of our hotel meeting up with my travelling companions for the next week. We were heading to lunch. The first meal together with a bunch of folks you don’t know can be telling. This particular lunch screamed, fun week ahead. I’m lucky to be travelling and learning about Chile with a friendly, diverse group that’s as thirsty for knowledge and well wine as I am.

We proceeded to walk a few blocks to Miguel Torres Restaurante De Vinos the sight of our first meal together and, as it turned out later, a nightcap. What we experienced was a wonderful meal accompanied by some terrific wines. And speaking of wine the first sip I took on Chilean soil was a marvelous welcome. One of the folks on the trip noticed a sparkling wine she’d tasted prior and loved so we all decided to give it a shot. The wine was the Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rosé. This wine was produced from the grape Pais which played a large role in Chile prior to the influx of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. I can’t speak to other examples as to the best of my knowledge I’d not tasted the grape prior. One thing is certain I’m curious to taste some additional ones now. This was a really lovely Rosé, perfectly dry with persistent red fruits, spice and a more than reasonably long finish.

The food at Miguel Torres was as delicious as the wine. A feast of appetizers laid out in front of us disappeared quickly as did the first wine. Chickpea Fritters and a traditional omelet with potato and Piquillo peppers were my favorite bites amongst the appetizers. Both worked really well with the Rosé as well as the next wine, the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carmenère. The Miguel Torres portfolio has several tiers of wines and Cordillera is one of them; it represents smaller craftsman productions. This wine blends Carmenère with small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Delicious off the bat and featuring appealing black fruits, it really came into its own after getting a little bit of air. Carmenère promises to become a bigger and more widely known varietal for Chile, perhaps a calling card of sorts as Malbec is for neighboring Argentina. This example from Miguel Torres only strengthens that notion for me. We followed that wine up with the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carignan. One of my hopes for this visit to Chile is to taste many examples of things like Carignan, varietals that aren’t getting as much attention yet as they perhaps deserve. That said this wine was a good place to start that journey for me. It was interesting to compare to the Carmenère we’d just finished, particularly as it was not just from the same producer but also in the same tier. Sometimes producers fall into the trap of each tier being overworked by a house style that overwhelms the grapes characteristics. This was happily not the case here. Each wine stood out on it’s own with varietal character to spare. The Carignan was a bit more reserved and slightly austere where the Carmenère was juicier and more giving up front. It would depend on my mood and what I was eating on any given day but as it developed in the glass my preference shifted to the Carignan. It played hard to get a little and perhaps that was part of it. In any case I’d happily drink either one. And if they were paired with the wonderful foods we enjoyed at Miguel Torres, all the better.

He Just Wanted Some Wine

Our meal ended with a selection of desserts accompanied by the Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardía Reserva Privada, a Late Harvest Wine made from Riesling. This was a sweet and lovely ending to the meal. As delicious as it was I’d bet this particular dessert wine would be even better served paired with a cheese course.

I mentioned a nightcap earlier and it took place in the same spot. After lunch we were given a tour of downtown Santiago. This afforded us the opportunity to see quite a few sections of the city; both the newer financial district where we’re currently staying as well as older areas that feature distinct architecture dating back to about 1910. After the tour was over we went back to the hotel for some downtime followed by dinner. After dinner our party was split into two, three of us chose well needed rest and the remainder of us chose more wine. We decided to go back to Miguel Torres and once there the obvious choice to drink became the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Syrah. We’d had and loved the other red selections in this tier earlier so it seemed natural to close the day out with this offering. In addition to Syrah some Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier were blended in. Red cherry fruits filled the nose along with some darker berry components. They all carried through the palate along with spices and bits of chocolate. The finish which had a touch of smoke and green herb also showed nice length. In short this wine was what I expected after tasting the other two in the tier; a well made Syrah that showed off the varietal. It was delicious by itself but will sing with its supper.

That last bottle of wine was a wonderful way to cap my first day in Chile. The wines, food and people I spent the day with all came together and formed a harbinger of what promises to be a brilliant week, tasting and exploring what Chile has to offer.

Posted in Carignane, Carmenere, Chile, Dining, Sparkling Wine, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Tenuta di Vignole – 2006 Vignole Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG

Posted by Gabe on October 8, 2012

Tenuta di Vignole is owned by the Nistri Family who has been involved locally in the wine business since the mid 1800’s. They acquired their 21 hectares of winery property in 1970. Their focus of course is on making Chianti. I recently had a chance to taste some of their wines alongside family member Fabrizio Nistri. They were, on the whole, delicious well made wines but one stood above the others for me and I’ll look at it today.

The Tenuta di Vignole – 2006 Vignole Chianti Classico Riserva is produced from fruit sourced in the Panzano section of Chianti Classico. This offering is a blend of predominately Sangiovese (85%), with some Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) utilized as well. The fruit was handpicked and individual lots were fermented in concrete vats. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in a combination of 225 liter barriques and larger 400 liter vessels. After that time the lots were assembled and another 3 months of barrels aging commenced followed by 6 or more months of bottle aging. 1,200 6 pack cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $59.99.

Aromas of mushroom, spice and dry red fruits permeate the nose of this 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva. The palate is rich and loaded with mouth-filling red fruit flavors. Red raspberry and cherry star here and they are buoyed by clove and pepper spice. The finish is long and dry showing off continued spice and dried red fruit flavors. At 6 years old this wine is just beginning its life. It’s going to age well in bottle for a number of years more. It’s a fabulously structured example of Chianti that pairs wonderfully with food and will be a welcome addition to your table for a special occasion.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Sangiovese, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Atttilio Ghisolfi – 2006 Barolo Bussia “Bricco Visette”

Posted by Gabe on October 2, 2012

There is hardly a more enlightening way to taste wine than at the side of the winemaker who shepherded it into the world. So whenever the opportunity arises to taste in that manner I do everything I can to take part. A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to taste alongside a couple of Italian winemakers. One of them Gianmarco Ghisolfi was there presenting his family wines made in Piedmont. By and large he poured some lovely selections, but my favorite was his 2006 vintage of Barolo, which I’ll look at today.

The Atttilio Ghisolfi 2006 Barolo Bussia “Bricco Visette” was produced from fruit sourced at estate vineyards with between 20 and 50 years of age on them. This offering is 100% Nebbiolo. Fermentation took place using native yeasts. 70% of the wine was aged in large French oak barriques with the remaining 30% being aged in smaller French oak barrels; in both cases they spent 30 months in oak. 10 months of bottle aging in a temperature controlled environment followed. 470 cases of this wine were produced in the 2006 vintage and it has a suggested retail price of $79.99.

Rose petal aromas leap from the glass of this 2006 Barolo along with hints of smoke. From the first sip your palate is enveloped by concentrated red fruit flavors accompanied by oodles of spice. This wine is impeccably structured and balanced with a long, dry finish which shows off bits of earth and beckons you back to the glass again and again for sip after sip. This is a harmonious wine made to enjoy with substantial foods. It’s the kind of wine you’ll want to share with a friend over a leisurely meal so you can experience it’s evolution in your glass. In short this wine has the complexity, depth, length and age worthy characteristics that are expected of excellent Barolo.

In listening to Gianmarco he made it clear that one of the goals with his wines, the Barolos in particular is to make traditional offerings. Barolo has a long and storied history; as well a claim to being one of the very best and most age-worthy expressions of wine emanating from Italy. Having tasted several vintages and expressions of Barolo he makes, they’re achieving their goal of making classic, age-worthy Barolo. Their wines are delicious now but most will improve with age. In the case of the 2006 Bricco Visette I expect it to be even more beautiful in 15-20 years than it is today. If you’re looking to lay down some Barolo for a special occasion, here’s one you should strongly consider.

Posted in Barolo, Nebbiolo, Wine | Leave a Comment »

 
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