Tasting notes from Chile 2010 part II

These tastings notes accompany our in-depth report from Chile. Please also see tasting notes part I and read our full Regional report: Chile, from North to South.



ignacioAt Viña Leyda I spent much more time out amongst the vines with Agricultural Director Ignacio Casali (right, click for bigger version) than I did with Winemaking Director Viviana Navarrete. It was Viña Leyda’s founders, the Fernandez family, who planted the valley’s first vineyards, building a pumping station to bring water eight kilometres from the Maipo River in 1997 and planting vines one year later. This terroir and what makes it so special in Chile still drives the thinking here, even though Viña Leyda was sold to the owner of Viña Tabalí in Limari, Guillermo Luksic, in 2007. Viña Leyda’s vineyards are only 12 kilometres from the coast, which is visible from the higher parts of the estate. Ignacio tells me that Syrah is harvested here in mid-May, whereas in an area like Colchagua it might be early April. Yields are also naturally smaller too. Whilst Chile makes much of its ability to plant vines on their own roots because so far the country is Phyloxerra free, Ignacio is one of many to plant only on root-stocks, because “It gives more homogenous results.”

vivianaIgnacio worked in Napa growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, where he says his understanding of soils and clones was developed. “We need to have a lot of variation in our vineyards – not all the same orientations, same planting densities and same clones – to give variety in the wines,” he says. Indeed there is a large variety of Pinot clones for example, from Burgundy, California and Oregon. Their new vineyards were mapped minutely through sinking over 500 bore holes, to totally understand the soil composition, water retention properties, etc., before planting. Vines are trained low, on wires just 50cm off the ground instead of 100cm – “big wines come from small vines,” according to winemaker Viviana Navarrete (left).

white wines

Viña Leyda Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Rich, ripe, very tropical fruit with lots of papaya and lychee, with some lemon zest. Beautiful palate too, the fruit and freshness pushing through, and though it perhaps lacks a touch of weight on the mid palate, it has a delightful, fresh finish. 87/100. 6.95

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Gauma 2009
From a limestone soil, with some pre-fermentation cold-soaking. A much more mineral, melon and citrus profile – more than tropical. A touch of leafiness. Intense, leafy, soft herbs and lemon, a hint of that peachy, papaya sweetness, but a big, dry acidity making it food friendly. 89/100. 9.50, Wine Soc, Oddbins, Waitrose.

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Gris Kadun 2009
A careful pressing to avoid skin contact from pink skin. There’s a nice weight and suggestion of apple skins and spice. On the palate quite full textured, with some crisp, crunchy, sb like bite, but more broad, though a fine, pithy, tangy acidity. 87/100. Wine Soc, Oddbins.

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Riesling Neblina 2009
Planted in 2003, so third crop. Fine, peach skin nose, with a touch of fragrant, Mandarin skins. The palate is quite intense and has a bold citrus fruit. It is fresh and very tight, mineral, lemony freshness. 88/100. 9.50.

Viña Leyda Reserva Chardonnay 2008
Unoaked. Very ripe, almost buttery cabbage note. Citrus beneath and a touch of green herbs. The palate has plenty of sweetness and quite a nice texture, but a big apple acidity freshening the finish. 87/100. 6.95, Wine Society

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Chardonnay Falaris Hill 2008
Fermented in French oak, 20@ new. No malolactic (in any wines). Buttery, minty nose, real mint humbug character, oatmeally, cashew quality, and white fruit beneath. The palate has some of that soft, cashew quality, more nutty apple fruit, a really tangy orange acidity. Delicious. 91/100. 9.50.

Viña Leyda Lot 5 Chardonnay 2008
From just a few rows on limestone soils, with green harvest to leave one kilogramme per vine. Oxidative winemaking, with no sulphur at fermentation. Around 30% new oak. Nose is less obviously oaky, with some funky, earthy notes and lots of nuttiness. The palate has a dry, very Burgundian complexity, with good freshness and lots of minerality. 91/100. 14.50, Wine Soc

red wines

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Pinot Noir rosé 2009
Beautifully fragrant roses and kirsch nose. Beautiful wine, delightful strawberry and raspberry brightness, rosy red apples and terrific acidity. A cracking rose. 89/100. 9.50, Wine Society, Oddbins

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Las Brisas 2008
West-facing block with fewer hours of sun and lower temperatures. Harvested late. 10 months in French oak, 15% new. Very herbal, floral nose, with a hint of geranium, light, herby cherry fruit. The palate bursts into life with lovely, bright, keen-edged fruit with lots of cut and life, very nice acids and just a smooth suggestion of ripeness and chocolate in the finish. 91/100. 10.95, Wine Soc, Oddbins

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Cahuil 2008
North-east block, with more heat and light. Low yielding and selected twice, in vineyard and winery. Open fermented, 20% new oak, all aged 10 months in oak. Quite creamy, with cherry and more plummy fruit. A little vanilla, but also a savoury black olive note. The palate has more weight than the las Brisas, with a more plummy fruit, and a cool, quite chocolaty finish. 90/100. 11.95, Wine Society

Viña Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2008
One kilogramme per plant yield, long pre-ferment cold maceration, punching down in open top fermenters. 10 months in oak, 20% new. Dark, more earthy and brooding concentration. Quite bold fruit and a touch of something smoky and herbal, like sage leaves. The palate has more tannin than the other cuvees, with a grippy core and good acidity, and a deep, structured fruit. That hint of leafiness is still there, helping to add freshness. 91/100. 17.50, Wine Society

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Syrah Canelo 2007
Very low yielding, encouraging lots of freshness in the vineyard with open canopy and bunches. Picked last. Meaty, extremely smoky nose, like smoked sausage. A hint of green. On the palate a dense texture and fruit quality, though there is good tannin. Lacks a little fruit for me and that smoky meatiness is slightly distracting. 87/100.. 10.95.

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xThe oldest plantings here were amongst the first in the valley in 1999, Garcés Silva being one of the small group of pioneer producers who built the pumping station and lines to the Maipo that brought the possibility of winemaking to Leyda. A family-owned company (the family also having a share in Montes) I had lunch with winemaker Francisco Ponce (right) and two of the brothers Garcés Silva, general manager Matías Alberto and José Antonio. The neat, efficient and carefully thought-out cellar was built in 2002 and its first vintage was 2003, but already it is being extended to cope with a production of 25,000 cases.

Francisco tells me “We’ve plenty of vineyard land to expand too, though we think around 200 hectares will be the natural limit of really good vineyard land.” Extra grapes are sold off “it’s a very good business here in Leyda,” says Francisco, “as the price of Leyda grapes is about the highest in Chile.” Surprisingly, Francisco tells me that even in this recently developed region of rolling hills, there was a movement initially to plant only on the flat lands. This is the same story as that of the Central Valleys, where decades before, the ‘easiest’ sites were developed on the flat before producers learned the advantages of planting at higher altitudes and in the different soils of the slopes. It surprised me to hear that the lessons hadn’t been learned by the time Leyda was planted: “But now we understand the hills and need for different expositions, so newer plantings will hopefully produce new higher level wines eventually.” In 2007 Amayna’s first Syrah was bottled, giving five wines in the range. But they have experimental plots of Riesling, Gewürz, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. “Leyda has a big potential with sparkling wine, with good acidity and minerality too,” according to Francisco. But the cool Valley has its limitations: “Carmenère probably wouldn’t ripen here, and Cabernet Sauvignon definitely not.” Garcés Silva’s neat, efficient gravity-flow winery has lots of natural light and freshness, exposed to the fresh breezes from the coast.

white wines

Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2008
A blend of two clones – one from Davis and one from France. The former gives tropical aromas, the latter gives citric and finesse, The nose has a rich, ripe, almost liniment-like quality, with some soft herbs and seeds and a background of mango-like, tropical fruit. The palate has a powerful, skinny weight and texture, with plenty of acidity, but a richness of flavour and bit of phenolic grip. “Made with a philosophy of being drunk with a nice plate of food – iodine flavours of seafood”. 89/100. £12.99, Oddbins, Harvey Nicholls.

Amayna Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2007
1,000 cases. Exactly the same grapes as the unoaked Sauvignon, but fermented in 100% new Taransud oak given a heavy, sweet toast. Gently nutty, seed-cake notes, touches of honey and fig. The palate has real sweetness of fruit, layered with a little vanilla, even notes of cream. Some green bean too, with lots of punch and brightness. A certain waxiness to this, and a big burst of orangy acidity – even a touch of marmalade, and a warming hint of toast in the finish. 91/100. £18.49, Oddbins.

Amayna Chardonnay 2007
Much tighter and more closed at this stage, with the barrel characters subdued, though a nice honey and vanilla background. Fruit slightly suppressed too aromatically, with just some white fruit notes coming through, and little of that green bean, vegetal quality in a warmer year. The palate has a much tighter, juicier lemony character. A powerful, tight palate, with extremely good focus of fresh, decisive fruit and plenty of lemon and more salty, mineral acidity. 91/100.

Amayna Chardonnay 2006
A 50/50 blend of barrel-fermented and tank-fermented wines, with no malolactic. The oak is not all new, with second and third fill oak too. Big, green bean and vegetal ripeness here, with buttery notes and lots of green fruit, ripe fig and quince and some vanilla. The palate has that background of toasty oak and quite herbal qualities, with lots of racy fruit, a real sense of salty minerality and a clean, fresh finish with an ice-water coolness. Long and tangy, with good natural acidity. 91/100. £14.99, Oddbins.

red wines

Amayna Pinot Noir 2007
Most of the fruit from very stony soils near the winery. Simple vinification, with long cold maceration followed by ferment and malolactic in tank, then into barrels with 15-20% new, all French oak. Natural acidity. I find a disconcerting, slightly cow-pat note to this, as well as a roasted chestnut, slightly burnt quality, neither of which I really like. There’s a cherry edge to the fruit, but I find that earlier note off-putting. The sweetness of the fruit and a silkiness comes through beautifully on the palate, there is lovely weight and texture here, with a chicory bite in the finish. Lovely palate, but that aroma… oh dear. Was it a bad bottle? 82/100

Amayna Syrah 2008
Have been reducing yields. A blend of clone 174, which is elegant and floral, and 300 which has a rustic character. Intense, liquorice and clove aromas, lots of spice and pepper, a touch of violet and black olive and robust, chunky black fruit. The palate has density and power, with a real fruit sweetness, giving depth and silkiness, with quite a chunky, robust finish to the tannins and acids. 89/100.

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xConcha y Toro is the goliath of the wine industry in Chile, and indeed, all of South America. They are responsible for around one in two of every bottles of Chilean wine sold in the UK, and are the seventh largest wine company in the world based on volume of sales.

Don Melchior Concha y Toro founded the company at Pirque in the Maipo Valley in 1883, the original cellars, gardens and homestead (right) still forming part of the massive winery operation at Pirque, just 20 miles from the centre of Santiago, and an extremely popular destination for the region’s tourists. The slightly kitsch experience of visiting the original Casillero del Diablo cellar (the Devil’s cellar), complete with eerie lighting and ghost-train ambiance, can be forgiven, because this is a slice of real Chilean history, the cellar built from bricks bound with an elastic, egg-white-based mixture that has withstood many earthquakes in its 120+ years. From its first wine shipment to Holland in 1923 the company has led the Chilean export drive. Today 16 million cases are exported worldwide. The UK is the largest export country with almost 30% of volume – more than all of continental Europe combined – whilst the USA accounts for around 18% of volume.

In that time this company – still family-owned – has continued on an ambitious programme that has established strong brands filling different price points, and indeed has taken them into other winemaking countries. The Cono Sur brand was established in 1993, The Almaviva icon wine in 1997 and then a separate operation called Maycas del Limari in 2007. In 1996 the company travelled across the Andes to establish Trivento in Argentina, taking their total vineyard holdings to 7,600 hectares in Chile and 1000 more in Argentina. That also makes them the fourth biggest company in the world in terms of vineyard area planted.

xSenior winemaker Ignacio Recabarren (left) led me through a comprehensive tasting that encompassed their main UK ranges. As Chile’s biggest wine company, Ignacio also stresses their environmental conscience: “We have our own sustainable development department,” he tells me, “looking at all aspects of environmental impact.” The department develops measures that will reduce energy consumption. “It is a very big company, with 46 vineyards, three bottling plants and 2000 employees, so it is not easy to change things quickly,” confesses Ignacio. “But we will reduce our use of glass by 8,000 tons by 2011 through using lighter bottles, and are studying the feasibility of hydro-electric and solar panels to run our business.”

Though I visited the Maipo winery, as befits a company of CyT’s size, they have vineyards in every valley of Chile, so this tasting covers many different appellations.

white wines

Palo Alto Reserva White 2009
Maule. Modest apple and lemony fruit, with just a touch of herbaceousness, but not terribly expressive. Nice palate, with sweet, easy fruit and a nice burst of Sauvignon bite and vivacity. 86/100. £6.49. This range in Sainsbury’s.

Casillero de Diablo Sparkling Brut Reserva Chardonnay 2008
Limari. Fresh lemony nose, with a little oatmeally, bready quality and a hint of something peachier. The palate burst with fruit, really quite a sweet character and ends pleasingly easy to drink though quite simple. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Reserva Privada Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Limari. A touch of pear skin phenolic character here, with some nettly qualities and a certain minerality. The palate has a very crisp, clear, lime and lemon palate, with a bright, focused grapefruity acidity. Very zesty with that hint of minerality from the coastal Limari. 88/100. £5.99/£6.49 across this range.

Casillero de Diablo Pinot Grigio 2009
Limari. Gentle, peachy, ripe rosy apple character with a gentle herbal character. The palate has lots of zest and bite, with an orange and lemony bite and clarity. 87/100.

Casillero de Diablo Limari Chardonnay 2009
A very gentle creaminess on the nose, but really this is all about bright, focused and clear apple and lightly herbal fruit. Very tangy citrus palate – lots of zing and bite, with a piercing fruit quality. Not a thin wine, but a lean and focused one. 87/100.

Casillero de Diablo Casablanca Chardonnay 2009
More nutty, toasty character, with some vanilla and a ripe apple and nutty Cox’s Pippin fruit. The palate has much more richness and an inherent sweetness, with the sweet, soft oak fattening the finish, and the acidity perhaps a little more angular. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Viognier 2009
From Casablanca. Aged in big barrels. Aromatically very expressive, with masses of apricot and ripe pear fruit, and a floral character. The palate is balanced and very fruity, with lots of juicy, quite fat nectarine fruit, but the acidity is good and keeps it sharp. 87/100. Majestic, Oddbins

Concha y Toro Trio Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Casablanca, with touches of other valleys including Limari. Big, herbaceous, green bean blast on the nose. Cool apple and citrus fruit, and a touch of mineral quality. The fruit is very bold and sweet, quite tropical and exotic, but the herbaceous blast and the tangy, dry acidity make it very bracing and delicious. 89/100. £7.49

Concha y Toro Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From the El Triangulo vineyard, Casablanca with a mix of French and Davis clones, kept on fine lees for nine months and a little wild yeast portion of the ferment. Lots of minerality here giving a smokiness and flintiness. It is very ripe, with quite exotic notes and cabbage ripeness, and a complex wild herb character. The palate has great intensity, the fruit really piercing on the palate, but the wine has a full, rich texture and pushes through with intense sweetness and a big, racy, mineral-infused finish. 91/100. £9.99

Concha y Toro Trio Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio/Pinot Blanc 2009
Tank sample. Casablanca for all fruit, apart from a portion of the Chardonnay from Limari. Quite an oatmeally nose, with an orange and bold, fat lemony fruit, and some grassy notes beneath. The palate has a bold fruitiness and quite full texture, the mouth filled with very sweet, fat fruit, but it has a clarity and searing citrusy acidity that really freshens the finish. 88/100.

Concha y Toro Amelia Chardonnay 2007
From the El Triangulo vineyard, Casablanca. Aged for a year in only older oak, from a selection of small coopers. Fine, honey and honeysuckle nose, with very ripe fruit and an unctuous, almost buttery quality to the fruit. The palate has lots of ripe melon and pear, a hint of pineapple tropicality and a very pithy, fresh finish with some lime-peel bite. 91/100. £19.99

red wines

Palo Alto Reserva Rosé 2009
Maule. 90% Shiraz, 10% merlot. Boldly fruity with soft strawberry fruit. Quite creamy and easy, the fruit on the palate having a nice weight and balance, being easy to drink but fresh and appetising. 85/100.

Palo Alto Reserva Red 2009
Maule. 60% CS, 25% Carmenère, 15% Syrah. Nice, big, powerfully earthy black fruit nose, with a touch of rustic, herbal character. The palate has a certain raciness, the fruit earthy and berried, with good balance. Simple, easy drinking stuff with a bit of oaky depth and structure. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Pinot Noir 2009
From Casablanca. 30%in open fermenters, very little pumping over. Graphite and earth, and a crunchy, lightly leafy fruit, with cherry and raspberry. The fruit on the palate comes through nicely, with a touch of creaminess and chocolate, but the fruit staying bold and the acidity freshening the picture. It could perhaps use a little more flesh, but is a good mouthful of honest Pinot. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah 2007
Maipo fruit. Big, ripe and minty, with a solid cassis fruit and just a touch of sweet earth. The fruit on the palate has a rich earthiness too, a touch of fudge-like depth and plenty of black fruit. There’s a gamy, bloody edge to the fruit and nicely gripping tannins, with a boldness and richness. £8.99.

Concha y Toro Trio Merlot/Carmenère/Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
From Rapel. Very sweet, dark, juicy and fat berry fruit. There’s a touch of leather and some tiny gamy notes. The palate has a plushness of black fruit, but the drying, peppery and earthy spice of the Carmenère fills in, with a fairly lean but juicy cherry finish. 89/100.

Marques de Casa Concha Merlot 2007
From the Peumo Vineyard, Rapel. Very sweet fruit here, a bold, juicy red cherry and ripe plum fruit with lots of creaminess: there are some dark, espresso and chocolaty nuance here too, but it is fresh. The palate maintains an edge, the fruit very sweet and juicy, with a lot of spice and some more of those chocolate hints. Sweet and attractively full and ripe. 88/100. £9.99

Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenère 2006
From the Peumo Vineyard, Rapel. Eleventh vintage from this block in Peumo. A touch of Cabernet Franc in this. Dense and glossy quality to this, with a muscular, tightly-wound character. There is a bittersweet dark chocolate edge. On the palate the fruit is super-sweet, filling the mouth with lots of sweetness, but is maintains an edge of clean, tight, racy tannin and good acidity. Fine Carmenère with real structure. 90/100.

Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
From the Puente Alto Vineyard, Maipo. Quite complex cedary notes here, with a certain pencil-shaving finesse and quite exotic, incense-like spice. Big, dry, quite complex palate. There’s a dustiness to this, but at the same time a terrific fruit sweetness with lots of blackcurrant concentration. Lovely hint of something liquoricy, but very juicy and deliciously vibrant, fresh finish with lovely fruit. 91/100.

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
From the Puente Alto Vineyard, Maipo. From very poor, stony soils on a granite base. 25 hl/ha yield, aged 16 months in French oak. Subtle, composed, tight and svelte nose, with a tightly-wound, creamily muscular character. The palate has very sweet fruit, the same blackcurranty concentration of the Marques de Casa, but adding an extra notch of dark plum and chocolate, and the cedary elegance of the tannins and good acidity making this long and focused. This does have the lean, sinewy quality of the vintage, but it has great fruit, great natural concentration and ageing potential. 92/100. Around £27.99

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xLike Concha y Toro, Santa Rita can boast of 130 years of history. Since 1980 it has been owned by the Claro Group, an enormous company started by Ricardo Claro, with interest in numerous industrial and business sectors including shipping and television. The group also owns or part-owns Carmen, Doña Paula and Los Vascos wineries. Ricardo Claro died suddenly in 2008, but only after establishing an extraordinary museum of Chilean and Latin American culture that opened in 2006 next door to the winery. The world-class exhibits of historical and pre-historical Chilean culture include pottery, weapons, tools, clothing, jewellery and equestrian items, and the museum is in itself now a major attraction.

xSanta Rita’s winemaker is the quiet but focused Andrés Ilabaca (left). Like so many winemaker, Andrés is a graduate of the Catholic University of Santiago’s agronomy and oenology course, and after 11 years working for Viña Canepa, has been with Santa Rita since 1996, sharing the title of Chief Winemaker with Cecilia Torres. Santa Rita’s ‘120’ range is in Majestic stores, and is named in honour of an event in 1814 when General Bernardo O’Higgins together with 120 men fighting to achieve Chile’s Independence from Spain, found refuge in the Santa Rita Hacienda. After losing a fierce battle in the city of Rancagua, the 120 patriots were hidden in the basement of the Santa Rita house until they could recover and continue on their quest for Chile’s independence. The Wine Society carries Santa Rita’s impressive top Cabernet Sauvignon, The Casa Real.

white wines

Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Tank sample. Central Valley, but most of the fruit from Molina in Curico, with a granitic clay soil. All stainless steel. Nice gooseberry and gently tropical fruit with a touch of pineapple and melon, plenty of citrus. Nice juicy palate, plenty of sweet fruit and elegance. 87/100. £6.49, Majestic, Tesco Wine Club

Santa Rita Medalla Real Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Leyda. Much more grassy and crisp, but also flinty and smoky. That herbaceous punch comes through with lime and lemon fruit. Very crisp and grassy on the palate, with a big gooseberry punch of fruit, tropical overtones and lots of juicy citrus and minerality. 89/100. £9.99, Majestic.

Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2008
Central Valley. Stainless steel with some staves and chips, part malolactic. Quite buttery and ripe, with lots of vanilla and nectarine fruit. The palate has a sweet fruited character ( though technically dry at just 2.3g/l residual sugar). Creamy and crowd-pleasing, perhaps lacks a bit of mid-palate fruit intensity before the vanilla-touched finish comes through. 86/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2008
Limari. 100% barrel fermented, no malolactic. Eight months in new French oak, balance in older French barrels. Lovely barrel character, with honey and cashew, a touch of honeysuckle and lovely fruit too. There’s a touch of green bean and fig adding some punch. On the palate very nice wine, with a big, ripe, rich character (14.8% alcohol) . The acidity is good, a cool, pithy lemon and hint of something salty and mineral. 89/100.

red wines

Santa Rita Medalla Real Pinot Noir 2008
Leyda fruit, cropped low on a gravel and clay soil over fractured rock. Matured in 15% new French oak, the balance in older oak. Nicely gravelly, lightly roasted quality to this, with a touch of earthy beetroot and savoury red berry fruit. Has a nice edge of acidity on the palate, with lots of crisp, quite lean and juicy acidity. Tannins are fine, and the smoky warmth of the oak comes through, but this is perhaps just a touch angular. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Merlot 2008
Central Valley. Rich and chocolaty nose, lots of ripe, creamy black fruit. The palate has a touch of earthy, gravelly quality but the sweet fruit pushes through, with low-ish acidity and a nice roughening edge of tannin. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Carmenère 2008
Central Valley. Quite a creamy black fruit quality here, with a touch of nice pepperiness but greenness too. The palate has lovely fruit with a certain silkiness to the texture. Nice balance in this wine, the tannins and spice supporting juicy, but rounded fruit. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Syrah 2007
Central Valley. A touch of chocolate and wood smoke here, with quite plush, glossy black fruit. The palate has a drying tannin quality and a certain dustiness to the fruit, but it is very expressively Syrah with ref berries, a touch of peppery spice and a hint of chocolaty richness. Balanced and spicy. 87/100.

Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Central Valley. A nice touch of herbaceous character here, a touch of leather and baked plum too. The palate has lots of juicy blackcurrant, that cassis and cherry skin tart edge very nice, and a fairly soft finish with smoothed-out tannins and good acidity. Tasty and drinkable this. 87/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère 2008
Colchagua. 85% from Marchigue, 15% from Apalta. 10 months in French oak. Big, plush, inviting nose of blueberry and black plum, but there’s a delightful cedary, slightly peppery and herbal quality that is lovely. The palate has terrific fruit – velvety and lush, with a deep pool of black berries. The tannins are very supple and chocolaty, with lots of coffee and cream, the smooth spice of the oak adding to the opulent impression. A really delightful and very crowd-pleasing style, but done with panache. 91/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2007
Limari. 14 months in new French oak. A hit of eucalyptus and mint chocolate here, and lots of ripe blackcurrant fruit. There’s a little whiff of pepper and smoke too. The palate has a leaner quality than the Carmenère, with a juicy stripe of lean, cherry-skin giving some tension. Very nice style here again, and delicious balance. 89/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Maipo. 5% Cabernet Franc from the home vineyard. Around one third of the oak is new. Coffee bean and leafy, brackeny qualities here, with a touch of savoury olive over the dusty blue/black fruit. The palate has Cabernet leanness and grip, with good fruit but all quite tight and structured. Very fine and food-friendly. 89/100.

Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Maipo. Tiny yields here (2.5 tons per hectare). 15 months in new barrels after ferment in large wooden vats. Quite subdued, but deep and tightly-wound aromas, with black fruit and some coffee and smoky cedar. The palate has a great core of sweet fruit: it is silky and svelte, the tannins fairly massive, but they too are ripe and have a chocolaty density. There’s a great sense of polish and confidence about this wine, the gravelly, orangy edges of the tannins and acidity balancing beautifully. 93/100. £29.99, Wine Society.

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xViña 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

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, Tesco.com

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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xEstablished in 1976, LFE is very much a family company, with family members occupying all key positions. Nicolas Bizzarri (right of picture) is commercial director and a winemaker. He studied in Australia, before going on to make wines for Mondavi in Napa. Married to one of the daughters of founder Luis Felipe Edwards Snr, Nicolas joined the company in 2002. Together with agronomist Eugenio Cox (left of picture) we jumped into a 4×4 for a white knuckle ride to the very top of their extraordinary high vineyards. Nicolas explained that LFE were the first in the valley to plant on the higher, tree and bush covered terraces.

Indeed their highest vineyards are way up above the tree line at over 900 metres, and the highest in Colchagua. Here, poor, sandy soils are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Sirah. And in 2006 they planted more, this time with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carmenère, all planted as bush vines with no wire trellising. Despite Chile remaining a Phyloxerra-free country, the vines are all planted on rootstocks. “This is a family business,” explains Nicolas. “We hope to be farming here in 100 years. We don’t have Phyloxerra now, but we don’t want our grand-children saying ‘who were these stupid people who didn’t plant on rootstocks’ should it ever happen”. LFE is the ninth biggest Chilean winery by sales volume, but the only one of the top 10 that is still family owned and run. Selling 1.3 million cases this year in what Nicolas describes as “an expanding business,” they have added 140 hectares of vineyard in Leyda to the 600 they farm in Colchagua. “The ability to expand and take risks is partly down to being run by the family: decisions can be made quickly and we can be flexible in supplying our markets,” says Nicolas. “Cork or screwcap, different bottle sizes, special blends for large clients – we supply consumer-focused products.”

white wines

Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Central Valley . Nicely ripe and fruity nose, pleasant touch of capsicum and of elderflower and gooseberry freshness. Seem quite sweet on the palate, and just peters out slightly the fruit being overtaken by a slightly watery finish and some acidity. 84/100. The Reserva wines are around £4.99 – £5.99. This one is available in Asda.

Reserva Chardonnay 2009
Colchagua, with 15% fruit from Casablanca and 5% Viognier. Toasty, vanilla and spice nose, with lots of creamy sweetness to the fruit on the palate. A slightly too sweet finish, though only with 3.5g/l of RS, and the sweet oak adding to that impression. 85/100. Family Selection

Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Leyda Valley fruit. Punchy, vibrant grassy and green pepper aromas, with lots of gooseberry punch. Palate has lovely weight and a certain green bean oiliness and texture, with good acidity and delivering a punchy style. 87/100. The Family Selection wines are around £7.99.

Family Selection Chardonnay 2008
Casablanca fruit with 10% from Leyda, and 50% of blend oak aged. Really nice green fruit here, with figs and a waxy lime intensity, and a nicely smoky oak background. The fruit is intense too, with lovely sweetness and texture, and a really nice finish that has just enough acidity. 88/100.

red wines

Reserva Merlot 2008
The Merlot. Quite a fine black edge to the fruit here, a touch of charcoal and a little hint of raspberry brightness. ON the palate more of that black fruit, which is savoury and dry, with some drying tannins and good balancing acidity. 85-86/100.

Reserva Syrah 2008
Again a charcoally, schisty note to this, with tight black fruit and a touch of cedar, and some savoury black olive. The palate has a cool fruitiness, quite a lean character though, with a sinewy quality and tight, dry tannins and acidity. A nice, simple, fresh food wine this, if lacking a touch of fat. 86/100.

Reserva Carmenère 2008
A little fragrant herbal note, with some tight black fruit and a touch of olive. The palate has nice fruit – blackberry and a little tight, spicy, almost chocolaty de pith. Good tannins. 87/100. £5.99, Asda

Reserva Malbec 2008
There’s a dusty blue/black fruitiness on the nose, with a herbal note of sage. ON the palate a savoury, slightly meaty character, with nice tangy acidity and nice brightness to the fruit. 86/100

Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
A touch of something herbal to this, nice Cabernet nose, with a good depth of glossy black fruit. There’s a bit more richness and fullness to this which I like, and a sweet fruited finish balanced by some grippy tannin and fresh acidity. 87/100. Family Selection Merlot 2008
85% Colchagua fruit, 15% Casablanca from contract growers. 40% oak aged. Nice schisty black edge to this, with a touch of graphite and cedar, and a tight, sinewy style. The palate has some real sweetness and roundness, with very good weight, a dry, savoury style that has some chewy density, and a balanced finish with some spice and tart cherry skin acidity. 88/100.

Family Selection Carmenère 2008
Quite subdued, correct, black fruited aromatics – no green – with a touch of cedar. The palate is cool and fresh, with lots of silky black fruit, lovely freshness and crispness, the texture smooth but medium bodied and the tannins fine. 89/100. Family Selection Syrah 2008
A touch of something earthy and gamy here, with blackcurrant and a slightly ashy, dry quality. The oak is nice on this, adding some tobacco and spice, and the finish has lovely grip. 87/100.

Family Selection Malbec 2007
Much riper, richer, more powerful and ripe than the Reserva range. Has a creaminess and a little floral lift. The palate has a silkiness and a smooth, clear, black fruit that floods the palate. Very rip, grippy, nice floral touches persisting and lovely spicy, long finish. 89/100.

Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Spicy, tight, sinewy black fruit quality. The palate has a slightly less powerful character than some her, with nice freshness again and balance. 86/100.

Dona Bernardo 2006
50% CS, 20% Shiraz, 15% Petit Verdot, 15% Carmenère. 18 months in oak. Big, sweet, enveloping nose, with masses of chocolate and ripe, thick., sweet blackcurrant fruit. Lots of finesse. The palate too has that super sweet, layered texture of black fruit, spice and creaminess, in a big, powerful, but ultimately very well balanced wine. 91/100. £20.

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Lapostolle (‘Casa’ has officially been dropped from the title) declares as its motto: “French in Essence; Chilean by Birth,” and indeed Lapostolle’s owner is the French Marnier Lapostolle group, producer of Grand Marnier and owner of Château de Sancerre in the Loire Valley.

xHead of the company is Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, who although Swiss-based is hands-on and regularly at the winery. The French connection extends to the winemaking: although young Chilean winemaker Andrea León (right) is in charge of the premium wines, Michel Rolland is consultant winemaker (retained exclusively by Lapostolle in Chile) and Jacques Begarie of Bordeaux is chief viticulturist. I met Andrea at their beautiful new winery, which lies at the heart of Lapostolle’s Apalta estate.

The 30ha of old vines that make up the famous Clos Apalta are un-irrigated, and this is the second year the estate has been farmed biodynamically. “It’s possible to farm such a large vineyard Biodynamically in Chile,” says Andrea. “We have always planted at high density, used horses in the vineyard, used minimal synthetics – it was not an unnatural step for us.” Andrea sees a strong and pragmatically-led movement towards organic farming developing in Chile: “We have much better machinery available to us in Chile now, and many more people are using composts because synthetics got so expensive.” The winery is six levels deep, sunk into the hillside, and operating by gravity. The first vintage here was 2005, in a facility dedicated to Clos Apalta and now a second wine called Borobo. All grapes are hand de-stemmed by teams of 60 women, “destemming grapes one by one for Clos Apalta,” says Andrea. A painstaking process, but one she thinks is worth it: “The fruit seems more defined. The expression of the fruit seems to clearer, especially with Merlot. The tannins seem a little more polished too.” Everything at the winery is basket pressed. “The press is very good, and lets us separate the different parts of the pressing very well – it also gets some air through the wine, which is good,” says Andrea. The barrel cellar, immediately below the circular tank room, is a beautiful space, filled with 100% new oak barrels for every vintage.

white wines

Casa Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Rapel, with a dash of Semillon from 80-year-old vines. Tight, apple and green fruit, a hint of spice. On the palate quite fleshy and full, but vibrant too, with a great sweet core of tropical fruit, but that apple acidity and bit of grapefruit kicking in on a food friendly style. 86/100. The Casa whites are all price £7.49 to £8.49

Casa Semillon 2008
Barrel-aged Semillon from the 80-year-old vines, aged for three to six months in older French oak. Mealy, fruity, lightly toasty nose, with some sweet vanilla and a little herbal touch. Quite bold and powerful. 87/100.

Casa Chardonnay 2008
30% of blend in older oak for nine months or so. Casablanca fruit. Nutty and vegetal aromas, quite Burgundian. A touch of banana and tropical fruit. The palate has lots of fat, lemony acidity and that sweet, mouth-filling fruit. Nice and sharp in the finish. 87/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2008
Very recently bottled. Would like to plant some special Sauvignon for the ‘Cuvee’ line in the future. A selection of best lots from their own vineyards (so everything from here on is Organic). 50% barrel fermented and aged, 50% in tank with no malolactic. Subtle nuttiness, with an orangy note and plenty of racy lemon and lime. Nicely crisp palate, the orange character coming through, and a fleshy, tangy, yellow plum skin touch. 88/100. £10.99 to £11.99 £10.99, Majestic

red wines

Cuvée Alexandre Pinot Noir 2007
Part in oak tanks at Clos Apalta, part in stainless steel for ferment, then into a mix of new and older oak. Casablanca fruit. Very low yields, around 800gm per plant. Spicy, lightly herbal and earthy, with some rhubarb notes. Quite sappy and fresh, with nice ripe, fresh strawberry fruit and some real spice in the finish. 89/100. £14.99 to £15.99

Casa Merlot 2007
With 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rapel, as this level is a mix of estate and bought-in fruit from growers around the district. All stainless steel fermentation, with 50% going into used French oak. Quite a ripe red fruit nose, with lots of spice and some herbal, fresh notes. That sappy, fresh and earthy character continues, with plenty of spice and crisp acidity. More of a food-wine style than some Merlots. 87/100. The Casa reds are all £8.49 to £9.49 Casa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
With 8% Syrah, 5% Carmenère, 2% Cabernet Franc. A bit more oak on this. Quite creamy, with more powerful, structured black fruit and gravelly quality. 88/100.

Casa Carmenère 2008
With 15% Merlot. New wine, not yet on the market. 75% of the blend spent 10 months in oak. Quite meaty, with a touch of herbal, dry, almost dusty quality. Something coffeeish too, with a big, sour cherry bite of acidity on the palate and plenty of juicy, black and red fruit. A really nice Carmenère this, with lots of substance and fine, grippy tannic balance. 90/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 1999
Poured from magnum. Probably had much more oak, and more new oak than the 2007 cuvee. Lovely creamy, bold black fruit, with a certain density and sense of plush sweetness. The palate has maybe just lost a little bit of the mid-palate fruit depth and plushness it once had, but spicy and chocolaty tannins are fine and ripe, and this has terrific length still with the fruit lasting through. 91/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 2007
With 15% Carmenère. Savoury, chestnutty, quite spicy too, and the plushness of thick black fruit comes through. There’s a touch of briar and sweet damp earth. Delicious palate, with a savoury edge to the black fruit on the palate. Plenty of grippy tannin here, quite a sinewy, muscular character. Plenty of power and concentration. 90/100. £11.99 to £12.99.

Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
With 15% Merlot. From very old vines on un-irrigated sandy soils near the entrance to the Apalta property, which is also the Cabernet that goes into Clos Apalta. There’s masses of cedar and pencil-filling fragrance to the tight black fruit on the nose. The palate has a really nice grip of liquorice and keen, tart, black cherry skin fruit. Good acidity here, the whole picture ripe and quite plush, but grippy and fresh too. 91/100. £10.99 – £11.99

Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2007
3,000 cases of this from Cachapoal. Old Chardonnay and Merlot rootstocks re-grafted to two clones of Syrah. Very low yields from pebbly soil. Over two years in oak. A bit of meat stock and black fruit, a touch of coffee, but it has subtle lifted notes and smokiness too. The palate has some roasted coffee flavour, with that meatiness again, and a big, chewy, dark and savoury finish. Delicious, big and powerful. 91/100. £14.99 to £15.99

Borobo 2006
26% Pinot Noir, 26% Syrah, 20% Carmenère, 16% Merlot, 10% Cabernet, 2% Petit Verdot. Fine coffee fragrance, with a touch of smoky bacon and at the same time a violet fragrance comes through. Very fine black fruit. Onto the palate the sweet black fruit is fine and pure, with a certain delicacy, with lots of cherry and orange tang and acidity, and a leaner, more savoury and fresh finish. There is something fine about this unusual wine, with an elegant smokiness and refined, but spicy fruit. 93/100. £40-£50

Clos Apalta 2007
61% Carmenère, 24% Cabernet, 12% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot. 24 months in oak. Lots of tight, creamy, pure blackcurrant fruit. There is some meatiness here, with a muscularity to the wine, but the fruit has a silky depth. On the palate plenty of ripe, sweet, quite juicy and deep blackcurrant. The palate weight is good, and the balance here of tannins and excellent acidity. This is a wine with really good length and structure. It seems much less full-on than some earlier vintages, and that is a good thing. 94/100. £50 or so.

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Aurelio Montes scrambled, almost on hands and knees, up the 45º slopes of his latest vineyard. I had little choice but to follow.

aurelioThe story here is by now familiar in the ‘new Chile’: the estate’s oldest vines were all planted on the valley floor in 1994, at a density of 4,000 plants per hectare. Today, they plant on the hillsides at a density of over 7,000 plants per hectare. Syrah has proved extremely successful up here, and has led to quite extensive new plantings of other Rhône varieties Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan. I mention to Aurelio that the few Carignans I’d tasted on the trip were universally impressive. “It has a big future – I am very excited about it,” he told me.

This is Montes’ main estate, with 140ha of red wine vineyards, though they farm another 150ha in Marchigue, closer to the coast. “This valley floor is fertile, agricultural land good for all crops, but not for great wines,” expands Aurelio. “On the hillside we find colluvial rocks and poor granitic soils giving much lower vigour. I’m also planting at extreme densities.”

xIndeed, the vineyard to which I was clinging (pictured left) is planted at 15,000 vines per hectare. “If I have to compare,” says Aurelio, “the model might be Priorat.” This estate is the source of the fruit for Montes’ icon wines, though a programme of replanting is underway following micro terroir analysis. A block of Cabernet Sauvignon had just been replanted with Carmenère for example. “It gives wonderful spices to cook with,” says Aurelio, “but it would never be good enough unless blended.”

In terms of their agriculture, Aurelio says “The best way to understand how Montes works is to come to the vineyards and look around – look at the wild flowers amongst the vineyard, the trees and the natural conditions. We practice sustainable agriculture, with minimum sprays and contacts with the vines.” Aurelio studied at the Catholic University in Santiago as did his father before him. He lived for one year in Australia, working for Cape Mentelle, Rosemount, and then worked in Napa for Franciscan wineries. Today, he seems both contented and ambitious as he shows me around the winery, built to strict Feng Shui principles including its location, orientation and construction materials. Grapes arrive and a lift takes them to the roof which is the reception centre. Currently, vibrating sorting tables allow fruit selection, but from next year a new system borrowed from the recycling industry will sort automatically using cameras and compressed air jets to remove poor quality fruit or extraneous materials.

white wines

Sauvignon Blanc Limited Selection Leyda 2009
Quite a powerful lime skin and apple aromas, with a little bit of herbaceous character. The palate has plenty of texture and richness, the grippy fruit skin character is cut through with lemony acidity and a long, mineral finish. 88/100. £8.99, Majestic

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2007
Aged in French oak, from the Casablanca Valley. Beautifully ripe green bean and fig aromas, with lots of creamy, cashew nut and oatmeal creaminess. The palate has ripeness and richness, with a big nutty character and plenty of cut and zest. There’s a lot of phenolic grip here too. The broad, pithy orange and grapefruit acidity makes this very food-friendly and savoury. 89/100. £10.99, Tesco, Majestic, Morrison’s, some Waitrose

red wines

Montes Pinot Noir 2008
Fine, smoky, lightly forest floor nose with good red berry fruit. The palate has fine freshness, with really nice, concentrated fruit and fine, spicy, backbone. Tangy and fresh. 88/100. £8.99, Majestic

Montes Alpha Pinot 2007
Leyda Fruit. 40% aged in French oak. Briary and raspberry fruit, with some tight, charcoally edges. Really nice, bold fruit. Very good quality. Lovely bright, fine, raspberry fruit on the palate. 89/100. £10.99, Independents

Montes Alpha Merlot 2007
From Colchagua, all the rest of this range aged in oak. Spicy, cedary, very good fruit and lots of complex, quite Bordeaux-like savour. Palate is juicy and has a lovely edge to the ripe, red berry fruit. Very silky tannin structure and fresh. 90/100.

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Colchagua. Adds a plummy, darker aspect than the Merlot, with some earthy and beefy quality, but that refined cedar and spice is still there and a core of black fruit. The palate has tight, sinewy, chewy fruit with lots of fleshiness. 89/100. £10.99, Tesco, Majestic, Morrison’s, some Waitrose

Montes Alpha Syrah 2007
Colchagua. Nice ripe, bright red fruit nose, with a hint of some chocolate and some fragrant spice. The palate has that edge of raspberry and liquoricy character, with a little savoury black olive character and fresh finish. The spice and nice chocolaty quality develops nicely. 90/100. £10.99, Waitrose.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2007
Colchagua. A bit of herbal, slightly green character and menthol, but nicely pitched within the framework of tight black fruit and peppery spice. The palate has a red fruited edge to it to, with a silkiness to the body and a dry, almost bittersweet chicory note in the finish. Spicy and long. 90/100. £10.99.

Montes Alpha ‘M’ 2006
Santa Cruz/Alpha. Bordeaux blend, 80% CS, 10%CF, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Eighteen months in new French oak. Lovely big, creamy black fruit nose, with a voluptuous richness. Lovely oak, very fragrant and incense-like. Big, spicy, blood-tinged black fruit palate with lots of orangy acidity. Terrific, creamy finish. 92/100. £35-£40, top Waitrose and independents.

Montes Folly 2006
100% Syrah from the heart-shaped vineyard immediately behind the winery. Very silky and smooth, with blackberry silkiness and a real dark chocolate richness. The palate has great focus: it is concentrated and spicy, with a plushness and depth, little tobacco notes and a touch of savoury, briary, olive and undergrowth. Lovely acidity here too, the wine very harmonious. 93/100. £35-£40 independent merchants

Purple Angel 2006
92% Carmenère, 8% Petit Verdot from Apalta and Marchigue. Quite toasty and charry at first, with a cedar and pencil-shaving finesse. No green here, just a sage-like herbal note. The palate has lots of fruit sweetness. It is a little less dense than the M or Folly, but it has a lovely refined black fruit and a fine black cherry fruity edge. Fresh and lovely to drink. 92/100. £25, Harrods and independents.

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old vinesAnother part of the large San Pedro/Terrapaca group, Santa Helena is in its own right the 11th biggest exporting wine company in Chile. Founded in 1942, over one million cases were exported last year. Brazil and Finland are their biggest export markets, but the UK is growing, with 84,000 cases sold last year, up from 67,000 in the previous year. Santa Helena has over 500 hectares planted in the Colchagua Valley, with lots of wonderful old-vine material like these dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in front of their winery.

xI met up with winemaker Matías Rivera who conducted a tour of the vineyards and a tasting through the Santa Helena range. Matías was particularly keen to introduce a fascinating new project called ‘Alta Helena’ which showcases Chile’s Valleys through sets of premium wines. The new project will focus on sustainability, with reduced weight bottles, carbon footprint monitoring, organic wines and running an energy efficient winery. But it is the nature of the Alta Helena wines and the way they are being offered for sale that will interest most wine lovers. The first offering is a four-pack of wines being sold for around £50 – £55, each a Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the four most important Chilean valleys specialising in this variety: Aconcagua, Alto Maipo, Colchagua and Curicó. Each bottle has a tag explaining the project, and a presentation box contains maps and other information about the wines and the project.

“The wines have lots of similar characteristics,” says Matías. “All are massal selections planted at high altitude on their own roots, and all come from single vineyards. Vineyard management, irrigation and yields are all the same, and vinification and ageing is exactly the same: 14 months in oak, 15% new. It is an incredible way for the wine lover to understand Cabernet Sauvignon – which still makes up 46% of all Chilean plantings.” Matías says the basic characteristics to look out for are:

  • Aconcagua – intensity, ripeness and sweetness. 43% of surface planted to CS
  • Maipo – elegance, delicacy, complexity. 60% planted to CS
  • Colchagua – spiciness, finesse and persistence. 48% planted to CS.
  • Curicó – structure, colour, acidity. 35% planted to CS

There are 6,000 boxes for this inaugural vintage.

white wines

Santa Helena Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Central Valley. A certain creaminess if slightly dull aromatic. Some nettle and herb does come through which is more expressive. Some crisp apple fruit. Nice lemony, fresh fruit and some of that varietal succulence come through nicely. 86/100. £4.99

Santa Helena Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Curico fruit. Not hugely expressive on the nose. With a bit of fat, lemony fruit and touch of apple skin. The palate is crisper and more bracing than the varietal, with more of that lemony bite and a touch of salty minerality. 87/100. £6.99.

Santa Helena Seleccion del Directorio Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Paredones fruit – coastal. Natural acidity. Piercing herbaceous and mineral nose, with huge elderflower note that approached Sauvignon sweatiness, but stops with punchy, herbal and green bean notes and tropical fruit. It has the same shimmering, piercing quality on the palate, with masses of lime and grapefruit and a salty tang to the mineral finish. 89/100. £7.99

red wines

Santa Helena Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Central Valley. Bold, cherry and currant black fruit, the fruit expressive and bold. The palate has lovely fruit sweetness, the nicely dark, slightly inky touch to the tannins adding a fine, savoury character and the fruit and acidity fine in the balance. 86/100.

Santa Helena Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Colchagua. Some creamier and herbal notes here, with some cedary touches. The palate has similar bold, crunchy, sweet black fruit to the Reserva, that extra layer of vanilla rounding it out and even a suggestion of gaminess to the fruit. Nice balance here. 87/100.

Santa Helena Seleccion del Directorio Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Colchagua. 15% Malbec and Petit Verdot in the blend. Subtle wine, with a density and polish to the fruit and a creamy, subtle cedar note. Just a touch of leafiness too. The palate is dry and savoury, the fruit having plenty of plum skin bite and sharpness. 88/100. £7.99

Santa Helena Seleccion del Directorio Pinot Noir 2008
Casablanca. Very careful, slow, gentle fermentation with no pumping over. Only older barrels. Quite a nice undergrowth and truffle note to this, as well as some cedar and minerality. Some softer, spicy coffee and strawberry notes come through in quite a complex aromatic profile. The palate is quite plush, with a lot of sweetness to the fruit. There’s a nice silky texture too, with some of that mocha coffee coming through in the finish. Tannins are perhaps a little more rustic than they could be, but a massive over delivery at the price. Lovely wine and great value. 90/100. £7.99, Co-op under Winemaker Series label

Santa Helena Vernus Malbec 2008
Colchagua. Quite dusty and earthy nose, with solid black fruit, if slightly subdued. Nice on the palate, with a certain plushness and juiciness to the fruit, fills the mouth with blackcurrant and plum, and the tannins are very fine. Sweet and refined, with a touch of Malbec lift. 88/100. Not in the UK Market, but would be around £9.99.

Santa Helena Vernus Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Colchagua. Some of the fruit comes from the oldest vineyard which includes 100-year-old vines. Very sweet, tight, ripe black fruit on the nose. Plenty of spice too, and a touch of briar and black olive savour. Big, plush and toasty palate, with lots of rich, plum and blackcurrant. Nice structure here, with dry but elegant tannins. 89/100.

Santa Helena Notas de Guarda Carmenère 2008
Colchagua. Some Cabernet and Petit Verdot in the blend. 15 months in new and used French oak. A lot of canopy management and de-leafing to avoid pyrozene character. There is some dustiness and sense of chestnutty, dry character. There is black fruit, but although there is no green it is not the most expressive Carmenère nose either. Lovely plush palate, with lots of dark, sinewy, spice-edged black fruits. Quite fine tannins and a lovely dry finish. 90/100. £14.99 if in market

Santa Helena Parras Viejas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Colchagua. From a five hectare vineyard of very old vines around the winery. Lots of spice and smokiness. A certain earth and tobacco note, but the blackcurrant fruit is there too. The palate has delicious sweet fruit and freshness – it is fruity and plush, some coffee and fudge and a liquoricy, tight edge that is muscular, but broadened and softened by the coffee oak and refined tannins. Lovely wine with great length. 91/100. £14.99 if in market

the Helena Alta project

Helena Alta Aconcagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Elegant, softly-fruited nose, with creamy black fruit and a fine, delicate spiciness. The wine is creamy and fruity on the palate too, with excellent fruit sweetness and a cassis intensity. The finish has a nicely grippy, but sweet and ripe tannin quality, the wine finishing with spice and a plum-skin bite. 90/100.

Helena Alta Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
There’s a touch of gamy, spicy character to this, with elegant black fruits and a certain blue/black dustiness. On the palate it is creamy and quite cedary, the crunchy fruit intensity coming through with a creamy texture and perhaps a slightly leaner finish than the Aconcagua wine. 89/100.

Helena Alta Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Less expressive than the other two wines, with a fine, crisp, tight structure and a more subdued but intense, tightly-wound nose. The palate has a crisper, more red fruited quality. It seems to lack a little flesh on the mid-palate, but a spicy, warming, cedary and lithe finish. 89/100.

Helena Alta Curicó Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Quite gamy and earthy, with cedary, focused black fruit. Spicy, but again quite tight and has even a touch of herbal aromatics. The palate follows through with that spice and herb-edged character. Very nice fruit and balance, and a great sense of freshness here. 90/100.

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The Silva family has its origins in France, from a Bordeaux winemaking background. Established in the 1920s, the company produced bulk wines for almost 70 years, but today their beautiful estate in Angostura, Colchagua is just one of several that supply fruit for their range of wines. The company is adventurous too, with their Lake Ranco project the most southerly vineyard area in Chile, 350 kilometres south of Bío Bío, in the Chilean lake district.

xThough not yet in commercial production, this cool, windy area has been planted with 70 hectares, mostly of Sauvignon Blanc. “We decided to plant here because the micro climate supports farming of kiwi fruits,” explained Mario Pablo Silva (right), managing director of family-owned company. “So we thought it might make excellent cool climate whites too.” Casa Silva has also bought a farm of 80ha on coastal Colchagua, just seven kilometres from the ocean. We travelled out to a small patch of their Los Lingues vineyard, where an intriguing a project has just been established in conjunction with several universities in Chile and in Germany, to create the first clones of Carmenère (currently all Carmenère is a massal selection – vines belong to the same family but are not identical clones. In theory this creates a less homogenous vineyard and less control over matching vine to soil).

The project will try to identify the differences between plants in a test vineyard, and establish the best vines to begin a clonal selection system. “It’s the Carmenère version of the Human Genome project,” jokes Pablo. He continues on a more serious note: “We really believe that Carmenère is going to be a great wine in Chile – the best scores for Chile’s ‘icon wines’ are already given to wines that are mostly Carmenère.” This new clonal programme has grown out of an established ‘micro-terroir’ project, in which Casa Silva vinifies and bottles different small plots of Carmenère.

xNo visit to the Casa Silva winery is complete without the family’s other passion: horses. If wine is the Silva’s business, then horses are their lifeblood. Over 150 horses are stabled within the estate for show-jumping, rodeo and polo. There’s an equestrian school, polo club, and most intriguing of all for the visitor, a thriving professional rodeo arena. Pictured is Pablo’s brother and regular rodeo competitor, Gonzalo Silva.

white wines

Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2009
Lovely punchy nose, the greengage and gooseberry pungency punching through, nice sense of something nettly and mineral. The palate has lovely texture and fruit, with lots of citrus and an orange fruitiness. Very clean and crisp, lovely style. 88/100. £10.95 James Nicolson.

Casa Silva Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
A tiny vanilla note, with a herby, dry character and lemon fruit. Juicy on the palate, but very restrained, almost salty mineral hints. 87/100.

Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Smoky, gunflint notes, lots of herbal, even buttery, oatmeal note. Very nice bright and punchy fruit, with a fat lemony tang and very crisp, herbaceous notes, that salty note again making it savoury and delicious. 90/100.

Dona Dominga Reserva Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2009
Rounded peachy tone to otherwise bright, focused lemon and apple fruit, a touch of nettle and herbs. The palate has lovely fruit too: the peach just adding a touch of ripeness and sweetness, but the finish showing that clean, tangy minerality. 86/100. £6.99, Waitrose.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2009
A portion spends four months in oak. Buttery and oatmeal character with great creaminess and ripeness to the fruit. The palate has real fruit sweetness, with lots of juicy cantaloupe melon and lime and lemon acidity. The finish is fresh and bright. 88/100.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Viognier 2009
From coastal estate in Colchagua called ‘Paradones’. Big, apricotty, peachy nose, with lots of Viognier floral character and clarity. Lovely palate, very crisp and cool, through the preachy ripeness comes through before a crisp, focused acidity in the finish. Very nice style this. 89/100.

Casa Silva Quinta Generacion White 2007
One third each of Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. Chardonnay and Viognier have some oak. Toasty and buttery, with lots of hazelnut and buttery apple and peach fruit. Lovely palate, the freshness of the Sauvignon coming through powerfully, and the roundness of the Chardonnay and the sweet oak filling out the finish. 91/100. £13.95, Oddbins

Casa Silva Late Harvest Semillon Gewürztraminer 2009
Delicate herbal and floral aromas. Light, delicate, seed cake notes. On the palate beautifully creamy and sweet, the finish crisp though – this is light and elegant. With delicious orangy tang and a touch of herbal character. 100g/l sugar. Delightful stuff. 88/100. £6.95, per half bottle.

red wines

Dona Dominga Cabernet Carmenère 2009
50/50 blend, the Carmenère is 15 years old, from the Los Lingues. Spicy character, with lots of pepper and some strawberry softness. The palate has good sweetness of the fruit too, with smooth texture thought the tannins rough things up nicely, adding a bit of real character. 86/100. £5.99, Oddbins

Casa Silva Reserva Carmenère 2008
50 percent each from Los Lingues and Lolol. One third of the wine has French oak for six months. Lots of pepper and spice here too, with a certain earthiness and very fine black fruit. Very fine fruit here, with a softness of strawberry pulp and sweet oak beneath silky, ripe Carmenère fruit. 90/100.

Dona Dominga Reserva Carmenère Shiraz 2008
60/40 blend. Los Lingues. Nicely earthy, vegetal nose with some spice and cedar and a bit of herbal character. Nicely juicy palate, the ripeness comes through nicely and it has soft, silky tannins and good balance. Very drinkable. 87/100. £6.99. Waitrose

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Angostura Merlot 2007
A little leafy lift to this, with very nice cedar and red fruit character. The palate has a certain silky smoothness, with fine tannins and that earthiness coming through, but a lovely weight and texture, and a sweetness in the finish. 89/100.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Los Lingues Carmenère 2007
Ripe, dusty black fruit and blueberry. Seems very supple and dense. The palate has lovely weight and mid-palate intensity, the sweet fruit and fine tannins balanced by plenty of crunchy black fruit acidity. 90/100.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Nicely smoky and earthy, the hint of herbal character and cedar set against firm, juicy black fruit. Lovely firmness and fruit on the palate with smooth, silky tannins and lovely purity and balance. 90/100.

Casa Silva Quinta Generacion Red 2007
45% Carmernere, 27 Syrah, 23 CS, 5% Petit Verdot. Lovely smoky and earthy nose, lots of wild garrigue notes and a certain creaminess. Lovely Bordeaux-like balance, with black fruit, a touch of olive and a fine spiciness. Lovely style. 91/100.

Casa Silva Micro Terroir Carmenère 2006
10,000 bottles. Very dense, very velvety and deep on the nose, with a black fruit depth that has a little dustiness, plum and chocolate. Very silky oak. 16 months in oak, 80% new in this vintage. Very silky berry fruit, with lovely chocolaty tannins, very fine and savoury, that little herbal note coming through. 94/100. £25

Casa Silva Altura Red 2004
8,200 bottles. 50% Carmenère, 33% CS, 17% Petit Verdot all from Los Lingues. Minimum of three years in cellar, in bottle, before release. 100% new oak. Alliers M+ toast. Camphory, high, beautifully aromatic nose with lots of Sandalwood and nutty spice, the herbal note of Carmenère adding a savoury note and very classy underlying fruit. The palate has terrific sweetness of fruit, with masses of blackberry and black plum, those fine, dense, chocolaty tannins and mocha richness supporting but not overpowering the fruit. Great fruit and definition into a long finish. 94/100. £35+

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Anakena celebrated its 10th birthday last year, the company still owned by Felipe Ibáñez and Jorge Gutiérrez, two schoolfriends who founded the company in Cachapoal, one half of the Rapel Valley (with Colchagua to the south). Today 155 hectares of vineyards in Alto Cachapoal are joined by 128 hectares in Leyda, 70 Colchagua and 60 in Las Cabras, another sub-zone of the Rapel Valley. Anakena’s wines are also exported to more than 40 countries, with the USA its most important market, followed by the UK, Japan and Scandinavia. This is an export-led businesses, with only around 15% of production sold in the domestic market. The 400,000 cases they produced in 2009 was a 17% increase on 2008

gonzaloI was delighted to renew my acquaintance with head winemaker Gonzalo Pérez, whom I’d last met in 2009 in Scotland. When Gonzalo started in 2003 the production was a mere 35,000 cases, so they have been planting substantially. “It’s is all about terroir,” says Gonzalo. “Here in Cachapoal we have Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier and Malbec – which is surprisingly good. In Leyda we have cool-climate varieties, and near Santa Cruz where it is hotter we obtain a different expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.” But growth has its down side too, and Gonzalo expresses a certain affection for the old days: “With 35,000 you can have a hand directly on everything, but now at 400,000 cases it is impossible.”

Gonzalo says the company policy is to maintain the quality and price of its current range, but introduce new ranges at higher price points. I sampled two of those from barrel, a Carmenère and Syrah from Peumo, a part of Cachapoal that whilst not close to the sea, is open to sea breezes. Both had beautifully plush fruit. “Carmenère is something new for Chile,” said Gonzalo, “but I believe it is a noble variety. It works well in blends, and we stand behind Carmenère: it’s a variety with which we want to work.”

white wines

Anakena Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Central Valley. Clean, ripe, fruit, with passionfruit and lemon. Nice, tight apple fruit, not a flamboyant wine, but has nice balance and freshness and a tangy finish. 86/100. £5.99.

Anakena Indo Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Leyda fruit. More cool-climate, passion fruit character, a bit more punch and ripeness. But still that apple, melon and citrus fruit and tempered quality. 87/100. £6.99.

Anakena Indo Chardonnay 2009
Casablanca fruit. 20% barrel ferment and only one month in oak, with no malolactic. Nice nose, just creamy and gently almondy, with a dry., lemony fruit quality. The palate is cool and apply, perhaps lacking a little mid-palate intensity, but the pithy, orange and lemon quality of the finish is flavoursome and has some tang and juiciness. 87/100. £6.99.

Anakena Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Casablanca Valley. Old vines from a grower they have worked with for many years. Quite an asparagus and mineral nose, with a definite minerality and touch of smokiness. The palate has lots of juicy life, with a touch of tropical fruit and plenty of zesty, lemon peel tang. Nice balance and length. 88/100. £8.99.

Anakena Single Vineyard Viognier 2009
Rapel Valley. 20% barrel ferment, but back to stainless steel after one month. Lovely nose, which Gonzalo says is achieved with a lot of work on the canopy and generally keeping on top of the vineyard to make sure no bitter phenolics develop. Ripe, rich, dried apricot nose with a touch of fleshy yellow plum and a little spice. Lovely fruit sweetness. 88/100. £8.99.

Anakena Ona Riesling Viognier Chardonnay 2008
From Rapel and Casablanca, and Riesling from 30 – 40-yer-old vines, a contract vineyard but totally managed by Anakena. Quite a creamy nose, the Chardonnay and Viognier more obvious, with nutty fruit and a touch of that apricot and peach. On the palate there’s a nice lemony, fresh, crisp character here, with lots of zest and palate weight and nice length. 89/100. £9.99, Oddbins

red wines

Anakena Carmenère 2008
Rapel. Nicely dense and dusty black fruited nose, with plenty of sweet, plumy fruit and a touch of liquorice. The palate has good fruit and that dry, plum skin and dusty cherry fruit, very nice tannins and a warming hint of pepper and spice in the finish. 87/100.

Anakena Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Rapel. Unoaked, looking for a fruity expression. Deep, quite leathery quality, with some black fruit coming through nicely. The palate has a rich blackcurrant core, the fruit quite incisive and sweet, the tannins quite gentle and ripe and a nicely balanced, long finish. 87/100.

Anakena Indo Merlot Syrah 2008
15% Syrah. Rapel, tank sample. Quite dark, plummy fruit, a touch of cedar, in a very pleasing profile. Silky, rich fruit in the mouth, with very nice mid-palate weight. 88/100.

Anakena Indo Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2008
Rapel. Tank sample. 15% Syrah. Quite subtle, but tight wound and muscular black fruit. Cedar and a little fragrant, exotic spice. Quite a tight, leathery character with savoury black olive notes and sinewy tannins. Quite grippy and dry, but has a food-friendly, savoury character. 87/100.

Anakena Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009
Rapel (a Leyda wine to come on stream). Quite a peppery and spicy Pinot, with an earthiness and a soft fruitiness like strawberries and ripe raspberries. The palate has a creaminess to the texture, and a cool berry fruit character that stays poised and creamy, with a nice brightness to the acidity and a grippy, freshening tannin structure. 88/100.

Anakena Single Vineyard Carmenère 2007
Rapel. Very dusty, ground black pepper character. Plum skins and a touch of earthiness and just a hint of something more juicy. The palate has that real juiciness too, with plenty of tangy, glossy black fruit and lots of acidity here – fresh and mouth-watering, with fine tannins but doing a nice job of roughening up the finish. 89/100.

Anakena Ona Pinot Noir 2008
Casablanca Pinot from granitic soil, with little touches of Viognier, Merlot and Syrah. Big, aromatic, coffee and mocha nose, with a deep earthiness and some vanilla, but also a little hint of more sweet strawberry fruit. Lots of coffee and spice on the palate too, with good fruit and a luscious weight and texture. Very nice. 89/100.

Anakena Ona Syrah 2007
Rapel. Three percent of Viognier blended in. Bold, striking, blue/black fruit, with lots of purity and focus. A hint of currant, overripe fruit. The palate has great fruit too, with delicious juiciness, lots of sweet mid-palate fruit and texture, and a fine-grained tannin. The acidity is good in a long, delicious and focused Syrah. 90/100.

Anakena Ona Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère Syrah 2007
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenère, 20% Syrah. There’s a certain dustiness on the noise of this again, probably from the Carmenère component. I like the focused black fruit of the mid-palate, with a cedar quality and an earthiness, and a big, dry, powerful tannin backbone. This is savoury and food friendly, and although there is good fruit, it is that big, dry tannin backbone and acidity that drives this at the moment. Delicious but needs some time – the fruit is terrific, but tannins need to soften. 91/100.

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There was no time on this trip to visit Curicó, the northern half of the Rapel Valley, but whilst in Santiago Torres invited me for a very good dinner at their wine bar in the city, where some tasty tapas was preceded by a tasting with Leonardo Devoto, one of the winemaking team. Leonardo is Chilean, but also studied at UC Davis in California and worked vintages at Geyser Peak and at d’Arenberg in Australia.

white wines

Santa Digna Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From central valley fruit. Gentle passionfruit aromas, with a touch of downy peach skin. Slightly thin, slightly phenolic finish. Pleasantly refreshing. 85/100.

Santa Digna Reserva Gewürztraminer 2008
Has 15% Riesling in the blend. A touch of smokiness and flintiness, some higher, floral notes. The palate has good fruit, with plenty of citrus, lime peel zest – seems very Riesling-ish, but deliciously quaffable. 87/100

Cordillera Chardonnay Viognier 2008
An 85/15 blend. Around 60% fermented in Nevers oak. Cashew and oatmeally character on the nose, with a nuttiness and ripe apple fruit. The palate is fresh, with a peachy quality to the fruit, that slightly phenolic character again. 86/100

red wines

Santa Digna Reserva cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2009
Softly earthy aromas with strawberry-scented fruit. Quite big and creamy on the palate, with a richness to the fruit and 9g/l of sugar just adding some sweetness and fullness. 86/100.

Santa Digna Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Nice, rich, thick black fruit. A touch of peppery spice and the palate shows thick, ripe, rich fruit with a red fruit lightness and again that peppery, slightly herbal finish. 87/100.

Santa Digna Reserva Carmenère 2008
Aged in older barrels. Quite a tight, ripe but crisp black fruit character. The palate is ripe and doesn’t show any green notes, and the cherry and black fruit stays quite focused. Nice sweet fruit finish. 86/100.

Cordillera Cariñena Shiraz Merlot 2006
54/22/24 split. Nine months in French oak, with 30% new. Quite a ripe, plush, fairly high-toned fruit, with lifted herb and kirsch-like cherry fruit. The fruit has good plushness and palate weight. Big, dusty tannins and lots of juicy acidity and fine tannins. A terrific grip and bite to this. 91/100.

Cordillera Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Viognier 2007
15% Viognier skins added to the ferment. Nine months in French oak, 30% new. Quite a lot of herby, tobacco notes here, something chocolaty too and a dusty blue/black fruit. The palate has a chewy, quite rustic feel to the tannins, but it makes it dense and savoury. 88/100.

Cordillera Carmenère Merlot Petit Verdot 2007
50/35/15. Slightly smoky, slightly burnt note to this, quite leathery, with herbal notes. The palate has a juicy, savoury character, with a dry, slightly vegetal finish that is food friendly and savoury. 87/100.

Manso de Velasco 2006
100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 18 months in Nevers oak, 50% new. From an old trellised vineyard, with rows planted three metres apart and vines 1.5 metres apart. Masses of chocolate and spice, with some herbal notes, but an underlying blackcurrant richness. Palate is thick and sweet and has great palate weight and ripeness and a thick, ripe tannins structure. A massive wine, but impressive. 91/100.

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VC Family Estates is the winemaking arm of the Córpora Group, which also owns the Explora hotel group – one of the most upmarket groups operating in Chile and Argentina. Its wine portfolio includes brands like Gracia de Chile, Agustinos, Porta and Veranda – a recent distribution deal with Bibendum Wines in the UK will make these names much more familiar to UK wine lovers.

carlosViticulturist Carlos Carrasco (right, by the Bío Bío River) showed me around their large estate, emphasising the diversity of soils from sand, to silt, to stony soils, to volcanic stones in clay. “The stony clay soils are capable of much better quality than the silty and sandy soils,” he tells me. “This allows the vine to build a big volume of roots to let it better withstand stress.” All vineyards are sited close to the river and its tributaries, to help mitigate frost damage in Spring and reduce the temperature a little in mid-summer. “Temperature here during bud break, flowering and harvest is moderate, with temperatures similar to Casablanca,” Carlos tells me. “But rainfall is much greater at around 1100 mm annually.

“There is much more organic matter in the soils too because of the wetter conditions, with more than 5% carbon, whereas north is nearer to 2%.” There is natural grass cover throughout the year, and 30ha is being farmed organically and will be certified in 2011.

vineyardCarlos came here in 2003 and faced a legacy of vineyards that had been planted 10 years earlier, before the valley’s true potential was recognised. Those plantings were done by agricultural consultants “People in charge of pears and apples,” says Carlos. Carlos was one of the first graduate cohort of the viticultural course at Santiago university in 2000. “Since then there has been an explosion of knowledge and expertise in Chile’s vineyards – everyone now knows we need to understand our soils and be honest when they are just not good enough.” He is now planting and replanting at 10,000 plants per hectare, up from 4,000 in the original plantings. Left: the ‘little Mosel’ vineyard. The winemaking team here has a particularly Burgundian accent. Consultant is Pascal Marchand, ex winemaker at Domaine de la Vougeraie, and in day to day charge is Louis Vallet, son of Bernard Vallet of the eponymous Burgundy domaine. It is little wonder perhaps that Pinot Noir seems to be something of an obsession, including new clones being developed in a joint venture between VC Family Estates, the University of Concepción and UC Davis in California.

The clones will be specifically suited to Bío Bío, and VC Family Estates will have the rights to 60% of the plants – the remaining 40% will be sold commercially for new plantings where the conditions are right – not on flat areas, and within specific soil and temperature constrictions. Louis Vallet tells me “Part of the idea is to encourage new, prestigious wineries to the Valley – Córpora cannot take the whole of Bío Bío area forward on its own.” Indeed, Louis’ wish may well come true: Bío Bío’s credentials as a Pinot hotspot of the future might be cemented by the news that Burgundy négociant and producer Nicolas Potel is also moving into the area, to make wines in a joint venture with a local vineyard owner. After nine years travelling the world as a winemaker, with stints in Central Otago, Oregon and California, will Louis return to his roots one day? “I will go home in future,” he tells me. “It is where my family is and where my heart lies. But not yet: I love this place and this project.”

white wines

Gracia Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009
Bío Bío fruit. A touch of honey to some tropical fruit, passionfruit and a touch of gooseberry. On the palate this has a ripeness, but the fruit is very cool and citrusy. There’s a tropical fruit sweetness at its core, with a nice balance and drinkability. 86/100. £6.49

Agustinos Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009
Bío Bío fruit. There’s a touch of tropical, mango fruit here, and seems a little riper. Big mineral hit on the palate, with a salty tang and a bit of fat to the texture, but that dry, lemony acidity comes through nicely. 87/100. £7.49

Veranda Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Bío Bío Quinel Estate. 20% fermented in stainless steel barrels with a lot of lees stirring. Experimented with oak barrels, but even with older barrels it marked the wine too much. Big, unctuous nose, with lots of punchy tropical fruit and a herbaceous, powerful edge. Big, palate filling mouthful of exotic lychee and mango fruit, a little of that herbal character and lovely acidity. Very nicely done. 89/100. £10.99.

Agustinos Riesling 2008 Reserva Privada 2008
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Mineral nose, with a touch of waxiness and some pear skin quality. The palate has nice freshness and acidity, but it lacks a little complexity and seems more powerful than subtle, and perhaps a little too much so. 85/100. £9.49

Veranda Chardonnay Oda 2008
Bío Bío Valley, Miraflores Estate. Wild yeasts and very hand-off winemaking, only 15 – 20% new oak. Lovely nose, with lots of fragrant honey and vanilla quality, almond and subtle apple fruit. The palate has a lovely lemon meringue character with a touch of creamy vanilla and very clear pure fruit. The vines here are very young, and this perhaps lacks a little intensity on the mid-palate, but the acidity is elegant and the finish long and fine. 90/100. £24.99

Agustinos Viognier Reserva 2009
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Lovely Viognier nose with little herbal, greener notes to peachy fruit. The palate has nice weight and richness, a bit of leesy, skinny grip, but the freshness is good and the wine has nice punch and balance. 87/100. £9.49

Agustinos Gewürztraminer Dry Reserva Privada 2009
Bío Bío Valley El Carmen Estate. Nice Gewurz nose, with a bit of herbal, nettle character, and the more exotic lychee nose. The palate has a little bit of the same grippy, slightly phenolic character as the Viognier, but I like the freshness and the varietal character here. 87/100. £9.49

red wines

Agustinos Pinot Noir Reserva Privada 2008
Bío Bío Valley Santa Carla Estate. 11 – 12 tons per hectare. Lovely juicy nose, with some bright, strawberry and cherry fruit, with a creaminess and a touch of cedar. The palate has lovely freshness – there’s good fruit and sweetness, and a touch of aromatic tea, with nice grippy tannins and a fine finish. 88/100. £9.49

Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Superior 2008
Santa Ana Estate. 10 tonnes per hectare. A meatier nose than the Agustinos, with richer fruit and some more truffle notes. Thick, full sweetness on the palate, with great concentration. Lovely liquoricy edge to dark, plumy fruit but retaining the freshness. Lovely wine. 89/100. £9.99

Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Lo Mejor 2008
Santa Ana Estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Part whole bunch for this and the Pinots that follow. Smokier, slightly more graphite nose, with briar and some mushroom and a nice red fruit character. The palate has lovely silkiness and weight, the tannins quite grippy and the acidity lean, giving again a nice balance and sense of focus to the wine in the finish. 89/100. £10.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Oda 2007
Miraflores estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Nice briar and slightly tobacco nose, with some leaf tea notes. The palate has fine cherry and orangy acidity, with terrific clarity and focus. Lovely wine with great balance again and elegance. 90/100. £24.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Oda 2008
Miraflores estate. 8 tonnes per hectare. Herbs, liquorice and some ashy notes to this, with a fine cherry and plum fruit. The palate has a terrific juiciness, with very fine acidity and that leafy, slightly tobacco and ashy character really pushing through. The earthy, truffly character is delightful and complex. 91/100. £24.99

Veranda Pinot Noir Millerandage 2007
Santa Carla estate, Millerandage Vineyard. 6 tonnes per hectare. A selection of the bunches and grapes that are smaller, normally because they have got cooler conditions in Spring. The berries are more concentrated. They are separated at harvest time. All the vineyard and winery processes follow the biodynamic moon calendar. The wine is 100% whole-bunch. Fabulously deep, plumy, chocolate and briar nose, with a fine earthiness and a delicately herbal note of sage and smoky thyme. The fruit on the palate is very pretty – it has substance and weight, with a plumy character, but the lithe, fine tannins and the elegant acidity are delightfully poised, with a touch of orange in the finish and some spice. 92/100. Around £50.00, Harrods.

Veranda Carmenère Oda 2007
Colchagua, Apalta Valley. Minty, chocolaty ripeness. A touch of herbal quality, with earthiness too and plenty of creamy black fruit and vanilla. On the palate this has deliciously slick, svelte, velvety black fruit with a tang of blueberry and plum skin acidity. Nice spice and toast and a plush, thick palate. 91/100. £24.99.

Agustinos Malbec Gran Reserva 2007
Bío Bío, Santa Ana Estate. A touch of herbaceous character on the nose, with a farmyard undertone and the black fruit of the Malbec just coming though. The more floral character just peaking though in this wine. The palate has good freshness and balance, with some liquorice but a slightly under-fruited mid-palate, the oak and spice dominating the finish. 86/100. £14.99.

Agustinos Cabernet Sauvignon Organic ‘Maiten’ 2007
Aconcagua, Colunquen Estate. Certified organic vineyard. Very minty nose, with lots of mint leaf and High, floral notes. The palate has a cherry and red fruit, more herbs and a dried herb and pot-pourri character. Quite an unusual style, the plumy depth of fruit and fine tannins coming through. £9.49. 87/100.

Veranda Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère 2007
Colchagua, Apalta Valley. A 70/30 blend. A touch herbal and ashy, with tight blackcurrant fruit and a little hint of cherry and herbs. A little less plush and rounded than the straight Carmenère, with a slightly lean character. The sweetness is good, and this does have a raciness and richness. Very drinkable. 88/100. £10.99.

Veranda Syrah Oda 2008
From Aconcagua fruit, this has delightfully plush, velvety aromas of deep-set cherry and blackberry fruit, with a little lifted note of violet and kirsch, and a subtle, creamy spice. On the palate it is mouth-filling and has terrific fruit sweetness. There’s a dry, savoury plum and cherry skin grip, with the tannins rich and supple, but adding plenty of structure, and the acid balancing the sweet fruit and creamy, spicy oak with a peppery bite. Very nice Syrah this, marrying ripeness and power with a little bit of lithe, savoury structure too. 92/100. £24.99

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