Tasting notes from Chile 2010

These notes accompany our in-depth feature report from Chile. Please see Regional report: Chile, from North to South.



Under Elqui’s 320 days per year of perfectly, brilliantly, luminously blue skies, UV radiation is 10 times higher than in Europe. “By law,” says Falernia’s co-owner and oenologist Giorgio Flessati, “all vineyard workers need full UV protection – clothes and creams – to be provided by their employers.” This is just one of so many things that must seem alien to Giorgio, who comes from Trentino in Northern Italy, splitting his time between the two countries.

xThe Falernia story began in 1998 when Giorgio and local Pisco producer Aldo Olivier got together and hatched a plan to make wine in Elqui. The pioneers planted on various sites, including the boulder-strewn ‘Pedragal’, an old river bed now planted with Syrah, Carmenère and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. “It was a huge amount of work to level and add a layer of soil,” Giorgio tells me. Looking at these adjacent planted and unplanted sections (right), that is apparent. The company is currently the only producer with its own winery in the Valley, making wines under the Falernia and Mayu labels: Mayu is a separate company owned by Aldo’s son Mauro, a grape grower who started producing his own wines with Falernia in 2005.

xThe highest vineyards at close to 2000 metres are mostly old vines of Pedro Ximenez, once grown for Pisco, but now making table wines (including Marks & Spencer’s very good own label dry white Perdro Ximenez) or being grafted over to Sauvignon and Torrontel – the same variety as Argentina’s Torrontés. This is a high quality operation, with selection tables manned by six people during harvest time de-selecting underripe grapes. “It’s a quiet, relaxed winery,” says Giorgio (left), “We play soft music and make gentle wines”. Giorgio also shows me their special tanks fitted with pistons that regularly and gently submerge the cap during fermentation “This is one of the reasons people think our wines have more residual sugar than they actually have – the softness of the tannins allows the fruit sweetness to stand out more.”

white wines

Falernia Antakari 2009
Late harvest Muscatel and Semillon with fine floral, peachy fruit. Quite full and rich, but sweetness is moderate and it finishes with a bit of bite through some phenolic richness and good acidity. 88/100.

Falernia Pedro Ximenez 2009
Juicy, pear and apple scents, small floral aspects and a touch of talcum. The palate has fine fruit sweetness (though only 2.9g/l residual sugar). There’s something leafy and herbal too, almost chicory like, with a nice bite of lemony acidity. 86/100.

Falernia Chardonnay 2009
95% stainless steel, the rest in old barrels. And yet the nose has a creamy richness from battonage. The palate is very crisp and juicy, with lots of lime and lemon fruit. 87/100.

Falernia Alta Tierra Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Pronounced, leafy nose – touches of marjoram and tomato plant leaves. |Lots of tight, sharply focused fruit character. The palate has a scything cut of lemon juice and leafy acidity, and a really crisp, fresh mid-palate. 88/100. £8.09, Laithwaites

Falernia Alta Tierra Viognier 2009
Delicate, slightly spearminty notes, a touch of peach and apple and some floral aspects. Fresh, crisp, nicely delineated palate with no weight and ponderous character, but very crisp, leafy and almost Sauvignon freshness. 87/100. £8.09, Laithwaites

Mayu Pedro Ximenez 2009
Perhaps not quite so expressive as the Falernia bottling, with small lemon confit notes and a touch of leafiness. The palate is drier than the Falernia, with a very tight, white apple acidity and lovely fresh, zesty palate. Drier and tighter, but very delicious. 86/100. (the £5.49 own-label PX in M&S is made by Mayu).

Mayu Torrontel 2009
Beautifully floral nose, with lovely musky aromatics and typical jasmine notes of Torrontés. Terrifically zesty palate too, with lots of crisp, juicy apple acidity and a little bit of leafy endive bite. 87/100.

Mayu Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Similar herbaceous nose, perhaps even more pungently green, delivering capsicum and green bean qualities. Very punchy and vibrant on the palate, with really nice balance of striking fruit and acidity, and a dry, decisive finish. 89/100. 2007 vintage in Asda at £6.87

red wines

Falernia Carmenère Syrah 2007
One third of the 60% Carmenère Is ‘Amarone’ style from grapes dried on the vine until June. A touch of herbaceous character, with some blackcurrant fruit beneath. The palate has a notable sweetness, though only 4.5g/l of sugar, that is very smooth and cherry-flavoured, with a touch of chocolate and a nice fresh, cherry skin and lemon bite in the finish. 87/100. £8.95, Great Western Wine.

Falernia Carmenère Reserva 2007
100% from dried grapes. Similarly leafy, though oddly not as pronounced as the blend with Syrah. That herbal edge carries on the palate, with a certain leathery note but also a fine, very cool linearity with delicious chocolaty notes and a touch of sweetness and lift. Becomes chocolaty and lip-smacking, with great richness abut freshness too. 88/100. £10.95, Great Western Wine.

Falernia Alta Tierra Syrah 2007
Very hedonistic, deep, dark and velvety fruit, with a hint of pepper and some exotic incense. The palate has weight and density, the fruit dry and plummy, those dry chocolaty tannins adding a lovely weight and full texture. 91/100. £9.99, Laithwaites

Mayu Carmenère Syrah Rosé 2009
Ripe, cherry and rosehip aromas. Very nice mouth-filling fruit, with lots of punch and vivacity, a little creamy note and plenty of soft strawberry fruit. 87/100. Mayu Syrah 2008
There’s a slightly leafy note to this, with good white pepper character. Creamy red berry fruits beneath. There’s a nice bit of chocolate and some nice creamy, dark oak. 88/100.

Mayu Syrah Reserva 2007
There’s a beefy, more meaty note to this, with some herbal notes and powerful berry fruits. There’s a huge sweetness to the fruit here – not sugar – although this perhaps doesn’t push through with the same plushness as the Falernia. 89/100.

Mayu Syrah Organic 2008
Went to Limari for a certified organic vineyard, though they have Elqui vineyards in certification. Seems lighter, with earthy and herbal aromas, and a nice fresh fruitiness. Palate, has a blue/black fruit freshness, with a nice lie and energy about it. A lighter, but delightfully fresh and juicy style. 89/100.

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eduardoThe family-owned De Martino was founded in the 1930s in Maipo. Now with the third and fourth generations involved, the company is ambitious and experimental: they were the first in Chile to label a wine as Carmenère following the discovery in the 1990s that Carmenère had been misidentified as Merlot, they are currently the only producer of a wine from the Choapa Valley appellation, and here in Elqui they farm some of Chile’s highest vineyards. I met up with winemaker Eduardo Jordán (right) and endured a particularly bumpy ride in the back of his truck, bouncing up precipitous dirt-track roads in the 30ºC mid-day heat, to reach their highest plantings at 1950 metres. The range of soils, with rocks at the top of the slopes, alluvial soils at the bottom, affords great flexibility Eduardo tells me. Temperatures peak at 32ºC, but only for a couple of hours per day. Winter sees 20 centimetres of snow cover the vineyards, but there is no frost risk, as temperatures rarely fall below -2ºC.

Eduardo’s full-time project currently is scouting for new vineyard zones, as a key company policy is to keep expanding Chile’s repertoire of wines and wine styles. They have vineyards all the way from Elqui down to Bío Bío. “Millions of years ago Chile was below sea level,” he tells me. “The coastal ranges appeared 160 million years ago, and then the Andes, and it was the valley between that was planted. Only recently has Chile understood that the valley floor is not always the best terroir for wine. Yes, the south of Chile is cold, the north is warm, but the proximity to the coast and mountains is just as important in terms of where you grow grapes.”

vineyardNext came a lesson in geology: “80% of Chile’s soils come from volcanic activity. There are still many active volcanoes – one city in the south had to be moved 20 kilometres last year because of volcanic activity. It is important to avoid the ashy soils, and find either the rounded stones and alluvial materials from the last glaciations 15,000 years ago, or colluvial soils, full of rugged, square boulders laid down by volcanic activity.” (left: the vineyards at 1950 metres. Click photo for bigger image)

All of De Martino’s vineyards are farmed organically, though not certified: “we believe in organics, not in certificates,” says Eduardo. Perhaps a little glimpse of the focus and ambition here comes when he explains how crucial terroir is to De Martino by comparing Romanée Conti’s vineyards with those of village Vosné Romanée just next door. All of De Martino’s vines are planted on their own roots. “If you change the rootstock, you change the place,” says Eduardo. “If you plant Cabernet in the same spot, on three different rootstocks, they all taste different, so obviously rootstocks do not allow the purest expression of terroir.”

white wines

De Martino Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2008
Name means ‘Dry Cliff’ in this single vineyard wine from Limari fruit. 100% barrel ferment, with a very careful barrel selection from different forests so as not to overpower fruit. 50% new oak. Deliciously honeyed nose, with nutty tones and a very cool, pure, melon fruit. There’s a gentle cashew richness, but only 10% malolactic keeps the freshness. There’s a creaminess, but also a touch of soft, leafy herbal quality and touch of salty minerality and a fine, very dry and elegant finish. Delicious and very classy. 92/100. £14.99.

red wines

De Martino Legado Syrah 2007
From the Choapa valley, south of Limari but still 200 kilometres north of Santiago. De Martino is the only producer with fruit from this valley. 100% Colluvial (volcanic formed) soils on mostly clay, 845 metres above the sea in the Andes foothills. There is a touch of resinous, almost balsamic quality, with rich, thick raspberry and darker plummy fruit notes. The palate has lots of sweetness, but a roasted chestnut richness and plenty of body, though the freshness is there, with good acidity and a bit of spice. 89/100. £8.49, Oddbins.

De Martino Alto los Toros Syrah 2008
From the 1950 metres vineyard in Elqui that I visited, this has 15% Petit Verdot in the blend. Around 600 cases only, and will be shipped to the UK early in 2010 at a price level between Legado (£8.99) and the single vineyard range at £14.99. Very deep, suave, spice and pepper wine. Lots of damson fruit, but a little exotic spice and herbal lift and some balsamic notes. The mouth retains very good freshness, with lots of dry extract and a spicy, gravelly quality to the tannins. The power is there, but it has a certain freshness and balsamic strawberry fruit quality. 90/100.

De Martino Alto de Piedra Carmenère 2007
From the Isla De Maipo. Lovely smoky quality, touches of menthol, nice schisty edge to pure, tight black fruit. The palate has a lovely blackcurrant fruit purity, but lovely softness and freshness, with a really fine tannin structure and black fruit skin acidity. 91/100. £14.99

De Martino Las Cruces Old Bush Vines 2007
Single vineyard named after a nearby hill in Cachopoal, 66% Malbec and 34% Carmenère from 60-year-old dry-farmed bush vines. The Carmenère marks the nose powerfully, with some of that green fig and eucalypt lift, but the smooth, juicy black fruit of the Malbec fills the mouth, some spice 91/100. £14.99

De Martino El Léon Carignan 2007
Old bush vine Carignan from Maule. “There’s a lot of Carignan in Maule, but you must be on the granite slopes and old vines,” says Eduardo. Fresh, lifted raspberry and redcurrant fruit, some herbal, soft sage character. The palate too has delightful freshness and grip, tight, fine tannins and tight acidity. 92/100. £14.99

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xIt was nice to meet up again with Marco Puyo (left), whom I’d last visited in 2007, hundreds of kilometres south at this giant company’s HQ in Molina. Previously of Los Vascos, Marco along with consultant winemaker Paul Hobbs from California, is charged with developing the company’s reserve lines. Over 80 hectares have been planted in Elqui “with more to come,” according to Marco. Though most of the planting is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, they have recently planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard in Elqui, as well as Riesling. The oldest blocks are Syrah, planted in 1997.

Pinot is viewed by many as being better suited to vineyards further south, but Marco says “we have the soils, ranging from volcanic colluvial soils, through the stony riverbed, to sandy soils on the terrace. We also have perfect weather, with very cool nights, so I do not know why it won’t work – I am very confident it will be good”. Viña San Pedro is today a massive player: in 2008, already a wine group with various labels in its portfolio, it merged with Viña Tarapaca / Southern Wine Group to form Viña San Pedro Tarapaca (or VSPT). Today VSPT is the third largest wine producer in Chile, second biggest exporter of Chilean wine and owns the large Cristal brewery. Heineken owns 30% of VSPT. Having such a large and business-orientated group invest so heavily in Elqui perhaps demonstrates the belief in this unique Chilean territory, though the tasting staged for me in Elqui included a range of Marco’s premium wines from across the company’s estates.

white wines

Castillo de Molina Elqui Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Fine, herbal nose, with lots of grassy, fresh cut green beans and ripe, peachy fruit. The palate has a lovely blast of tropical fruit, with lots of lime and lemon zest and glittering acidity. Really fresh stuff, with a nicely dry, mouth-watering finish. 89/100. £7.49, Majestic

1865 Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Much more subdued, misses all that piercing green fruit character of the Elqui wine, with just a soft leafy background and a passionfruit character. The palate has good, fresh fruit – lots of lemony zest, and really punchy fruit, perhaps a little more body and texture, and a bit of grip in the finish. Not in UK. 88/100.

Castillo de Molina Casablanca Valley Chardonnay 2009
Nicely creamy with a touch of oatmeal and a touch of green fig and toast. On the palate this has a trace of something slightly bitter I find: the wine has lovely freshness, and a clean, chilled melon and apple fruitiness with just a hint of more tropical fruit, but the freshness and acidity – and the length- are all good. 88/100.

red wines

Castillo de Molina Maule Carmenère 2008
Around 25% aged on year in new French oak, the remainder in older French oak. Really lovely, ripe, quite glossy fruit here, with cassis and thick, sweet black berries. Gentle, smoky toastiness in the background. Lovely fruit sweetness and very soft tannins, there’s an almost creamy strawberry fruit to this and a very soft, chocolaty finish. Delicious and fresh in the finish. 89/100

Castillo de Molina Maule Valley Syrah 2008
Picked a full month before the Carmenère. Bright, creamy red berries. A touch of cigar box and incense spice, a touch of pepper. The palate is well-balanced and fine, with a nicely racy character. Fresh in the finish, though lacks a touch of flesh perhaps, but balanced and delicious. 87/100. £7.49, Majestic.

Castillo de Molina Cachapoal Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
A more meaty character, with a touch of coffee and just a little touch of black olive, savoury character. It has a dry, savoury character, with plenty of firmness and a nicely grippy finish. Structured and food-friendly. 88/100.

1865 Cachapoal Syrah 2007
A single vineyard wine. Rich, balsamic character, with lots of smoky, meaty notes. Lovely mouth-filling texture and fruit sweetness to set against slightly austere, dusty tannins. Structured and quite complex this and should develop. 91/100. This wine in available through the restaurant trade in the UK.

1865 Maule Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Rich, thick, sweet black fruit, with a cedary character and a real gamy, meaty edge again. This has lovely fruit sweetness and a rich, chewy texture. The oak is dark and coffeeish, and the soft but quite grippy, sinewy tannins add nice freshness along with good acidity. 90/100.

1865 Limited Edition Elqui Valley Syrah 2007
Only the second ever limited edition Syrah, and the first from Elqui – 1,000 cases. From the oldest vineyard, planted in 1997. Big, coffeeish, rich nose, suffused with smoky bacon and dark, mulberry fruit. The palate has a great richness and smooth, silky texture. There’s a massive fruit sweetness on the palate and lovely freshness. A big wine, but balanced and long. 91/100.

Cabo de Hornos 2006
The name means Cape Horn. 80% Curico Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cachapoal Syrah and 5% Maule Malbec. Eighteen months in mostly new French barrels. Lots of Sandalwood and incense aromatics, with a dusty, blueberry and blackcurrant fruit. The fruit is fresh on the palate, with a bit of cherry fruit and very silky tannins. The palate has lovely sour orange acidity and lots of grip, the Malbec perhaps adding a little extra damson skin and plumy darkness. 91/100.

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TabalíBefore heading to their beautiful estate in the Enchanted Valley (right – click for larger version), winemaker Felipe Müller took me on what seemed like a never-ending drive along dirt tracks through a wilderness of forest and scrub in the coastal mountains. Finally we reached Tabalí’s newest, and clearly what Felipe regards as most exciting, vineyards that lie just 12 kilometres from the sea.
“This is the only marine terrace in Chile,” Felipe told me. “It is full of shells and fossils and is pure limestone overlaid with chalk.” Planted with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling, Felipe says “This soil is particularly good for making mineral wines – the Sauvignon Blanc from here is unique. The limestone is very fractured, so it is easy for vines to put their roots down. These are new aromas and flavours for Chile.” Temperatures at the new site are also 2ºC lower than at the home vineyards. Tabalí’s home estate is truly stunning; an oasis carved into the desert surrounded by lavender fields, acres of manicured lawns and the winery set in a hollow so it is barely visible from the surface. Here, the last glaciation period filled the valley with mountain material which the rivers eroded, leaving a series of river terraces. Tabalí is on the fourth and highest terrace. Felipe is quick to point out that this is similar to Bordeaux where there are six terraces of the Gironde, and all the best Châteaux are on the 3th and 4th.

xFelipe arrived at Tabalí in 2006 from De Martino, and says a lot of his work has been on understanding the soils and depth of root systems. They now have a much finer control of their vineyards. “I no longer pick whole blocks – it is easy to send the machines out and harvest a couple of blocks in a day, but we now have analysed our plantings using electro-connectivity mapping (measuring clay depth and soil profile) and can see the depth of clay or amount of limestone beneath for example. We will pick the same block three times at quality A, B and C – these might go into $50, $20 and $10 wines.” An irrigation regime dumps a lot of water on the vines only every 20 days, to encourage roots to go down through the clay layer to find deeper water.

Back to those coastal vineyards in the mountains, Felipe says that next year they will be planting one-hectare experimental blocks of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot and Carignan to see what this ‘unknown’ terroir can bring.

white wines

Tabalí Reserva Chardonnay 2008
Unoaked. Creamy, soft, slightly floral perfume on the nose, with gentle nutty notes and some herbal notes. The palate has cool, lemony and mineral character, with a touch of that leafy character, quite a rich texture and a nice, pleasantly focused and clean. 86/100. £6.95.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2008
Comes from the higher quality parts of the vineyard, fermented in Burgundian French oak and aged 10 months. Beautifully creamy, hazelnut nose, with aromatic spices and notes of fennel and flint. The palate has a core of salty minerality, with a creamy texture, but quite a tight, focused fruit quality – citrus and fresh cut apple juiciness, with an orangy note to the acidity. Quite lean and delicious. 90/100. £9.99, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2009
The first release from the new Calica vineyard near the coast that I visited. A Sauvignon in the stony, flinty, mineral mould, with only very subdued green aromatics, leafy herbs and a huge core of citrus. There is terrific bite and decisiveness to this, with that cool and flinty core to it. Very concentrated. 90/100. £9.99, The Wine Society

Tabalí Reserva Viognier 2009
Very aromatic – lots of pepper and lots of floral aromatics, with little notes of ginger and even a certain smokiness. On the palate it is fruity and fresh, with really good acidity and a lovely freshness in the finish. A really nice, easy drinking Viognier that it not too phenolic or rich. 88/100. £6.95, Virgin Wines.

red wines

Tabalí Reserva Rosé Pinot Noir 2009
Quite a ripe strawberry fruitiness, and nice touch of cherry and rose-hip. The palate has lovely fruit but a sense of lightness too. Good cherry skin nip of tannin and good lemony acidity. Fresh and very appetising. 87/100. £6.95, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008
Only 20% of the oak is new. Lovely, deep, chocolate and spice nose, with nice aromatic oak, lots of fennel and exotic seeds and spices. Delicious strawberry fruit with only gentle leafy and truffle and those little spice and chocolate notes offset by good acidity and fine tannins. Very good quality at the price here. 89/100. £9.99, Virgin Wines.

Tabalí Reserva Syrah 2008
Just a touch of camphory, leafy green to this, with tomato skin notes, some spice and red berry fruit. The palate has a real edge of freshness running through it, with some really nice, rich fruit beneath and blackberry tartness and sweetness. Quite chocolaty tannins and very good elegance and structure. 88/100. £7.99, Virgin Wines

Tabalí Reserva Especial Syrah 2008
Comes from a very special block that was about to be re-grafted because yields were so poor. Felipe has worked on the vineyard, which still produces low-yielding, small bunches. Now around 3,000 case production. It still has that touch of green herbs, but adds in extra smoky, peppery qualities. There is a meatiness to this – smoked meats – and really dense fruit as well as a coffeeish quality. The palate has lots of fruit sweetness and concentration. Quite silky too, with a smooth, rounded, but quite forceful tannic grip. There’s a dry savouriness too, with black olive and that meatiness. 91/100. £9.99, The Wine Society.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Red Blend 2007
70% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Aged 18 months in French oak. Some stewed tomato and deep mulberry fruit, with lots of ripeness, a touch of chocolate mint and a deep, slightly smoky quality. There is a really nice fruit quality here, the sweetness and focus of fruit filling the palate. Tannins are quite fine-grained and smooth, but fine acidity drives this through, with a freshness and long, supple, poised finish. 91/100. £14.99, Boutinot.

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Tamaya’s facility in Limari is enormous, but then most of the space is given over to a large fruit growing and packing business that was here long before wine was made. Indeed we left with what seemed like a lifetime supply of delicious Papayas.

pabloThe winery is run as a separate operation, and indeed was the pioneering presence in Limari, with vineyards planted in 1997 and the winery itself constructed in 2001. Winemaker Pablo Martin (shown left as we enjoyed a glass of rosé at the highest point in the vineyards) conducted a brief tour of the estate, the vineyards covering a large area with soils running through sand and clay over gravel and limestone. Pablo explained how the vineyards were laid out with different orientations, changing from north-south to east-west according to the landscape, to protect them more from Limari’s strong sunlight – solar radiation here, as in Elqui, is very intense, so the vines need a certain amount of protection.

The canopy of leaves over each vine is also managed to create a ‘parasol’ effect, and Limari’s afternoon breezes help mitigate heat – the vineyards are 19 kilometres from the ocean. The combination of freshness and dry, sunny but relatively cool conditions also means farming here needs only minimal chemical intervention against pests and disease. Tamaya produces several product ranges, with only French oak barrels used in their upper-level bottlings. Sangiovese and Viognier join the more expected varietals.

white wines

Tamaya Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Nicely crisp and vibrant Sauvignon, with some leafy aromatics and a gooseberry freshness. Very delicious, mouth-wateringly crisp, lemon zest palate with quite a nice weight and flesh, and a balanced, dry finish. 87/100. £6.99 – £7.99.

Tamaya Chardonnay 2009
Nice little hint of honeyed weight to fleshy yellow plum fruit and a gentle background oatmeal toast. Nice fresh palate too, with good orangey fruit and plenty of citrusy life, but there’s a nice hint of that richness and vanillin, and a moreish, easy drinking finish. 87/100.

Tamaya VCS 2009
A blend of 50% Viognier, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of apricot and peachy quality in the nose here, with a nutty character and good citrusy punch on the palate. Juicy and limey, with a touch of the Sauvignon’s green leaf freshness making for a delicious drink. 87/100.

Tamaya Chardonnay Reserva 2008
Oak-aged, around 90% of it French with 10% American, and in 400-litre barrels, not smaller barriques. Quite a powerful, toasty character here, with Brazil nut and a touch of coffee. A good quality of green, figgy fruit beneath. The palate has good texture and a full mid-palate, with the melon and nutty fruit character giving way to nicely defining acidity. Well-balanced. 88/100. £8.99 – £9.99

Tamaya Viognier Chardonnay 2008
60% Viognier, each variety harvested a month apart, Chardonnay first. Clean, bright aromas, with a floral aspect and bright peachiness. The palate has a freshness and lightness that seems to be typical of Viognier from this valley, with a little creamy, custardy note beneath. 88/100.

Tamaya Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Twenty percent of this fermented in oak. The oak is well-managed and very subtle, but the expression slightly subdued. The palate is racy and fine, with clean, crisp, lemon freshness, but perhaps lacks a little expression for the price. 87/100. £11.99 – £12.99

Tamaya Winemaker’s Selection Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2008
100% barrel-fermented. Fine, alluring toasty nose, with lots of Brazil nut and buttery aromas, and a nicely ripe yellow plum and melon fruitiness. The palate has lovely weight: the oak is nicely supportive but not overpowering, and the juicy, lemony quality of the acidity cuts through a full mid-palate. Deliciously balanced. 90/100.

red wines

Tamaya Merlot Sangiovese 2008
85% Merlot. Pleasantly herbal and earthy, with a touch of tobacco and red plum fruit. Quite a bright, racy palate, with good fruit sweetness, but a nicely savoury character too. The slightly green note detracts slightly on the finish, but I like the spicy freshness of this and it would be a good food wine. 87/100. £6.99 – £7.99.

Tamaya Carmenère 2008
No pyrozene aromas here, but then it is fairly subdued aromatically overall. A nice hint of dusty black fruit. On the palate fairly racy, with good acidity and a nicely sharpened fruit appeal, with a liquoricy savoury edge. Another savoury, lean style, but successful. 87/100.

Tamaya Carmenère Reserva 2008
Eighty percent French and 20% American oak for 10 months. A blend from Tamaya North and South vineyards. There’s an extra layer of polish and plushness to this, with a certain meatiness and ripe berry fruit. The palate still has that edge of raciness, but again a slightly more plush depth of fruit that pushes through with spicy concentration. 89/100. £8.99 – £9.99

Tamaya Syrah Reserva 2008
Co-ferment with around 4% Viognier, which is harvested at the same time. The Viognier certainly adds a little floral, fruity lift to this, with very pure blackberry fruit and a touch of meatiness beneath. The palate has a slightly baked quality perhaps, but the fruit comes through nicely and the freshness of the acidity, with smooth tannins. 87/100.

Tamaya Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Reserva 2008
The nose has a dusty Malbec character, with a little touch of floral, violet lift. The palate has good fruit, very cool and maintains a nice edge. Fine cherry skin bite and freshness. 89/100.

Tamaya Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2008
Very nice rich, chunky Cabernet style, with a certain blue-black dustiness and earthiness. The palate has lovely, thick blackcurrant fruit, with still that dry, savoury, black olive character of this region that keeps it savoury and moreish. 90/100.

Tamaya Carmenère Winemaker’s Selection 2008
Barrel aged for 12 months. Really big, creamy, ripe nose, with lots of thick, sweet black fruit, and a lovely ripe generosity. The palate too has fine sweet black fruit, with a lifted, violet and damson skin edge, with lots of acidity and fine tannins adding terrific zest and structure. 90/100. £11.99 – £12.99

Tamaya Syrah Winemaker’s Selection 2008
Very fine, gravelly, graphite nose, with refined, tight black fruit. The palate has that tight, sinewy character too. Does this lack a little mid-palate weight and richness? It is a lean, savoury, even severe style, but the pure fruit does develop a little more coffee richness on the finish, with touches of spice. 89/100.

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xI warmed to owner Horacio Vicente (right) immediately as he greeted me at his modest winery, rather tucked away from the main tourist routes of the Aconcagua, but doing a roaring trade at their popular ‘cellar door’ wine shop. “The cellar door is our main sales channel for the local market,” he tells me. “It saves us fighting with everyone else for a space in the supermarkets.” This pragmatic attitude set the tone for my visit, and indeed seems to inform the whole operation. Not that Horatio’s ambition for the estate is in any way lacking: indeed he is one of the most single-minded, thoughtful and focused wine producers in Chile. Horatio’s father started the farm as a grape grower in 1974, meaning there is genuine old vine material here. Having moved into bulk wine production in 1992, it was not until Horatio took over running the company that they finally established their own bottled wine label in 2000. Today they farm 120 hectares sustainably, with synthetic herbicides and pesticides used only as a last resort. But some plots are fully organic certified, where the conditions are right. Horatio and his young winemaker Juan José Olea know every inch of their estate, which has plantings on both the valley floor and up into the hillsides.

Horatio explains that the valley floor is planted on sandy and alluvial soils, whilst the hillsides here are very friable, fractured rock. On the hill there is never any need to acidify the wines unlike the wines from the valley floor. The Valley floor gives softer tannins and earthier flavours; the hillside firmer tannins but more fruit-driven flavours. San Esteban’s ‘In Situ’ label is the one that comes to the UK and is a beautifully conceived wine brand. Horatio’s pragmatic approach to his consumer-driven business also shows him to be single minded and fearless: “We are switching from using 70% French and 30% American oak for our Carmenère to a 50/50 balance,” he tells me. Speaking to a wine journalist, this is tantamount to confessing a crime – the mood for serious wines worldwide is so firmly against American, and for French, oak. “I know it is not a very cool think to say,” laughs Horatio, “but there is so much snobbery about French oak and the fact is American suits Carmenère – and when you actually test it, consumers love it.”

white wines

In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Chardonnay 2009
2,000 cases only, fermented and aged in French oak, the top white. Nice cashew and almond notes, with some apple and riper, more melony fruit. 87/100. £7.99, Oxford Wine Co.

In Situ Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Rather oxidised character, with some Sherried qualities to the fruit. Palate is brighter, with a more lemony freshness, but this is not showing well and I doubt if it is a representative bottle (tasted way up in the vineyards so no second bottle available).

red wines

In Situ Estate Bottled Reserva Syrah Rosé 2009
Made from 100% organic grapes, as a bleed-off from the high-end Syrah, around 5% was fermented in French oak. Big, rich, red fruit nose, with lots of summer pudding fruits. The palate has good weight, though there’s a slightly tart, bitter lemon note set against 5.6g/l of residual sugar that just give a touch sweet/sour. 86/100. Not yet in UK, but would be £5.99.

In Situ Estate Bottled Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
50% of wine in older oak barrels. Nice tobacco and gentle herbal aromas, with a plumy, sweet, quite gamy edge beneath. A touch of mint. On the palate there is a fruit sweetness here, with just a little cloying hint, but then the acidity freshens it. 86/100. £5.99.

In Situ Signature Wines Syrah Cabernet 2008
Organic farmed, but the vineyard in conversion, so not certified. Some new oak in this blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of attractive, meaty, pepper and spice aromas, with lots of mulberry fruit. Mouth-filling and rich, with bold, dense black fruit, the Cabernet adds a grippy, robust finish. 87/100. £6.99.

In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Syrah 2008
Sweet, rich black berry fruit. Nice and bold, but maintains a cool, only very lightly earthy and leafy character. The palate has thick, black plum and cherry, with really quite a fleshy palate weight and rounded, svelte tannins. Good balance here, and a lot of wine for the money 89/100. £7.99.

In Situ Winemaker’s Selection Carmenère 2008
10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Try to pick just after the vegetative, green period for Carmenère, but before it becomes over-ripe. Quite a dusty, earthy aroma, with a meaty edge, and solid black fruit. On the palate Really nice extraction – not overdone, but has grip. 87/100. £8.99.

In Situ Gran Reserva Carmenère 2008
More new oak in this line. Five percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Big, dusty, cassis and blueberry nose, with lots of coffee and spice, and a hint of rich mocha. The palate has real fruit sweetness, with a mid-palate weight and good intensity, the sweet, smooth tannins and nice black cherry skin bite. 89/100. £9.99.

In Situ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
5% each of Carmenère and Cabernet Franc. Very elegant, very soft berry fruit. Some smokiness and a certain schisty, gravelly quality. The palate has delightful fruit, a rich, sweet, rounded silky texture and sweet fruit. The palate has lovely length and elegance. 89/100 £9.99.

In Situ Laguna del Inca 2008
40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenère. Big, quite plush nose, with a richness and cedary, polished wood quality. There is a depth of something earthy and smoky, the fruit on the palate is savoury and lithe, with sinewy tannins and a nicely poised, elegant, quite classic finish. 91/100. £14.99.

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Errazuriz is a familiar name in the UK and currently bang on form: The Wine Gang recently awarded their 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay Budget Wine of the Year for 2009. The company is family-owned, and in charge today is Eduardo Chadwick, the fifth generation and descendant of founder Don Maximiano Errázuriz, who first planted vines here in 1870.

errazuriz new cellarI visited their historic Don Maximiano estate at very exciting moment: just a hundred metres from the beautiful, century-old headquarters building, the finishing touches were being put to a brand new winery specifically designed to make Errazuriz ‘icon’ wines (click photo for larger image). In stark contrast to the old farm, the new, gravity-fed winery will be opened in time to make this year’s Don Maximiano, Vinedos Chadwick and Seña under the direction of head winemaker Francisco Baettig who met me for a guided tour through Errazuriz’s extensive portfolio.

francisco baetiggFrancisco (left) has been in charge of winemaking since 2003, having worked in Casa Lapostolle and Santa Carolina before that, though he studied and lived in France (making wine at Laroche in Chablis and Château Bon Pasteur in Pomerol amongst others) as well as making wine across the Andes, for Lurton in Argentina. Francisco seemed particularly excited about the company’s new vineyard called Manzanar, which is sited far west of the home estate, only 12 kilometres from the ocean. This will be part of the new ‘Coastal Aconcagua’ appellation if the proposed changes happen, and will come on-stream next year with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As for the icon wines, Francisco is pleased by the way the 2007s are looking: “It’s maybe even better than 05, which everyone says was great: 07 will be a bit more delicate, but still with density and concentration.”

Francisco also underlines the importance of mid-market level wines for Chile: “With our entry level wines we are attempting to show varietal typicity, but the mid-range is very interesting for us and for Chile,” he says. “Chile has over-delivered at lower levels in the past, so now we really need to do that £7 – £12 range too.”

white wines

Sauvignon Blanc Estate 2009
From Aconcagua, this has beautifully juicy, fresh, passionfruit and gooseberry aromatics. Nice mid-weight style with a touch of soft, leafy herbs, but mostly fruity with some lemony character. The palate has a great thrust of fat, juicy, lemon and lime zest with tropical overtones of pineapple and mango. Terrific tang and zest into the finish. 88/100. £7.99.

Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard 2009
Aconcagua again, and a deeper, almost figgy edge to the character with much more of that passionfruit and some lychee aromas in an intense wine showing some tomato leaf too. There’s a herbaceous character here, with that power and some grapefruit pith character giving a real edge to the peachy, fleshy fruit. 89/100. £8.99.

Chardonnay Wild Ferment 2008
Casablanca fruit for this 100% barrel-fermented wine, all in French oak, though new oak has been diminishing – this one only around 12% new. Complex oatmeal, honey and cashew notes, with an earthiness and touch of onion skin, yeastiness. The palate has lovely breadth and weight, the texture is mouth-filling, but it keeps really good tangy weight with a great thrust of orangy fruit and acidity, with some toasty notes in the finish. 92/100. £9.99

red wines

Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2009
From the Central Valleys this is quite bold, with a cherry skin edge and red liquorice. The palate has delightfully full, sweet fruit, but retains very good varietal character, with cassis and a nice hint of leafiness, and very good balance. A delightfully drinkable style, but also food-friendly with a touch of tannin and acidity. 87/100. £7.99

Pinot Noir Wild Ferment 2008
Casablanca again, and around 25% of the wine is barrel aged. Big, quite bold and ripe and powerful wine, with deep coffee and earthy notes, a lot of dark, ripe plum and berries. The palate has fie weight and richness, with plenty of weight and smooth, silky tannins. Lovely weight and mouth-feel, the spice and acidity extending the finish against the sweet, round fruit and smoky oak. 90/100. £9.99.

Merlot Max Reserva 2007
From Aconcagua, there’s a little Carmenère in this. Touches of cedar and a graphite character, and although this has a tight, fruity quality, there is a little hint of the Carmenère character. There’s a fat, juicy fleshiness to this, with a lovely dry, cherry and plum skin bite and tang, with the acidity and the tannins just adding a robust, roughening edge that is delightful. 90/100. £10.29

Carmenère Estate 2009
Aconcagua fruit. Tiny violetty, floral character to this. For Carmenère, quite bright fruit with a red berry quality and just a freshening hint of herbal quality. On the palate there is a lovely mocha edge to the fruit, and that black fruit intensity comes through more. Balanced and good quality. 87/100. £7.99

Shiraz Max Reserva 2007
Aconcagua fruit again. Errazuriz was the first to bring Shiraz to Chile in 1993, with their first wine appearing in 1997. Big, ripe, sweet nose, with lots of chocolate mint and pure black berry and currant fruit. The palate has intense fruit sweetness: chocolaty and rich, with a real juicy black plum and berry fruit and a really nice, long, silky finish with some spice and some charry, smoky notes and a supple, chocolaty tannin structure. Delicious. 90/100. £10.99.

Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2008
Aconcagua. Gently earthy and cedary, with a lot of ripe berry fruit beneath, and a certain sense of richness. Very sweet and ripe fruit on the palate. Seems almost sweet in the finish, and though no doubt a very good and delicious commercial wine, slightly sweet for my palate. 86/100. £7.99

The Blend 2007
45% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 25% Carmenère, 5% Roussanne all from Aconcagua. The Roussanne is “very neutral on the nose but gives acidity and freshness.” Big coffee and cream nose, with lots of coconut and smoky vanilla. The palate has lovely weight and silkiness, the delicious weight and smooth, very silky fruit and tannin making a seamless, mouth-filling finish. Fresh and structured too, and will age. 91/100. £14.99, Waitrose

Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2006
Aconcagua fruit and 100% French oak. 82% Cabernet, 8% Franc, 5% each of Petit Verdot and Syrah. Very, deep, ripe, game and bloody scent, with overripe, rich black fruit. Deliciously dark, chocolaty notes and some subtle spice – but very much fruit driven. The palate has lovely fruit: a really fine, graphite edge, with a tight, fine-tannin structure and good acidity, all playing against the sweet intensity of the fruit. Very impressive and marrying hedonistic fruit depth and sweetness with subtle structure. 93/100. £29.99.

Seña 2006
Aconcagua fruit for this wine now solely owned by Errazuriz (originally a joint venture with Mondavi). Cabernet Sauvignon with 16% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 10% Carmenère and 6% Cabernet Franc. A subtle, understated nose, with cedar and polished old wood notes, subtle spice and a refined Cabernet fruitiness. There is a touch of racy and herbal, balsamic quality, with such pure, cool, purity to the fruit. It has delightful fruit sweetness, but the silky, chocolaty tannins and pin-point acidity bring this to a very fine point in the finish. Much softer and more subtle than the Don Maximiano, but fabulous quality. 94/100. £45.00

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

xViña Casablanca is part of the Santa Carolina group, and sister to Santa Carolina winery. Both take fruit from these vineyards. There’s a strong environmental conscience at work too: with relatively little rain in the valley they have their own water recycling plant, and the production is certified as carbon neutral, for the whole process of manufacture and transport. The group also plants an acre of native forest for every acre they plant to vine, and a move towards lighter weight bottles is their next objective. Winemaker Ximena Pacheco (left) has worked in Hungary, making white wines and a little Tokaji, and has been with Casablanca for just a year. She explains that Casablanca’s entry-level ‘Cefiro’ range and their premium ‘Nimbus’ range are named after the valley’s wind and clouds respectively – the two elements that make the Casablanca Valley so suitable for fresher wine styles.

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

white wines

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

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

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

red wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

white wines

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

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

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

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

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

red wines

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

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

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

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

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

Viña Mar Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Alluvial stony soils in Rapel, with 7% Syrah and a couple of percent each of Carmenère and Cabernet Franc. It was oak aged in a mix of new and older barrels. The nose has some deep-set black berry fruit set against a certain earthiness and a touch of gravelly minerality. The oak is quite subtle and fragrant, giving a delicate spice. On the palate the fruit Is good – this is a smooth, dense wine with good, tight structure. 89/100. Viña Mar Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008
Beautifully expressive, chocolaty nose, with ripe, deep berry fruit. There is some smokiness and briary, sweet undergrowth, but it is driven by that opulent fruit. The palate has delightful fruit too, with a silky density and rich, sweet, chocolaty tannins. A really beautifully poised, plush but elegant Pinot. 91/100. 12.99

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

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morande restaurantMorandé and Vistamar belong to the same group and each has vineyards in Casablanca as well as in other valleys. I met up with them at Morandé’s smart restaurant just off the highway that runs through Casablanca. Separate tastings with the key personnel from each operation had been set up in adjoining rooms, suggesting that whilst they share common ownership, they like to be seen as distinct operations. Technical Director Pablo Morandé’s name is renowned throughout the Chilean industry. It was he who first planted vines in Casablanca way back in 1982, whilst as Concha y Toro’s senior winemaker he developed the top Don Melchior label, before leaving the company in 1996 to start Viña Morandé.

macarena morandeWinemaker for Morandé is Pablo’s daughter Macarena (left). Macarena takes specific responsibility for the Reserva level wines, and seems to relish following in her father’s pioneering footsteps. “In 1982 Concha y Toro simply didn’t believe in the valley,” she tells me, “which is why my father planted the vineyard on his own.” Today Morandé owns 133 hectares of its own prime vineyard in Casablanca, with most to be found in the Belen estate, an old cattle farm at between 280 and 350 metres altitude, which was not planted until 2004. Macarena tells me they have identified eight distinct terroirs within the farm, with varying soils and micro-climates. She is also excited about a new premium winery, which will be built at Belen in 2011.

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

xThere’s another woman winemaker in charge at Viña Vistamar, the delightful Irene Paiva whom I’d met before, but neither of us could quite place where: Irene has a formidable CV and has worked with some of the world’s best winemakers. She came to Vistamar from Viña San Pedro where she was chief winemaker, and has served her time at both Caliterra and Errazuriz before that. Irene stresses the freedom she has, currently planting new vineyards and developing new products and new ranges from the various valleys within the Vistamar brand. The main winery in is the Rapel Valley, though the company stresses that expressing regional character is key within the three tiers of its range.

white wines

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

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

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

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

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

red wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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