Chilean wine roundup

This online tasting in autumn 2020 featured a broad selection of wine from Chile. These included many examples from emerging new wine regions, and the more innovative face of Chilean wine, using non-standard wine-making techniques, and some that represented an updated take on Chilean classics. Like a recent feature I published on Argentine Criolla varieties, some also celebrated the native grapes of Chile, like Pais, that have begun to take a turn in the spotlight from some switched-on winemakers, when once they were perhaps destined to be blended away into bulk wines.

It was a really interesting set of wines, that proved conclusively that Chile does much, much more than cheap and cheerful, and much much more than facsimilies of classic European styles. There was pleasure and excitment throughout this selection.

White Wines

(2021) Casa del Bosque is something of a Sauvignon specialist, and winemaker Meinard Bloem says the change over the years has been to let the wines be more 'natural' and not try to force particular aromatics. From a vineyard very close to the coast on sandy soils. Very nice, gentle herbal character, more tomato leaf than green bean, with a fine citrus freshness, joined by a touch of tropical character on the palate, plenty of acidity to counteract just a hint of sweetness.
(2021) Fascinating for me because I visited Carmen not so long ago and saw their experimental winery full of amphorae, concrete eggs and all sorts of winemaker toys, and this wine, 100% Semillon, is a result of those experiments. Like Sherry, this a small batch aged under flor. Winemaker Emily Faulconer discovered a tank with a layer of flor on her first vintage with the team, which she used it to inoculate a single barrel of Semillon, this #2 edition now four barrels and 1,000 bottles. More earthy than yeasty, I don't find the nose of this highly regarded wine totally convincing, perhaps a touch lactic and 'interesting' rather than appealing. The palate certainly changed that picture, bone dry and surging with citrus and salts, the energising blast of the fruit and acidity is striking. Would I drink a lot of this? Possibly not, but a worthy experiment. A tough wine to rate given its unique profile, and not currently for sale in the UK.

Red Wines

(2021) From a collaboration between the San Pedro winery and the Mapuche native community, a social sustainability project giving local families new viticultural skills. Winemaker Vivianna Navarrete explained the project and the Malleco region, a new region much further to the south than the central valleys, and still very few vineyards, reds being almost exclusively Pinot Noir, and this vineyard planted mostly on granite soils. Fresh, cranberry and cherry nose, a little herbal and spice quality, but mostly about fresh fruit. Tight and quite grippy on the palate, the granite freshness is there, savoury but with an elegance to the fruit, an orangy tang to the acidity. Not currently available in the UK.
(2021) Pioneers of the northen Leyda Valley, I visited Viña Leyda many years ago and was hugely impressed by the measures they had gone to to understand their soils and hillsides, mapping them minutely via 500 inspection pits they had dug to totally understand the soil composition, water retention properties, etc. This Pinot is aged for 10 months in new and second fill French oak and has a sweetly attractive nose, dark and lightly spicy, truffly and earthy, the fruit profile is black, but not heavy. In the mouth the surge of super sweet, ripe and luscious fleshy black berries is delicious, the texture quite plush and the sheen of oak adding to that impression. But again, there is no flabbiness or dead weight here: tannins and acids are brisk, and the savoury, sour cherry edge sharpens the finish.
(2021) A very different style from the Tayu 1865, with 14% alcohol as opposed to 12.5%, and more obvious barrel ageing - 14 months in barriques. Winemaker Matias Rios says that they are seeking delicacy more and more in their Pinot, helped by the cooling Humbolt current, though the climate of the Casablanca also allows roundness of tannins. Certainly more luscious and darker aromatically, dense sweet fruit, vanilla and chocolate a little floral lift. Fuller, rounder palate, again that sweet fleshy cherry fruit, smooth and silky to the finish with some spice and good cherry acidity.
(2021) Fruit from the cooler-climate valley, San Antonio and the Lo Abarca sub-zone only five kilometres from the ocean. This spends 24 months in oak, 35% new and is very much Syrah rather than Shiraz, on the cool, more herbal, Northen Rhône spectrum with only 12% alcohol. Winemaker Felipe Marin, son of the founder, describes the landscape as 'radical' with management of the vineyards necessary on an almost block by block basis - different soils, aspects and micro-climates. This from a granite block. Very much on the herbal and undergrowth spectrum, there's a hint of cocoa and darker fruit, but that herbal quality of curry leaf and bay is fascinating. There is really notable acidity on the palate - again that granitic crunch - but the svelte, compact fruit and tannins, and the juiciness of the acidity, really is lovely. Striking.
(2021) Session host Alistair Cooper says Carmenere is coming of age to an extent, only having been rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s. Winemaker for Tarapaca, Sebastian Ruiz, explains that this wine from grantic soils closer to the ocean shows the influence that terroir has on the variety. So much denser and darker in colour than the three preceding reds, there's not a lot of the green, pyrozene character of some examples, but there is a dark, glossy fruity character and some real graphite finesse. The palate follows that recipe: smooth dark fruits, supple and creamy tannins, good acid balance and great drinkability.
(2021) Winemaker Ricardo Rivadeniera explains that this comes from a very old estate originally owned by Jesuit missionaries, bought by his great grandfather in 1916. They specialise mostly on Cabernet Franc, but have been identifying places with deep clay soils that suit Cabernet Sauvignon very well. This is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon with small parts of Franc, Cermenere and Petit Verdot. Savoury, classicaly framed, with a hint of capsicum edging solid, ripe blackcurrant fruit and again a finesseful graphite touch. Rich and yet fresh on the palate, very good fruit and the savoury balance of nicely grippy tannins and acids finishes with style.
(2021) A blend of 85% Cinsault and País, with grapes from the dry Secano Interior of the Itata Valley, another of the southern valleys now appearing more frequently on labels. This is from a sub-label of Morandé, called 'Morandé Adventure', where winemakers and collaborations produce smaller volumes of more experimental wines. 'Creole' because the dry-farmed Cinsault and País are strongly rooted in the Secano Interior. Winemaker Ricardo Baettig makes this from granitic-clay soils, using carbonic maceration in concrete eggs, and with natural yeasts, and the País partky fermented in older French oak. The colour is a vivid violet-pink, the nose having soft, pulpy raspberry and strawberry fruit and a little cherry bubblegum note, the palate dry and nicely balancing that ripe, juicy and sweet fruit with a sour cherry and orange tang of acidity, the light- to medium-bodied wine finishing on spicy tannins and freshness.
(2021) Mostly Carignan with País and Cinsault, this comes from the Intrépido range, and from fruit grown in the Maule valley. Creamy and quite plush on the nose, there's some a nutmeg, perhaps tree bark note that adds a dimension to the warm berry fruit. The palate combines that ripe, fleshy plum and cherry fruitiness with nicely creamy tannins, a lovely juicy cherry-skin acidity, and again a background of spice and some vanilla. Very delicious drinking at a modest price.
(2021) The most expensive wine of the tasting at £100 per bottle, this is a Bordeaux blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Carmenere and a touch of Merlot. It comes from an ambitious young estate started just over a decade ago by Alex and Carrie Vik. The wine spends 23 months in a new French oak barrels. Winemaker Cristian Vallejo explains the estate has followed a quality path since day one, with very dense plantings of varieties researched to suit each of the 12 valleys spanned by their estate. They are even planning to use barrels from their own oak forest, and amphorae made from clay found on the estate. Great creamy depth here, a little hint of olive and then dry, savoury black fruit, some tobbaco and more exotic spices, but mostly about the fruit. In the mouth truly sumptuous, with great fruit sweetness and creaminess across the mid-palate, concentrated, but with lovely cherry-fresh juiciness, creamy tannins too, but the oak just caressing and supporting rather than dominating the picture. Very impressive.
(2021) As you may guess from the name, a high altitude wine, from coarse volcanic soils 1,245 metres up in the Andes. It spends six months in oak. Lots of classic plum and chocolate here, a nice savoury note of dried blood or game, and perhaps that high altitude adding a gently leafy, herbal nuance too. Sweet and fleshy on the palate, there's plenty of ripe fruit here, but a nicely grainy touch of tannin and chocolate/mocha note marries with good, sour cherry acidity to balance very nicely.
(2021) The Limarí Valley is another relatively new, northern valley that has quickly earned a reputation for Syrah in particular. This comes from coastal vineyards composed of stony, clay soils over limestone and is aged in French oak for around 20 months, 20% new barrels. Cool, creamy and red-fruited on the nose, there's an elegance and lift to this, some violet-like notes and a buoyant character. Excellent fruit on the palate too, more on the blackcurranty spectrum now, the obvious cooler climate credentials of acidity and tension are there, smooth but firm into the finish. Price and stockist quoted is for the previous vintage at time of review.
(2021) Premium winemaker for Santa Rita, Sebastián Labbé, makes this from a selection of their oldest vineyards in the Alto Maipo. It undergoes spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts and spends 14 months in second- and third-fill French oak barrels. Vibrant in colour and fruit profile, with blueberry and blackcurrant, but there's an olive-like herbal note too, and a subtle pencil-shaving finesse. In the mouth it offers a very silky, sweet and seductive depth of black fruits, but once again the acidity of this terroir and a chalky background of tannins adds fine freshness. Pure and fruity to the finish, it's another delicious but serious wine. No UK stockists listed at time of review.
(2021) Valdivieso were one of the first to attempt a 'super premium' wine from Chile when they launched Caballo Loco #1 almost two decades ago. Mystery surrounds it, being a non vintage wine from unspecified regions, and a blend of 10 different varieties that are never fully disclosed. Some of the wines in this blend date back to 1992, with around 50% from 2012. It is aged for 18 months in French oak. Nicely mature, gamy and in many ways Bordeaux-like on the nose, there is cedar and a peppery, spicy lift, and good black fruit. Smooth as silk on the palate, again the mind turns to Bordeaux, the aged wines ensuring a softer tannin profile, but still keen fruit and acid in balance, glycerine-rich sweetness to the mid-palate fruit, and a harmonious finish. A wine that is unique, very easy to drink, and very easy to like.

2 comments

  1. Tom, your reviews of the Floresta and Calla Loco reminded me that I have a couple of older bottles that might need opening. My Floresta is a 1997 and the Caballo Loco is the VIth Edition. I had Santa Rita’s 1997 Carmenere a couple of years ago which was quite nice and in no danger of falling over. I think Chilean reds do have long lives.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.