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One on One With Winemaker: Brett Jackson of Viña Valdivieso, Chile

June 19, 2017 4 comments
Viña Valdivieso vineyards

Source: Viña Valdivieso

Today, sparkling wines are produced everywhere, and we are getting quite used to it. Sometimes, it comes almost to a surprise when we hear that particular producer doesn’t offer any sparkling, at least as part of the “winery special”. But this was not the case even 10 years ago, when the sources of the sparkling wine were much more limited.

When you are thinking about Chilean wines, well respected worldwide, what kind of wines come to mind first? I would bet you are thinking about Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Sauvignon Blanc and may be some Chardonnay. I would also safely bet that you don’t think of Chile as a producer of the sparkling wines, right? So without asking google or reading ahead, can you pause for a second and think when could Sparkling wines be commercially made in Chile?

While spending time in France, Don Alberto Valdivieso fell in love with Champagne. As a matter of fact, he loved it so much that upon his return to Chile in 1879, he founded Champagne Valdivieso and became the first producer of the sparkling wines in Chile and the whole of South America.

Fast forward to today and Viña Valdivieso produces the full range of sparkling wines, including both Viña Valdivieso produces the full range of sparkling wines, including both méthode champenoise and Charmat, and the extensive line of still wines which includes a unique solera-method dry red called Caballo Loco. I had an opportunity to sit down (albeit, virtually) with the Viña Valdivieso Winemaker, Brett Jackson, and ask him a few  bunch of questions – here is what transpired from our conversation:

[TaV]: I would guess that Viña Valdivieso first sparkling wines were made with the Traditional Method. When did the Viña Valdivieso start producing sparkling wines using Charmat method?

[VV]: Valdivieso started making sparkling wines from 1879, all the bottles in traditional method. Only from the eighties began the elaboration by Method Charmat

[TaV]: What is the oldest sparkling wine which can be found in your cellars? What was the oldest Viña Valdivieso sparkling wine you ever tried?

[VV]: For the earthquakes of 1985 and 2010, that affected our underground cava,  we lost bottles from the early fifties to the present. We only recovered some bottles from 1996 onwards that are still preserved in our cellar.

[TaV]:  Do you make any single vineyard sparkling wines? What about vintage sparklers?

[VV]: For Traditional method, we have single vineyard Valdivieso Blanc du Blanc made of 100 % Chardonnay and Valdivieso Blanc du Noir with 100% Pinot Noir

Since 2013, we started using the label vintage in Valdivieso Blanc du Blanc. Actually, the new portfolio sparkling for Champenoise Caballo Loco Grand Cru 2014 uses an exceptional vintage.

[TaV]:  When you produce Traditional Method sparkling wines, do you follow the path of the French Champagne and try to achieve consistent “Chateau” taste profile? How many Vin Clairs your typical blend include? Do you use also reserve wines, and what would be the oldest you would use?

[VV]: We use different vintages to give consistency to our portfolio. Charmat Limited include 2 years at least in different percentage of varieties, blending,   Traditional method we use Both of 1 vintage as well as several in blending. Currently, the use of expedition liquor for some 2014 bottles of traditional method is from 2011 vintage.

[TaV]:  Do you use sustainable farming methods? What about organic – you do it now or have any plans?

[VV]: Our farming methods are sustainable, being certified with the Wines of Chile Sustainable code. We are working with a 15Ha organic vineyard in the south of Chile with some very exciting red varieties. Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Carmenere, Tannat, Carignan, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. The first wines from this vineyard should be appearing late 2018.

[TaV]:  What was your most challenging vintage for the sparkling wines and why?

[VV]: 2012 and 2013 the most difficult, extremely challenging because of the huge amount quantity per hectare. We don´t have Traditional method these years, except Blanc du Blanc 2013, 100%  chardonnay.  The Chardonnay variety was the only one that excelled to maintain consistency in quality and longevity for its storage in bottles.

[TaV]: What was your most difficult vintage for the still wines and why?

[VV}: 2016, the most difficult, lots of rain during April. Chile lost around 30% of the harvest due to these rains. Extremely challenging conditions.

[TaV]: What were you favorite vintages for the still and sparkling wines?

[VV]: For still wines 2000 through to 2010 were exceptional with a string of outstanding vintages, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010. I would give the edge to the 2005 vintage, great balance in the wines, maturity, acidity, and exceptional flavor.

For sparkling wines 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016. because of the balance of fresh maturity, big natural acidity, fresh fruity character . 2014 was the best, with the fruit from consolidated new areas for traditional method such as Biobio, Limarí, Itata, and new improves for charmat with vines so close to Andes mountains and Coastal range. 2014 is the first vintage for a new sparkling label called Caballo Loco Grand Cru Biobio Valley , Brut Nature and Blanc du Noir, currently available.

Viña Valdivieso wines

[TaV]: Today you produce still white wines from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Have you ever experimented with any other white varietals? Any plans to introduce any new Viña Valdivieso white wines?

[VV]: We do a small amount of Viognier. In the near future we will be launching Rousanne and Marsanne. Both look very promising with great potential.

[TaV]: What is the “Next Big White Grape” for Chile? Is there one?

[VV]: The “next big” is white wine. It is not easy to see as on an international scale, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay dominate to such an incredible extent.

[TaV]: Same question for the reds – is there “Next Big Red Grape” for the Chilean wines?

[VV]: For individuality and exceptional quality, the old vine Carignan from the Maule Valley is making a substantial mark. Also, Syrah has the potential to produce exceptional wines from many different areas of Chile.

[TaV]: For how long do you produce your Syrah wines? What is your inspiration for the Syrah? Is there an international style you would compare Viña Valdivieso Syrah to?

[VV]: We have been producing Syrah for around 10 years. When looking at what we try and achieve, I really look to the northern Rhone, trying to capture spice, black and white pepper. Our style has evolved over the years, initially being more of a new world dark rich style, whereas now I would compare more to soft spicy Rhone style. However Syrah is so unique in that as a red wine every area it is grown in, it produces a wine which is unique to that area.

[TaV]: What is the story behind Caballo Loco? Why all of a sudden to produce Solera-style red wine? Do you produce this wine every year? How do you say it is changing year over year?

[VV]: Caballo Loco, has a long history in Chile, the first edition being released in the early nineties. It was created through a series of events between the winemaking team, sales team, and owners. It is a reflection of the innovative nature of Valdivieso, and not being afraid to try new  While it is based on our solera Sistema, each bottling is unique and such receives an individual edition number. The current edition on the market is the N°16, which contains 20 different vintages. The new edition N°17 will contain 50% of the previous edition (in this case N°16), and 50% of the new vintage wine. This method allows us to evolve the nuances of the wine over time. Over the years new vineyards, areas, varieties, and techniques have been incorporated into the wine. Each new edition is released when it is ready, which is not necessarily on an annual basis. Roughly every 18 months a new edition is released.  The subtle changes over the years for me is principally increasing complexity and depth as we have come to better understand the vineyards of Chile and the opening of new areas.

[TaV]: It seems that Valdivieso ÉCLAT was produced only once in 2011, with an unusual for Chile blend of grapes. As there a story behind this wine? Any plans to produce a new vintage?

[VV]: Eclat VIGNO, is a blend of Old vine Carignan and Mourvedre. We are part of the VIGNO, a group of 13 wineries which has created this label VIGNO. It is an aggrupation which has been lead by winemakers with the objective to highlight the exceptional quality of these old vine vineyards in the Maule Valley. To place VIGNO on the label the wine must contain 100% of old vine from the Maule Valley. Of this, a minimum of 65% must be old vine Carignan. This is also intended to improve the situation of the small growers in the area, an area with many small growers which had in the past been obliged to sell there Carignan grapes for generic red blends, in which they were diluted away. Now with this initiative, the fruit is sought by many wineries for its quality potential resulting in substantially better prices for the growers. There will definitely be another vintage when the wine is ready.

[TaV]: What’s ahead for the Viña Valdivieso – new markets, new wines – what makes you excited?

[VV]: New wines to come, we have some really fun projects coming on. From the Maule Valley, we will shortly have some wines from an organic vineyard, being from an exciting range of varieties. Grenache, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Tempranillo, Tannat, Carignan, Carmenere, and Mouvedre. We still do not have a name for the range, but the quality of wine from these low yielding vineyards is exceptional.

Late this year we will be launching in the Eclat range 3 new wines under the Curiosity label. Cinsault from the Itata Valley, on the coast, old vines being cultivated in the traditional methods they have been using since vines were first introduced into Chile. There are records of wine being produced in this area since the 17th century. Also, a Rousanne, and a Marsane. These two whites look great, and for me show the potential for these Mediterranean varieties in Chiles conditions.

In the markets around the world it is a very exciting time for Chile, after years as been considered the supplier of good easy drinking wines, Chile has now become a very respected wine producer where people are respecting and expecting wines of the highest world class level. As a foreigner who has accepted into the industry I feel very privileged and lucky to have been able to play a small part in what has been this transformation of the wines from Chile.

I hope you are still here and reading this – I really love these conversations – while virtual, they still share the passion and even the obsession those little grapes bestow on us.

I’m sure you are thirsty by now, so pour yourself a glass, and let me share my impressions from tasting of the few of the Viña Valdivieso wines:

NV Viña Valdivieso Brut Chile (12% ABV, Chardonnay 60%, Semillon 40%, Charmat method)
white stone fruit, distant note, light mousse, good acidity on the palate, touch of grapefruit notes. Drinkability: 7+

NV Viña Valdivieso Rosé Chile (12% ABV, Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 30%, Charmat method)
beautiful color, inviting nose of fresh berries with touch of herbs, light, round, touch of fresh fruit, excellent balance, refreshing. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2015 Viña Valdivieso Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva DO Valley de Leyda Chile (12% ABV)
straw color, very intense nose of blackcurrant and black currant leaves, same on the palate but with restraint, nice acidity, black currant, excellent. Drinkability: 8

2013 Viña Valdivieso Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard DO Valle Sagrada Familia Chile (14% ABV, Punta de Rosa Vineyard)
dark ruby color, touch of bell pepper, berries and leaves of the cassis, mint, touch of roasted meat. Palate follows the nose – medium body, good acidity, fresh red berries, touch of cassis, nice savory notes. Enjoyable by itself, but will work well with food. Drinkability: 8

Here we are, my friends. Sparkling from Chile? Yes, please! Cheers!

 

Chilean Wines at Its Best – World-Class Wines of Viña Maipo

November 28, 2016 5 comments

Two weeks ago, I shared with you a conversation with Max Weinlaub, the winemaker for the Viña Maipo winery in Chile. While our Q&A session was mostly virtual, the Viña Maipo wines were not – I had an opportunity to taste 6 wines presented by Max during the session in New York. And I can sum up my impressions about Viña Maipo wines in one simple word – delicious.

I have to honestly admit that even opening of the box was pleasant – I love it when the bottles are wrapped, it gives an oenophile an additional moment of play, an additional source of enjoyment.

Viña Maipo winesOf course, the nice wrapping is better be supported by the substance in the bottle – and it was, loud and clear, as you will see from my tasting notes.

By the way, if you would read my interview with Max Weinlaub, you will find that one of the questions I asked was about Viña Maipo’s selling wines in China. If I would look at the wines more carefully, I wouldn’t need to ask that question – take a look at the back labels below:

Here are my notes:

2016 Viña Maipo Vitral Sauvignon Blanc Reserva (12.5% ABV, SRP $11) – 2016 was one of the best vintages for white wines.
C: straw pale
N: grassy, lemon, touch of tobacco, white fruit
P: restrained, lemongrass, fresh lemon, perfect acidity, vibrant
V: 8-, nice and refreshing, will be perfect with seafood. Excellent QPR

2016 Viña Maipo Vitral Chardonnay Reserva (13.5% ABV, SRP $11)
C: light golden
N: vanilla, golden delicious apple, touch of honey, herbaceous undertones
P: Crisp, fresh, nice acidity, lemon, very restrained, green apples, good palate weight
V: 8-, very drinkable now, and should evolve. Great QPR

2013 Viña Maipo Gran Devocion Carmenere DO Valle Del Maule (14.5% ABV, SRP $25, American oak is used only for Carmenere, better showcases the wine, Carmenere 85%, Syrah 15%)
C: Rich garnet, wine looks very inviting in the glass
N: Characteristic mint and herbs ( hint of), dark red fruit, pepper
P: peppery, spicy, dark fruit, earthy, delicious, powerful, full bodied
V: 8, excellent, powerful wine

2012 Viña Maipo Syrah Limited Edition DO Buin Valle del Maipo (14.5% ABV, SRP $35, 86% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 months in French oak)
C: bright garnet
N: bright, open, blueberries, herbal notes, touch of barnyard
P: pepper, black fruit, blackberries, spicy, firm structure, mouth-coating, velvety
V: 8+/9-, stand out, beautiful wine

2013 Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo (14.5% ABV, SRP $50, 30-35 yo vines, very low yield, Cabernet Sauvignon 97%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Syrah 1%, Petite Verdot 1%, 20 months in French oak )
C: dark garnet
N: green bell pepper, mint, classic cabernet nose, eucalyptus
P: beautiful, round, open, cassis, mint, firm structure, delicious
V: 8+, outstanding, beautiful Cabernet

2012 Viña Maipo Alto Tajamar DO Buin Valle del Maipo Chile (14.5% ABV, SRP $110, Syrah 92%, Cabernet Sauvignon 8%, 30 months in French oak)
C: Bright garnet
N: espresso, tar, pepper, hint of barnyard, black fruit
P: Blackberries, tart cherries, espresso, spices, dark power, brooding, full bodied
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, a treat which needs time

I had an opportunity to taste all of these wines over the course of a few days, and I have to say that literally all of them kept getting better and better.  Viña Maipo Syrah wines are unquestionably a world class, but so are the Cab and Carmenere, and I would gladly drink both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay every day – overall, one of the most successful tasting lineups I ever had.

Have you ever had Viña Maipo wines? Have you ever had Viña Maipo Syrah or any Chilean Syrah for that matter? If you did, what do you think of them? Cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: Max Weinlaub of Viña Maipo, Chile

November 14, 2016 9 comments

When I was invited to meet with the winemaker Max Weinlaub of Chilean winery Viña Maipo, one thing immediately caught my attention – Max was described as an advocate of the “new Chilean Syrah movement“. Syrah might be my all times favorite grape (secretly, of course – I would never admit it in public), so anything which has to do with the Syrah sounds interesting to me.

Max Weinlaub of Viña Maipo

Winemaker Max Weinlaub. Source: Viña Maipo

I couldn’t travel to New York on the given date, but Patricia Clough from Gregory White PR was very accommodating and managed to include me in the live conversation and tasting with Max with the modern wonders of technology (thank you Patricia!). I was able to listen to Max presenting his wines and even ask questions and make comments – and all of it not with my fingers (in most of the “virtual” tastings we use Twitter or similar mechanisms to “talk” to the presenters – this conversation was refreshingly different).

This was the tasting, of course, so I did taste the line of Viña Maipo wines, and in a word, the wines were stunning. But I will tell you all about the wines in the next post, as I reached out to Max with a bunch of questions, which he graciously answered despite being on the plane for the most of the time in the months, going around the world and introducing his wines. Max’s answers are great and well worth every minute of your time if you want to learn more about Chile and its wines.

Without further ado, here is our [now virtual] conversation with Max Weinlaub:

[TaV]: It appears that Viña Maipo was one of the Syrah pioneers in Chile, planting it in 1990. Are there any wines from those early vintages still around? Did you have a chance of tasting them? What do you think of them if you did?

MW: Even though the vines were planted around 1998, the grapes were blended with other red grapes. In 2005 the grapes were used to make Limited Edition for the first time. We still have bottles of that vintage. I have had the opportunity to taste it, but the style has evolved year after year. To me, the first vintages were bold and too ripe. In recent years, I have been turning to a fresher style with a better balance and great ageing potential.
(Side note for Anatoli:  If you are truly interested I could find one of those rare bottles, and we can taste it together next time I’m in NY.)

[TaV]: Since starting at Viña Maipo almost 10 years ago, did you make any changes in the way Syrah grapes are grown or the way the wines are made?

MW: Since I started as chief winemaker in 2007 it has been an endless learning process in direct connection with understanding how the vineyard behaves under different climatic conditions and canopy management, and noting the changes as the vines age each year. Today, I have a better knowledge about our Syrah grapes to express the varietal’s maximum potential with a clear sense of origin: Syrah from Chile. If I compare the last 10 years, I definitely see a change in the style of Viña Maipo’s wines —building towards better elegance, power, balance, fruit expression and oak impact.

[TaV]: Why Syrah in Chile? Do you think that Syrah is the next big grape for Chile?

MW: Until the first half of the 90’s, Chile was known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Carmenere was re-discovered just in 1994. So the general perception of Chile was as a reliable producer of inexpensive wines but without many options to show (in terms of grape varieties). At the same time, Australia was living golden years with its Shiraz, so many winemakers thought that maybe Syrah could be introduced in Chile. Some clonal material (stocks) were imported and multiplied by a couple of nurseries in Chile and then, we neared the end of the decade, the first Syrah grapes were harvested with pretty good results. Thanks to a joint venture with one of those nurseries, Viña Maipo was one of the first wineries that planted Syrah in the country.

In my opinion, Chile has been and will be widely recognized as a great place of origin for Cabernet Sauvignon. But at the same time other grapes, especially those from the Rhône Valley, have adapted extraordinarily well to the Chilean terroirs — and Syrah is by far the best example of that. If you consider that nowadays the oldest Syrah vines are around 20 years old and already are producing high quality wines, then you can clearly see a bright future with this grape variety.

[TaV]: When making Viña Maipo Syrah, is there a region (Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas, Barossa, and Santa Barbara) or a wine maker (Guigal, Chapoutier, …) which you see as a hallmark and try to achieve some similarities with?

MW: The regions you mention (with their singularities) plus the talent and skills of those renowned family names have made some of the most iconic and unique expressions of Syrah grapes in the world. From those wines I learned that Syrah is able to make outstanding wines with a great potential for ageing even comparable with some Cabernet Sauvignon. My humble dream is someday to be part of that “Hall of Fame of Syrah” world, to be recognized as a previously-unknown Chilean winemaker named Max Weinlaub who made a jewel with Syrah in Chile, standing along with those big names.

[TaV]: You are blending Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon and vice versa, which is quite unusual. Why do you think these two grapes work together? Are there any other regions in the world where Syrah is successfully blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, or do you think this is purely a Chilean phenomenon?

MW: I do believe in the synergy between their different but complementary components when you blend the right way. This is the best evidence that winemaking is closer to an artistic expression than to math because 1+1 is more than 2. Syrah is a fantastic grape to make single varietal wines, but also for blending. Sometimes the Cabs are too classical, too serious for me. I used to define the Syrah variety as “fireworks in a carnival”…it has lots of color, intensity and rich flavors. So Syrah plays an important role shaking up or adding verve to a (sometimes) circumspect Cabernet Sauvignon. My aim here is to make a more distinctly South American or Chilean style of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In another style, I add a smaller percentage of Cab to Syrah to increase the structure or backbone of the wine. As part of its nature, Syrah’s tannins are soft but non-structural – so hence the need for the strength and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find this blend of Cab-Syrah or Syrah-Cab elsewhere and it works well for me, and I intend to keep perfecting it.

Viña Maipo vineyards

Source: Viña Maipo

[TaV]: Pinot Noir seems to be fast growing in popularity in Chile. You don’t make any Pinot Noir wines – do you have any plans for it? What do you think overall about Chilean Pinot Noir?

MW: I think that finally there’s a bunch of very good Pinot Noir produced in Chile thanks to the better knowledge of the grape variety in terms of terroir, viticultural management, clonal selection and winemaking.  Pinot Noir is a challenging variety that sooner or later many winemakers—who tend to thrive in challenges–try to produce his/her own version. I’m having a lot of fun and joy producing Syrah (among other grapes of course) so Pinot Noir will be in my “101 things-to-do-before-to-die” list for a while.

[TaV]: Many wineries around the world add sparkling and Rosé to their repertoire – do you have any plans for Viña Maipo to start producing sparkling or Rosé wines too?

MW: We produce sparkling and rosé too!!! As we have a limited capacity (in terms of volume), the production of sparkling is allocated to certain markets – so it is not currently part of our global portfolio. Our rosé is sold largely in Nordic countries at the moment. We could taste both wines next time I see you.

[TaV]: How old are the oldest vines at Viña Maipo?

MW: The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are the oldest planted in our vineyards. Today, some of them are reaching 40 years old….just like me.

[TaV]: Don Melchor is an uncontested flagship wine for Concha e Toro, with very high critic ratings (98 from Suckling, 96 from Wine Spectator). Do you think Alto Tajamar will beat Don Melchor’s ratings one day?

MW: By far Don Melchor is the Dean of all the renowned Chilean wines. It’s the Chilean wine with the longest and most complete vertical tasting starting in 1986. I truly admire its history and legacy. If someday Alto Tajamar receives as high ratings as Don Melchor has won, for me that would be an honor and privilege. One of my principles is “work hard in silence, do your best and the rest will come along.”

[TaV]: When it comes to the white grapes of Chile, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are, of course, well established and well known. Is there a next big white grape for Chile?

MW: Chile is a paradise for grape growing due to its diverse terroirs, stable weather and healthy environment. Even though Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are widely planted I’m sure there are new areas where some other white grapes could produce great quality wines, such as Verdejo or Godello, both grapes especially recommended for warm climates. There are some very interesting Rieslings and Gewürztraminer. But the problem with those grape varieties is the almost relatively little commercial success we’ve seen when are produced outside of their home countries. I have the feeling that the only white grape that could succeed (technically and commercially) is Pinot Grigio.

[TaV]: What are the biggest export markets for Viña Maipo?

MW: By far the UK and Nordic countries at the moment, but there are some interesting opportunities to grow in other areas especially in Asia. Asia is a great market with its own codes and tempo (rhythm). We’ve also been focusing on the U.S. to a greater extent and I am very much looking forward to spending more time in the market.

[TaV]: Continuing the previous question, how big is China, and it is growing, flat or declining?

MW: China is just awakening!!! And everybody is trying to get a space in China since the Dragon feels thirsty. They are starting drinking wine, more often for Gambei (heavy duty toasts) rather than for joy, learning or food matching, so there are some things to do in terms of wine culture and education.

[TaV]: Do you have a favorite vintage of Viña Maipo Syrah?

MW: Always the last one!!!… Because it’s better than the previous one. Maybe it’s because the vines are becoming older and I’m turning older too (and hopefully wiser)!!!

[TaV]: When you are not drinking your own wines, what are some of your favorite wines and winemakers around the world?

MW: More than follow a label, brand or winemaker, recently I have been discovering regions. I’m currently really intrigued by German Rieslings (especially old vintages from Mosel River) and some Spanish red grapes such as Garnacha (aka Grenache), Mataro (aka Cariñena or Carignan), Graciano, Mencia and Bobal.

esquema quinta de maipo

Source: Viña Maipo

We are done here, my friends. I really enjoyed our conversation with Max, and I hope that the next time we will sit across the table and taste his delicious wines together. You might be thirsty at this point, so I hope you have something to drink – and the next time I will tell you all about delicious Viña Maipo wines I had a pleasure tasting. I can only say that I would gladly drink those wines at any time… Until we talk again – cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery, Part 2

January 19, 2016 3 comments

As promised, here is the continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery. You can find first part of the interview here.

Montes Alpha winesWhile the first part offered insight into unique (and unexpected) areas such as using of Feng Shui principles and Gregorian Chants at the Montes winery, this second half of the interview is also full of  interesting details about present and future of Chilean winemaking. Here we go:

Q7: Do you use natural yeast in production of your wines?

A: Not for white varieties, although we have made Chardonnay trials in coastal areas, but in most cases result in that we obtain a very slow and long fermentation, which jeopardizes the final quality of the wine.

We prefer to use selected yeasts in white varieties, which ensure us a good rate of fermentation, working at low temperatures and retaining maximum aromatic potential of the wine.

In the case of reds it is different. We love to work with natural yeast when possible. They tend to express terroir better than the selected ones. However, much will depend on the conditions of the season, that is, if the season was very warm and the fruit arrives to the winery with a very high potential alcohol, we then prefer to use selected yeast that will ensure a good end fermentation. In the case of very rainy seasons, where the grapes arrive at the winery in bad conditions with some presence of fungi, we prefer to don´t take any risk and use selected yeast as well.

Under normal harvest of red grapes, without rain during maturity or heat peak’s that can cause an exaggerated increases in sugar content, we can then use natural yeast, maintaining important regimes of oxygen during fermentation and also moderated temperatures, in order to not stress these yeasts that behave in some cases very sensitive when the conditions are adverse during fermentation.

Q8: Montes Alpha had been a pioneer in many areas of winemaking in Chile. Particularly, it was the first winery to produce Syrah wines. How would you describe your Syrah compare to Northern Rhone, California or Australian wines?

A; Our Syrah, because of the natural conditions, and some winemaking policies, is different to Rhone or Australian Syrah. Ours is midway between the two mentioned valleys. It is ripe but not as jammy as the Australian one…is austere but still far more friendly and approachable than the Rhone style. This puts us in a perfect position, in terms of quality, and in fact my opinion is that the best New World Syrah comes from Chile

Q9: What was your most favorite vintage of Montes Alpha Syrah and why?

A: I think the 2006 vintage was a very good harvest, where this wine was well known. But I feel that the 2012 was even better. We had a very good season in terms of absence of spring frosts, an accumulation of rain water which enabled us to reach harvest with a low level of risk, and also a free of summer rains and reasonable temperatures. In particular, our Syrah from Apalta that comes from mountain grown fruit behaved very well, controlling a balanced amount of clusters per vine, allowing us to concentrate fruit color and body. Elegance and aromatic complexity found in the Apalta Syrah is really incredible. From this estate also comes the Syrah that goes to our Icon Folly made 100% out of Syrah.

Q10: In the wine world, there is always a conversation of the “next big grape”, which is usually country and region specific – like Sauvignon Blanc in Argentina, for instance, or Chardonnay in Oregon. Is there a “next big grape” for Chile?

A: I like to believe that the Carmenère can be our “next big grape”. But we struggled to position it, despite the efforts the sector makes. Chile has a high level of quality in this variety, considering various valleys and different heights, in the central and even coastal areas of Chile. After this many years of experience we must remain vigilant and continue working and learning in order to deliver the best quality Carmenère in the world.

I would like to add that recently Chile also has been making quite some noise on varieties such as Pais, Cinsault, Muscat, Grenache, Carignan, etc. In this last varieties with very good results.

In our case we crafted the Outer Limits line, which allows us to be more adventurous, dreamers, and let our imagination fly to experiment;

However I believe that the Cabernet Sauvignon is still the king of varieties that Chile has. Not only well renowned for the great quality but also because it represents the productive power and essence of the Chilean wine.

Q11: Does Montes Alpha have plans for the new grapes to be planted? Anything you are experimenting with right now?

A: We are not closed to the possibility. We are always looking for new things, but today to plant new surface is a sensitive issue. Chile is going through a time of overstock of wine, which forces us to be cautious about increasing our production. In the northern hemisphere the situation is similar, which puts us at a critical point.

Without adding the irrigation problem that the viticulture is facing around the world, which forces us to be very astute at this point. Today, more than planting new varieties on new surfaces, we are willing to replace those varieties and vineyards that do not meet our expectations, and replace this to try some new things.

For example, we have had very good reviews on our Tempranillo and Tannat 2015, after years of testing and harvesting dates, and exploring winemaking forms. Maybe we can do something about those varieties in the near future.

We are also touring various new areas as Cachapoal Valley, in search of a distinctive variety with unique quality and expression. Is under this inspiration that we have found and made quite interesting things, such as Pink Moscatel from Curtiduría, or a Pais from Lolol and other interesting projects that currently are still in the oenological kitchen … but this strategy of seeking other wine realities has given us many satisfactions to myself and the team.

Q12: when you are not drinking Chilean wines, can you give me a few examples of your favorite wines, regions and producers?

A: In terms of wines, if I were to pick an outstanding wine I would choose an Ornellaia Masseto. And if I could delight and reward myself with another, it could be an old vintage of Pétrus.

And we are done with the interview. It is time to take a look at another two Alpha Montes wines I tasted:

2012 Montes Alpha Syrah Colchagua Valley, Chile (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: blueberries, violet, sage, fresh, touch of tobacco
P: silky smooth, round, roll-of-your-tongue, restrained, nice minerality, balanced fresh berries, touch of spice, touch of sweet licorice, excellent overall balance
V: 8, easy to drink, will greatly evolve

2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: concentrated, dark fruit, plums, violet, tar, tobacco, very, very inviting – super sexy, first analogy
P: wow, concentrated fruit, luscious, polished, layered, round, balanced, great dark power, well integrated tannins
V: 8+, outstanding, wow and dangerous (and sexy! – I rarely designate wines like this, but … of well, I will wait for you to try it)

And we are finally done here. I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did, and may be even learned something new. Until the next time – cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery

January 13, 2016 13 comments

Montes AlphaThings in life often connect in most unexpected ways. Few years ago I read an article about the ways music affects the winemaking. I was unable to find that article or much references ever since. Many times I came across the wine with an interesting label and somewhat peculiar name of Montes Alpha – but I never tasted one.

Few weeks ago I got a note about wine samples from the winery called Montes Alpha from Chile. That note also mentioned Gregorian Chants and Feng Shui been essential elements in wine production at that very winery. This was enough to send my curiosity through the roof and ask for more information – and talk about the way things connect in life, right?

Who can better answer questions wine and winery questions if not the winemaker? I gladly used an opportunity to [yet again] sit down (yes, virtually) with the winemaker and send the barrage of questions his way. I have to tell you that all my questions were answered well in depth – and I think you will find this conversation interesting too. Here is our dialog with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery.

Q1: I understand that your winery was built using Feng Shui principles. Are there any specifics in using Feng Shui specifically for the wineries? Do you have any followers from other wineries who came to learn from Montes Alpha experience?

A: We seek to apply the principle of balance and harmony of space in our winery. If you live and / or work in nice balance places, the energy will continue their natural rhythms and will lead to welfare in all its aspects.

It is in this sense, it was incorporated as a fundamental principle in the early stages of design and construction of our winery, the inclusion of all basic elements such as water, metal, wood, stone, etc., in accordance with the principles of this Asian discipline, to ensure this harmony and above all a positive atmosphere.

For example at the entrance to the building is the wooden bridge over a small lagoon, whose water flows toward the building. A fundamental principle of Feng Shui is that prosperity will only come if the water, which represents energy, flows into the center of the building, rather than away from it.

I understand that no other winery has incorporated the Feng shui principle.  In our case, one of our founders, Douglas Murray, was always fascinated with this concept and idea of building a harmonious winery and wine with our environment, therefore we hired the advise of an expert in this field to introduce the principles of feng shui in the foundations of our construction.

Q2: Did you apply or can you even apply Feng Shui principles in the design of the vineyards?

A: Feng shui is related to harmonize spaces. In our case it was considered to harmonize the spaces between the vineyards, winery and of course, our people. To get, as a result, the best wine we can possibly achieve. I believe that in a balanced environment, all pieces come together to perfectly to achieve a greater result.

I am not an expert on the subject though, and not sure how Feng shui can be applied to the vineyard. However our vineyards are planted according to quality policies, soil conditions, variety, etc. I believe that the harmony in the management of our vineyards is the result of the best possible quality grapes we can achieve, keeping always in mind the sustainable conditions.

Q3: I heard about Gregorian chants at the winery. How and where do you use them?

A: The Gregorian chants play constantly in the icon barrel room of our winery at our La Finca de Apalta Estate. The wine seems to enjoy it and I love it. In my opinion, besides the physical effect on wine, it does have an important effect on people’s moods and they work with more happiness and confidence. It keeps us calm in the cellar.

Montes Alpha wines

Q4: Did you try to test the effect of Gregorian chants on aging of the wines by creating a “control group” of same exact wine from same exact vintage and aging it under regular conditions (no music), and then comparing the two wines in the blind tasting?

A: For long now I have been interested in the effects of music in wine. I am happy to share with you a study we funded at Heriot Watt University about the effect of background music in wine tasting.

In terms of wine tasting the “control” with no music at all had a score 20% lower than the tasting held in presence of music.

Q5: Did you experiment with impact of music on the grapes in the vineyard? I remember reading about some of the experiments in that area, and I wonder if you have any information you can share here

A: Not yet and I don’t know of anyone that has done it. I presume there are so many uncontrollable variables such as temperature oscillation, different weather conditions, etc that would make it difficult to assess the particular influence of music in the vineyards.

Q6: Montes Alpha is certified Sustainable winery. Do you have any plans to become an organic or may be even biodynamic winery?

A: From our beginnings, our philosophy has been to produce wines of the highest quality, always concerned with the care of the environment, developing a sustainable viticulture in all stages of winemaking.

We believe sustainability covers a broader spectrum and a larger concept than being only an organic or biodynamic winery. It not only concerns the caring of our vineyards and the environment that surrounds it, but also the legacy that we leave for the next generations. We are very careful with our habitat, natural resources and above all improving conditions for the community.

Being sustainable also takes care of the social aspects of our workers – having a profitable operation permitting us to offer a stable place to work.

We also minimize our use of energy and treat our waste-water to reuse it in the irrigation of our vineyards.

Having said all the above we still have some plans to develop a line of biodynamic wines in a few years.  We have also moved forward in improving our carbon footprint, becoming one of the few carbon neutral wineries in Chile. We have not only traveled to improve our carbon footprint but also to significantly reduce the use of pesticides and replace them with more friendly environmental agents.

No, we are not done yet with the interview, but I don’t want to overload you with an information. I can also bet you are thirsty now, so let me present to you two of the Montes Alpha wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2012 Montes Alpha Montes Twins DO Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Malbec)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: a bit of funk, herbs, blackberries, hint of black currant, inviting
P: good dark fruit, chalk, firm structure, pencil shavings, tart acidity on the finish, restrained. Next day the wine acquired some umami complexity with notes of tobacco.
V: 8-/8, an excellent wine hiding under simplistic packaging; outstanding QPR

2012 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $25, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: cedar, cassis, classic
P: cassis, dark fruit, clean, round, soft
V: 8, outstanding, round, easy to drink

Here you go, my friends. Do you use Feng Shui in your life? What do you think of wine and music? And of course, did you have any of the Montes Alpha wines? I have two more wines to talk to you about, and continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr. to share, so stay tuned.

To be continued…

Power of Perception

April 28, 2015 15 comments

Emiliana Coyam Chile Bidynamic GrapesI probably shouldn’t even write this blog post, as it will expose my true nature as a wine snob – this is something which I would always vehemently deny. Or maybe it is just about a human nature, and you might see your own reflection in my words. But hey, to make it all better, I will share with you a recent delicious wine discovery.

Few days ago I took a customer for dinner to the Seasons 52 restaurant (an outstanding dining place deserving its own post – I will plan to write one so I don’t have to inundate you with the food pictures). The wine list was well designed [by the Master Sommelier George Miliotes, who is in charge of wine selection at Capital Grille and Seasons 52 restaurants] with a good number of options from different regions around the world. I scanned through the list, looking for the interesting wines which would be also reasonably priced. Yes, I understand that “reasonably priced” is an extremely personable category – so I’m generally looking for the wines under $80 – everything above requires either super-special occasion or a unique wine. Fitting this criterion, I saw two wines – one from South Africa and another one from Chile. Great thing about Seasons 52 is that lots of wines are available by the glass – which means you can taste them. Two bottles arrived at the table. We tried South African wine first – it was excellent, dry and spicy. Then the Chilean wine was poured into the glass, and I was blown away – this was simply a “wow” wine. 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile (13.5% ABV, 38% Syrah, 31% Carmenere, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Malbec, Biodynamic® grapes) had a nose of concentrated dark fruit, the one which informs you succinctly “I will be delicious”. That spectacular nose followed by the multi-layered, roll-of-your-tongue, texturally present goodness, with lots of fruit, dark chocolate and perfect acidity. An overall package which makes an oenophile ecstatic – I’m sure you got my point. (Drinkability: 9-/9).

Where is the promised talk about power of perception, you ask? Yes, this is what this post was supposed to be all about – so let’s talk about it. My wine lover’s path took me through a fair share of Chilean wines, which were concurring the U.S. market at that time. Do the names such as Frontera and Concha y Toro mean something to you? Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot – all priced at around $7 for the regular bottle, or around $11 for the magnum; perfectly drinkable for what they were. This was many years ago. Yes, there were and there are wines like Los Vascos Reserva and Terra Noble Gran Reserva – which are again perfectly drinkable at around $15. And of course I’m aware of the wines such as Don Melchor or Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta (both are trailing $80), but those are registered in my mind as an exception rather than the norm. So here at the restaurant, the Emiliana wine was $72 on the list. To be entirely honest, and this is where the power of perception comes to play, if I wouldn’t be with the customer (meaning – I’m not paying for the dinner), there is practically no chance I would chose Chilean wine for that amount of money. I wouldn’t even blink if that would be Ridge or Turley (both can be found on the restaurant wine lists for about $70) – but not the unknown Chilean wine. Yep, the mind is interesting like that – some decisions are made on the subconscious level and you need to actively intervene to change them.

To dig myself even deeper, I can tell you more. I was so impressed by this wine that the next day I checked the trusted wine-searcher to see how much this wine would be in retail. It showed up well available in the U.S. for about $30. The first running thought – “hmmm, this is expensive for the Chilean wine”. Luckily, the second thought was “man, you are crazy. You just had this wine and it was stunning – what do you mean expensive?” Again, preconceived notions, perception are so hard to deal with – they try to take control whenever possible. This $30 bottle of wine would beat lots and lots of California wines priced at $100 or $200 – I don’t want to name names, but I seriously mean it. And nevertheless, I need to make an effort to understand and consciously accept it.

Perception is a formidable force when it comes to wine. Don’t know if the wine world is all so unique in regards to perception, but at least this is the subject of interest here. We all know the prolific effect of the producer’s name, label, price, critic’s rating and many other factors on the way we buy and perceive the taste of wine. But the power of the prior experience was somewhat a revelation for me, hence this post.

So, do you have a story to tell? I’m listening… Cheers!

Wines, Wines, Wines

August 16, 2013 24 comments

A couple of weeks ago, an interesting (concerning, rather?) thought came in – this is the wine blog. I’m doing my best to keep you entertained and informed, with all the weekly quizzes and potpourri wine news (a.k.a. Wednesday’s Meritage), but I don’t do enough of the core wine blogging stuff – namely, the wine reviews.  No, I don’t have a plan to address this radically – say, but introducing a new weekly topic or so. But during the past month, I had quite a few wines worth talking about, so this is exactly what I’m going to do – write a post to review those wines. Well, yeah, I guess you are already reading this very post… The usual warning – there will be pictures,… many pictures…

It is still summer, so let’s start with super-quaffable Prosecco. It is not even Prosecco, it is pretty much a complete cocktail in the bottle. The wine is made by Mionetto, a well known Prosecco producer in Valdobbiadene region in Italy.

MIonetto Il Ugo

Mionetto Il Ugo

Mionetto Il Ugo, a blend of Prosecco with elderflower blossoms and wildflowers – bright and uplifting on the nose, touch of sweetness with a charismatic bitterness and enough acidity – it is so refreshing, you don’t want to put the glass down. Yes, I know, the purists will disagree – but this is an outstanding wine in my book. Drinkability: 8

Now, a couple of value wines for your consideration. These wines come from Chile under the brand name of the Beach Kite. While you can’t find this information on the wine label, Beach Kite is presumable affiliated with 90+ Cellars. 90+ Cellars has a similar model of operation to Hughes Wines and Oriel (at least the two that I’m familiar with), which is: find good wines which well-known wineries have a hard time selling, bottle under your own private label, and sell for the reasonable price at around $20. Beach Kite seems to be more of a “second label” to the 90+ Cellars wines, considering the price of $7.99 per bottle. But – don’t judge the wine by its price.

2012 Beach Kite Sauvignon Blanc Central Valley Chile (13% ABV) had herbaceous nose, and zesty grapefruit on the palate, a bit more restrained compare to the typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but still  fruit forward next to Sancerre. Refreshing, with good acidity. Drinkability: 7

2012 Beach Kite Pinot Noir Central Valley Chile (13% ABV) – simple, round, good red fruit on the nose and the palate, touch of plums, good acidity – perfect sipping wine for a hot summer day. Drinkability: 7

Next I want to talk about few wines, sorted by the grape.

Riesling

While this is not how I rate the wines, but I would say that I had two Rieslings which were outstanding, and one which was … just spectacular.

DSC_0594

Paritua Riesling Central Otago

2008 Paritua Riesling Central Otago New Zealand (11.5% ABV). I got this wine for $6/bottle at Last Bottle Wines. I was questioning myself a bit when placing an order for this wine, as I never heard of Riesling from Central Otago – a region in New Zealand known for their world-class Pinot Noir, but not Riesling. I’m glad I took my chances and got this wine, as it was outstanding. Perfect ripe peach flavors on the nose with the hint of petrol (yes, I know some people are not very happy about this flavor, but I personally love  it). Very delicate on the palate, with some honey and apricot notes, perfect acidity and very restrained sweetness. This New Zealand Riesling would rival many of the German Rieslings at Kabinett level. One night we had it with Thai food, and [as expected] it paired perfectly. Drinkability: 8

2005 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Spatlese Mosel-SaarRuwer (9% ABV) – what I value the most in Riesling (any Riesling) is balance. My sweet tooth is not any smaller than the one any sweets lover would have out there. But I can’t take bottomless sweetness in the wine – I need acidity to come and play it supportive and refreshing role right next to the sweetness. This Riesling is perfectly balanced, with excellent acidity – and showing no signs of age.  Just had an interesting revelation – may be I should replace my “drinkability” ratings with “quaffability”, as this wine was not just drinkable, it was perfectly quaffable. Anyway, I digress. This is not the first Riesling I had from Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg  – and it seems to be a very interesting winery – but I need to refer you to the Riesling expert Oliver TheWinegetter if you want to learn more. Here is a link to the comment Oliver left on one of my previous posts where he is talking about this winery. Drinkability: 8+

Curt Rasmussen Late Harvest Riesling

Kurt Rasmussen Late Harvest Riesling

1999 Kurt Rasmussen Late Harvest Riesling Dry Creek Valley (13%ABV) – I’m not sure I can do justice to this wine trying to describe it. In a word – spectacular. Liquid viscous dark gold in the glass, honey, honeydew, caramelized pecan, apricot notes all over, both on the nose and the palate – and perfectly balanced (I’m know I’m abusing this one), with still bright supporting acidity. Drinkability: 9

Next up – Gewurztraminer

To be honest, I don’t drink Gewurztraminer all that often. I find a lot of Gewurztraminer wines to be all over the place in terms of taste – many of them have wonderful nose, but then on the palate the wine often doesn’t appear to be “together”, it shows up quite disjointed. But – not this wine.

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

Domain Zind-Humbrecht is one of the best producers in Alsace, probably best known for its Pinot Gris wines. Just to put things in perspective, 36 wines of Domain Zind-Humbrecht have classic ratings from Wine Spectator (95-100), including perfect score 100 point 2001 Pinot Gris. Well, this is not the wine I’m talking about here.

2002 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace (15.5% ABV) – I got two bottles of this wine at Bottle King in New Jersey on a big sale for about $20 each – this wine typically retails for $60 or so. I had a bottle few years back, and was not impressed. So when I pulled this bottle out, I was not expecting much ( it was more like “yeah,  let’s free some space in the wine fridge”). My, was I wrong! In one word, I have to use again my abused wine definition of the day – spectacular. Dark golden color, beautiful nose of candied apricot, perfect honey tones on the palate, fresh acidity, more candied apricot, perfectly balanced. Drinkability: 9

Food break

Tired of wine? Let’s make a short break for some food pictures. First, I promised to Food and Wine Hedonist that when I will make Elotes according to his recipe, I will share my impressions. Elotes is Mexican street food which is essentially a grilled corn with spicy mayo and Cotija cheese – this is precisely what I did and it was tasty! For the recipe, use the link above, and here are the pictures:

Yes, I continue admiring my “mangal”, a special charcoal grill – here are few pictures for your drooling pleasure:

You know what – I think this is enough for one post. Let’s stop here. In the next post – Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and may be something else.

To be continued…

Wine Tasting Experience – Home Run!

June 4, 2012 3 comments

What home run has to do with the wine tasting? Not much, of course, except when you try four random wines and they all taste great, somehow it seems that “home run” is a good way to adequately describe your experience.

I think nowadays Saturday wine tasting is pretty much a norm for majority of the wine stores. If I have time, I usually stop by the wine tasting at Cost Less Wines in Stamford. There are typically four wines open, and out of the four I would  find one or two which I really like. This last Saturday’s tasting was different, as I actually liked all four, and they literally were one better than another.

There were two wines from Argentina and two from Chile (both wineries are owned by Trinchero Family Estates out of California). Interestingly enough, all four wines were priced at $13.99. Here are the notes:

2010 Carmen Gran Reserva Chardonnay Casablanca Valley, Chile – Perfect acidity, very much similar to Chablis – great balance, nice green apple flavor, touch of oak and very long and mouthwatering finish. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Doña Paula Estate Torrontés Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina – Extremely perfumed nose – you literally think that you are smelling a nice English or French soap. Of course it is a bad idea to compare wine and soap, but actual smell is highly invigorating, and I use the comparison here in a positive way  – rose petals with touch of lavender on the nose. Light and delicate on the palate, however bringing very explicit orange flavors. Very balanced with good acidity. Drinkability: 8-.

2010 Doña Paula Estate Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – it seems that lately I have a tendency of single -word wine reviews. Round! (how is that for the review?). Perfect balance of fruit, tannins and acidity, soft tones of the dark fruit with enough underpinning in the oak flavors. Drinkability: 8.

2009 Carmen Gran Reserva Petite Sirah Maipo Alto, Chile – I don’t know about you, but it was my first encounter with Chilean Petite Sirah. Dark fruit, plums and sour cherries on the palate, full bodied and powerful, very balanced, good acidity. Drinkability: 8.

Don’t miss wine tastings in the stores – whether you will like the wine or not, you will learn something new.

For more home run wine tastings – cheers!