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2 Regions, 3 Glasses, 1 Wine Geek

May 28, 2022 Leave a comment

The assignment was simple. Compare 6 Cabernet Sauvignon wines from 2 famous winemaking regions in Chile. Find differences. decide on a favorite.

As with any assignment, let’s start with the theory.

Cabernet Sauvignon is unquestionably a king of Chilean wines – it is the best-known Chilean wine worldwide and it is the most widely planted red grape variety in Chile. It accounts for about 20%+ of all vineyard plantings in Chile, covering an area of about 99,000 acres, stretching through the entire country from north to south. At the same time, 97% of the Cabernet Sauvignon plantings are located in the Central Valley, spread between O’Higgins, Maule, and Metropolitan Region.

Narrowing it down to the wine-producing DOs, we are looking at the Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley, two of the best-known Cabernet Sauvignon areas in Chile. These are also the two regions that are the subject of our assignment.

Maipo Valley is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Chile, with its terroir shaped by the Maipo River, which begins at the Maipo volcano, creating a patchwork of valleys at the elevation of 2,500 feet above sea level. Some of the areas in Maipo Valley see a minimal number of sunny days required for the red grapes to fully ripen, with a climate somewhat similar to Bordeaux.

Colchagua Valley lies about 80 miles south of the city of Santiago. Parts of the valley are crisscrossed by the Tinguinirica River, taking its roots from the volcano crater in the Andes, and descending from about 2,000 feet to the 360 feet of elevation above sea level. Colchagua Valley generally offers much warmer daily temperatures compared to the Maipo Valley.

Here are some of the views of the beautiful regions:



I’m purposefully avoiding descending into the discussion about the different soil types throughout both regions but of course, alluvial soils, colluvial soils, gravel, clay are all intermixed around both regions. I don’t believe I can intelligently speak to the effect of a given soil type as it comes to the resulting taste profile of the wine, but our main difference between the wines from the two regions should be driven by the warmer versus cooler climate and some differences in the elevation.

I hope this is enough of the theory and it is time to get to practice – the lab portion of our assignment.

This is where the inner geek came out guns blazing – and this is where everything all of a sudden became muddy and complicated.

I decided that the challenge of comparing the 6 wines is insufficient, and to make things more fun, I decided to was possessed to try each wine from three different glasses: Glass 1- Riedel Universal tasting glass (this is the one typically offered at all of the wine tastings), Glass 2 – Chef & Sommelier Open’Up glass, one of most aesthetically pleasing glasses for the daily drinking, and Glass 3 – Riedel Radical Cabernet glass (my favorite glass for the Bordeaux varieties).

The wines I tasted all come from well-known producers. I was familiar with some prior to this tasting (Los Vascos, TerraNoble, Maquis) and I had a lot of Los Vascos and TerraNoble Cabernet wines in the past. Regardless, this was quite a respectful selection of the wines, expectedly illustrative to represent the two regions. Three of the wines were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3 had Cabernet Sauvignon as a dominant component.

To explain in more detail what I did: on the first day, I poured each one of the 6 wines into the 3 glasses – non-blind, one by one. I then tasted each wine from those 3 glasses – you will see the notes below, describing my perception of the same wine in each of the 3 glasses. The glasses had their effect, even though Radical Cab and Open’Up glasses offered mostly similar experiences. Open’Up glass required the bottom section to be sufficiently filled or the nose of the wine was becoming lost. All of the second and third day tastings were done only using the Universal tasting glass. Below you can see all of the tasting notes, from which it is very easy to conclude that I was unable to come to any meaningful conclusions and find any meaningful, region-conforming differences between the wines.

Here we go:

Team Maipo Valley:

2017 Lázuli Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo (14.5 ABV, $45, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Garnet

Glass 1: dark fruit, concentrated, iodine, forest underbrush, pyrazine
Interesting. Quite restrained. Not a lot going on.

Glass 2: much less expressive, just a hint of pyrazine
It is showing better. No idea how. Crunchy berry, soft tannins, still not very expressive

Glass 3: dark fruit, more focused than glass 1, a hint of bell pepper
Similar to glass 2. Dark fruit, baking spices, lots of minerality. Not very much Caberneish if you ask me.

Day 2: not good

Day 3: Fruit showed up. Fresh berries and eucalyptus. Is this a Cab? Not sure. Is it drinkable? Sure, on the third day.

2018 Miguel Torres Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial de Les Andes Valle de Maipo (14% ABV, $20, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Concentrated ruby with bright hues

Glass 1: very similar presentation to the first wine. Dark fruit, a hint of bell pepper, very distant hint, a touch of eucalyptus.
Definitely a Cabernet profile, more explicit than the previous wine. Eucalyptus, cassis, bell pepper practically non-existent.

Glass 2: this glass requires much higher pour to get to the aromatics.
The wine appears more refined and elegant on the nose than glass 1, more focused on eucalyptus and cassis.
Delicious, earthy cab. Good acidity, cassis, earthy and restrained.

Glass 3: interesting. Almost gets to the barnyard space. Definitely more earthy than glass 2.
The best experience. Dark fruit, cassis, pencil shavings, crisp tart finish.

Day 2: good

Day 3: excellent. Dark fruit, eucalyptus. Round tannins, good structure, dark and supple.

2016 Echeverría Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $25, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Carménère)
Dark Garnet

Glass 1: very concentrated. Dark fruit, sapidity, earthiness, a hint of eucalyptus. Interestingly enough, all 3 wines so far are really similar.
The nice initial appearance of the fruit is instantly replaced by tannins. Serious French Oak tannins, front of the mouth is locked.

Glass 2: a much more elegant appearance than Glass 1. A hint of eucalyptus and bell pepper.
Fruitier than the previous 2 wines, nice load of dark berries, and then it is all tannins. Again, the wine appears to be more elegant.

Glass 3: similarly elegant to glass 2. Eucalyptus, bell pepper, and a touch of black pepper.
Berries, eucalyptus, and tannins. Should be outstanding with the steak.

Day 2: Excellent

Day 3: very good, open fruit – but not very much of the cab? I liked it more on the day 2

Overall notes: all 3 wines are very similar on the nose, showing differently on the palate. Earthy, concentrated wines. All need time to open.

Now, team Colchagua Valley:

2018 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $20, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carmenere, 1% Petit Verdot)
Garnet

Glass 1: bright and clean aromatics, cassis, eucalyptus, a hint of bell pepper
Plums, a touch of cherries, not a textbook Cabernet Sauvignon

Glass 2: interesting. Volcanic undertones, gunflint, almost a hint of sulfur, fresh crisp berries
Better showing, brighter fruit, some bitter undertones appeared (whole cluster?)

Glass 3: somewhat similar to the glass 2, but a bit more restrained
Amazing how much glass matters. This is almost at the expected level of Cabernet Sauvignon – a hint of cassis, mint. Still very restrained.

I’m so confused that I had to wash the glass.

Re-taste: it is not bad, but didn’t make a difference. Still, dry restrained, with some bitter notes on the finish.

Day 2: tight and closed

Day 3: definitely better. Bitter notes are gone. But the whole presentation is plum/cherry, not so much of the Cab Sauvignon

2018 Los Vascos Cromas Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14.5% ABV, $22, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Carmenere)
Concentrated ruby

Glass 1: dark berries, a hint of cassis, vanilla, bell pepper might be a product of my imagination
Delicious. Fresh, open, clean, dark berries, cassis, bell pepper, eucalyptus. A pretty classic cab if you ask me. Best of tasting so far.

Glass 2: Cassis and mint, medium intensity
Delicious. Very similar to glass 1, somehow with a bit more intensity of the flavors.

Glass 3: very restrained, cassis, bell pepper, a touch of tobacco
Delicious. Exactly as two previous glasses. Happy to drink every day.

Day 2: not good. Tight, closed.

Day 3: lots of tobacco and smoke on the nose. Dark fruit, borderline bitter. I don’t get this wine

2018 TerraNoble Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $20, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Garnet color

Glass 1: dark berries, eucalyptus
Delicious. Open, bright, good acidity, ripe fruit, not necessarily a textbook cab, but fresh and delicious.

Glass 2: dark berries, sapidity, earthy, a hint of bell pepper
Fresh, delicious, crisp berries, a touch of cherries, a bit of dark chocolate.

Glass 3: a hint of bell pepper, dark fruit, earthy
Bright, open, good structure of tannins. A cab? Maybe…

Day 2: good

Day 3: beautiful, supple, good tannins, good structure, open fruit, good finish.

On the day 2, my preferences were with these three wines:

And then there were two. On the third day, I had two wines as my favorites – and they represented two regions.

For the final decision – Torres versus TerraNoble.

Wine geek at work

Nose: advantage Torres – dark chocolate, a hint of bell pepper. TerraNoble mostly closed

Palate: slight advantage Torres – better structure and better precision. Dark and concentrated. Will continue improving.

The winner: 2018 Miguel Torres Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial de Les Andes Valle de Maipo

So we can conclude that Maipo Valley won this strange competition, at least with a margin of error.

The assignment is complete. So what did we learn?

  1. Don’t play with your glasses, unless this is actually a goal of your exercise. Wine glasses matter and wine glasses can will confuse you.
  2. Hey, wine glass matters.
  3. I probably should’ve done the blind tasting instead
  4. Chilean Cabs need time. Practically all showed better on the second day.
  5. I was unable to find the real differences between Colchagua and Maipo wines

Oh well. Play with your wine. Have fun. One way or the other, experience is still an experience, and as long as you desire, there is always something to learn.

Do you have a favorite Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon? Care to share? Cheers!

Chilean Wines: Sustainability is a Long Game

January 22, 2022 Leave a comment

Sustainability is a journey.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Sustainability is a long game.

Have you ever dieted in your life? Did you achieve the intended results (let’s say, lose 20 pounds)? Did you go back where you started shortly after you stopped the diet? Of course, you already heard this a million times and you know what I’m going to say – diets don’t work. You need to change your lifestyle if you want those lost pounds to never come back, because the diet is a hack, and as such, it can give you only a quick and non-lasting, non-sustainable result.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

When I think of sustainability my first thought goes to the vineyard. How vineyard integrates into the environment, how vineyard, land, soil, and everything around can happily co-exist now and in the future. My second obvious thought goes to the winery operation – sustainable energy use, recycling, waste reduction.

In 2011, the Chilean wine industry defined its Sustainability Code, a voluntary certification system aimed to improve sustainable practices in the wine companies in Chile. In 2011, it all started in the vineyard. Today, the Sustainability Code for the Chilean Wine Industry (SCWI) represents a colorful flower, consisting of 4 areas, and featuring 351 individual requirements:

  • Viticulture (98 individual requirements /Green)
  • Vinification, Bottling, and facility operations (65 individual requirements /Red)
  • Social (118 individual requirements /Orange)
  • Wine Tourism (70 individual requirements /Purple) — new category added in 2020

In the ten years since its inception, SCWI has been adopted by all the country’s leading wine producers and accounts for 80% of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Wines from certified producers come from 123,550 acres of vineyards, out of 485,000 acres of total vineyard space in Chile, so roughly 25%.

The certification is done by the accredited international bodies (ECOCERT from France, NSF from the USA, and SGS from Switzerland, a few more should be added soon), and it is an ongoing process, as re-certification has to be done every two years. Certification has a substantial cost, so Vinos de Chile has a special program in place to help small and medium producers to achieve certification. To date, 80 wineries achieved full certification – if you will look at the list, you will see a lot of familiar names. Some, such as Casa Lapostole, one of the most famous Chilean wineries, use its own set of sustainability rules.

I had an opportunity last year to taste a number of wines from the certified sustainable Chilean wineries. Let’s talk about them.

Viñedos Emiliana (now known as Emiliana Organic Vineyards) was founded in 1986. However it is interesting that if you will check the history section on Emiliana’s website, the time count starts from 1998 – this is when Emiliana began its journey to convert into a sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winery. In 2001, Emiliana became 1st winery in Chile, and 7th in the world to obtain ISO 14001 certification in environmental management. Two years later, Emiliana produced its first organic wines (Coyam was one of them). In 2006, the winery obtained its Demeter certification and produced its first biodynamic wine, 2003 Gê. Moving forward, Emiliana obtained multiple certifications in social responsibility, fair trade, carbon neutrality, and more. As a fun fact, with 2,760 acres in size, Emiliana is the largest biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyard in the world.

The wine I tasted for this post was 2018 Coyam. Back in 2015, the 2011 Coyam was my wine of the year. The 2018 Coyam was good, but really needed lots of time to open up.

2018 Emeliana Coyam Colchagua Valley DO (14.4% ABV, $35, 42% Syrah, 39% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Garnacha, 3% Malbec, 3% Carignan, 1% Tempranillo, 1% Mourvedre, organic vineyards, vegan)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, cherries, cassis
Beautiful, cassis, mint, medium-plus body, good balance, good acidity
8, these are the 3rd day notes, this wine needs time.

Viu Manent‘s history began in 1935, when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons founded Bodegas Viu, bottling and selling their own wines. In 1966, Miguel Viu-Manent, one of the sons, acquired an estate in Colchagua Valley which also included 375 acres of vineyards, planted with pre-phylloxera vines. In 1993, Viu Manent became the first Chilean winery to produce, bottle, and label Malbec under its name. In 2001, as a tribute to the founder, Miguel Viu-Manent, Viu Manent produced its single-block Malbec from approximately 100 years old vines. In 2003, the winery started producing its Secreto de Viu Manent line of wines. In 2007, Viu Manent joined the environmental biodiversity program run in Chile by the University Austral of Chile’s Ecology & Biodiversity Institute. In 2018, 3 solar panel energy plants were put into production at the winery and in the vineyards. The winery also participates in wastewater and solid waste management programs and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

2019 Viu Manent Secreto Malbec Valle de Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $15, Malbec 85%, 15% “Secret”)
Dark garnet, almost black
Raspberries, blackberries, cigar box
Fresh raspberries on the palate, fresh, open, good minerality, a bit astringent on the finish even on the second day. Needs time.
7+ On the second day
8- on the third day

Viña Maquis, an estate located between two rivers, the Tinguiririca River and the Chimbarongo Creek, traces its roots to the 18th century when Jesuit priests were producing noble wines on the property. In the 19th century, the property belonged to the two Chilean presidents who even hosted cabinet meetings at that location. In 1916, the property was acquired by the Hurtado family with the goal of producing fine wines. Viña Maquis was one of the first wineries to obtain sustainability certification. They use in the vineyard energy recovery system based on geothermal heat pump technology for which the winery won the 2013 Innovation Prize for energy saving and carbon footprint reduction awarded by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce. They also use biological corridors which host beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and more than 2,600 sheep help control the weeds and fertilize the vineyards.

2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $24, 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carménère, 3% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Cassis, cassis leaves, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, crisp, medium body.
7+/8-

Concha y Toro is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, founded in 1883 by Melchor Concha y Toro with a dream of producing the best wines. He brought in vines from the Bordeaux and built the winery with all the best equipment at a time. As Concha y Toro was transitioning from a family business to a corporation, 50 years later the wine export started, the Netherlands being a first international destination. In 1987, Concha y Toro released the first vintage of its iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor, named in the honor of the founder. In 2020, James Suckling awarded 2018 Don Melchor a perfect 100 score.

In 2021, Concha y Toro received B Corporation Certification, which recognizes companies around the world that meet the highest standards of environmental management, governance, and social performance. This B Corporation certification included metrics such as 100% drip irrigation, 97% of waste reused/ recycled, 24% reduction of waste over 2018, 83% of energy coming from renewable sources. Concha y Toro also works with the scientific community and Wines of Chile to develop a measurable roadmap for carbon footprint reduction.

2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Riserva DO Marchigue (13.5% ABV, $17, 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carmenere, 2.5% Syrah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Summer meadows, a touch of cassis, hint of mint
Open, fresh with happily gripping tannins (French oak), firm structure, fresh fruit, needs time
8-, will be great with the steak.
8+ second/ third day – wine became more integrated, polished, layered, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

In 1885, Francisco Undurraga imported vines from France and Germany and founded the Viña Undurraga winery. In 1903, Viña Undurraga became the first Chilean winery to export its wines to the USA. In 1942, under the management of Pedro Undurraga Fernández, the winery becomes a pioneer in exporting Chilean wines, reaching more than 60 countries. In 2006, the Los Lingues far was acquired, giving a start to Viña Koyle, which in 2009 started the transition to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture.

2019 Viña Koyle Carmenere Gran Reserva Alto Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $17, 85% Carmenere, 9% Tempranillo, 6% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cassis, a hint of underbrush, fresh dark fruit, inviting
Fresh berries, dark chocolate, a hint of sweet tobacco, round, succulent, excellent t balance, medium-long finish
8, excellent

In 1874, the winemaker Don Franciso de Rojas founded the winery in Maipo Valley which he called Viña de Rojas. In 1876, one of his wines received Silver Medal at a competition in Philadelphia in the USA. Now here is the rare happenstance with the transition of the name from Viña de Rojas to Viña Tarapacá. In 1892, the winery was acquired by Don Antonio Zavala and it became Viña Zavala. After the divorce, the winery became alimony assigned to his wife, who renamed the winery Viña Tarapacá ex Zavala to express her gratitude to her divorce lawyer Don Arturo Alessandri who had a nickname “The Lion of Tarapacá”. In 1992, the winery was acquired by the holding company with a focus on international expansion. In the same year, the winery acquired El Rosario Estate, 6,500 acres parcel, out of which 1530 acres are planted with vines, right in the heart of Maipo Valley. In 2008, Viña Tarapacá became a part of VSPT Group, the second-largest exporter of Chilean wines.

The winery holds a large number of environmental and sustainability certifications, and in 2016 it also became the Chilean winery to build a hydroelectric plant, capable of supplying 60% of all winery’s energy needs.

2018 Viña Tarapacá Red Wine Blend Gran Reserva Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $20, 31% Cabernet Franc, 26% Syrah, 22% Carmenere, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, organic wine)
Dark garnet, almost black
Delicious nose of mint, currant, a touch of sweet basil and thyme
Ripe berries, firm structure, gripping tannins, a touch of cherries and black pepper, good acidity, excellent balance.
8+, delicious, but will be amazing in 10-15 years.

Here you go, my friends. Chilean wineries take sustainability seriously and show the world how it should be done. And they also support it with delicious wines. Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Made With Organic Grapes: A Few Wines From Chile

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Chile is a unique winemaking place.

So is each and every wine region in the world – each wine region, big, small, or tiny, can safely state the same – they all have something unique about them, aren’t they?

But really, Chile is unique.

Chile is literally the only wine region in the world untouched by the blight of phylloxera. While it is a big deal, it is not all.

It is easy to grow grapes organically in Chile. The absolute majority of the rain falls in winter, and Chilean vineyards generally enjoy the dry growing season. Dry growing season means no need to worry about fungi, which is where most of the “inorganic” efforts typically go. And Chilean winemakers take advantage of this fact, actively pursuing organic, sustainable, and biodynamic winemaking. Taking its inspiration from the association of organic winegrowers of New Zealand, leading Chilean wineries, such as Viña Emiliana, Odfell, Koyle, Viña Miguel Torres Chile, are all joining forces to create a similar organization that will help with the promotion of Chilean organic wines around the world.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of Chilean organic wines.

Viñedos Veramonte was founded by Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, in 1990, one of the first wineries in Casablanca Valley. Veramonte’s journey started with Sauvignon Blanc, gradually adding all of the traditional Chilean varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and more. In 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT® organic certification, after 6 years-long journey. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming (full Demeter’s biodynamic certification is the next goal). The wine I had an opportunity to taste was Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon:

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, made with organic grapes, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, tobacco
A touch of cassis, tart, medium body, minerality, green notes
7/7+, I would prefer more fruit

The same Agustin Huneeus founded Primus winery more than 20 years ago. The word Primus comes from Latin and it means “the first” or “the first among others”.  Primus was one of the very first to create the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, which became the standard wine of the winery throughout all the years, joined by single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere wines. The fruit for The Blend comes from Marchigue, a sub-region of Colchagua, and Maipo, from all-organic vineyards.

2018 Primus Red Blend Apalta Colchagua Valley (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carménère, 10% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark ruby
Cassis, Cherries
Soft, easy to drink, medium body, cassis, cherries, well balanced
8-, good aging potential

Ritual is located in the eastern corner of the Casablanca Valley, not far from the Pacific Ocean. All organic vineyards are surrounded by 6,000 acres of natural forest, which enforces biodiversity and helps with organic and sustainable farming. The estate approaches organic winemaking from all possible angles, making compost from stems and pomace, using cover crops to protect the soil, using sheep to mow the grass and fertilize. Everything in the vineyard and in the winery is done in full harmony with nature.

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, certified organic vineyards)
Dark garnet
Smoke, plums, minerality
Cherries, plums, violets, herbs, round, soft, restrained, good acidity, clean finish, perfectly balanced.
8, a long-haul wine. Should definitely improve over the next 5-7 years, might be considerably longer.

Here you are my friends – a few of the organic wines from Chile which you should feel good about drinking.

It is not just organic – Chile is leading the world in sustainable winemaking, and we will talk about it in a few days. Stay tuned…
.

Made With Organic Grapes: Viñedos Veramonte

May 14, 2021 4 comments

“Made with organic grapes”. If you see these words on the wine label, are you more inclined to buy it, less inclined, or indifferent? Are you willing to pay more for the organic bottle of wine, as we accustomed now for the meat and produce?

Organic production implies that no synthetic pesticides, fungicides, insecticides were used in farming. It doesn’t mean that no pesticides etc. were used at all – it only bans the use of synthetics, and natural pesticides, etc. can still be used. Truth be told, organic doesn’t automatically mean better for consumers or the environment – even natural pesticides can have bad consequences – you can learn more in this excellent in-depth article.

When talking about organic wines, we need to keep in mind that “organic” is only a part of the story of the “better wines”. Sustainable viticulture, which doesn’t always overlap with organic, and then biodynamics, which again may or may not intersect with the other two, are important to take into account when talking about wines that are better for humans and the environment. Though considering the title – made with organic grapes – let’s stick to that part of the story.

How to convey the organic farming concept in one picture. Source: Viñedos Veramonte

I remember the early days of seeing “organic” on the wine labels. Most of the organic wines I tasted 10-15 years ago were undrinkable. The “Organic” label is a big selling factor in itself, and I can only assume that some of the winemakers decided that good tasting wine is not a necessity if the wine is labeled as organic (I will refrain from putting names on the table, even though it is difficult to resist the urge). Even today, when “organic” designation is not just a marketing gimmick (in most of the cases), wine consumers seek first familiar producers, grapes, and region – the “organic” designation comes to a play only after all other requirements had been satisfied, as a “nice to have”. Of course, in the world of wine, most of the concepts are multidimensional, so I don’t want to oversimplify the “organic wine” – it goes well beyond of choice of pesticides and fertilizers, it also includes “no added sulfites” and other factors – but then again this is not the organic wine 101 post, so let’s leave this discussion for some other time too.

Lately, I tasted quite a few of the organic wines and was pleasantly surprised not only with the taste but also with the QPR (Quality Price Ratio) – while labeled “organic”, most of the wines didn’t command the premiums on the scale of organic apples or meat, and thus offer a great QPR. Here I want to share with you my encounter with delicious organic wines suitable for any budget. Let’s talk about it.

Source: Viñedos Veramonte

Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, planted 100 acres of Sauvignon Blanc in the northern part of Casablanca valley in the late 1980s. In 1990, he founded Viñedos Veramonte, which became one of the first wineries in the region. From the moment the winery was found, the focus was on growing grapes in harmony with nature. After 6 years of hard work, in 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT®organic certification, one of the most respected in the world. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming, with the aim to also become fully Demeter’s biodynamic certified. The organic practices don’t stop at the vineyard – natural yeast and low intervention methods are used to produce the wine.

Can you taste all this care and attention in the glass? I think you can. I had the pleasure of trying a number of Veramonte wines (samples), and I think they were consistently delicious while offering an unbeatable QPR – see for yourself:

2019 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, Vegan, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Distant hint of Whitestone fruit, a touch of cassis
Crisp, fresh, creamy, lemon notes, a touch of herbs – excellent
8/8-, perfect for summer, perfect for winter.

2020 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale color
Touch of freshly cut grass, cat pee, medium+ intensity
Creamy and balanced on the palate, lemony acidity, freshly cut grass, elegant, restrained.
8/8+, outstanding.

2018 Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva Casablanca Valley (14.5% ABV, $12.99, 8 months in oak, organic grapes)
Pale Ruby color
Touch of smoke, earthy undertones, classic Pinot
After about an hour – plums, earthy, medium body, well present sapidity, good acidity, good balance
8-, nicely drinkable

2018 Veramonte Carménere Reserva Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Dark garnet, practically black.
Mint, black currant leaves
Black currant, coffee, very focused, good acidity, the wine shows tight, like a spring ready to snap.
8-, herbal notes are prevalent. Will see how it will be on the second day.
Second day- very concentrated, espresso, cherry pit. Good balance, but asking for the food to pair.

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, 8 months in French oak, organic grapes)
Dark garnet
Cassis, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis and bell pepper on the palate, good balance, good acidity, medium body.
8, very enjoyable.

When it comes to organic wines, Viñedos Veramonte delivers wines you can drink every day and feel good about yourself, nature, and your wallet. Isn’t that a great combo?

What do you think of organic wines? Do you actually seek them out? Do you have any favorites?

Carménère – Lost, Found, Evolved, Delightful

October 14, 2020 3 comments

According to the 2012 edition of the famous Wine Grapes book (written by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Dr. José Vouillamoz), there are 1368 grapes used in winemaking. It would be a safe bet to say that each one of those grapes has its own story. Of course, not all of those stories would be dramatic and exciting, but I’m sure some would read as a good detective story, probably without much of the shootouts.

Carménère is a perfect candidate for such a story. When Bordeaux ruled the wine world – which would be in the middle of 1800th – Carménère (which translates from French as crimson, identifying a beautiful color of the grapes) was one of the “big six” Bordeaux varieties, comprising all of the Bordeaux wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, and Carménère. Carménère is related to Cabernet grapes, but historically it is not very clear if Carménère was some type of clone of Cabernet, or if it was the other way around.

The phylloxera epidemic of 1867 put a damper on all the wine production in France and forced vignerons to replant all of the vines on the Phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Carménère is not an easy grape to grow in the Bordeaux climate, and it was pretty much abandoned and considered extinct at the beginning of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, in 1850th, immigrants brought many of the French grapes with them to Chile, where the grapes started to strive in the warm and dry climate offered by the Andes mountains. In 1980th, Merlot became a star of Chilean winemaking, abundantly producing inexpensive wines that became well known in the world. It was noticed that the taste of the Chilean Merlot differs from the traditional Merlot and that Merlot was considered to be a Chilean-specific clone. Or at least it was until 1994 when visiting French scientist, Jean Boursiquot noticed that Chilean Merlot has different leaves and grape clusters from the traditional Merlot, and was able to show that this was not the Merlot, but long-extinct Carménère, which successfully made it to Chile in the 1850s with all the Bordeaux grape cuttings.

From that time, Carménère went on to become Chile’s own star grape, and answer to another French variety, Malbec, which Argentina made its own. As Phylloxera never made it to Chile, Chilean Carménère was even brought back to France, but it is not an easy grape to deal with, so it never regained its past glory in Bordeaux.

TerraNoble winery (Terra Noble means “Noble Land”), was founded in 1993 by a group of friends. From the beginning, TerraNoble focus was on producing high-end wines in Maule Valley, and the winery quickly established itself as a boutique producer of Chilean Merlot. After Chilean Merlot was identified as Carménère, TerraNoble continued focusing on the variety.

TerraNoble sustainably (certified sustainable since 2019) farms today about 750 acres, which comprises 4 vineyards in Maule Valley, Colchagua Valley, and Casablanca Valley. The winery produces a full range of wines you would expect a Chilean winery to produce – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah – but Carménère is unquestionably the darling of TerraNoble, as presented by Marcelo Garcia, TerraNoble’s winemaker, during the virtual tasting a few weeks back.

While browsing Sotheby’s New Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson, I came across a small insert about Chilean Carménère, where it was mentioned that Carménère is site-specific to the extreme – you need to work hard to find the right location for Carménère to vines to deliver the best result. TerraNoble approach to Carménère is based exactly on this notion – site-specific Carménère wines. As we mentioned before, Carménère is a close relative of the core Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet and Merlot and has a similar taste profile as well. It is similar, but not the same, obviously. A typical Carménère has a much higher concentration of the aroma compound called pyrazines, which is often associated with the pronounced taste of the green bell pepper  – here is a good article that explains pyrazines in depth. Green pepper is good for cooking and the salad, but probably not so much in wine. Also, when left unsupervised, Carménère has a tendency to develop a high concentration of the tannins. While someone might enjoy a big powerful wine with pronounced green bell pepper aromatics and powerful tannin structure, the appeal is not universal and this is what Chilean winemakers had to deal with.

TerraNoble CA project vineyards. Source: TerraNoble

In 1998, TerraNoble released Gran Reserva Carménère to the international markets. The grapes for this wine were coming from the La Higuera Vineyard in Maule Valley, near San Clemente. This wine still remains the winery’s flagship. I had been a fan of TerraNoble wines for a long time, after discovering them back in 2004. To the best of my memory, 2003 TerraNoble Carménère Gran Reserva was quite enjoyable, but I don’t have any detailed notes in that regard.

Following its Carménère calling, TerraNoble planted two new Carménère vineyards in Colchagua Valley – in 2004, Los Cactus Vineyard, about 25 miles from the coast, and in 2005, Los Lingues Vineyard, about 35 miles further inland, on the outskirts of Andes mountains. These two vineyards became a home to the special project called CA – producing two 100% Carménère wines using absolutely identical vinification at the winery, different only in the source of the grapes – CA1 from the Andes, and CA2 from the coast. The first wines in the CA project were released in 2009.

The goal of the project was to showcase the capabilities of Carménère grapes. With winemaking techniques identical for both wines, different taste profiles were only influenced by the different growing conditions, the terroir – soil and climate most of anything. How different are the wines? We had an opportunity to taste a few of the CA project wines, and they were demonstrably different. Here are my notes from the tasting.

We started with the tasting of the flagship Carménère

2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva Maule Valley, Chile (14% ABV, $18.99, aged 75% in previously used French oak barrels, 25% in untoasted casks, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Currant leaves, blackberries
Bright red fruit, good acidity, soft, easy to drink, medium body, medium finish.
8-, nicely approachable from the get-go. 8 after a few hours.

Then we had an opportunity to compare two of the vintages of CA1 wines (from the Andes), and then CA1 and CA2 from the same vintage – again, you can see how different the wines are:

2016 TerraNoble CA1 Carmenere Andes Valle de Colchagua, Chile (14% ABV, $24.99, aged 85% in new and twice used French oak barrels, 15% in untoasted oak casks for 14 months, 12 months in the bottle)
dark garnet
touch of barnyard, dark fruit
black currant, a touch of bell peppers, noticeable french oak tannins, peppery, chewy tannins, big body
7+/8- initially, 8 after a few hours. Excellent, powerful wine.

2017 TerraNoble CA1 Carmenere Andes Valle de Colchagua, Chile (14% ABV, $24.99, aged 85% in new and twice used French oak barrels, 15% in untoasted oak casks for 14 months, 12 months in the bottle)
dark garnet
tobacco, currant leaves, pepper, dense and concentrated
good acidity, peppery notes, blackberries, concentrated
7+/8- initially, 8 in a few hours. Delicious.

2017 TerraNoble CA2 Carmenere Costa Valle de Colchagua, Chile (14% ABV, $24.99 aged 85% in new and twice used French oak barrels, 15% in untoasted oak casks for 14 months, 12 months in the bottle)
dark garnet
currant more noticeable
softer than the previous wine, but showing more of the green notes. black currant
7+/8- initially, 8 in a few hours.

We finished our tasting with a somewhat unexpected wine – Carignan. Carignan is another ancient French grape, this one coming from Rhône valley. Chile has very old Carignan vineyards (some are 120+ years old), however, for the longest time, Carignan was used by the farmers to make very strong, but not really drinkable alcohol. Carignan’s popularity started increasing around 2000. Another interesting fact about Carignan is that it is mostly growing in the small (and old) vineyards, where the vineyards became a part of a natural biodiverse habitat, which includes other plants and animals.

TerraNoble Carignan grapes were sourced from the vineyard planted in 1958 in Maule Valley close to the ocean, using dry farming. The wine was partially aged in the concrete eggs.

2018 TerraNoble Carignan Gran Reserva Melozal, Maule Valley, Chile (13.5% ABV, $18.99, aged 50% in concrete egg, 50% in untoasted oak casks, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark Ruby
touch of licorice, distant hint of candied fruit
tart fresh cherries, good acidity, medium body, simple, easy, and pleasant. Might be a summer quaffer
7+

Here you are, my friends – TerraNoble tells the story of modern-day Chilean Carménère. The evolution of the Carménère wines is still ongoing, with TerraNoble winemakers starting to experiment with concrete eggs and amphorae, and who knows what else is coming to push the grape which Chile made its own even further. One thing for sure – winelovers are in for lots of pleasure.

From $5 to $95

December 23, 2018 1 comment

Taste of the wine is subjective. This is a very simple statement, but it is important to keep it in mind. It really helps to avoid disappointment, when, for example, you tell your friend that the wine is amazing, and your friend politely explains that “ahh, sorry, this is really not my thing”. This is also why all the ratings and medals simply mean that someone liked the wine – but they don’t offer any guarantee that you will like the wine too.

Not only the taste of the wine is “objectively subjective” (hope this makes sense to you), but it is also easily influenced (blind tasting is the only way to remove all the external influences and leave you one on one with the wine). There are many factors which influence the taste – bottle appearance, label, ratings, medals, friends and store clerks recommendations, and maybe most importantly, price.

Think about how you buy a bottle of wine as a present for someone. You would typically set yourself a price limit, and you will do your best not to exceed it. Let’s say you decided to spend $30 on a bottle. But what happens if the store’s employee would recommend you a bottle of wine at $15, saying also that the $15 bottle is equally good or even better than the one for $32 you hold in your hand. What will be your first thought? I bet your brain will say “ohh, this is too cheap! You can’t do this, take the one for $32!”.

It is obvious that price affects your buying decision. But the price is even more influential when you start drinking the wine, as the price sets the expectations. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, but I’m willing to bet that you expect $10 bottle of wine to be mediocre, and you will be ultra-excited faced with the glass of $100 wine. The fun part about $10 bottle is that there is a great chance for a pleasant surprise. The sad part about the $100 bottle that there is a chance of a great disappointment. The best thing to do is to keep your expectations at bay and simply taste the wine and decide whether you like it or not – but this is usually easier said than done. Oh well, just keep working on it.

The message I’m trying to convey with all this pricing/influencing talk can be summarized like this: tasty wines exist at all price ranges. You can enjoy the wine for $5, and you can enjoy the wine for $95. Will you enjoy them equally? This is a tough question only you can answer. But let me share with you my experience with the wines from $5 to $95 which I tasted throughout this year – and then we can compare notes later on. Here we go:

Under $10:

2016 San Pedro Gato Negro Pinot Noir Valle Central DO Chile (13.5% ABV, $4.99)
Garnet
Characteristic Pinot Noir cherries and lavender on the nose, medium intensity
Simple, light, touch of tart cherries, baking spice, good acidity, overall not weary powerful, but offers lots of pleasure.
7+, simple but very nice glass of wine, and an amazing value.

2016 San Pedro 9 Lives Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile (13.5% ABV, $9.99)
Garnet
Tobacco and cat pee
Pretty tannic, with some fruit notes hiding behind.
Not very good from the get-go.
After 3 days open – dramatic change, raspberries and blackberries on the palate, ripe fruit, good acidity, eucalyptus notes, medium body – very nice. Truly needed time ( even 2 days was not enough).
8- after 3 days.

Under $20:

2014 Domaine du Raifault Cuvée Tradition Chinon AOC (13% ABV, $17)
Bright Ruby color
Tobacco and cassis on the nose, bright and explicit
The same continues on the palate – cassis, tobacco, perfect acidity, bright, soft, round, delicious.
9, I can drink this wine any day, every day. Superb. This is the Cab Franc I want to drink.

2014 San Marzano Talò Salice Salentino DOP (13% ABV, $16.99, 85% Negroamaro, 15% Malvasia Nera, 6 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Cherries, leather, earthy notes, granite, fresh, open, inviting
Ripe cherries, vanilla, toasted brioche, sweet tobacco, succulent, open, fresh acidity, medium+ body, excellent balance
8-/8, perfect from the get go
8+ on the second and next 3 days – lots of chewy dark fruit, generous, voluptuous, outstanding.

Under $40:

2013 Xavier Flouret Kavalier Riesling Kabinett Trocken Mosel (11% ABV, $25)
Bright Golden color
A touch of honey, lots of tropical fruit – guava, mango, white flowers, intense, pleasant
Cut trough acidity, lemon, green pineapple, intense minerality, excellent
8, great Riesling as it should be – I want to try it in 10 years.

2015 Markham Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $27, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah, 15 months in barrel)
Dark garnet
Muted nose, a touch of blackberries, right, mint, minerality
The palate is also restrained, tart dark fruit, good structure, good acidity
8-, needs time.

2013 Attems Cicinis Sauvignon Blanc Collio DOC (13.5% ABV, $30, 8 months in French oak Barriques and 2 months in the bottle)
Light golden
Minerality driven nose, with a touch of truffle and sweet sage
Medium body, crisp, firm, excellent acidity but overall nice plumpness, savory lemon, crisp finish
Drinkability: 8, I would gladly drink it again any time

Above $40:

2013 Frescobaldi Castello Nipozzano Montesodi Toscana IGT (13.5% ABV, $44, 18 months in oak, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet color
Leather, forest floor, minerality, cedar, medium+ intensity
A touch of smoke, tart cherries, tobacco, clean acidity, well integrated.
8, delicious from the get-go. Excellent aging potential.

2014 Domaine Ostertag Muenchberg Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Contrôlée (14% ABV, $50)
Light golden
Rich, intense, tropical fruit, guava, pineapple, distant hint of petrol
Delicious palate, a touch of honey and hazelnut, good acidity and tons of minerality. This is minerality driven wine right now, which will evolve into a total beauty over the next 10 years.
8, excellent.

2014 Luce Della Vite Toscana IGP (14.5% ABV, $95, Sangiovese/Merlot, 24 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Pungent, dark chocolate, truffles, licorice
From the get-go, super gripping tannins. A little bit of dark fruit is immediately displaced by the tannins. Based on the initial sensation, lots of French oak.
Not drinkable from the get-go. Needs time.
3 days later – superb. Succulent cherries, firm structure, a touch of leather and tobacco, unmistakably Italian, and unmistakable super-Tuscan. Great acidity.
8+

As you can tell, I was equally struggling with the wines at $10 and $95, and my most favorite wine from the group was a mere $17 wine – but overall, there were no bad wines in this group. How do you see the prices of wine? How influential are prices when you buy the wine and when you drink it? Cheers!

Quick Trip Around The World

December 20, 2018 3 comments

Travel might be the biggest joy of human existence. Okay, if not the biggest, it is still one of the most essential ones. Travel leads to new experiences – and experiences are the moments which comprise our lives. I’m sure the joy of travel is not universal, but I’m equally sure that it actually is for the majority of the readers of this blog (hoping that there is at least someone reading it?).

Travel typically requires two things – resources and preparation. Heck, with unlimited resources you need no preparation – you can finish your work day, say “I feel like dining at Le Cinq tomorrow”, have your limo take you directly to the airport and off you go. For many of us, this would be just a scene from the movies – which doesn’t make it impossible, right?

For most of us, successful and happy travel would require a bit more effort – find the deal on the airfare, find the deal on the hotel, find out that your passport expired just a week before you need to get on the flight, then listen to the boss complaining that you are leaving without finishing all your important tasks, finally, throwing everything you need but mostly what you don’t into the suitcase 30 minutes before leaving for the airport and starting your so long anticipated travel totally exhausted. More or less, this is the picture, right?

Then every once in a while, there is something even the unlimited funds can’t buy. Time, I’m talking about. When you finish work at 6 in New York, there is no way to be in Madrid in time for dinner. This is where you need a magic trick – and I can offer you one. Actually, you don’t need any magic to travel instantly to many different places – all you need is … well, I’m sure you know it is coming … yes, all you need is wine. The wine has this capacity. Once you look at the label and see it says France, Spain or California, your imagination can easily do the rest. A well-made wine has a sense of place, so once you take a sip, you are instantly transported to the place where wine was made. And if you ever visited the winery or the region where the wine came from, I’m sure you can be instantly overwhelmed with the emotions and memories. No, it is not the same as simply been there, but I’m sure it will still do the trick.

Bodegas Godelia Compra Online

Bierzo, Spain. Source: Bodegas Godelia website

Let’s take wine and let’s travel – how about a quick trip around the world? Let’s start in Spain, in the region called Bierzo, located in the North East part of Spain, close to the Portuguese border. As with many places in the old world, the viticulture originated in the region in the times of the Roman empire. Today, Bierzo is best known for the red wines made out of the grape called Mencía, and Godello and Doña Blanca are the two primary white grapes in the region. Bierzo is known for its special microclimate, conducive for the grape growing, which can be characterized as the continental climate with ocean influence. Bierzo has today about 2,000 grape growers, 75 wineries, and produced about 9 million bottles of wine in 2017.

Two wines I want to offer to your attention come from the Bodegas Godelia, about 86 acres estate in Bierzo. The winery was created in 2009, however, their vineyards are much older, from 20 to 90 years old, depending on the grapes, and located at the altitudes of 1,600 to 2,000 feet.

2015 Bodegas Godelia Blanco Bierza DO (13.5% ABV, $17, 80% Godello, 20% Doña Blanca)
C: light golden
N: intense, pear, guava,
P: lemon, honeysuckle, crisp acidity, medium + body, delicious
V: 8-

2012 Bodegas Godelia Mencia Bierzo DO (14.5% ABV, $19, 12 months in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: warm, inviting, medium+ intensity, a touch of barnyard, spices
P: cherries, baking spices, medium body, violets
V: 7+ on the 2nd day, needs time. Mencia is known to produce massive, chewy wines, so this wine is no exception. 6 years of age is nothing for this wine – it might start opening up after at least another 6.

Tuscany

Hills of Tuscany. Source: Barone Ricasoli website

Where should we go after Spain? How about Italy? Let’s visit Tuscany, where 2015 vintage was simply outstanding. Of course, Tuscany is best known for its Chianti wine. At the heart of the Chianti region lays a much smaller region called Chianti Classico – this is where the Chianti wines historically originated from. Inside Chianti Classico, let’s look for the winery called Barone Ricasoli – one of the very first producers in the region, taking its history since 1141. Barone Ricasoli property has a grand looking castle, where some of the stones are still original since 1141, 600 acres of vineyards and 65 acres of olive trees. While Barone Ricasoli is mostly known for the reds, they also produce a few of the white wines, a Rosato, grappa, and of course, the olive oil.

I want to offer you two of the classic Chianti wines from the Chianti Classico area (pun intended):

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG (13.5% ABV, $18, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Garnet
N: Tar, leather, sandalwood, tart cherries
P: Tart cherries, plums, clean acidity, sage, a touch of tobacco, medium plus body, good structure.
V: 8, was excellent from the get-go, got more complexity on the second day.

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (14% ABV, $23, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Dark garnet
N: Cherry, Sage, Rosemary, leather, medium plus intensity.
P: Supple berries, tart cherries, firm structure, young tannins, a touch of tobacco, good acidity, tannins on the finish
V: 8, great potential. Right now needs food. While perfectly drinkable now, with time will become a truly delicious sip.

Languedoc image

Languedoc. Source: Languedoc-wines.com

We need to complete our old world portion of the tour, so I think the stop in France is a must. How about a quick visit with Paul Mas in Languedoc? Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France, located in the south, producing a tremendous range of white, sparkling, Rosé and, for the most part, red wines. Domaines Paul Mas is one of my favorite producers I have written about many times. What I love about the wines of Domaines Paul Mas is that you literally can’t go wrong with any of the wines produced at the domain – Sparkling, Rosé, white or reds. Not only the wines taste great, but they are also priced very reasonably – Paul Mas wines saved my wallet at the restaurants on multiple occasions, so they definitely deserve some respect. Here are the wines I want to bring to your attention:

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Chardonnay Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Light golden color
N: Meyer lemon aromatics, hint of white peach, Bosc pear
P: Crisp, tart lemon on the palate, ripe Granny Smith apples, clean, refreshing. Good mid-palate presence, medium finish.
V: 8-, very good.

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Dark ruby
N: Fresh raspberries and cherries on the nose
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 7+/8-

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc))
C: Dark garnet
N: Fresh raspberries and blackberries in the nose, nicely inviting
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 8-

How is your day going so far? Feel like traveling somewhere? How about we will take a trip to sunny California? California is a big place, so to narrow it down we are actually heading to the Santa Barbara County. Here is a perfect example of the wine being a connector and an instant transporter – as soon as I hear “Santa Barbara County”, the brain instantly serves up the memories of the first Wine Bloggers Conference I attended, WBC14, which took place in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, one of the best experiences of that trip was a visit to the small town of Solvang, which is an incredible place for any wine lover. While visiting Solvang, we tasted the wines produced by Lucas and Lewellen – thus seeing that name on the label was an instant memory trigger.

The wine I want to offer to your attention today is perfectly representative of the capabilities of the Santa Barbara County wine growing region, and at the same time is very non-typical for California. Lucas and Lewellen produce the line of wines under the name of Toccata, which are all Italian varieties and blends, all grown in California. This Toccata Classico was a perfect enigma – varietally correct Tuscan beauty, only made from start to finish in California. In a blind tasting, my guess 100% would be “Chianti!”.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico Santa Barbara County (14.1% ABV, $29, 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, 18 months in French Oak, 346 cases produced)
C: Garnet
N: Fresh cherries, touch a leather, medium+ intensity
P: Ripe cherries on the palate, bright, firm structure, fresh, crunchy, touch of leather, excellent complexity, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8+, an excellent rendition of the old world wine in the new world.

vista trinidad ventisquero

Trinidad Vineyard, Chile. source: Viña Ventisquero website

Hurry up or we will be late for our last destination – Chile. About 25 years ago, Chile was mostly known as a “one-trick pony”, offering bargain-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Today, Chile is one of the leading wine producing countries in the world, offering a substantial range of perfectly executed wines, from Chile’s own trademark, Carménere, to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and many others.

Today we are visiting Viña Ventisquero, the winery which started only 20 years ago, in 1998, and now offering a diversified set of wines, coming from the different regions and made with the finest attention to detail.

Vina Ventisquero

2017 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Apalta Vineyard Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $18, 62% Garnacha, 19% Carinena, 19% Mataro, 6 months in French oak)
C: Ruby
N: Fresh raspberries, medium plus intensity, beautiful
P: Restrained, dark fruit, medium body, minerality, clean acidity, tart raspberries
V: 8-

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Carménere Trinidad VIneyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $19, 18 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A perfect nose of Carménere – mix black currant berries with blackcurrant leaves
Medium to full body, soft, silky, fresh blackcurrant present, anis, good acidity, good balance, very pleasant overall
8/8+, excellent wine

That concludes our trip, my friends. Wasn’t it easy to travel with wine, in the comfort of your living room? 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!

Power of Perception

April 28, 2015 16 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!

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