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10 February 2016

Chile: Viña Ventisquero & John Duval

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One of Australia's most famous and laid-back winemakers, John Duval (below right) has been a consultant at Ventisquero (meaning 'grey glacier') in Chile since the beginning: 2004 vintage for Syrah and Merlot and 2005 for Cabernet and Carmenere (CLICK HERE and scroll down to read my report and notes cobbled together in 2007 featuring these wines). John, who was in London to host a special tasting a few months ago, said he's "worked with Felipe Tosso (winemaker at Ventisquero) for many years now... After I left Penfolds in 2002, it was through contacts there that I was invited to Chile." And the rest is history, as the old cliché goes; he goes over twice a year nowadays "after the vintage in Barossa and in November."
John told us he was "particularly impressed by Apalta (in the Colchagua Valley), it's a very beautiful vineyard site. I particularly loved some of the blocks of Syrah, so we did some work on soils etc. to see why." Ventisquero is part of a large agricultural group that went into the wine industry in the mid 1990s, which lead to new plantings in the late 90s and early 00s followed by "regular additions in different sites," John added. "There's plenty of old vine Carignan in the south too, which we've tried. And one of our Apalta sites, west-facing, was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon but was too hot for it, so we grafted Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre onto it." In the first few years, he described the wine as "juicy and aromatic but lacking structure, so it was bottled and released to market straightaway." This small maturing vineyard now extends to around 3.5 hectares (nearly 9 acres). John described his winemaking philosophy as "not trying to make big fruit bomb wines whether here, in Barossa or Washington State (he's a partner in the Long Shadows venture there)."
The highlight of this tasting was to compare certain recent Ventisquero vintages with a couple of those 2005s mentioned above - at least, that was the plan until Her Maj's customs lost one of them on arrival! But it still meant we had the chance to try one ageing ten year-old Syrah from Apalta at least. More info: www.ventisquero.com.

2014 Grey Glacier GCM - 55% Garnacha, 22.5% Cariñena, 22.5% Mataro (Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre) from La Roblería Vineyard, Apalta, Colchagua Valley. Aged in used French oak barrels for six months, 14.5% abv. Light cherry colour with aromatic cherry and violet notes, fresh and fruity with vibrant acidity and weight too, sweet berry and cherry fruit lingers with soft-ish texture and oomph. Attractive and fairly easy going but a bit dear (although no more than Chateauneuf-du-Pape say): £13.50 buygreatwine.co.uk and slurp.co.uk, £73 for six finewinecompany.co.uk.
2011 Grey Glacier Carmenere - 100% Carmenere from Trinidad Vineyard in the Maipo Valley, which is "more southerly and more sea influenced, and seems well suited to Carmenere," John thinks it would suit parts of Australia too. 2011 was a "quite cool vintage," and picking is often done in late May here. Fermented and aged in barrel for 12 months (30% new oak), 13.5% abv. Showing a hint of age on its colour, perfumed herby and spicy red pepper notes with light touch of chocolate oak; reasonably concentrated and complex, fairly soft and mature too with a little remaining grip tinged with roast red pepper and soy sauce flavours, attractive texture with light grain, sweet/savoury fruit finish yet still fresh and well balanced. Pretty good. £13.50-£14.50 Noble Green, Davy's, slurp.co.uk; £73-£77 for six Excel Wines and finewinecompany.co.uk.
2011 Enclave Cabernet Sauvignon - 87% Cab Sauv with 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Carmenere and 3% Cabernet Franc from the Pirque region in Maipo, including "some fruit from Maipo Alto planted at 750 and 1000 metres altitude to get the style we wanted; and older vines too." 18 months in 50% new French oak, 13.7% abv. Looks a tad older, leafy blackcurrant/cassis tones vs savoury maturing aromas, shows good concentration and power vs an elegant touch, subtle oak texture and sweet/savoury fruit; still firm and structured yet ageing nicely with that attractively quirky mix of herby vs sweeter fruit, quite long and fine. Expensive though: £45 slurp, six for £272 finewinecompany.
2011 Vertice - 53% Carmenere and 47% Syrah from La Roblería where "the top blocks are selected," up to 470 m above sea level. 20 months in French oak, 40% new; 14.5% abv. Aromatic and quite rich with coconut, red pepper and darker black cherry, powerful yet pretty concentrated, still quite tight and firm-structured vs enticing savoury meaty flavours, grainy and grippy mouth-feel vs some freshness and weight, again nice mix of herby vs sweeter fruit, powerful yet well-balanced finish. Showing well now although should keep nicely for a few years. £23.95 Davy's.
2011 Pangea Syrah - from a hillside vineyard in La Roblería; 22 months in 50% new French oak barrels, not fined or filtered, 14.5% abv. Darker colour, rich yet savoury with black cherry and liquorice, tasty mouthful of lush fruit, rounding oomph and still a little freshness too, and the oak is surprisingly subtle; concentrated, still fairly firm with nice grainy texture vs sweet/savoury fruit flavours vs weight and length. Very tasty Syrah with its own character. £28.95 Davy's.
2005 Pangea Syrahfrom a hillside vineyard in La Roblería; 20 months in 60% new French oak barrels, 14.5% abv. Distinctly browning colour yet still deep/dark and intense, nice ageing meaty nose with savoury vs liquorice profile, still fairly grippy mouth-feel although the wine's drinking well now, powerful sweet-fruited vs meaty finish; a bigger mouthful in some ways, attractive mature style with lingering dark/meaty flavours, although a little clunkier than the 2011 with drier tannins.
2013 Grey Glacier Chardonnay - Casablanca Valley. Barrel-fermented in French oak with lees-stirring then 30% aged in new oak and the rest used barrels for 12 months; 13.5% abv. Lovely ripe citrus vs oaty and buttery on the nose, subtle oak with creamy lees characters and sweet juicy fruit vs fresh bite still, attractive sweet/savoury notes on the finish. Delicious classy Chardy. £13.50 slurp and Davy's.
UK agent Bibendum PLB.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.