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01 July 2021

Chile review 2021 masterclass

Valle de Elqui
Two tasting sessions featuring very diverse wines were held live via Zoom at the end of May, hosted by Wines of Chile UK, Tim Atkin MW and several leading Chilean winemakers also online commenting on their wines as we sampled from home. Tim picked sixteen whites, reds and a rosé to showcase the latest developments on the ground in Chile, enhanced by lots of up-to-date information on vineyards, grape varieties and wine regions. Atkin produces a substantial report every year on the Chilean wine scene, which can be purchased from this website here. Wine geek warning: this post is quite long and 'serious' (but does contain some great wines to look out for)...
The (hopefully) most interesting titbits of info are summarised before my notes and views on the wines, which include some geeky tech analyses (acid, residual sugar...) to help explain certain aspects better. I'm always slightly surprised when reminded of Chile's unique geography - the country is 4270 km long by just 177 km wide on average (2670 x 110 miles) - but what's more surprising nowadays is the extent of vineyards planted literally the length and breadth of the nation. Historically limited to the central half, vines are now grown pretty much across the whole of Chile from south to north (except the very far south and north), and from the Andes to the coastal ranges (Cordilleras) to the Pacific Ocean. This amounts to a 3795 km (nearly 2400 mile) stretch of vineyards spanning from at least 28 to 40 degrees south latitude. Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, that's roughly equivalent to the Gold Coast (Queensland) to Tasmania in Australia; or in European terms, from Valencia (Spain) to the Canary Islands (although they lie to the west too).
The overall vine surface area in Chile currently totals 136,000 hectares spread over sixteen defined regions, fourteen of which are named after river valleys, planted with no less than 51 red and 42 white grape varieties although Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc remain the leaders. It's believed that climate change has made wine-growing less marginal in the south and, for example, has contributed to better ripeness for varieties like Carmenere (notoriously late ripening). Rainfall can vary hugely in the different vineyard zones from say 50 mm per annum in the north to 1500 mm in the south. All of these factors make it difficult to generalise about vintages, but the last five were described as: 2016 - wet, 2017 - hot and dry, 2018 - balanced and 'one of the best', 2019 ("good although better in Argentina") and 2020 - drought, and 2021 - cool. The line-up included some very good wines for sure, some of which seem to have unrealistically high prices (imho) although admittedly are limited production wines.
Starting with 2019 Cousiño Macul Isidora Riesling from Maipo Valley, the subregion that surrounds Santiago where traditionally the focus has been on red wines, presented by winemaker Rosario Palma. It's labelled as D.O Andes under the (2011) vineyard area classification: Andes, Entre Cordilleras or Costa. This Riesling is mostly planted to the south or at altitude and has been produced by Macul since 1978 no less; the Riesling cuttings originally came from Germany. It's very dry (1.92 g/l residual sugar or RS with low pH of 3.08 lending elevated acidity) yet full-bodied (14% abv) and reminded me of a German Spätlese trocken style from say the Pfalz or an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling. Oily honeyed nose with lime fruit, complex and aromatic, quite rich and ripe yet zesty and dry, showing a developed oily honeyed palate with subtle ripe lime fruit and fresh acidity, surprisingly full-on mouth-weight and concentrated, maturing finish yet still quite tightly structured. £13.50 UK price, imported by New Generation Wines.
2019 Viña Aquitania Sol de Sol Chardonnay Traiguén - Malleco subregion (D.O Entre Cordilleras), winemaker: Eduardo de Solminhac. This classy Chardonnay (13% abv, RS 4, pH 3.04) is made from low-yielding massale selected vines planted in this "cool" part of the South region, and was fermented and aged in barrels ("very little malolactic fermentation") but isn't overtly oaky at all and is well-textured. Ripe complex maturing nose with buttery oat tones, very concentrated palate with quite rich oily mouth-feel and tasty savoury oatmeal flavours, fairly powerful yet poised finish. Stylish Premier Cru Chablis-esque Chardy! £18.50 Lay & Wheeler.

2020 Viña Aromo Cuatro Vientos Rosé (winemaker: Jimena Egaña) comes from Maule in the southern part of the Central Valley region (D.O. Entre Cordilleras) and is 100% Syrah (13% abv, 8.9 RS, pH 3.2). Very aromatic floral red berry fruit (raspberry, cranberry), very fruity palate with a touch of sweetness but still nice and fresh, rounded and creamy mouthful with off-dry finish. Good for £7.00, a tad too medium-ish for me but a sound commercial rosé nevertheless. No importer at the moment.
2020 Viña Carmen D.O. Loma Seca Cinsault is grown in the Itata Valley (Costa), which is on the northern side of South region (just north of the city of Concepción). Winemaker = Emily Faulconer. This 100% Cinsault (13% abv, pH 3.63, 1.54 RS) is sourced from a "very small dry-farmed vineyard with head-trained old vines," which sits on granite soils near the coast. Light purple colour, aromatic blackcurrant and liquorice notes, intense palate with crunchy fruit, light tannin and appealing freshness reminiscent of a spicy Cab Franc style, still closed up on the finish; promising although expensive. £30 Santa Rita Estates Europe Ltd.
2018 Viña TerraNoble CA2 Carmenere is built from 100% Carmenere sourced from shallow soils on granite in Lolol in the Colchagua Costa zone (about 40 km from the ocean) in central Chile. The geeky tech stuff is: 14.7% abv, 3.70 pH, 3.2 RS and vegan V-label certified; the grapes are pre-macerated in tank then fermented part in stainless steel and part in open wooden vats, although "not much new oak," winemaker Marcelo Garcia confirmed. Very deep and dense purple black colour, a tad reductive to start with peppery (red and black) undertones, blackberry and herbs; concentrated tight mouth-feel with firm grip but well-textured tannins, lingering oomph on the finish layered with dark fruit and wild herbs. Quality red that has more to reveal. c. £25.00 no UK importer.
2019 Montes Outer Limits Syrah comes from "the only vineyard" in Zapallar (a fashionable seaside resort apparently) in the Aconcagua Costa zone lying to the north of the city port Valparaiso, said winemaker Bernardo Troncoso. It's located "right on the coast" and subjected to cool ocean breezes, which is deemed "marginal" for the Syrah variety (they first planted Pinot Noir, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay there before Syrah and Albariño). The wine has 14% abv with 2.5 g/l RS and 3.56 pH, and "some old oak (5th use)" is used for ageing. Very dense black purple colour, herby black cherry nose with dark ripe lush and spicy palate set on a tight firm backdrop, aromatic black cherry-berry lingers with wild herb and mint tones then savoury peppery finish, concentrated and solid but well-textured tannins; lovely Syrah. £20.00 Liberty Wines.
2013 Morandé Edición Limitada Golden Harvest is sourced from the western side of the Casablanca Valley (lying southeast of Valparaiso) close to the ocean (hence D.O Costa). Winemaker Ricardo Baettig explained that "we had to spray water to promote botrytis... it's getting harder as there's less and less fog in the mornings." This change in microclimate over the years, with the ocean getting 'warmer', has "weirdly" resulted in a slightly cooler and drier climate in this area. Hence 2013 was the last vintage Morandé managed to make this classic sweet wine when "conditions were perfect."
Botrytis-affected Sauvignon Blanc was picked in mid-June, hand-destemmed and initially a basket press was used. The wine was barrel-fermented in French oak casks slowly for a year with the addition of some 'Essencia' as required (the most concentrated super-sweet free-run botrytis 'juice'). It has low alcohol of 11.5% abv with 184 RS and pH 3.22. Brown-amber in colour, very complex honeyed botrytis nose with rich sultana aromas and flavours, super concentrated and sweet with maturing savoury edges vs enticing fresh acidity, tart marmalade and candied citrus peel notes, finishing with lush rounded texture, very lingering flavours and freshness too; delicious wine. £40 Berkmann Wine Cellars.

Rosario Palma, Cousiño Macul's winemaker.

2019 Casa Silva Lago Ranco Sauvignon Blanc was produced in the Osorno Valley in Austral region, which is as far south as winegrowing gets in Chile (at the moment!). Winemakers Francisco Calderon and Mario Guiese said there was 2000 mm of rainfall in 2019 (although mostly in winter and spring, with no frost) and peak temperature of 25 degrees centigrade in January. This Sauvignon was picked in the second and third weeks of April; it can sometimes be in May this far south. The resulting wine is pretty unusual (11.5% abv, pH 3.1, RS 1.92) showing pungent ripe grapefruit aromas with intricate honeyed citrus notes, maturing fruit on the palate, quite rich yet light-bodied with very fresh acidity, complex developed finish with that structured acid backdrop; very different SB mixing dry mouth-feel, delicate touches and lingering flavours. £21.95 Jackson Nugent Vintners.
2019 J. Bouchon Granito Semillon: This 100% Semillon (13.5% abv, pH 3.09, RS 1.23) was grown in the biggest subregion, Maule at the southern end of the Central Valley, which has seen something of a renaissance in recent times due to a refocus on old-vine Carignan and indigenous varieties like Pais. Although classed as D.O Entre Cordilleras, this 80 year-old vineyard is more "coastal" according to winemaker Cristian Sepúlvade, located in Batuco 30 km from the Pacific. He described 2019 as "one of the warmest ever and one of the coolest!" of the last five vintages, where grapes were picked in batches from the end of February to the end of March. Odd nose with hints of toasted yeast-lees reminiscent of that type of quirky Hunter Valley Semillon style (although this one is barrel-fermented with 'native yeast' and cask-aged rather than 'reductive' bottle ageing), fairly rich vs tart acidity, creamy and waxy with maturing savoury fruit flavours, dry crisp finish layered with full-textured oatmeal and hazelnut notes. Enticing characterful wine although dear at £39 (Condor Wines).
The intriguingly named Ventisquero Tara White Wine 2 hails from Huasco Valley, the southern part of Atacama region, which is 850 km north of Santiago; basically in the desert although only 18 km from the ocean. They see barely 50 mm of rain per year in this zone, "sometimes none" confirmed winemakers Felipe Tosso and Alejandro Galaz; summer temperatures inland average 35-40 degrees C but there more like 25-30. This experimental white ("bonkers wine" as Tim Atkin put it), which started out as Chardonnay but became Viognier, is non-vintage based on 2011 Viognier and topped up with some of each vintage up to 2019, hence its alternative name of 'Solera 4th edition' (the fourth time they've made it using this well-known tiered sherry cask-ageing technique; the tech spec = 13.5% abv, pH 3.19, 1.89 RS; part cask-fermented in used barrels, part in stainless steel). Lightly cloudy (not fined or filtered) with ripe exotic fruit yet tangy yeasty aromas too, apple pear and yeast-lees notes, concentrated and weighty mouth-feel with very crisp, intense, almost salty finish and lingering yeasty 'natural' styling. Once again, an attention-grabbing although expensive wine at about £40.
2018 P.S Garcia Pinot Noir is sourced from Malleco Valley in the South region (Entre Cordilleras; 13.5% abv, pH 3.45, 1.80 RS). Felipe García explained that his winery started making Pinot Noir in 2006 having worked in Burgundy and he hired a consultant from Burgundy at the outset. This Pinot is the Dijon clone 777 from Los Suizos vineyard located 3.5 kilometres from the city of Traiguén, but he also buys grapes from different growers in other areas such as Casablanca Valley. Fairly deep colour developing browning edges, smoky savoury nose, concentrated yet refreshing palate with hints of spicy coconut oak and texture (matured 20 months in French oak barrels) in a posh Burgundy style, silky and rounded mouth-feel with light toasty notes and sweet/savoury fruit to finish. Tasty well-made Pinot ready to drink.
2019 Viñedos de Alcohuaz Cuesta Chica (13.5% abv, pH 3.47, 1.69 RS) is all Garnacha / Grenache grown in the Elqui Valley, Coquimbo region (D.O. Andes) in this winery's highest vineyard at, get this, 2179 metres above sea level! Winemaker Marcelo Retamal added that, although it's cooler there's a wide temperature variation and high UV radiation. This Grenache plot is composed of granite soils and rainfall is lower than 100 mm per annum usually. Grapes were fermented in 'truncated concrete tanks' (to mimic traditional lagares) with 60% of them left as whole clusters, which are "left alone while undergoing carbonic maceration mostly (no treading)." Wild nose with kirsch and grappa tones, grippy and fresh mouth-feel with good depth of lively cherry fruit, the tannins seem rather dry at first but the wine opens up with air revealing more of that lingering sweet & savoury fruit. Reminiscent of a quality traditional high-ground Greek red, it probably needs more time to develop. Quite dear although rather unique: £32 imported by Indigo Wine, US shipper European Cellars.
2019 La Ronciere Licantén Malbec is from the Idahue vineyard on the coastal side of Curicó (25 km from the ocean and close to a river) in the Central Valley region; Licantén is now an official D.O zone. This blend of 85% Malbec, 8% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc was crafted by winemaker Juan Aurelio Munoz and matured for 10 months in French oak (30% new barrels; 14% abv, pH 3.66, RS 3). Purple - black colour, toasty coconut and cedar oak notes on the nose, concentrated though with underlying dark fruits, firm yet textured tannins, still a tad oaky although it reminded me of a top Cahors chateau wine, quite fine long finish; should age well. £13.95 Corney & Barrow.

2017 Pérez Cruz Chaski Petit Verdot (14.7% abv, pH 3.54, 3.87 RS; 14 months in French oak barrels, 50% new) was grown in the Andes zone of Maipo Valley to the southeast of Santiago; 2017 was a "very hot dry vintage," according to winemaker German Lyon. Black - purple colour with developing edges, dark and savoury nose with herby red pepper tones, spicy concentrated and powerful with maturing savoury and dark cherry fruit, still quite structured although with developed sweet and peppery liquorice flavours on the finish. Wow, serious and tasty. Importer Hallgarten – Novum Wines £30.
2018 Viña Koyle Cerro Basalto Mediterraneo is from Los Lingues on the eastern side of the Colchagua valley (D.O. Andes: 500 metres altitude) in central Chile. This quirky (for Chile at least) blend of 38% Mourvèdre (Monastrell to give it its proper Spanish name), 32% Grenache (Garnacha), 24% Carignan (Cariñena) and 6% Syrah is organic, biodynamic, vegan and "non-GMO" - the famous French soil consultants, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, consulted at the vineyard when planted. Tech spec = 14.5% abv, pH 3.53, RS 2; and matured for 18 months in wooden tuns and concrete 'eggs'.
Winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga said there was 400 mm rainfall in 2018, but it's been less than half that per annum since then, "we often have to irrigate." The Garnacha was vinified "more reductively," and the other grapes "more oxidatively," hence the mix of large format casks and concrete vats mentioned above, then the four varieties were blended after ageing. Fairly dark colour, intriguing nose of red pepper and spicy pepper (a touch reductive as well to start, which clears with airing), savoury olive vs black cherry flavours too, lush yet grippy mouth-feel, sweet / savoury finish, powerful weighty finale with tasty juicy black fruits vs savoury meaty tones, firm and concentrated. Very good 'natural'-style Bandol-esque blend. £17.50 The Wine Society.

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