Friday, 21 January 2011

The Wines of Chile

Every month we have a wine tasting in our Elizabeth Raffald Room (upstairs at The Market Restaurant).  It provides me with an excuse to research some wines, widen my knowledge, match them with food and experience a very pleasant evening with staff and customers as we journey through the world of wine.

It’s not pretentious as many tastings are and it is very much targeted at the amateur with great enthusiasm rather than the professional with loads of knowledge and experience. Our most recent tasting was a snap shot of Chile. 

Most people have come across Chilean wines in their local supermarket along with the concept of stack it high and sell it cheap came the Chilean Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, as we discovered there are some really high quality wines now coming out of Chile.  The problem is we have been conditioned by the supermarkets and many amateur wine enthusiasts are not prepared to take the risk on a Chilean wine which may retail at £10-£15 a bottle.

Vines first arrived in Chile around 500 years ago with the Spanish conquistadores, but a fashion for all things French in the late 19th century had a significant influence on the wine industry.  The result was major plantings of the Bordeaux grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

In recent years, with international investment and expertise, the industry has revolutionised with large new wineries, sophisticated technology, and large, successful brands. The country now produces some of the most keenly priced, well made varietal wines in the world.

With the Atacama Desert to the north, the Antarctic to the south, Pacific to the west and Andes to the east, this long thin country is one of the most geographically isolated in the world. This has had one major benefit; the phylloxera louse which destroyed most of the European vineyards in the late 19th century and still has the potential to cause serious problems, has never made it to Chile. In fact Chile's vineyards have managed to remain relatively disease free and are among some of the healthiest in the world. The country has developed some what of a reputation as being a grape growing paradise; perfect light, ideal climate and protection against disease.

Over the last few years Chile has been restructuring its industry to make the most of what the French call 'terroir'. This is where the ideal climate and soil type are matched to each grape variety. Look out for the wines from the Southern cooler climate area of Bío-Bío for  the more aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, or the northerly area of Casablanca where the Pacific influences give it a cool climate perfect for producing some lively, zesty Sauvignons as well as good quality Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

The largest production area is the Central Valley which encompasses areas such as the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valleys. This is where the majority of the red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chile's own signature grape, Carmenère, is produced. It is also worth looking out for Chilean Shiraz, which is showing a lot of promise and the San Antonio Valley, which is a relatively new but exciting area.

Despite nearly 500 years of existence, Chile's wine industry is fresh, young, and evolving to meet the needs of today's ever more demanding world markets. 

We tasted five wines, four of them were from Viña Errázuriz.  They have been producing the highest quality Chilean wines for more than 130 years.  Don Maximiano Errázuriz founded Viña Errázuriz in 1870 in the Valle de Aconcagua, 100 kms north of the capital city, Santiago. Recognizing that this valley, with its cool, rainy winters, hot, dry summers and moist Pacific Ocean breezes, was ideal for growing grapes, Don Maximiano sent for the finest clones from France and with tenacity and perseverance transformed this barren land into a world-class vineyard.

Today, the tradition of quality lives on with Don Maximiano’s descendant, Eduardo Chadwick. Eduardo is the fifth generation of his family to be involved in the wine business.  Eduardo has overseen the modernisation of the winemaking technology at this historic estate while maintaining a distinct identity for its wines. Dedicated to producing estate grown wines of superior quality, Errázuriz has built a reputation as the “Best of Chile”.

Errázuriz’s philosophy is best expressed by Don Maximiano who said, “From the best land, the best wine.” As an estate winery, Viña Errázuriz strives to produce the finest wines by controlling every stage of the winemaking process, from grape growing in the Aconcagua, Casablanca and Curicó valleys, to winemaking with the most natural techniques. An emphasis is placed on the delicate handling of the wines, with the aim of producing wines with elegance and complexity. It is his dynamism and passion for wine that has made Errázuriz such an internationally respected producer of quality wines.

The Wines

1.  Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2009/2010 Leyda Valley  13.5%
Made under the expert eye of Aurelio Montes, this is a showcase for the true character of Sauvignon Blanc. Intense aromatics and a concentrated palate of tropical and citrus fruits are the result of cool temperatures and extended ripening time for the grapes.

2.  Errazuriz Chardonnay 2009/2010 Casablanca Valley 13.5%
Cool maritime breezes allow for a gentle and prolonged ripening period that makes the valley an ideal place for growing Chardonnay. Good aromatic intensity with fresh pineapple, mandarin orange, and papaya, along with stewed pears, and toasted notes that add complexity to the wine.

3.  Errazuriz Pinot Noir 2009 Casablanca Valley 13.5%
Winemaker Francisco Baettig limits the oak ageing to just 7 months for less than half the finished wine to retain typical fresh, fruity Pinot Noir characteristics. Ripe blackberry, floral aromas and a smooth, silky mouthfeel make this an excellent partner to roast pork or fillet of salmon

4.   Errazuriz Carmenère 2009/2010 Aconcagua Valley 13.5%
Deep and lively burgundy in colour, the aromas of freshly ground black pepper and grilled red peppers complement the tobacco and chocolate notes that blend seamlessly with hints of smoky oak. On the palate, this medium-bodied wine is structured by big, mouth-filling tannins. Spicy notes linger on the palate through the long, pleasant finish.

5.   Errazuriz Merlot 2009/2010 Aconcagua 13.5%
The fruit for this wine was sourced from a range of sites across the Aconcagua Valley, where the Mediterranean climate and cold nights encourage good fruit purity. Only 50% of the wine has been aged in French oak for added complexity, while retaining fruit character.

Youthful in character with a bright crimson colour. A fruit-driven nose, with plenty of soft plum and bramble, and the merest hint of vanilla and spice from the oak, and the blend's 15% Carmenere. Equally at home with pasta in simple tomato-based sauces, as it is with red meat, grilled chops or sausages.

Next month we’re off to Bordeaux!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of Chilean wines, only wish we were close to The Market Restaurant. Rest assured we will be visiting soonest.