Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chilean Pleasures for Summer - and beyond

Sauivgnon Blanc vineyard near Chile's coast
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Notes on a few new releases from Chile that combine quality with value:

2008 Meli Riesling (Maule Valley)
You don't often think about Riesling in Chile and admittedly, it's still a drop in the bucket here in terms of plantings. But there are some fine examples; this bottling offers pleasant tangerine and yellow peach aromas with just a touch of petrol (this is common with many fine Rieslings, especially from the Southern Hemisphere) and has good weight on the palate with a dry finish and tart acidity. Don't think about putting this away for several years - rather enjoy it over the next 12-15 months with lighter seafood or stir-fry vegetables. ($12)

2009 Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc “Quelat” (Casablanca Valley)
Chile's cool Casablanca Valley is an ideal area for Sauvignon Blanc; this example offers lovely varietal aromas of spearmint and fresh hay. Medium-bodied, with a gentle entry on the palate, this is well-balanced with good acidity. This would be ideal with medium-bodied seafood influenced by herbs such as chervil. ($16)

2009 Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc “Single Vineyard” (D.O. Aconcagua)
Readers know of my love for Sauvignon Blancs from Chile. After the variety became a success in Casablanca Valley, a few vintners planted it in extremely cool zones near the ocean, such as San Antonio and Leyda Valleys. The wines from these two areas have become some the world's finest Sauvignons over the past five to seven years.

Now producers in other regions are looking to the coolest reaches of their land to plant Sauvignon Blanc as well. Late last year, I wrote about the brilliant Cool Coast bottling from Casa Silva in Colchagua Valley; this wine being a signal that there were cool sites in many regions in Chile that could yield wines of great complexity.

Now comes this bottling from Errazuriz in the Aconcagua Valley. Like Colchagua, Aconcagua is thought of as a red wine zone, due to its warm inland temperatures. But a small area near the sea, known as Aconcagua Costa, has been developed by the winery for Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was first produced from the 2008 vintage; the 2009 displays distinctive aroms of bell pepper, spearmint and lime backed by impressive depth of fruit and a lengthy finish. Although not as aromatically complex as the finest examples from Leyda and San Antonio (such as Casa Marin, Amayna and Leyda Vineyards), this has beautiful structure and should improve and drink welll for 3-5 years. The $15 price tag represents a great value! I loved the winery's 2008 Single Vineyard Carmenere, which I tried at the Wines of Chile tasting in Chicago this past April; based on these two wines, I'd have to rank Errazuriz as one of leaders of the country's wine scene. I can't wait to try the latest releases of their other specialty wines (Chardonnay Wild Ferment, Pinot Noir Wild Ferment, Single Vineyard Sangiovese).

2008 Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Santa Ana Estate Block 45 (Bio-Bio Valley)
Just as in most countries around the world, Pinot Noir is a challenge in Chile. Again, look to the cool zones such as Casblanca and San Antonio for the finest examples. Now a few very good examples are emerging from the far southern region of Bio-Bio. This 2008 from Gracia is medium-bodied and focuses on wild cherry fruit along with notes of cardamom and bacon fat. It has an earthy, slightly herbal finish with very good acidity and moderate tannins; pair this with chicken in red wine or duck. While this is not a powerful wine, there is certainly a lot of character for the $12 price.

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