Latino vino latest

(by peter)

SRE South American wine workshopIn January I co-chaired the annual South American workshop run by Santa Rita Estates (SRE).

It’s a great initiative, pulling together a range of excellent wines (the majority not actually made by SRE, to their credit) and some top notch speakers (this year featured Brian Croser, Patricio Tapia, Andrés Ilabaca and Edgardo del Pópolo).

The idea is to explore, taste and discuss the very latest in Chilean and Argentinean wine. This year the focus was on coastal climate wines and innovation in Chile and then a detailed look at the terroir of the Gualtallary area in the Uco Valley of Mendoza.

In my preface to the Chilean session, I made the point that coastal climate is a relatively new concept in Chilean wine – as recently as 30 years ago proper coastal climate viticulture just didn’t exist, at least in a modern commercial sense. There was no Casablanca, no San Antonio or coastal Limarí. That’s quite some thought, given how fast the evolution has been since then, and the standard of the wines now. It is also a sign, to my mind, that Chile still has much more to give.

I also mentioned that innovation is inherent to Chilean wine. While the (generally cautious and conservative) national character may tend more to evolution than revolution, Chile is one of the fastest developing wine nations in the world right now.

One major wine publication recently issued a report criticising Chile for being beholden to its large producers and stuck in the mud as a result. While this view still has some truth to it, it’s also an increasingly outdated picture. There has never been a more exciting time to drink Chilean wine.

New wave Chilean Chardonnay, Tara by VentisqueroHow so? In a word, diversity. It’s there in the emergence of new wine styles (like natural wines, fizz, sweet and fortified) as well as a refining of the traditional ones. It’s in the revival of ancient vines in the south and ancient traditions (the sweet pajarete and Atacaman viticulture) in the north. Think high altitude viticulture in the Cachapoal, Elqui and Maule. The emergence of Syrah, Pinot, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling as key varieties. The ongoing discovery of uncharted regions with great potential for fine wine. The abandoning of standardising forces such as new barrels, commercial yeasts and late harvests – as led by Marcelo Retamal at De Martino. Vines trained up trees. Small-scale family winemaking in front gardens…the list goes on.

It’s all happening in Chile and it’s great to see. Long may the experimentation and consolidation continue.

Over the Andes in Argentina, the country has never been short of free spirits. Argentina doesn’t have the natural climatic or topographical diversity that Chile does, though, so its focus is on the fine tuning, the minutiae of site and soil in the breathless uplands of its pre-Andean territories, in order to imbue its wines with character, soul and song.

Both countries have much to offer today’s wine drinker, and will have even more to offer the wine lovers of tomorrow. They will reward the curious, the loyal, the seekers of thrills and spills. Incidentally, they also have entirely complimentary wine offerings and should work together more often to promote their wares. Credit to SRE for taking the initiative in this sense.

Below are some personal highlights of wines that I tasted during the event.


Santa Rita Medalla Real Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda, 13.5% – zingy, classic aromas of capsicum, green pepper and lemon. Lovely density and spice, impeccable length and presence. Classic Leyda style but very accessible. Anis and fennel too. Lovely stuff. 7-7.5/10

Koyle Costa SB 2011Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Paredones, 12.5% – wow, very distinctive. Flinty, mineral. Engaging and grown-up, very good indeed. Spicy, focused, invigorating and very young. This is very exciting indeed. Dusty roasted pepper. Savoury. Reminiscent of the new mineral styles of Marlborough Savvy. Beautiful stuff. Very herbal. 7.5/10

Maycas Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limarí, 14.1% – lovely nutty nose, gently reductive and with notes of green/red apple. Very attractive. gently spicy. It’s big but holds itself very well. Lovely salty acidity and finish. Beautiful 7.5-8/10

Ventisquero Tara White Wine 1, Chardonnay, 2011, Huasco, 13% – ok, so it’s cloudy and funky – but it’s delicious too! Slightly fermentive aromas with notes of mashed pear and apricot. A ‘natural’ style. Loads of tangy malic acidity. Could do with being tamed a little more but its dark side is appealing and invigorating.  Softens in the glass (and after decanting). Great potential here and good to see a big winery like Ventisquero pushing the boundaries. The wine includes a dash of Viognier, was trodden by foot, fermented in stainless steel barrels and bottled by hand. Only 409 bottles were made from this brand new tiny vineyard in uncharted territory for Chilean wine. 6.5-7/10

Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2009, Uco, 14% – quite deep yellow hue, very bright though. Not so much reductive as glazed preserved lemon, with honeyed melon tones. It has a richness and sweet melon character; toasty oak in the background. It’s still pretty buttery, with spicy full alcohol, but works OK. Definitely a New World style but lovely and very well crafted. World class. Lovely seamless integration of acidity, oak and fruit. Stony. Very impressive. 8/10

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Muscat 2012, Itata, 13% – Wow! Immediately engaging aromas of fresh baked ginger biscuits and plump grapes. But what really makes it is the chewy body and slightly oxidative hint that makes it savoury, complex and compelling. Another triumph! Biscuity and exotic. Delightful. De Martino and Marcelo Retamal on top form, as ever. Yes, it’s a bit edgy and funky but it represents a new and exciting paradigm for Chile. Caution, though: this sample is not the bottled version, it was taken from the large clay amphorae in which it was made. (7-7.5/10)

New wave Argentine Pinot NoirPinot Noir 2012, Mar del Plata – a totally new, as yet unlabelled wine from virgin vineyard territory in coastal Argentina not far from Buenos Aires and made by Daniel Pi of Trapiche. Very creditable! Yes, it’s a bit rustic and edgy but it has good earthy leafy Pinot character, crunchy acid, slightly raw tannin, not huge depth but nice vital freshness and rustic charm. Can be done! (Much better than the slightly bland Sauvignon Blanc…) Thanks to Patricio Tapia for brining this over. 6/10

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2010, Limarí, 14% – creamy charry black/blue fruit. Plump Limarí style. But good acidity and a nice savoury lick on the finish to complement the glossy dark fruit. Plush but with savoury elements. Impressive, actually. 7/10

Doña Paula Series Cabernet Franc 2011, Gualtallary, 14% – slightly raisiny red and black fruit, also some nice graphite hints. Palate is better than the nose, actually. Love the gravelly structure here, savoury, nicely constructed, not overblown, quite savoury. Could tone down oak a bit but it works. Yes some spice on finish but very impressive. Winemaker Edgardo del Pópolo says Cabernet Franc is one of the best suited varieties to the Gualtallary soil and climate; it’s certainly a grape with a bright future in upland Argentina. 7-7.5/10

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2011, 13.8% , Gualtallary – floral, vibrant aromas. Very silky, then spicy, then bittersweet. Nicely made, well intentioned. Foodie, makes you think of food. This is unoaked. Wild yeast, fermented in concrete. Very nice crunchy style. I like the cut of this wine’s jib. It’s a basic style made by the Michelini brothers from a limestone-sand-gravel vineyard.  Honest, upbeat and refreshing. 7/10

Doña Paula Alluvia Parcel Malbec 2010, Gualtallary, 14.5% – the first vintage of this wine, produced from bush vines grown in rocky soils. Slightly dusty, floral aromas. Stewed damsons. Quite dense tannin, sinewy almost. But it has the same sort of savoury gravelly palate structure as the Cab Franc. Again, palate is better than the nose. Lovely lift and freshness. Very good indeed. Lovely combo. 7-7.5/10