I Ain’t Playin: Drink Chilean 06/16/11

One fateful Tuesday, the Wines of Chile Grand Tasting, organized by Twitter’s @DrinkChile, took place in New York City: a magnificent event which has forever changed the way I think about Chilean wine…is what I would like to say. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’ve loved Chilean wine for a long time now, so really my opinion hasn’t changed at all.

“So why even write about this thing?” you may be asking. The short answer is “to brag,” of course, but I write also to share the fruits of my experience with all of you. Sure, I may have had the good fortune to attend this awesome event, while you probably didn’t, but by tasting a whole bunch of wines at once, I was able to identify the superstars of the night that much more quickly – thereby saving you the trouble.

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You’re welcome.

For the record, I brought two extremely lucky friends along with me – let’s call them “Saul” and “Alexi” – but as neither one was potable, I won’t be talking about them much. Instead I’ll be talking about the wines I drank, albeit not all of them either, seeing as I tasted over 30. But producers be warned: if I don’t have your wine listed as one of my favorites, remember there’s a very good chance I didn’t get to your table, as time constraints saw to it that I barely tasted a fraction of the delicious, delicious offerings.

Anyway, with only minimal further ado, here are my favorite wines in each of several categories I’ve arbitrarily decided should be categories! Also, I’ve decided not to score the wines, as everything I’m mentioning falls between 9 and 10 thumbs up, and that would get kind of redundant. Deal with it.


Cabernet Sauvignon

THE WINNER: Pretty much every winery was pouring at least one Cab, so this category had a ton of competition. Even so, the Haras de Pirque Elegance 2005 from Maipo Valley, retailing for $40, saw to it that every one of those competitors went home crying. With cinnamon on the nose and a bright palate of fresh plums and blueberries, this was a joy to drink. 11% Syrah blended in (still officially Cabernet Sauvignon though). Alternatively, their entry-level Cab, at $12 a bottle, is a fantastic value, with enticing notes of passionfruit I wouldn’t have expected from a red.

THE RUNNER UP: It was very, very difficult to choose my runner up here. But I’m a sucker for interesting aromatics, and so the Viña Los Vascos 2008 Le Dix, a $50 Colchagua Valley Cab, snags the silver. With peppers on the nose that Saul and I both agreed resembled cayenne, and a well-balanced palate of black and blue berries (possibly blackberries and blueberries), this was a definite step up from their $20 reserve Cab, itself a definite step up from their $10 standard Cab. 8% Carmenere and 7% Syrah blended in.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Difficult as it is, I’m going to limit myself to three: the Don Melchor Concha y Toro 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Valley, retailing for $95, with a pure nose of blackberry and an elegant, balanced palate (and 2% Cab Franc blended in); the Santa Rita Casa Real 2007 Icon Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Maipo Valley, at $75, another superbly-balanced Cab, with blackcurrant and blackberry notes shining through; and the Koyle Reserva 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Colchagua valley, $18 a bottle and 14% Carmenere, a wine which Saul declared (and I quite agreed) bore an unmistakable likeness to Wildberry Pop-tarts.

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Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular wine in the world.


Carmenere

THE WINNER: Carmenere is one of my favorite varietals, so you can bet I had pretty high standards coming into this event. The winner, though, is actually a wine I’ve had before: the lovely Concha y Toro 2007 Terrunyo Carmenere from Rapel Valley, whom you may remember as the highlight of this post. At $38 a bottle, she’s somewhat pricey, but well-worth it: blueberries, cocoa beans and tobacco leaf on the nose, with blackberry and boysenberry on the palate. If that doesn’t say enough, this is the only wine for which I went back for seconds.

THE RUNNER UP: A close contender for the prize was the Santa Rita Pehuen 2007 Carmenere, retailing for $40, from the Apalta and Colchagua Valleys. With a nose predominantly of tobacco leaf and coffee grounds, this gave way to a surprisingly red-tasting palate of raspberry and boysenberry. Great balance, and a wine I’m probably going to end up splurging for myself just to see how its flavors unfold over two or seven glasses. 5% Cab Sauv blended in.

HONORABLE MENTION: I also quite enjoyed the Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre 2009 Carmenere from Colchagua Valley, retailing for $22, and blended with 15% Merlot, which gave the wine something of a floral quality on the nose – maybe violets. The palate was a more familiar mix of blackberry and boysenberry, with a bit of chocolate in the background. Well worth the price.


Red Blends

THE WINNER: I tended to focus on varietals at this event, but even so, I tasted enough blends to sort the wheat from the chaff and select a champion, the Haras de Pirque Character 2007, a Maipo Valley blend of 40% Cab Sauv, 37% Carmenere, 15% Cab Franc and 10% Syrah, for a total of 102%, which doesn’t seem right, but who am I to judge? With tropical fruits and tobacco leaves on the nose, and a plummy, passionfruit palate, this is an intriguing wine and a definite bargain at $20.

THE RUNNER UP: Coming in a very close second is the T Edward Wines Antiyal 2008, a blend from Maipo Valley of 52% Carmenere, 25% Syrah and 23% Cab Sauv. With a nose of blueberries and vanilla and blackcurrant on the palate, this had a peppery finish and rather substantial tannins, hinting at plenty of aging potential. $50 a bottle and probably worth it, if you’ve got a safe place to store it for a few years.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Another great value, but one to drink now, is the Anakena Wines ONA 2009, a blend of 55% Cab Sauv, 25% Carmenere and 20% Syrah from Cachapoal Valley, clocking in at $18. Aromas of tobacco, caramel and blackberry on the nose, with notes of vanilla and raisin on the palate. The Viña San Jose de Apalta Gran Reserva 2007, a $20 offering from Rapel Valley, also impressed me. 50/50 Cab Sauv and Carmenere, it held distinctive notes of orange and yellow bell pepper.


Whites

THE WINNER: Make no mistake, there were a ton of white wines being poured here; I just happened to drink extremely few of them, mostly owing to the fact that switching from red to white necessitates the rinsing out of one’s glass, and screw that.

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Screw it.

Still, I bit the bullet when I had to, and my favorite white of the evening was neither a Sauv Blanc nor a Chardonnay, but the Geo Wines 2010 Cucao Pedro Ximenez, an $11 offering from Elqui Valley. Pedro Ximenez is usually made into sherry, but this wine had familiar white aromas of peach and pear, with great, flinty minerality on the palate.

THE RUNNER UP: In much the same way that I’m a sucker for interesting notes, I’m also a big fan of wines that display certain flavors super clearly. The Global Vineyard – William Cole Albamar Sauvignon Blanc, from Casablanca Valley, was so unmistakably grapefruit-y that I almost felt as though I were drinking straight grapefruit juice (minus the pulp, and with just a hint of passionfruit). A bargain at $11.


The Rest

THE WINNER: You know how I feel about under-represented varietals, right? Well, I was sure to try them here, when I could find them. My favorite was the Odfjell Organic 2007 Carignan, an example of the grape I much preferred to the last one I reviewed. At $20, this Cauquenes Valley wine had bright but earthy aromas of mulberry, and great balance – perhaps owing to the advanced age of the vines, and correspondingly lower yields.

THE RUNNER UP: At one point I found myself before a table upon which was a bottle that said, simply, “Cot.” Searching the google of my memory, I turned to Saul and asked, “Cot…that’s just Malbec, right?” before bursting into laughter as I realized I had just asked Saul a question about wine. But Cot is just another name for Malbec, currently the most popular grape of Argentina, although my first Chilean example, the Vitivinicola Perez Cruz Limited Edition 2009 Cot was quite different from what I was used to, with aromas of teriyaki (seriously!) and a great mix of fruit and spice on the palate. $20, Maipo Valley, 9% Carmenere.


I won’t bore you with the details of our tedious journey home, although I will say it involved some missed trains, some prematurely closed trains, and some obnoxiously loud a cappella singing of the Pokemon theme song on trains.

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Drunk? Haha, no, we’re just assholes.

Indeed it was a night to remember. Although, I doubt Alexi or Saul remembers much of anything. Freakin’ lightweights.

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4 Responses to this article

 
Joe June 22, 2011 Reply

“Carmenere is one of my favorite varietals” is something I’ve NEVER heard uttered. Maybe I don’t know enough Chilean people. Like many, I’ve had some that were very weird and some that were pretty good. And yet other that were… weirdly good??

Anyway, I think that’s awesome. You’ve obviously tucked into more Chilean wines than I. It’s a country that has yet to wine me over, wine-wise. However, I know there’s amazing stuff out there. Has to be. I used to feel the same way about South African wine, until I was cold-cocked by some spectacular ones from an importer. Chile will continue to get explored!

 
Jason June 22, 2011 Reply

It seems our situations are reversed: I’ve liked the (very few) South African wines I’ve tried but haven’t really loved any yet. But I’ve been drinking Chilean wine from the beginning…I’ve got my college wine tasting class to thank for that.

As for Carmenere specifically, I admit some of the appeal is poetic…the oft-forgotten, lost Bordeaux varietal and all that. But even Terrunyo falls short of Carmin de Peumo (sadly not pouring at #tastechile), which definitively clinched a spot for the grape in my top 5.

 
Joe June 22, 2011 Reply

All we had was bowling an golf in college… what a crock! 🙂

Here’s the guy for South African wine: http://worthwhilewine.com/. Luckily (for me), he lives in Atlanta, but I know he’s picking up distribution around the country… well, I guess not in Pennsylvania. Crazy laws up there, man (and that’s coming from someone in the Bible belt!)

 

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