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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Vintage Vogue: The Wines of Chile - "Undiscovered Gems!"

Earlier this week, I attended a seminar featuring some remarkable wines from Chile. Presented by the Guild of Sommeliers, the event, "The Real Deal in Chile," was hosted by Master Sommelier and Educator for Wines of Chile, Fred Dexheimer in conjunction with Master Sommeliers Andrew McNamara and Eric Hemer. Held at Morton's Steakhouse in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, the program included a tasting of two wine flights: "Undiscovered Gems" and "Iconic Wines: Old and New." We'll be discussing "Undiscovered Gems" in this post (stay tuned for "Old & New").

Chile is a unique wine producing region for a number of reasons. It is one of the few wine growing regions of the world that has never been affected by phylloxera, the root louse that decimated the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century. Chile also has no indigenous vines, classic Vitis Vinifera grape varieties were brought here from Bordeaux during the mid-1800's prior to outbreaks of phylloxera and powdery mildew. Due to it's geographical isolation: desert to the north, Andes mountains to the east, Pacific Ocean to the west and Antarctica to the south, this country is somewhat of an "island" unto itself and, to date, neither phylloxera nor powdery mildew are present in Chile today.

Our first wine was the Falernia Pedro Ximenez Riserva, 2010 ($12) from Viña Falernia, Chile's northernmost wine estate located in the Elqui Valley. This region is know for its dry climate, high vineyard elevations and clear skies. This 100% Pedro Ximenez was pale straw in color that gave way to a floral, peach and citrus nose. On the palate, flavors of green apple and lemon were accompanied by a remarkable acidity and a briny quality that made this wine a fabulous pairing for just about anything plucked from the sea. Aged in stainless steel to preserve the crisp fruit flavors, this wine is 13.5% alcohol.

Second, we sampled another white similar in color to the first, yet with a very different profile! The Casa Marin Miramar Vineyard Riesling, 2008 ($24) is from the San Antonio Valley, just a few miles from the coast. This wine had that oh so distinctive Riesling nose of "petrol" accompanied by lime and citrus notes. At 14.1% alcohol, this 100% Riesling was aged entirely in stainless steel and, according to the Masters, was very reminiscent of an Eden Valley Riesling from Australia. It was also interesting to learn that Reisling, along with other German varietals (i.e. Gewürztraminer), seems to be gaining in popularity in Chile due to the thriving German culture.

The Kingston Family Vineyards Alazan Pinot Noir, 2009 ($30) was our first red of the morning (yes, I said morning). This wine hails from the Casablanca Valley, a region known for its diverse soil types and microclimates suitable for growing both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay well. This wine is a deep violet/rose color, much darker than I would expect from a 100% Pinot Noir. It was highly aromatic with scents of cherry, violets and spice emanating from the glass. On the palate, this Pinot was reminiscent of the Russian River Valley yet with distinctly more acidity. Our moderators commented that this particular wine demonstrated the progress Chilean winemakers have made with this infamously difficult varietal. Alcohol is 14.5%.

The Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan, 2007 ($22) is from the Maule Valley, Chile's largest wine growing region, and is crafted from fruit in excess of 50 years old. Created by Pablo Morandé, one of Chile's most iconic winemakers, this 100% Carignan is vibrant ruby-violet in color with aromas of dark fruit and baking spices. Flavors of ripe blackberry, pepper and sweet black licorice intermingled with a distinct American oak influence. At 14.5% alcohol, this wine had ample tannins and although enjoyable, could definitely benefit from a good decanting.

Also from the Maule Valley, the De Martino Single Vineyard "El León" Carignan is a blend of 90% Carignan, 5% Malbec and 5% Carmenere. While the previous Carignan was aged in American Oak, this wine spent 14 months in French Oak. It was interesting to note the differences between the two not only in the application of oak, but also in the addition of other grape varietals. This wine was an inky, deep purple color with a dearth of fruit on the palate, ample minerality and significant tannins. This wine was presently less approachable than the Morandé Carignan and would probably benefit from more time in the bottle. The moderators commented this wine was "built to go the distance" and also characterized it as "austere" - I definitely agree! Alcohol level was not available.

Our sixth and final wine of the flight was the Emiliana Coyam, 2008 ($35) from Chile's Colchaugua Valley. A blend of 41% Syrah, 29% Carmenere, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvedre and 1% Petit Verdot this wine was aged for 13 months in both French (80%) and American Oak (20%). "Coyam" means "oak forest" and refers to the ancient oaks that surround the vineyard. This wine is certified organic and the winery employs both organic and biodynamic farming practices. The wine itself was a bright purple color with a fuchsia rim and aromas of ripe black fruit and licorice. Juicy blackberry, spice and chocolate were evident on the palate along with round tannins. The combination of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals was well balanced and approachable. Alcohol is a relatively modest 13.5%.

The program moderators did a fabulous job selecting these interesting wines that piqued our interest and nicely highlighted the nuances of Chile's wine producing regions. Stay tuned for "Iconic Wines: Old and New!"



  1. *sigh* Adore the wine posts, Madame Som. When I get back to the states this is one of the 1st regions I stock up on. Because here in Italy? We drink Italian - and I love it - Italian wine is passion in a bottle. But I love variety too. Thank you for the recs!

  2. I wish I had a nose for wine like you do :) CONGRATS on your new status as a wine aficionado, by the way!! I love Chilean wine- SO good and SO reasonably priced!! We drank TONS when we were there, as well as pisco, which is VERY hard to find in the states. Mmmm, pisco sours... stuff dreams are made from!

  3. These all sound fantastic! I recently revived a case of wine as a gift and 3 are from Chile, excited to compare :)


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