jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anakena rock: a great value Pinot Noir

Very impressed with Chilean winery Anakena of late. First of all they made a fantastic Viognier, vying with Australia's Yalumba for the best sub-£10 Viognier on the planet. Now this: a really attractive sub-£10 Pinot, that doesn't have that 'Chilean' taste to it. It's streets ahead of Cono Sur, the other well regarded inexpensive Chilean Pinot.

Anakena Pinot Noir 2008 Rapel Valley, Chile
Lovely sweet, aromatic, subtly leafy fresh cherry fruit nose with a hint of spice. The palate is supple and nicely textured with some sweet cherry and berry fruit and real elegance. Light and expressive with a seamless quality: not the most complex wine but a really delicious Pinot. 89/100 (£8.49 Fareham Wine Cellar)

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Hot on the heels of South Africa, how have Chile been performing?

After blogging on South Africa's promising moves in the UK marketplace, I just received the following data on the performance of Chilean wine. [Maybe next we should have an arm wrestle between Michael Cox (WoC) and Jo Mason (WOSA) - Michael is bigger and quite fit for his age, working hard on his rowing machine, but Jo is young and a bit feisty, so it could go either way.]

Chile has performed strongly in 2009, maintaining its growth across all UK trade sectors for the 7th year running.

  • Total off-trade wine sales +3% in volume, +7% in value
  • Total Chile off-trade wine sales outperforming the market: +26% in volume, +28% in value (the only other country to register better growth percentages was New Zealand)
  • Chile’s market share rose 8.6% by value, 8.9% by volume, Chile’s highest ever
  • Chile’s average retail bottle price has risen 9 p to £4.16
Chile’s sales growth is all the more impressive because the increases are spread across all sectors of the trade:
  • Supermarkets (Multiple Grocers) – Volume +26% and Value +29%
  • Multiple Specialists – Volume +20% and Value +16%
  • Independents – Volume +26% and Value +31%
  • On trade – Volume +14% despite total on-trade decline of 4%
  • Sales above £5 have risen in the last 12 months by 25%; now 1.1 million cases (UK total sales of wine over £5 increased 11.5%)


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Costero Riesling: an affordable gem from Chile

A few days ago I blogged on the brilliant Costero Syrah, from Vina Leyda. Well, here's the Riesling. Watch out Australia: this is a very impressive dry Riesling at an affordable price. It would be great to sneak this into a line-up of the best Aussie Rieslings, because I think it would do quite well.

Costero Riesling 2008 Leyda Valley, Chile
Very pure with notes of lime, grapefruit and mandarin. Tight palate with freshness and an almost salty minerality. A bright expression of Riesling with some subtle herby notes. Delicious. 88/100 (£6.95 Majestic if you buy more than one Chilean wine)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A serious Chilean wine: Viu Manent

Here's a Chilean wine I'd seek out and buy. I'm a real fan of Viu Manent, and a report of their wines will be coming soon...

Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard San Carlos Estate 2007 Colchagua, Chile
14.5% alcohol. From 70 year old Malbec vines. Deep coloured. Wonderful aromatic nose with fresh, complex, spicy, violetty black fruits with an appealing savoury dimension. The palate has great concentration and firm tannic structure with intense, spicy, savoury plum and blackberry fruit. Beautifully savoury, with great acidity and structure, this is destined for a long life. Beautiful. 93/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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An inexpensive, delicious Chilean Syrah

Tonight's tipple? A really great Syrah from Chile. It's from Leyda, a cool climate region on the coast, where there's only just enough warmth to get the Syrah grapes ripe. This leaves them with a lovely peppery freshness, although this isn't your average crowd-pleasing Chilean red, because it has edges. But I think it's the edges that make it interesting.

Costero Syrah 2008 Leyda, Chile
From Vina Leyda. An amazingly vibrant, edgy Chilean Syrah with some meatiness to the red fruits, as well as a hint of white pepper. The palate has high acidity and some grippy tannins, making it a good food option. There's just a hint of that Chilean rubbery character, but that doesn't detract overly from the impact of the wine. You're getting a lot more wine here than you are paying for. 89/100 (£6.95 Majestic when you buy more than one bottle of Chilean wine)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

A nice cheap Chilean Pinot Gris with real character

Surprised by how good this is. At £6, a contender for house white this Christmas.

Casillero del Diablo Pinot Grigio 2009 Limari, Chile
Lively grapefruit and citrus flavours. Very fruity with crisp grape skin character, and refreshing acidity. A vibrant expression of Pinot Gris with real personality: brilliant effort. 87/100 (£7.49 Majestic but £5.99 if you buy more than one Chilean wine)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chile's Cloudy Bay? Sauvignon from coastal Colchagua

So you've got your head round the new Chilean cool-climate regions: Leyda, San Antonio, Elqui, Limari. Here's another for you - coastal Colchagua. And this Sauvignon Blanc is the first wine to be released from this new region, in vineyards recently planted at Paredones, just six kilometres from the sea.

It's a startling wine, with amazing freshness and precision. It's fully ripe (the flavour signature isn't methoxypyrazine), but it's stunningly pure and intense. Could this be Chile's 'Cloudy Bay'? A Sauvignon so distinctive and arresting that it becomes a bit of an icon?

Casa Silva 'Cool Coast' Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Colchagua, Chile
13.5% alcohol. Aromatic, fresh, pure, linear nose showing grapefruit and mineral characters. Almost alarmingly pure and transparent, with a hint of saline. The palate is intense and precise, with high acidity and dense grapefruit and lemon character, as well as some brine notes and piercing minerality. It's incredibly fresh yet shows no rough edges, avoiding austerity yet not tending towards fatness or blowsiness at all. I love it. 92/100 (£12.95 Averys)

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

New world Chardonnay: Chilean Chablis, Australian Burgundy

Perhaps a slightly naughty title, but here are two fabulous new world Chardonnays, one very much in the style of Chablis, and one in the style of a Puligny Montrachet. Chardonnay's star is waning (can stars wane, or just the moon?), but I think that it's a serious grape variety and deserves a bit more respect.

Maycas del Limari Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Fresh, focused and fruity with gentle nutty notes on the nose. Concentrated and bright with nice minerality and lemon and grapefruit notes. This is stylish and reminds me of a dense Chablis. Long minerally finish. 89/100

Howard Park Chardonnay 2007 Great Southern, Western Australia
Barrel fermented with natural yeasts. Very fine, fresh, taut toasty nose with lemony freshness and hints of figgy richness. The palate is concentrated, fresh and intense with high acidity, taut lemony fruit and lovely toasty richness. It has a cool-climate feel to it. Sophisticated and refined, this is like a modern-styled Puligny Montrachet. Give this 3-5 years and it will be fascinating. 91/100

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Vina Casa Silva's 'microterroir' Carmenere

I've grown to really like Carmenere, that uniquely Chilean variety that began life in Bordeaux, but now is all but extinct except in its adopted country. Here's a really good one from Vina Casa Silva, whose microterroir project I have just written up.

Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005 Colchagua, Chile
14.5% alcohol. Deep coloured and dense, this has a classic Carmenère nose of brooding, sweet red fruit pastille and blackberry fruit with a spicy, chalky dimension. The palate is concentrated, smooth and quite lush with an appealing, smooth grainy tannic structure. Like many serious Carmenères it is very ripe and full, but is far from jammy, with grainy, chalky, spicy notes keeping the fruit really well defined. There’s a hint of dark chocolate, too, but the emphasis here is really on the bold fruit. 92/100 (UK retail c. £25)

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lunch with Marcelo Papa, and a very sexy Syrah

Had lunch yesterday with one of Chile's most able and influential winemakers: Marcelo Papa of Concha y Toro. He's in charge of the wines from Chile's largest wine company; fortunately for Chile, Concha over-deliver at every price point.

Their Casillero del Diablo brand is a big one, but the wines are really good. For example, 1.2 million cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 were made, but quality isn't compromised. With such large volumes, three blends of this are usually made during the year. 'I try to make them as similar as possible,' says Marcelo.

We met in the Kensington Wine Rooms (nearest tube: Notting Hill Gate) which was impressive. The food was excellent - good modern bistro style - and they have five enomatic wine preserver machines, which means that they are able to offer tasting pours (currently these are illegal measures, but this is about to change) of a wide range of wines, in the same way that The Sampler in Islington currently does.

Marcelo's main theme? It's the move away from the central wine regions (e.g. Colchagua, Rapel, Maipo, Maule) to the newer coastal regions (San Antonio, Leyda, Elqui, Limari, Casablanca) for white wines. The key to this shift has been water availability, and the result of moving to cooler coastal areas has been much better whites. Watch out for the new wave of Chilean white wines!

But of all the wines we tried, it was a red that really wowed me. It's the Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva Especial 2006 Limari Valley. At £12.49 in Majestic this is a total bargain. Marcelo had decanted it, and it was showing amazing texture, richness and elegance, with loads of sweet dark fruit and persistent but fine-grained tannic structure. If Majestic have any left (they only have it in about half their stores), then this a definite buy.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Adolfo Hurtado's novel views on minerality

Last Friday, one of the things we discussed with Cono Sur winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was minerality in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

He has an interesting theory.

Most of the important Sauvignon Blanc vineyards he works with are close to the sea. For lengthy periods, they are blanketed in coastal fogs. (Pictured above is a fog developing on the Chilean coast.)

These coastal fogs, he claims, are salty. Any iron-containing metal structures near the sea rust almost immediately because of this.

The fog transmits small quantities of salt directly onto the grape skins, and thus the wines have a slight saltiness which presents itself as minerality.

What do you think?

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Another packed day: focusing on Chile

Another busy day, focusing on Chile.

It began at La Fromagerie in Marylebone, with a tasting of Cono Sur's organic wines with chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado. We had a long discussion about organics, which was very useful research material for a book chapter, and finished the tasting off with four cheeses from La Fromagerie, matched with the Cono Sur wines.

They were (clockwise from 12 in the photo below) Cabecou du Rocamador (stinky but not too wild goats cheese with a soft rind); Napoleon from Montrejeau in the Pyrenees (a lovely ewe's milk cheese with rich texture and a lovely complex salty character - brilliant stuff, a bit like a softer version of comte); Taleggio di Valbrembana (guey but textured with lovely creamy, salty character, not too strong, very pure); and La Gabietout, Pyrenees (a mix of cow and ewe's milk, creamy, buttery, gentle and a bit nutty).

The wines were really good: solid commercial style with a twist of complexity.
Then it was off to lunch at the Bleeding Heart restaurant with Grant Phelps of Viu Manent, and Doug Wregg of Les Caves (who are the agents for Viu Manent). I think the Viu Manent range is probably the best in Chile: these are serious wines with real structure, good acidity, and loads of personality. Viu Manent's Carmenere, Viognier and Cabernet all excel. Their single-vineyard Malbecs, and their Viu 1 (mostly or all Malbec depending on the vintage) are just world class. I was blown away by them. Rather amazingly, Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate recently gave the top Viu Manent wines scores in the 60s. He was wrong by some 30 points, which is a staggering margin! (See a discussion on this here.)
Below: a full table, with Tina Gellie and Grant Phelps.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A busy day: Chile, Australia, Germany

A brief post at the end of a busy day. It began at China Tang in the Dorchester (fabulous, amazing toilets here - the best I've yet seen, perhaps with the exception of the futuristic pods at Sketch). This was for a tasting lunch celebrating the 20th anniversary of the wonderful wines of Shaw & Smith from Australia's Adelaide Hills.

Then off to the Wines of Chile annual tasting (pictured). Consistency is the key to Chile's success, but I also found excitement with two producers: Vina Leyda and Matetic. This was followed by some socializing over beer at a post-tasting party.

Then it was off to The Mercer in Threadneedle St to have dinner with Lenz Moser and Donatus Prniz von Hessen from the Rheingau. Fabulous mineralic, precise Rieslings here from this now revitalized estate. More later.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Good news for Chilean winemakers

Michael Cox from wines of Chile has just sent through the following information, based on Nielsen data for the UK market:

  • Despite only modest growth in total wine market Chile’s sales are growing faster with increases in the past year of +7% by volume and +15% by value
  • Chile's market share is at its higher ever with 8.2% by volume and 7.9% by value (France and Australia are falling substantially)
  • Chile making strong progress in the Independent sector with growth of +25% by volume and +27% by value
  • Chile sales above £5 are at their highest ever with growth over last year of +40%. Sales over £5 now exceed 1 million cases and represent 13% of total Chile sales (last year it was 10%)
  • Chile's average bottle price is at its highest ever at £4.13
  • In a rapidly shrinking on-trade wine market Chile’s sales are up +4%, one of only 3 countries to show growth. Its share has risen to 9.5% - the highest ever

The secret of Chile's success? I think it's that the wines offer good value for money and meet customer expectations at their price points. The Chilean industry seems innovative and attentive to the demands of export markets - most of the big players seem willing to listen and also willing to all pull together for the greater good. There's a relative lack of internal politics - at least of the disruptive, problematic source. And it helps that Chile's biggest wine company, Concha y Toro, do such good work with their wines.
However, I suspect that many readers of this blog - I'm talking here about wine nuts - don't buy many Chilean wines. Chile still struggles in its fine wine dimension. Of course, you could argue, with the commercial success it enjoys, why bother with a fine wine dimension at all?


Monday, August 03, 2009

The Glasshouse, Kew, with Patricio Middleton of MontGras

Got a text this morning from Ben Smith of Enotria, reminding me of today's lunch date with him and Patricio Middleton (MD of Chilean operation MontGras). In the chaos of holiday season I'd clean forgotten about it, but it was a nice surprise to find myself with the prospect of lunch at The Glasshouse (http://www.glasshouserestaurant.co.uk/) in Kew.

Patricio (above) is a very smart guy, but he's also delightful company. His interests extend beyond wine: he's over here to compete in the Fastnet sailing race that takes place shortly. This makes him a pretty hardcore sailor. MontGras have an interesting strategy: rather than build the MontGras brand, their approach has been to build a portfolio of brands from around Chile. The roster includes MontGras, Ninquen, Intriga and Amaral. Of the wines we tried, the Amaral Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Leyda really impressed, with their aromatic intensity and freshness. With Patricio at the helm (sorry!), this is a winery that we should be watching.

This was my first trip to The Glasshouse, and I was really impressed. It had a laid back feel to it, yet it delivered a high-end dining experience. I had the two signature dishes. For the starter, the warm salad of wood pigeon with balsamic vinegar and deep fried truffled egg (above), which was just beautifully executed and also quite substantial. The wood pigeon was perfectly done.

Then, for the main, a remarkably presented assiette of pork with apple tarte fine, choucroute and madeira jus. This was topped off with a slice of fried pancetta, and included a wedge of black pudding as well as a chunk of sausage, sitting on a sort of sauerkraut base. This wasn't quite in the same league as the wood pigeon salad (the flavours didn't complement each other as well), but it was still lovely.

I want to go there again, soon. I reckon it's probably the nearest high-end restaurant to my home, too. (Actually, it's probably equidistant to Chiswick's La Trompette. Both are brilliant.)

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Monday, May 18, 2009

How to scare the Kiwis

I have yet to report on a remarkable tasting I took part in last Friday. It was led by Montana's head winemaker Jeff Clarke, and it was an attempt to discuss what 'icon' level Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc might look like. Montana are midway through a project, aided by top wine scientist Denis Dubourdieu, to work out where they are going with development of a high-end Sauvignon.

A small group, including Julia Harding, Oz Clarke, Stephen Spurrier, Quentin Johnson, Jane Parkinson, Robert Joseph and myself tasted 24 high-end Sauvignons from around the world, blind.

I won't spill the beans yet - this is something I want to write up in detail - but it was a really interesting tasting. There was quite a divergence of opinion among us as we discussed the wines. For example, one South African that was just a blast of methoxypyrazine was disliked by me, but loved by Stephen Spurrier. This was just one example of many where experienced tasters disagreed about what made for top-notch Sauvignon.

Oz Clarke bought along Vina Leyda's Garuma Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Chile's Leyda Valley, and this was slipped into a flight of Sancerres. It looked really good, so much so that the following day I bought a bottle of the 2007 in Waitrose to try at home. This is an impressive effort, and if I was a Kiwi I'd be concerned: it's real competition to Marlborough.

Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Garuma Vineyard 2007 Leyda, Chile
Pretty serious. Lovely fresh grapefruit and lime nose with some fresh grassy notes. The palate is concentrated, limey and mineralic with some lovely crisp, taut fruit. Lively and expressive. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drink me and Corralillo

Last night we had dinner with some friends. I always bring a few bottles along, simply because I have access to a lot of nice samples and it seems appropriate to share them around. But my buddy Karl often springs a nice surprise by bringing something interesting - and I really appreciate this. He brought along a bottle of Niepoort's 'Drink Me', which he'd bought from Hampton Hill independent merchant Noble Green. It's one of the most brilliantly packaged wines I know, with the label consisting of a series of 11 cartoons by Steven Appleby called 'Message in the Bottle'.

Niepoort have produced this affordable (£10) wine before for foreign markets (they began with Falbehaft for the German/Austrian market a couple of years back), but the 2006 'Drink Me' is the first release in the UK. The wine itself is lovely, and serves as a great introduction to the Niepoort style.

Another wine opened last night was the Corralillo Merlot Malbec from my favourite Chilean winery, Matetic. It works really well because it isn't just about sweet fruit, but also has a lovely savoury, minerally dimension. It still has a bit of a Chilean edge, but this only slightly interferes with the lovely expressive character of this wine.

Niepoort Drink Me 2006 Douro
Dark, spicy and a bit earthy with some cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose. The palate is savoury and dense with attractive earthy, spicy notes, as well as good acidity. Fresh and quite complex, with lots of personality (perhaps a hint of brettanomyces, too, but it works well in the context of this wine, which is delicious). 89/100 (£10 Noble Green Wines)

Matetic Corralillo Merlot Malbec Reserva 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Dark cherry and blackberry fruit nose with some spice and a distinctive meatiness. There's also a hint of Chilean character (dark rubbery edge) but this is quite subtle. The palate has sweet dark fruit with a lovely meaty, earthy savouriness, reminding me of a good Southern Rhone red. Finishes firm and tannic. I like the fact that this isn't just about sweet fruit. 90/100 (c. £12 Oddbins, but Majestic are also stocking the Matetic wines - they're all good)

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Random thoughts on comparing different styles of wine

Since the 'Berlin tasting' reported on in Tuesday's blog post, I've been thinking about the issue of comparing different styles of wines.

My take on the tasting was that the Chilean wines were good, but simple, showing little more than sweet, lush, concentrated fruit. The Bordeaux, Italian and California wines, with one exception, were more complex and interesting, and had better potential to age. That isn't to say they were perfect - they weren't. But they were more serious.

But some suggest that we can't compare such different styles of wine. That wine tasting is subjective. That if someone likes the Chilean wines more, who is to say they are wrong?

I'm not going to say you are wrong if you prefer the Chilean wines, but I think you are mistaken if you consider them to be the qualitative peers of high-end fine wines from Europe's leading regions. There is a level of wine appreciation that is hedonic, based on the sense of innate deliciousness. It is important, but not the whole story.

For fine wine, learned appreciation which is based on knowledge and experience and intellectual appreciation is critical. We are part of an aesthetic system of fine wine. Take fine art as an example. Someone may travel on holiday to a Cornish fishing village and find an 'art' gallery with sentimental oil paintings of cliched Cornish fishing village scenes which they just love. They buy a painting to hang on their wall at home. Who is to tell them that they are wrong; that they have bad taste; that sentimentality is the death of art? After all, isn't art just subjective?

Not at all. There are aesthetic systems that are present in all disciplines, and what occurs now is built on what went before, and is refined by a system of benchmarking, criticism and so on. This applies also to wine. While there are differences of opinion among experts, we all more-or-less agree on what is serious, worthy and fine in terms of wine, if we are honest and have good, well-trained palates.

As a critic, it's my job to have opinions. It is the job of others to decide whether these opinions are reliable and well-judged. In the case of Tuesday's tasting, my opinion is that the Chilean wines didn't show enough complexity and relied on sweet, pure, ripe fruit for their effect. I don't think they'll age well. And there is a problem I have with Chilean wines in general: I find that there is this 'Chilean' character in red wines that overwhelms terroir and grape variety differences, and which is easy to spot blind.

It's not that I'm one of these old fogeys who only likes French wines. I'm an open-minded taster and I have praised top wines from Australia, New Zealand and California - and even South Africa - in the highest terms. I've also celebrated the best efforts of Chile (for example, the wines of Matetic and Maycas del Limari, and also many of Eduardo Chadwick's wines). But all the time I am benchmarking and looking for qualities that I think should be possessed by the world's great fine wines. I still find these qualities more often in the old world than the new.

Chile performs at the value and premium ends of the wine market. But it still has some way to go in terms of fine wine. That's my honest assessment based on lots of tasting. Do you agree?


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Results from The Berlin Tasting, London

Very enjoyable day. Began with lunch and a couple of pints of Harveys at the White Horse, Parsons Green, with James Gabbani of Cube. We were discussing the closures debate at next week's wine trade fair. Then, the Wine Rack tasting, at the same venue. I was actually quite impressed with the wines - the whites, in particular, showed well.

Then it was off to The Landmark Hotel for the Berlin Tasting, London. My full write-up is already online (here). In brief, the Chilean wines were quite easy to pick. Superb tasting: thanks to Eduardo for organizing such a great event.

Group top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Lafite 2005; (3) Solaia 2005

My top 3: (1) Margaux 2005; (2) Solaia 2005; (3) Opus One 2005

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The Berlin tasting comes to London - will Chile beat Bordeaux?

Off to the 'Berlin' tasting in London this afternoon. This is a re-run of the event where Eduardo Chadwick pits his icon wines Sena and Vinedo Chadwick against some stiff competition, blind. Crack tasters then deliver their verdicts, and the results are compiled. Is the reason top Chilean wines don't fetch first growth prices simply because we are biased against them when we see the label? Will our deep prejudices be uncovered when we taste the wines blind?

It will be very interesting, particularly if the competition to the Chilean wines is as stiff as it has been in previous years. I will be fascinated to see what my perceptions are in such a setting.

Ultimately, I think the result will depend (a) on the stylistic preferences of the tasters; and (b) on the competence of the tasters in distinguishing among wines in a blind setting. Blind tasting is difficult, and not many people are all that good at it.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Chilean reds that taste Chilean

Why is it Chilean reds taste so Chilean? I can almost always spot them a mile off in blind tastings. It's not that they're bad; it's just that they are recognizably Chilean. It's a combination of ripe blackcurranty fruit (seemingly independent of grape variety) with a sweet, pastille-like character and a hint of rubbery greenness under the sweetness.

Here are three I have open at the moment. Of all of them, the Anakena is least Chilean. The Cantavida Carmenere is less expensive, and works pretty well - I had a quick dig and found out that this is also made by Anakena! [Quick off-topic note: also trying another Chilean Viognier, the Casa Silva Lolol 2007, and it's brilliant. That's the second brilliant Chilean Viognier I've had of late. Is this going to be Chile's hot variety?]

Dona Dominga Andes Vineyard Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Cochagua, Chile
Sweet blackcurrant pastille nose with some creamy notes. The palate shows pure, sweet blackcurrant fruit with a creamy edge and a hint of herbiness. A little rubbery on the finish. 85/100 (£9.99 Waitrose, Oddbins)

Anakena Ona Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Carmenere 2006 Rapel, Chile
Deep coloured and seductive, with sweet blackcurrant fruit as well as notes of cloves, tar and rubber. Smooth textured and quite pure with some spicy structure. A good effort. 88/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Cantavida Carmenere 2007 Rapel, Chile
Unoaked, this is a delicious example of the Carmenere grape variety - one that I'm keen on. It shows sweet blackcurrant fruit with a lovely gravelly, earthy, autumnal edge to it and some smooth but grainy tannins. This is the sort of easy drinking wine that Chile does really well, but there's also a hint of seriousness here. 87/100 (£6.99 Oddbins)

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Anakena Viognier: it's brilliant

Viognier almost went extinct in the 1970s, but now it's really, really cool and everyone likes it.

Here's one of the new world's best examples, IMHO. It's the Anakena Viognier 2008. The 2007 tasted a couple of weeks ago is also fantastic (I remember tasting it blind at the WoC awards tasting in Chile last January and giving it a clear Gold medal, and there weren't many of those dished out).

Anakena Viognier 2008 Rapel Valley, Chile
A really stunning new world interpretation of Viognier. It's fresh and aromatic, combining richness and exotic fruit notes with lively vigour. The nose shows ripe peach and fresh tangerine notes, with a hint of vanilla. The palate is richly fruited with apricot and peach fruit meshing well with livlier citrus notes. It's just a beautifully balanced, full flavoured, fresh expression of this grape. 91/100 (£8.99 Thresher)

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Helicopter ride to Matetic wine estate, Chile

I've just written up my trip to Matetic, one of Chile's most interesting wineries, on the main wineanorak site (here). Here's a short film of the journey to Matetic, courtesy of the Loma Larga helicopter!


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some nice reds with the folks

My parents are staying at Chateau Goode this weekend. Time to open some nice reds.

First, Chateau Veyry 2005 Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux. This is a new-wave red Bordeaux from a 4 hectare estate in the Cotes de Castillon, and it's absolutely delicious. Dense, with smooth dark fruits on the nose and a hint of chocolatey spice. The palate is intense and concentrated with ripe fruit and some new oak spiciness. Firm yet smooth tannins provide ample structure. This is stylish, dense and well defined, and should age very well. 92/100 (£22.95 Cadman Fine Wines)

Then a Douro red. I'd sampled it the night before, when I found it a bit tight and clunky, but a day later it was singing. It's the Quinta do Judeu 2006 Douro, Portugal. There's nicely defined, fresh fruit here with admirable purity and freshness. I think some of the pronounced minerality on day one was actually a bit of reduction, and a day later the fruit was much purer and linear. Very nice stuff, and a step up from previous efforts. 90/100 (not available in the UK yet)
Next, the remainder of the D'Arenberg Feathered Dinosaur Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which was really singing. So dense, intense and powerful, but nicely balanced with it. I rated it very highly and would stick with that rating. One of Australia's best Cabernets.

Finally, Fiona picked a wine out blind and opened it. I guessed it correctly - the Matetic EQ Syrah 2006. It's dense, ripe, fresh and concentrated. The give-away was the fact that it had just a touch of that Chilean green/rubbery character on the nose. Not much, but enough to mark it as Chilean. And once I got this, the rest was easy because there aren't many Chilean wines of this quality in my home.

Today we walked the dog and went to the Hoo Ying oriental supermarket on the North Circular road near Wembley. Tonight we shall play more games (I am ritually humiliated by my folks at boggle - which they are masters of, but which I'm pretty lousy at) and uncork more wines.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Video: Vinedo Chadwick with Eduardo

A brief film from my Chile trip in January. We visit Eduardo Chadwick at Vinedo Chadwick, one of Chile's top icon wines.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Matetic EQ Syrah - a serious effort

Over the last couple of evenings I have been enjoying the Matetic EQ Syrah, which is a serious wine. It's one of the vineyards I visited on my Chile trip in January, and for me this is Chile's best producer. They're operating biodynamically, and they seem to get such definition and freshness into their reds. I bought a couple of bottles of this from the Oddbins in St Margarets, and was rather surprised to find it had been reduced from £17 to £12, at which price it's a steal.

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Incredible stuff. Very deep coloured. Intense, pure blackberry and blackcurrant nose complemented by spicy, meaty, earthy notes, as well as a hint of olive and tar. The palate is earthy and dense with plenty of structure, but also lots of blackberry and plum fruit. There's lovely fresh acidity. Just a tiny trace of that Chilean rubbery greenness, but overall this is a really serious effort and I'll be buying some more with a view to seeing how it ages over the medium term. 92/100 (£12.75 Oddbins, reduced from £17)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - brilliant value?

Picked up a bottle of Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. What does the devil's cellar yield? Actually, a rather good cheapie.

For just £4.99 you get dense, sweet blackcurrant fruit with lots of savoury spiciness, a hint of burnt rubber (not as bad as it sounds in this context) and some grippy tannin. Look, they make oceans of this wine. You can buy it anywhere. And it's actually pretty tasty, with enough oomph to be a good food match. It isn't totally spoofy and sweet, but actually tastes like proper wine.

Part of the secret is that Concha y Toro are right on the ball. Of the seriously large wine companies, they are at the top. The other part of the secret is the 2007 vintage, which was really good in Chile - and they are pointing this out to consumers on the capsule.

To be honest, I'd prefer this honest, dense, slightly rustic Cabernet to some of the more spoofed-up, confected icon wines from Chile. Am I nuts? And if you can find it, I'd also recommend the 2007 CdD Carmenere, which is even better.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A pair from Maycas del Limari

Concha y Toro, Chile's largest wine company by far, is on fire at the moment. They're making seriously good wines in large volumes. Perhaps their most interesting venture is the Maycas del Limari wines, from a cool climate region in the far north of the country that is emerging as a promising place to grow vines. This affordable pair of wines impress.

Maycas del Limari Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Super-fresh, this is a bright Sauvignon with a nose showing gooseberry, grapefruit and green pepper. The palate is crisp and fruity with vivid fruit and a hint of greenness that comes across as almost spicy. A beautifully expressive, lean, concentrated Sauvignon that's quite extreme but works really well. Think Awatere Valley with even more edginess. 90/100 (£8.99 Tesco)

Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Amazingly deep colour. Beautiful nose of sweet brooding blackberry and raspberry jam with complex spicy notes and lovely purity. On the palate there's a hint of rubbery greenness, which along with the pure blackcurrant fruit which makes it taste a bit Chilean, but there are also warm spicy notes. It's a ripe, fruity wine of broad appeal, and overdelivers for its price point. 90/100 (£8.99 Oddbins, Tesco)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Impressive Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Chile is a wine country that is learning and developing fast. One of the most exciting things about Chile is that winegrowers are eagerly prospecting for new vineyard areas, and a relatively recent discovery is Leyda. It is a cool-climate, coastal wine region adjacent to the more established (but still quite new) Casablanca Valley, and it's currently making some really impressive Sauvignon Blancs, as well as some smart Pinot Noir. Here's a wine from Leyda that I like a lot. It's sophisticated and even a little understated.

Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile
Attractively packaged, this Sauvignon comes from the cool-climate coastal Leyda region in Chile. It’s quite impressive, with a mandarin and grapefruit notes, as well as some green pepper and a bit of minerality. Concentrated but smooth and quite understated, this is sophisticated rather than showy. A serious effort. 91/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Two impressive Chileans

I used to be a bit of a Chile sceptic. Since my January visit, though, I've seen plenty of reasons for optimism about Chilean wine. Yes, there's still a bit of a problem with greenness in reds, and a bit more diversity and complexity in the higher-end wines would be welcomed. And I also think the country needs more boutique wineries, pushing the boundaries of quality on a small scale. But there's a dynamism to the current Chilean wine scene that suggests that in five years time, the picture will be a very different one.

Tonight two interesting wines, both from UK supermarket Marks & Spencer. Not perfect, but encouragingly good, and considering the prices, better than almost all other new world countries can do at this level.

Secano Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley
Made for Marks & Spencer by Vina Leyda. This is a really vibrant Pinot Noir with lovely pure, sappy cherry and raspberry fruit, complemented by a subtle spicy, medicinal note that remains in the background. It's perhaps a little too green and herbal, but the fresh, bright fruit here has a lovely purity to it. It's a delightfully fresh wine that tastes like Pinot. Very primary, but quite joyful. 88/100 (£6.99 Marks & Spencer)

Corralillo Chardonnay Reserve 2005 San Antonio
This biodynamic white comes from Matetic, one of Chile's most exciting producers. It's almost overpowering, with intense flavours of nuts, vanilla, figs, citrus fruits and spice. Super-rich and very ripe, this wine almost has too much flavour for its own good. It really comes into its own with richly flavoured food, where the weight of the wine isn't quite so obvious. It would also work quite well with cheese. A big, complex Chardonnay for current drinking, and not for the timid. 90/100 (£9.99 Marks & Spencer)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lord of the rings, and more wine

As I think I've mentioned here before, our boys are adopted. They're brothers, and they have two sisters who are also adopted with another couple. We get together a couple of times a year, home and away, and it's usually good fun.

This weekend we're here in London, and we thought it might be nice to go to the theatre. So we booked tickets for Lord of the Rings. I'm not a huge fan of musicals - lots of songs and dancing and all that. But it was actually fantastically creative, although our younger son didn't get the concept: 'That was so fake', he said at the end. The set and lighting were utterly incredible, and the way that this complicated, action-packed plot was dealt with on one stage was imaginative and totally memorable.

It was long, though, and I fell asleep during one of the fight scenes, but then I was up late last night watching Peep Show and the Mighty Boosh, so I was quite tired. My bad.
Tonight, we're trying a few wines. The De Bortoli Shiraz Viognier 2004 is even better than last night, showing lovely focus and dark peppery fruit, although there is a hint of greenness - I guess the challenge is to get 'old world' focus and freshness by picking earlier, but then to avoid overt greenness.
A real hit for me is the Churchill Estates 2006 Douro, which is fresh with lovely dark, plummy fruit. It has a slightly bitter plummy tang on the palate, but it really tastes of the Douro, which is a good thing. If you want an introduction to Douro reds, Churchill's is one of the few inexpensive examples that actually show some of the genuine Douro character.
Secano Estate Pinot Noir 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile is remarkably fresh, expressive cool-climate Pinot, with herby, slightly green, slightly reductive cherryish fruit. There's some plumminess here. It's just a little too green and reductive for me, but it is deliciously well defined and fresh. Promising, but there is still some work to do here.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Two Chileans: Carmenere and Climate Change

Two relatively inexpensive Chilean wines this evening. The first, a really attractive Carmenere, which is a variety that's beginning to show itself as one of Chile's best. When it ripens properly it makes lovely dark, smooth, textured reds with autumnal flavours and a subtly minerally crunch. The second is a Cabernet Carmenere with nice fruit, but whose most distinctive feature is its greenness (although we aren't talking here about 'greenness' as it is normally associated with Chilean wine). It comes with a neck tag that boasts 'CO2 emissions from the transportation of this wine have been offset'. You can read more about what Ventisquero, the producer, have been doing on this issue here. [On this website I found out that the cost of offsetting the flight for my recent Argentina trip is £25, which seems quite reasonable.]

Luis Felipe Edwards Carmenere 2006 Colchagua, Chile
A delicious, inexpensive example of how good Carmenere can be. Broad, richly textured, smooth dark fruits dominate, with a subtle minerally, spicy undercurrent that holds the interest. It's quite blackcurranty, but there's some darker, spicier depth to the fruit that I like. 86/100 (£5.99 Tesco)

Yali Winemaker's Selection Cabernet Carmenere 2006 Colchagua, Chile
With a neck-tag announcing that the CO2 emissions of this wine have been offset. There's a subtle rubbery edge to the nose, which otherwise displays bright, ripe berry fruit, with a hint of plumminess. The palate has a savoury edge to the ripe berryish fruit, with a sort of bittersweet character. Quite attractive in an easy-drinking style. 82/100 (£5.99 Majestic)

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hello Dorking!

Just back from a 'gig' in Dorking tonight. It was a wine tasting I was hosting for St Paul's church as a favour to a friend, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable evening. I used a powerpoint presentation and got people tasting pretty soon in the evening; there were quite a few questions, which always helps keep things moving along. And the wines (below) showed pretty well.

Bizarrely, Mark and Ali Brookman, who were coordinating the evening, turned out to know my younger sister Hester pretty well. It's a small world...

The wines were (all from Majestic):

  • Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
  • Louis Latour Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2005 Vin de Pays des Côteaux de l'Ardèche
  • Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes 2007 Argentina
  • Château Guiot 2006 Costières de Nîmes, France
  • Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2006 Western Cape, South Africa
  • Concha y Toro Winemaker's Lot Carmenère 'Puemo Lot 114' 2006 Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Petit Verdot 'Par Preignes' 2005 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
  • Catena Malbec 2006 Mendoza, Argentina

The star, for me, was the Winemaker's Lot Carmenere. I'm beginning to appreciate this variety, when it's ripe enough. This is a fabulously concentrated, intense wine, but the sweet never shows any sign of straying into soupiness. Instead, it develops this smooth, beguiling texture with an almost autumnal dark fruit quality, framed beautifully by a subtly chalky, minerally greenness that is subtle enough to be a positive feature. But the first place votes among the gathered crowd were spread pretty evenly across the wines, which I find strangely reassuring.

I got home quickly, despite being led on a strange, meandering route by the sat nav, which I'm still getting the hang of.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Concha y Toro with Marcelo Papa

Just on my way back home from a dinner with a small group of journalists hosted by Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa. It was held at Le Cercle restaurant (Sloane Square), in a stunning private room that at one end overlooked the rest of the dining room a floor below. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the restaurant to put a private room in this position – you don't feel like you are separated off from the rest of the restaurant (which can happen with private rooms), but you still feel superior!

We tasted and drank through a range of the 2007 Casillero del Diablo wines, plus the latest wines from the more-upmarket Maycas de Limari range.

Now Concha y Toro is the largest Chilean wine producer. They sell 3 million cases of Casillero del Diablo wines worldwide. They also sell a huge quantity of the cheaper brands Frontera and Sunrise (which, incidentally, is one of the top 10 lines in Waitrose).

Of the big companies, I can't think of many who manage to combine these sorts of volumes with such admirable quality. The Casillero del Diablo wines are all really good. Yes, they are accessible and show quite sweet fruit profiles, but they taste of the grape varieties they are made of. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Malbec are particularly impressive wines, punching well above their weight. The Pinot is good; the Shiraz is tasty in a sweet, new world style.

I'm a big fan of the Maycas de Limari wines. They're more expensive, at UK retail £10.99, but they justify the price tag. The Sauvignon is green and minerally, with a distinctive personality, but to my palate falls a little short of the excellent Chardonnay, which is amazingly fresh. The Syrah is probably the star of the range, with a lovely fresh, violetty, peppery nose that leads to a smooth, sweet palate. One of Chile's best. The Cabernet is full and bright with pure blackcurranty fruit.

What about the food at Le Cercle? Excellent - but the menu, consisting of 11 small courses, left me wanting a little less diversity and a little more focus. It's a bit like a wine tasting – sometimes you want lots of small samples of many different wines, but there comes a point where you just want a glass of wine to drink. Having said this, the kitchen put in a pretty flawless performance.

We ended the evening with a vigorous discussion of icon wines and the Berlin tasting. It was an enjoyable night.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blind tasting at home, and a bretty Rioja

As I've mentioned here before, I often do blind tastings at home where I let Fiona select at random from the sample rack and then present me a few wines double-blind. It's a really useful educational experience, although you could argue it's not truly double-blind, because I have some idea of what wines are sitting there (usually around 250 different bottles).

Tonight's two are detailed below. I'm reproducing the notes I made as they were made, and then adding some brief comments made after the wine was revealed.

Wine 1. White. Fresh, spritzy and vibrant. A youthful white with zippy acidity and a spritz. Light, dry and a bit mineralic. There's a touch of herbaceous methoxypyrazine character. I think it's a youthful warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Price guessing: £5. [It's the Flagstone 'The Berrio' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elim, South Africa. Tasting it sighted, I think I was a bit unfair calling this a £5 wine, or is this just the sight of the label speaking? It's quite refined and very refreshing, but there's a strong cool-climate feel here: it reminds me a bit of some of the Leyda Sauvignons I tried in Chile.]

Wine 2. Very deep coloured red/black. Rich, dark fruit here: quite weighty with a tarry edge to the dark fruits, together with just a hint of rubberiness. It's ripe and powerful, with black fruits showing some evolution. There's some oak and a hint of mint. Tastes quite expensive, and it has some evolution. It doesn't taste Australian, but it's new world. Chilean? I reckon a high-end Chilean Cabernet-based wine. Price £15. It's quite attractive; almost Bordeaux like in places. [It's the Santa Rita Triple C 1999 Maipo, Chile. Tasting it sighted, a bit later, this does have a lovely evolved aromatic presence that has a bit of a minerally, gravelly, tarry Bordeaux finesse. The palate is nice but doesn't quite match that - there's a hint of bitterness on the finish. Interestingly, this is more than half Cabernet Franc. It's quite a serious effort, actually. I'm pleasantly surprised.]

Interestingly, the Faustino VII Rioja Semi Crianza 2005 Spain (£5.99 Co-op) I opened earlier is remarkable, in that it's a widely available commercial brand, but it's stuffed full of (what my palate takes to be) Brettanomyces. It's worth trying if you haven't experienced a bretty wine before, I reckon.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Post-trip thoughts on Chilean wines

I'm back in London, and I've just posted the full results from the wines of Chile awards on the main site (www.wineanorak.com). Some fairly quick, rough and ready, post-trip thoughts on Chilean wine:

  1. Chile is improving, and quite fast. Particularly encouraging is the reduced tendency for red wines to show excessive greenness, which in the past has been a real problem, at least from my perspective.
  2. It's really good to see the emergence of mid-priced wines (£12-15) that justify these sorts of prices. I can think of half a dozen wines that I've tasted on this trip that are in this price range and which I'm going to go out and buy.
  3. Despite this, Chile remains largely a source of cheap wines that offer good value for money but which all taste similar. In judging the awards we had to wade through scores of similarly priced, similar-tasting reds – Merlots, Cabernets, Carmeneres and red blends. The average bottle price of Chilean wine in the UK is £3.98, which is bang on the average bottle price of all wine sold in the UK.
  4. Greenness does remain an issue in reds. Particularly common are wines with a strong blackcurrant pastille flavour, with bright fruit countered by some greenness. The fact that this is less of an issue than it used to be is encouraging, but there's still progress to be made. It makes Chilean reds quite easy to spot blind.
  5. Sauvignon Blanc is a big success story. I'm finding lots of really well made, enjoyable Sauvignons, but I'm not finding many stand-outs. There was only one Sauvignon that got a gold in the awards this year; you might have expected more. Some of the Leyda Sauvignons are interesting, with their high acidity, but they frequently veer off into overt greenness, with strong methoxypyrazine character. It's early days yet, I guess.
  6. Very interesting results are being achieved with Carignan, Syrah and Malbec where these are planted in the right places. Petit Verdot is also working well as a blending component. As well as new varieties, new regions are showing real promise, most notably Elqui, the source of some really interesting Syrahs, among others.
  7. Chilean wines are usually made by big companies, with large vineyard holdings. I reckon we'll soon start to see the emergence of boutique wineries operating on a small scale, making interesting mid and high priced wines. This will add momentum to the industry.
    It's encouraging to see so many of the large companies doing good work. Expect to see a rise in average quality, particularly in the £5-10 range, in the near future.
  8. Chile is a warm climate region, and most of the wines it makes will be in a forward, modern, ripe style. There will be a move towards planting more mediterranean grape varieties in coming years, just as there has been in South Africa. Shiraz is going to be big here.
  9. I quite like Carmenere where it is being taken seriously and allowed to ripen fully. It makes dark wines with a lovely textural quality and smooth tannins, but because of the high pH of properly ripened Carmenere, brettanomyces is always a risk.
  10. It's early days yet. Let's give Chilean winegrowers time to experiment and press forward with quality. The Chilean wine scene hasn't yet 'arrived'. The hunt is on for the very best sites, and this will take time.
  11. Icon wines are a bit silly. They're commonly big, with obvious ripe, sweet fruit flavour profiles, bolstered with lots of new oak, and sold in overly heavy bottles for far too much money. I don't think this is the direction that Chile should be going, even if there is currently a market for such monstrosities. Chile needs to build a reputation for complex, balanced, interest-filled wines in the mid-price bracket before it tries to outdo the old world classics.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Chile: the last day

So, the last day in Chile for John and I, as we leave our 'family' group to return to the UK winter. We had two visits before hitting the airport: Odfjell and Undurraga. Odfjell is a Norweigan-owned producer making almost exclusively red wines, including some fantastic Carignans. They pioneered Carignan in Chile, and we tried a vertical of 2001-2006 with their French winemaker, who was very candid (the first vintage had a big brett problem). I liked the wines a lot, but preferred the regular Carignan to the top one, which was trying a bit too hard.

Second visit was Undurraga, another traditonal producer that has recently undergone big changes. The wines are starting to turn around, and there is no lack of ambition at this estate, which last year acquired 450 hectares of vineyards to complement their existing 950 ha, and who have pulled out of the sub-£5 market altogether. We had lunch in their beautiful gardens (pictured). I'm now in the lounge at Santiago airport drinking the house fizz (Henriot) which is very nice indeed. My next post will be from the UK. It has been a fun trip.

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Chile: the devil's cellar and other stories

Another day of visits began with Concha y Toro, Chile's biggest producer. It started off badly: we were given the standard tour, aimed at consumers who didn't know a great deal of wine. There was a film, a look at the parklands and old house, and a visit to a tasting station in the courtyard where we were poured a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc. Someone realized this wasn't right, so we were moved to the vineyard, where our valiant tour guide began explaining that this was one of the world's top 25 vineyards for Cabernet Sauvignon, and that by using a special irrigation program the quality was enhanced. When someone asked about this irrigation program, they were told it was a secret. Then we visited the barrel cellar where the difference between French and American oak was explained, among other gems. Best of all was the Casillero del Diablo: the story goes that the locals were nipping into the cellar to pinch Don Melchor's best bottles. So he told them that the devil lived in the cellar, they believed it, and Don Melchor's wine was safe.

Anyway, the visit was saved by the tasting, hosted by Max, one of the winemakers, who is officially alright in my book because he had a copy of my wine science book. The wines are of consistently good quality, with the new Maycas del Limari wines being the highlight: these are brilliant.

We finished at Concha and headed back into the city to visit Santa Carolina, a producer that has seen a bit of a shake-up over the last few years. Their headquarters, with its historic buildings and cellars (pitured) used to be in the middle of a vineyard, but being so close to the city centre, the vines have long since been buried in new developments. We lunched there after an extensive tasting of the Santa Carolina and Vina Casablanca wines. Final stop of the day was Anakena in Cachapoal, a winery who we'd awarded two trophies to at the WOC awards. Their wines are modern, quite sleek, and have some personality.

For John Hoskins and I, this is our last night in Chile. Tomorrow we visit Odjfell and Undarraga, before catching our flight. It's been a very interesting trip, but while I'm not looking forward to London weather, it will be good to be home.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chile: winery visits, biodynamics and another helicopter ride

Last night's dinner was the launch of Vina San Pedro's 1865 brand, held at the wonderful new Mestizo restaurant we'd been to earlier in the week. It was an enjoyable evening, with good food and some nice wines. I particularly liked their Carmenere. But it ended up being another late night.

This morning we set off at 0830 for the Casablanca Valley, and a few really special appointments. Having come on this trip sceptical about Chile's performance at the top end, today I found some wines that you could pitch against the best of the new world, sure that they'd hold their own. I'm not saying that Chile now has an abundance of world class wines like this, but that they now have some is a certain sign of progress.

First stop was Loma Larga (translates as 'Long Hill'), an enormous property (700 hectares) of which around 150 hectares are under vine. Owned by the Diaz family, most of the vineyard area grows grapes for selling to leading wine companies (which is highly profitable), but 50 or so hectares are used to make the Loma Larga wines. Reds are the speciality here, which is unusual for Casablanca. We tried some great Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as a lovely Syrah. Deeply impressive. The winery (seen from above, above) is beautiful, with vines growing on the first third or so of the roof, which blends elegantly into the ground.

Three of us were lucky enough to be given a helicopter ride (this winery has its own chopper!) to our next visit, which gave us great views of the Casablanca Valley. (Top picture.)

Matetic was the next stop. It's another large, family-owned venture. This time the property is really huge, at 16 000 hectares, but just 120 of these are planted to vines. The estate, established in 1999, is run biodynamically, although it hasn't yet achieved certification. The wines are thrillingly good, with the Syrah and Malbec/Merlot being the stand-outs for me. The winery building is stunning, too. I was excited by this visit.

Finally, we visited Casas del Bosque. Once again, it's a big property (1000 hectares), owned by an Italian family, with 250 hectares under vine. We tried a range of tank and barrel samples, including an experimental Pinot Noir that was decidedly European in flavour profile, and four different clones of Syrah.
Syrah and Pinot Noir are getting a lot of attention in Chile at the moment, it seems, and I think it's a good thing.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Gala dinner, a late night, and Vinedo Chadwick

So little time to blog, and so much to say... Last night's gala dinner for the Wines of Chile Awards was an impressive event, held in a lovely setting (an old, grand house in Santiago). There was a really great band, a Chilean TV/movie star hosting, and lots of dancing. Then a few of us went off with a crazy winemaker to a techno club. The music was 'alternative': very repetitive and mesmeric - best with drugs, I suspect [which I refused]. I got to bed at 3.30 am. If I get a chance, I'll post the results, which I feel a degree of responsibility for, along with my fellow judges. They caused quite a stir in some circles.

Today we were at Vinedo Chadwick all day, hosted by Eduardo Chadwick. This is a vineyard he planted on his dad's polo field at the family home in what is now virtually the Santiago suburbs in the Alto Maipo. We lunched well, tasting the famous wines that won the now famous Berlin tastings. More on this later. The 2000 Vinedo Chadwick is a lovely wine, better in my view than the 2001 Sena by some distance. I really, really liked the Errazuriz Kai 2005, a new 'icon' Carmenere that Eduardo is launching. Overall, the standard of the wines here is pretty high.

Pictured: the Chadwick vineyard.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

More from Chile: trophies and a seminar

It's been a busy couple of days, but I've still managed to squeeze some pool time in. It's hard to describe how good it feels to plunge into a beautiful swimming pool in bright sunlight and 30 degree temperatures when you have come from London in January.

Yesterday was the final day of judging. Each team had 20 or so wines to taste, and then we retasted all the golds (12 in all, down from 30 odd last year - judged by Americans - and 20-ish in previous years) to decide which would get the trophies (one per category where there was a gold) and then which single wine would win best of show.

It was a surprisingly painless process: the wines that had won gold medals were all excellent, and after some discussion we had our decision. As an aside, it has been a real privilege working with this team of tasters, who are all excellent. Yet despite the fact that all are experienced and have good palates, it's amazing how opinions can be spread on the same wines. I think this is only natural. Although there is a degree of objectivity in wine tasting, there are also distinct palate preferences. The only way to overcome these differences in a judging session is to make sure that all the judges are reasonable human beings who can discuss and learn from each other, and then come to a consensus.

Last night's dinner was a special one, held at the Guillermo Rodriquez Workshop. He's Chile's best chef, and the food was stunningly good: traditional Chilean reinterpreted for today. Many, many wines were served, and I had a nice chat with one of my dinner companions, Hector Vergara, Chile's top sommelier. I took notes on all the wines, and drank at least a bit of each, which meant I was tired this morning when I woke early to write my talk.

The talk was for a seminar in which each of the nine UK judges gave a 15 minute presentation, preceded by an excellent state of the nation address by Michael Cox (pictured), who runs the wines of Chile UK operation. Chile is doing very well indeed in the UK marketplace. My talk was titled 'natural wine: the role of technology', which sounds kind of ambiguous. But it went quite well, even though I had to prepare a powerpoint presentation on the tiny screen of my eeepc.

Now I must go: it's the gala dinner tonight, which promises to be a late one, with dancing and all (not that I intend to participate). More tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chile day 4 - more tasting

Today was the second full day of tasting at the wines of Chile awards. We were down to eight judges, because unfortunately Sarah Ahmed had been stricken with a nasty illness, and was unable to continue. We were reassured that it had nothing to do with her scores on the first day.

But before I say more about the judging, a word on restaurants. Last night we went to Akarana, which is opposite the Ritz Carlton, and presumably relies on American visitors for a good portion of its trade (signs on the outside were in English). It was really buzzy, and the food was pretty good. Recommended. Tonight we went to Mestizo, which is a stunningly situated restaurant in the Vitacura region of the city, which has only been open for a few days (they don't have their license for alcohol yet). The food - modern Chilean - scored 9/10. It was brilliant. The service mustered only 2/10, though - chaotic, unfocused and unprofessional. If they cure that, this will be a great restaurant, because the setting and the kitchen are pretty much perfect.

Tasting today was quite tough work. Working in our groups of three, we awarded quite a lot of medals - the standard was consistently quite high. But gold medals were hard to come by. The wines we have tasted at dinner over the last few days have shown that Chilean wine has come a long way in a relatively short time. But in our tastings, few wines really stood out as being really exceptional. It's quite hard as judges to have to say this: it would be much easier to give lots of golds and keep everyone happy. But we have to do our job as professional tasters and give an honest opinion of the wines that are in front of us.

Don't get me wrong, though: overall, I'm getting a favourable impression of Chilean wine through our tasting and drinking this week.

Story of the day was Joanna Simon's experience at breakfast this morning. Seeking butter to go with her roll, she asked for 'burro', which led to bemusement on the part of the waitstaff. Now I'm very tired (more tennis and swimming after work), and it's past midnight, so I shall go.
[Pictured is John Hoskins, Jo Simon and Julia Harding hard at work.]

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Chile day 3 - tasting in earnest

Today was work. But it was enjoyable work. We (the nine tasters) had a quick briefing from Luz, who was organizing the tasting, and we were then given a wine to benchmark our palates with. It was an oaked Chardonnay. John Hoskins and I thought it was bronze medal quality – well made, and quite enjoyable, but Julia Harding, Beverley Blanning (whose badge was hilariously mispelled as Beperly Planning) and Margaret Rand thought it was vile. Things weren't looking good.

The teams were each three strong, with the chairs alternating each session, so that we shared the job around. I started off with Julia Harding and John Hoskins, both MWs and good tasters. We worked well as a team, but there were some interesting variations in preferences. It was fun to retaste all the wines – our morning shift was Sauvignon Blanc – together, after we'd already tasted them individually. You get some good insights from tasting alongside others.

We tried three flights of 11 Sauvignons, and the overall quality was pretty good. We dished out quite a few bronze medals and half a dozen silvers, with one potential gold. I think the other panels were much stricter than us, and gave away fewer medals.

Lunch was a surprisingly leisurely and luxurious affair, although we didn't drink much wine because we wanted to keep our palates sharp. In the afternoon I was with Margaret Rand and Joanna Simon, tasting inexpensive Merlots and more expensive Cabernet Sauvignons. This was quite hard work: we wanted to do a good job, and so we retasted quite a bit. Many bronze medals, but no silvers. As I was pouring the last sample, I realized I was tired when I found myself pouring it directly into the spitoon and not my glass...

Despite the early misgivings, the panels I were on found consensus relatively easily, and it was good fun tasting with them.

But I wasn't finished. I'd asked Luz to keep hold of any bottles deemed faulty by the panels, and she did this. Of the 205 wines we tasted altogether, seven had been deemed faulty. There were just three cork-tainted bottles (Cork taint was assumed, but of course we are actually talking about musty taint, which is almost certainly cork-derived, but we can't be sure). For two of these musty bottles, the back-ups were musty also, and both wines came from the same winery. Three other bottles had undefined faults: I reckoned two were bretty, and one was reduced. But they weren't disastrously faulty. The line-up of faulty bottles is pictured.

When we got back to the hotel there was time for a game of tennis with John and Beverley, and then a swim in the fabulous hotel pool. I'm soon off out for dinner with the others. Tomorrow we taste again, and I'm looking forward to it.


Some more pics

Thought I'd add some more pics from today's helicopter antics...

The new Sena vineyards in Acongagua (above)

Casablanca Valley (above)