Last night I headed over to the Grand Hyatt in Santiago for a remarkable wine festival. It was fortunate that of the two nights I was in town, one should coincide with this event. Organized by Patricio Tapia, It wasn’t cheap at 42000 Pesos (around £50), but there was an amazing array of Chilean wines on show, together with lots of gourmet food stands, all around the spectacular Grand Hyatt pool.
This is a consumer event, so not the place for tasting everything and making extensive notes. But geek I am, I felt it necessary to take notes and spit a few of the wines, and try to uncover some gems.
Marco de Martino
That I certainly did, with the help of inside knowledge. I found some thrilling wines, of the sorts not always associated with Chile. My first stop was at the wonderful De Martino, with Marco de Martino and winemaker Marcelo Retamal. These were superb, including two wonderful wines made in tinajas (amphorae). They do things right here: picking early, adding as little as possible, and avoiding new small oak barrels.
I was thrilled by the Tara white from Ventisquero’s vineyards in the Atacama desert (pictured above, Felipe Tosso and Alejandro Galaz of Ventisquero). Sadly only made in limited quantities: a beautiful, slightly cloudy Chardonnay of amazing complexity. And then I found the wines of Matias Michelino, which are just brilliant natural wines. One of these is a Malbec from Casablance, made in Tinajas with stems and no added sulphur dioxide, and it is one of the most exciting Chilean wines I’ve experienced.
More conventionally, I enjoyed the two Talinay wines from Tabali (a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir), and the Syrah from Vina Leyda. So there is some hope for Chilean fine wine!!
Tara White 2012 DO Atacama, Chile
This is a remarkable Chardonnay, made from red clay over chalk soils in Huasco in the Atacama desert. Just two barrels were made, one of which was seventh-use oak, the other of which was stainless steel. Super-stylish and slightly cloudy with ripe, rich, white peach and pear fruit countered by lovely mineral precision. Amazing combination of complexity, freshness and richness. Fabulous wine (it’s the second release). 94/100
Esparando Las Bárbaros 2012 Casablanca, Chile
Made by Matías Michelini in partnership with Patricio Tapia, this is a Malbec made with stems in tinajas (clay amphorae) with no added sulfites. It’s amazingly fresh, vivid and sappy with blackberry and red cherry fruit. It’s just so natural, with lovely precision and a beautiful sappy quality. Just so thrilling and expressive. 94/100
De Martino Alto los Toros Syrah 2011 Elqui, Chile
From a vineyard at 2000 m altitude, this has 10% Petit Verdot in the blend. Lovely olive and pepper edge to the black fruits. So expressive. The palate is fresh, vivid and bright with nice blackfruits seasoned by pepper and spice. Lovely precision and spice here. 95/100
De Martino Viejas Tinajas Muscat 2012 Itara, Chile
This is dry farmed Muscat from a cool climate region, Itara, 18 km from the coast. No SO2 is added save for a little at bottling, and this wine spends 6 months on its skins in tinajas (clay amphorae). Wonderfully complex, lively and intense with citrus, pear, grape and mineral notes. Lovely texture and depth, with freshness and complexity, and just a little grip on the palate. 94/100
So this morning was a conference on lighter-style lower alcohol wines here in Santiago, for the Chilean wine industry. I was one of the speakers. This is a growing category that looks set to get quite big. Only today New Zealand Wine Growers announced a seven-year project researching lighter-style wines with NZ$17 million funding.
The bottom line is that while in the UK we have seen mostly 5.5% alcohol wines because of the favourable tax break at this level, the real future for the category is with wines at 8-9% alcohol. These actually taste of wine if they are made well, and can be premium products. The current crop of 5.5% wines are a bit of a sorry bunch, and they are filling in at the bottom end of the UK market as duty rises have pushed up the price of normal strength wine. Many of these wines are made with dilution and the addition of fruit juice. The more serious products at 9% alcohol are made with a mixture of vineyard work, early picking, and sophisticated alcohol reduction (spinning cone, reverse osmosis or Memstar).
For Chile, there’s no point in making 5.5% alcohol wines. If they are to enter the lighter wine category they should be looking at making more serious wines at 8 or 9% alcohol that taste and work just like higher strength wines.
After the conference, I went for a wander round in the sunshine, followed by a gym session. I’m back home tomorrow morning after a hideously brief trip, but it has been great to get back to Chile, however briefly. Tonight there’s a Chilean fine wine event at the Hyatt which promises to be interesting. Then it’s onto a plane early tomorrow.
So, I am in Santiago, Chile. I arrived here this afternoon, after a fairly gruelling flight on an old BA 777 (predictably, the Highlife entertainment system wasn’t working, so I couldn’t watch any films) and then a quick hop over the Andes with LAN Chile. I’m just here for a couple of days to take part in a conference, so I made the most of this afternoon, having a hot bath (I love baths), going for a walk in a park near my hotel, getting a little bit of sunshine, then going for a gym session at the hotel. Now I am feeling fresh and ready for an evening out.
Andi Schloss of Casa Marin kindly left a bottle of one of his wines in my room (he’s also taking part in the conference), so I thought it would be a great way to start the evening (I’d emptied out the minibar and chilled it down). And it has been. It’s a more serious expression of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
Casa Marin Cipresses Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011 San Antonio Valley, Chile
13% alcohol. This is a rich, bold expression of Sauvignon, combining riper notes of pear and quince with minerals, fresh grapefruit and some green pepper characters. It’s textured and quite intense, showing good concentration. I love the way that it flirts with bigness, but gets away with it, flirts with greenness but gets away with it, and also manages to keep a keen edge of minerally acidity. A thought-provoking Sauvignon of real interest. 92/100
This was the standout vintage of a recent 10-year vertical tasting of Pinot Noirs from Craggy Range’s Te Muna Road vineyard in Martinborough. It’s not a rich, dense, flashy Pinot, but rather one of refinement and precision. The vines were getting to the stage when they were really beginning to express the vineyard, and not just fruit, in 2011 (the vineyard was first planted in 1999). I think this will age. I tried it again over the last two nights, and I’ve just bagged a six-pack from Majestic Wine, where it’s currently priced very reasonably at £18 a bottle.
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Supple, elegant and pure with fine red cherry fruit and subtle sappy green notes in the background. Fresh, fragrant and expressive with nicely poised red fruits on the palate underpinned by fine spiciness. Really well balanced and has potential for development. 94/100 (rrp £22.50 Majestic, Forth Wines, Soho Wine Supply)
This is probably one of the best South African reds I have tasted. And I have tasted quite a few. It’s a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a third of the Syrah fraction was whole bunch, crushed by foot, with the remaining destemmed grapes added on top. It was wild yeast fermented, with almost two years in used French oak. The Cabernet was destemmed and fermented in new French oak. The resulting wine has a pH of 4.06, which is unusually high, but it’s really fresh and intense.
Reyneke Reserve Red 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Amazing fresh ripe red fruits nose with pepper spice and a hint of olive. Lovely supple, sweet red fruits palate with some black cherry richness and delicious peppery vitality. There’s real freshness and complexity here, with precision and firm fine-grained tannins providing substantial structure. Warm climate finesse. This is a superb wine that should age very nicely, but if you don’t mind a bit of structure it’s beautiful now. 96/100
OK, this is a plug. For an event of which I’m one of the organizing team. But I just wanted to bring everyone’s attention to the International Sparkling Wine Symposium 2013, which is being held at Denbies in a couple of weeks’ time.
There’s a stunning line-up of speakers, so if you have any interest in the business of sparkling wine at all, you should be there for this two day event. It is the third time we have run it, and it is just getting better each time. We don’t make any money from it (do you know how much it costs to run events like these?), but so far we’ve managed not to lose any. We just think it’s a worthwhile event for an important (and sometimes neglected) segment of the wine trade.
Is there still life in Beaujolais Nouveau? It’s a very young wine, bottled and shipped by the third Thursday of November (today), very soon after harvest. It used to be a big deal; now, not so much. We’ve already started seeing 2013s from the southern hemisphere, who are six months ahead, and this has taken a bit of gloss off the Nouveau event. And the wines have usually been awful.
UK retailer Marks & Spencer have made a wine to breath life back into this campaign. It’s a really nice wine, and it’s also the first carbon neutral example, shipped by rail, not road, and packaged in recyclable and very light PET bottles. It’s quite delicious.
M&S Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 France
12% alcohol. Juicy, bright, supple and cherryish with a hint of grip under the lovely red fruits. There’s some fruit sweetness here, but also a bit of grip, and some subtle sappy notes. Very drinkable and not confected. 87/100 (£7.49 Marks & Spencer)
I have been judging wines at Tranche 1 of the International Wine Challenge this week. The idea is, for the first time, to split judging into two sessions: the customary April two weeks, plus an additional week in November. This helps with southern and northern hemisphere wineries releasing wines at different times.
But I wanted to highlight two trophy winners from last year, tasted on Sunday night. A superb South African Chardonnay and a lovely Champagne.
Sumaridge Chardonnay 2010 Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa
Wonderfully complex, bright and fresh with pear and white peach fruit as well as precise citrus notes, as well as subtle toast. Real finesse here: it’s just such a lovely, complete wine. 93/100
Champagne Mumm de Cramant Blanc de Blancs NV France
Very crisp, precise and lively with subtle toast and bright citrus fruit. There’s grapefruit and lemon as well as suberb concentration and purity. Stylish effort. 93/100
The Sampler is such a great wine merchant. I spent some time at the South Kensington store this evening tasting wines from their enomatic machines. You don’t need to spend much money to have a lot of fun here, and they have a lot of interesting things on tasting, including some older vintages. Here are the notes from my sampling session.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenhur Riesling Spätlese 2007 Mosel, Germany
Honeyed, sweet and mineral with lovely citrus fruit as well as melony richness. Precise, complex and quite spicy. A lovely Riesling. 93/100 (£35 The Sampler)
Eben Sadie T Voetpad 2012 Swartland, South Africa
A remarkable Chenin Blanc. Very fresh, mineral and precise with citrus and herbs, and amazing minerality. Pear and grapefruit, with great precision and focus. Lots of acidity. 95/100 (£32 The Sampler)
Eben Sadie Treinspoor 2012 Swartland, South Africa
A Tinta Barocca. Ripe, supple and quite elegant with vivid cherry and blackberryfruit. Supple with some drying tannins and lively pepperiness. Very drinkable, showing real personality and freshness. 93/100 (£28 The Sampler)
Eric Texier Brezeme Vielle Serine 2010 Rhône, France Amazingly fresh and bright with lovely pure black cherry fruit. Alive, peppery and bright with some sweetness but also amazing precision and some savoury olive-like complexity. Just brilliant. 95/100 (£24 The Sampler)
Quinta de Foz d’Arouce Vinhas Velhas de Santa Maria 2007 Beiras, Portugal Warm, sweet spicy nose is rich and full, with lovely black fruits. The palate is dense and structured with fresh black fruit but also notes of spice and olives. Tannic and full, with some grippy savouriness under the lovely fruit. 93/100 (£34 The Sampler)
Trimbach Gewürztraminer 1988 Alsace, France Lovely crystalline fruits, rose petal, wax, herbs and grape notes. Textured and subtly nutty, with pure fresh fruit and notes of tangerine. Very stylish: this has aged beautifully. 93/100 (£35 The Sampler)
François Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte 2012 Loire, France Powerful, rich and textured with rounded pear fruit. Sweet rounded texture, with a smooth mineral quality. Almost off-dry. Really distinctive wine. 92/100 (£38 The Sampler)
Folding Hill Orchard Block Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago, New Zealand Lovely aromatics, with vivid black cherry, plum and spice notes. Concentrated, quite structured and delicious with lovely finesse to the black cherry fruit, underlain by a distinctly spicy structure. 94/100 (£35 The Sampler)
Château Latour à Pomerol 1970 Pomerol, Bordeaux
Sweet and berryish with a cocoa/chocolate edge to the fruit, as well as herbs, earth and a bit of smokiness. There’s good acidity and some tannic grip. Nicely savoury; old but lovely. Quite fine. 93/100 (£160 The Sampler)
Marc Bredif Vouvray Moelleux Nectar 1986 Loire, France
A complex, intense wine with a nose of straw, herbs and goats cheese as well as appley citrus fruit. The palate is sweet and savoury at the same time with great acidity and sweet citrus and honey characters, as well as herbs and marzipan. Brilliant. 94/100 (£35 The Sampler)
Very impressed by this affordable sweet wine from South Africa. It’s remarkable value for money.
Nuy Red Muskadel NV South Africa
16% alcohol. This is something a bit different: an old-fashioned fortified sweet red muscat from South Africa, offering lovely flavours of rosehips and raspberry jam on toast, with a bit of spiciness. There are also subtle notes of sweet barley sugar, with some grapiness, too. Fresh but very rich, and showing lovely balance. So delicious served chilled, and brilliant value for money. 90/100 (£8.95 The Wine Society)