Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Report from: Chilean Preview Tasting – September 12, 2007

As with my fetish for Franc, I make no bones about my love for Chilean wine; Chilean Merlot is where I first began my love affair with red wine and thus, as with all our first loves, Chilean wine holds a special place in my heart (and on my palate). So wouldn’t it just figure that I’d screw up my scheduling so that I am nowhere near Toronto for the Chilean Wine Fair (October 3, 2007) - details of which can be found below; but before you go off and check that out, let me tell you about the Preview Tasting held at the Boiler House Restaurant in Toronto’s distillery district. This preview had an unusual twist … each flight was served blind (we knew the grape variety but not the producer); with a total of 8 flights, some with as many as 9 wines and some with as few as three. There were most definitely some surprises, some “aha!” moments and some real revelations; so let’s take a brief look at some of the wines of Chile, flight by flight.

Flight ASauvignon Blanc and Various (9 wines)

New Zealand has pretty much defined everybody’s expectation of Sauv Blanc – so I think I found myself a little surprised by this flight as many of the wines lacked the typical grassy, grapefruit and gooseberry, instead replacing it with tropical and peach nuances in both aromas and flavours. The closest one to having that typical citrus zip and zing was from Vina Garces Silva 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($21.95 – Whitehall Agency) with grassy, lemony and melony smells and lots of citrus in the mouth.

The “various” in this flight included a Gewurztraminer and a Viognier. The Viognier was delicious with peach, melon, tropical fruit and pineapple on the nose – tastes leaned on the tropical side, along with apricot and pineapple. For this kind of oral pleasure you’d expect to pay more than $14.95, but you won’t (unless it’s illegal), so look for Vina Anakena 2006 Single Vineyard Reserve this October in Vintages. Rounding off my favourites in this flight was the Vina Porta 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($13.95 – Abcon International Wine Merchants), the nose was not very forthcoming, but the palate elicited some peach flavours and something else familiar, but just out of the realm of recognizable … if I had more time I probably could have figured it out, let’s say by the end of the bottle; and this wine is so tasty you’d get their by yourself no problem, with or without acknowledging the unknown flavour.

Flight BChardonnay (9 wines)

Unfortunately, I found the wines in this flight to be way too similar in taste to really determine a clear order after the top 2. My one was heads and tails above all the others and then I had a bubbling under candidate for 2nd place – let’s say the rest tied for 3rd. That’s not to say the wines were bad, they just lacked that jump-out-of-the-glass-ability to grab you. My top spot went to Vina Caliterra 2006 Chardonnay Reserva ($11.35 - #257147) vanilla and toffee nuances with some tropical fruit character on the nose. In the mouth the tropical and vanilla continued with a consistently pleasant mouthfeel and good lasting finish. Vina Cousino-Macul 2006 Chardonnay Antiguas Reservas ($15.10 - #730044) was the other wine that made an impression: floral, peach and tropical fruits when breathed in, followed by good peachy fruity flavours going down – the nose stood out more than the taste – but in the end it was very enjoyable.

Flight CCarmenere and Blends (6 wines)

Carmenere is to Chile what Malbec is to Argentina and Shiraz is to Australia – a signature grape. But while everyone is growing Shiraz these days and Malbec is popping up here and there; but not everyone is trying to grow Carmenere – it is the long lost Bordeaux grape that nobody seems destined to bring back into fashion – except the Chileans. They discovered it growing in and amongst their Merlot grapes and were harvesting the two together. The problem was that Carmenere ripens later than Merlot and when harvested together it ends up giving the Merlot green under-ripe flavours; but when done right and singly it can make a beautiful, lush and tasty wine. Two great examples at two different ends of the price spectrum were poured. Number 2 was Vina Perez Cruz 2005 Limited Edition Carmenere ($24.95 - #670539) – spicy herbs and red cherries on the nose; supple fruit, lush mouthfeel, tasty with lots of red fruit and some tannin bite. But for my money the Vina Tarapaca 2006 Carmenere Reserva is a real steal at $12.95 (no product number at time of review). Cinnamon and cherries on the nose; lush cherries and delicious red fruit in the mouth, light on tannin – smooth and rich on taste, coming to the LCBO any day now … or so I was told when I went to buy a couple of bottles 3 hours later. There was also a Vina Carmen 2005 Carmenere/Cabernet Reserve blend ($16.95 - #439166) – good red licorice with a touch of raisiny-pluminess and some spiced cherry in the mouth. I got high alcohol from this one, so I couldn’t imbibe much more than a glass, but enjoyed what I tasted.

Flight DPinot Noir (4 wines)

You would think a cool climate-loving grape like Pinot Noir would not like Chile because of all that heat – and for the most part you’d be right. Chilean Pinot is jammy and fruity, but lacking in the characteristics that makes Pinot, Pinot – earthiness. The Bio Bio Valley is one of the most southerly Chilean regions and thus one of the coolest … and coincidentally (blind) they made my choice for best Pinot: Vina Porta 2006 Pinot Noir Reserva ($13.95 – Abcom International Wine Merchants – cinnamon, spice and earthiness fill the nasal passages; strawberries, cinnamon, good tannin backbone along with good acidity and that telltale dirt in the mouth … quite yummy. The best Chilean Pinot value was not at this tasting, but if you want to pick up a Pinot with Bang For the Buck appeal check out the Cono Sur 2006 Pinot Noir ($10.10 - #341402).

Flight E Shiraz/Syrah (5 wines)

There are some great Shirazes coming out of Chile at some really affordable prices. The Shirazes poured did not fully express the fruit’s potential in the country or the nice price points you can usually find, but of those on display the clear-cut winner was Vina Errazuriz 2005 Max Reserva Shiraz ($18.15 - #614750). It came the closest to Shiraz-Nirvana with its complex nose and taste. Vanilla, chocolate, white pepper, some herbs and a hint of mint in the background greeted the sniffer; whilst rich tannins, peppery-spiciness and black fruit were most prominent in the mouth. There’s a good 5 years of aging that you could put on this bottle, so maybe, on second thought, the price is a decent in respect to its longevity.

Flight FMerlot (3 wines)

Having cut my teeth in the world of reds on Chilean Merlot I was thrilled when this flight was announced and then let down when only 3 wines were poured. Chile is known for their soft, supple Merlots. Of these three wines the least expensive turned out to be the best – a good value for bargain hunters. Vina Tarapaca (winner of the Carmenere flight) 2005 Vina Mar Reserva ($11.95 - #669119) – red and black fruit throughout, hint of tannin and good fruit flavours on the tongue.

Flight G & HCabernet Sauvignon (10 wines in total)

The Cabernet Sauvignon flight(s) were broken into two with no discernable reason given (such as reserve, non-reserve, price) … but there were some real winners within both flights. In “G” it was the Vina Haras de Pirque 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon – Haras Character ($19.95 - #640672); it’s milk chocolate, sweet fruit and menthol nose followed by spicy black fruit and chocolate tastes with good tannin structure and a drying mouthfeel. “H” provided another close to $20 winner with the Vina Santa Alicia 2004 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95 - #60244). This really was a taste treat, with sweet red fruit, cherries, red licorice, mint and milk chocolate on the nez – sweet red fruit with luscious mouthfeel as it passed the gums. Delicious. My value selection in the Cab Sauv department came from Vina MontGras in the form of their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($12.20 - #619205) – black fruit and herbs on the nose, black cherries and menthol in the mouth … it has some tannins and is very very tasty – especially for a wine at that price. My local LCBO has it marked on the shelf-talker for $11.55 – which makes it an even better deal.

Long live good, tasty and inexpensive Chilean wine! See, and taste, for yourself on October 3rd from 7:00 to 9:30pm … visit www.winesofchile.ca for all the details and to get tickets.

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