Since it was a wine from North American yesterday, it’s only fair to have a wine from South America today. As with Californian wines, there’s very little Chilean wine in Australia, since you would need a pretty good reason to bring wine from one New World wine producing country to another. This wine, the Viña Ventisquero Apalta Vineyards Pangea Syrah 2005, has a good reason and his name is John, but more about him later.
This is the third wine from Chile featured on this blog, with the Casa Marín Sauvignon Gris of San Antonio and the De Martino Carignan of the Maule Valley both showing nicely. This wine is from an area in between those two regions. It is from Apalta, a small area within the Colchagua Valley zone, which is within the Rapel subregion which in turn is part of the Central Valley region. Apalta first turned up on my radar back in 2008 when a wine from there, the Casa Lapostelle Clos Apalta 2005, topped the Wine Spectator Top Pick list. I’m not sure if it was considered such before then, but certainly every reference to Apalta since then has termed it an exclusive area for the production of premium wines.
Located roughly 180km south by southwest of Santiago, the Apalta Valley is horse shoe shaped, with 600m hills along the west, north and east sides. The floor of the valley slopes from north to south, and the open end of the valley to the south is marked by the Tinguiririca River flowing across it. The hills shorten the amount of time the vines are exposed to the sun, quite the opposite to so many valleys in cooler regions where the object is to maximize sunlight on the vines. While the hills provide protection from extreme weather, they, along with the wind corridor of the river, allow breezes between the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west to keep the vines ventilated. The Colchagua Valley is generally considered to be a warm climate, but the specific factors at play in Apalta make it more temperate. The soil of the valley is infertile, thick sand, with granite deposits from the surrounding hills along the slope, though towards the bottom of the valley near the river there is more clay and alluvial deposits.
Viña Ventisquero is a premium wine producer that makes wine from regions throughout Chile. Their three major brands each have their own emphasis, with this one, Vinos Ventisquero, being some of their top wines, while Vinos Yali are ecofriendly wines and Vinos Ramirana are wines from cool, coastal regions. In addition to this Syrah, there is a Carménère and Syrah blend, also from Apalta, a Pinot Noir from Casablanca, and a series of sub-ranges under the Vinos Ventisquero umbrella.
None of that goes very far to explain why this wine is available in Australia. As I mentioned earlier, other than wines from New Zealand, it is relatively rare to spot wines from other parts of the New World imported into Australia. In addition to essentially being competitors to the local producers, there is a stiff tax on imported wine. What this means is that in London you might have a situation where a bottle of wine from Chile could be on a shelf next to a bottle of the same quality from Australia and both be priced at £10. However, if those wines were on a shelf in Australia, the local wine would might cost $A15 but the Chilean wine would be over $A20. And while I support the Australian wine industry as much as anyone, it’s a bit of a shame that it’s uneconomical to import most wine from the New World because it is priced above its quality level by the time it gets on the shelf. And now that I’ve told you why this wine shouldn’t be available in Australia, let me tell you why it is.
The John in question from the first paragraph is John Duval. Long time readers will remember that name from the John Duval Plexus I had in early January, when I described him as an internationally famous winemaker who worked at Penfolds for almost thirty years and created RWT which is possibly my favourite wine ever. I also mentioned that while he makes his own wine in the Barossa, he makes wine as a consultant in Washington State and Chile. As this is one of his Chilean wines, of course some of it finds its way back to Australia so his loyal fans, such as myself, can drink it up. John Duval works with Felipe Tosso, the chief winemaker at Viña Ventisquero and a very well respected international winemaker in his own right, to bring Chilean and Australian experience together in this bottle. They make this Syrah using hand picked grapes from very low cropping vines which is then matured in French oak (60% new) for 20 months, followed by a further year in bottle before release.
A quick note about Syrah, or as we largely call it down here, Shiraz. It’s a red grape of the Rhône where it is produced as a varietal and as a component in blends, depending on the area. While it’s certainly an international grape, it has found its second home in Australia where it is considered by many to be the national grape. It is often associated with warm to hot climates, but like many grapes it can work in cooler areas if it is able to ripen, and will produce a different flavour profile depending on the climate. In Australia there have been some interesting cooler climate Shiraz varietals, with Shaw + Smith’s Adelaide Hills version coming to mind. There’s no shortage of Syrah in Chile, and as Chile has such a wealth of climates/terroirs, I would expect a number of distinct styles to emerge. Of course, getting any of them in Australia will be another matter entirely, so I may need to return to Chile before too long.
This wine is clear and bright, opaque with only a hint at the rim that it’s brick red and not black. When swirled, it has dark legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity. There are notes of dried red fruit, fresh cherries, potpourri, and a bit of chocolate with cinnamon. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus fine tanning, medium plus alcohol, and medium plus flavour intensity. The palate isn’t as fruity as the nose but there’s certainly black cherries and dark chocolate, as well as some pencil shavings and a hint of ash. It has a chocolate finish and long length.
This is an excellent quality wine, managing the balance between being big and elegant. It has surprisingly high acidity, which coupled with the tannins, should keep it in great shape for another decade or two.
Pin in the map is the Apalta Valley.