Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005

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Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005

Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005

I try to spread the love a little with my coverage of wine, and I mean that geographically.  Given my location and abundance of good wine here, I’m happy if roughly half of the wines I cover are from Australia.  However, I do like some diversity in the other half, and the last time I wrote about a wine from South America was over a month ago.  So without further delay, and finishing the A-B-C theme of the week with a varietal Carmenère, our wine today is the Viña Casa Silva Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenère 2005.

First, the basics.  Carmenère is a grape originally of French origin and at one point part of the red Bordeaux blend.  In the early 1700s, it and Cabernet Franc were both well regarded and widely cultivated in the Médoc.  However, it is susceptible to poor fruit set, and when so afflicted produces greatly reduced yields.  It is also doesn’t respond well to grafting onto rootstock (or at least not as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), so when the vineyards of Bordeaux were replanted post the phylloxera outbreak, Carmenère was very much marginalized.  Today the grape is nearly extinct within France.  However, it somehow managed to escape the disaster under an assumed name and was living quietly in Chile until unmasked in 1994 by DNA profiling.  That probably deserves an explanation.

Carmenère is a red grape that does well with a long, warm growing season, produces wine of deep colour, and can have some of the same juicy, fruit characters found in Merlot.  It buds and flowers somewhat late, though usually within a week of Merlot.  In fact, the similarities with Merlot are such that if you were only familiar with one of them, it would be easy to confuse the two.  Something along those lines happened when clippings from Bordeaux were sent to Chile in the 19th century, pre-phylloxera.  Plantings of Merlot and Carmenère were intermingled but it was mistakenly assumed that they were exclusively Merlot.  As the wine industry grew, plantings of Carmenère expanded, such that Chilean “Merlot” was known for having a somewhat unique flavour profile, though as Carmenère had largely disappeared from the rest of the planet, is was widely thought that it was the influence of a particular clone or the Chilean terroir.  Few suspected it was because it wasn’t in fact Merlot.

While it is easy to confuse Carmenère for Merlot in the vineyard, there are some clues to tell them apart if you look carefully, from differences in leaf colour and leaf lobe shape through to Carmenère bunches being more compact and ripening two weeks after Merlot.  In 1994 Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot of Montpellier put the pieces of the puzzle together and confirmed that much of what was thought to be Merlot was in fact Carmenère.  (He’s since done similar work with Viognier clones that had been thought to be Roussanne.)

Chile, to their credit, turned on a dime (or perhaps a 10 peso coin) and turned what could have been embarrassment into a point of pride, having been the guardians of a largely vanished variety for 150 years.  Since then, Carmenère has become the hero grape of Chile, as have Malbec in Argentina and Tannat in Uruguay, like prophets without honour in their own country.  While it is not the country’s most widely planted grape, fifth actually behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, it’s uniquely identified with and championed by Chile.

This is not the first wine in this blog from the Colchagua Valley, but the Viña Ventisquero Pangea Syrah was from Apalta at the far end of the valley from Viña Casa Silva, and when I wrote about the Pangea I was more concerned with that somewhat rarified terroir than the Valley as a whole.  Just to review, the Colchagua Valley is in the Rapel subregion which in turn is part of the Central Valley region, and the east end of the valley is roughly 120km south along the Panamerican Highway from Santiago.  The climate is generally warm and at the east end tends toward continental, though this is mitigated by maritime influenced breezes the further west you go toward the Pacific Ocean.  Soil types vary, with clay, sand and decomposed granite being typical.  Plantings in the Valley are largely red, with Cabernet Sauvignon making up more than half of the total area under vine, while Carmenère and Merlot round out the top three varieties.

The origins of Viña Casa Silva can be traced to Emile Bouchon who emigrated to Chile from Bordeaux in 1892 and started a family business growing grapes and making wine which was then sold on to other wineries.  This continued over several generations, with the fortune and lands being divided and then reunited over the time, until in 1997 Mario Pablo Silva (with the Silva family name being picked up through marriage of a Bouchon daughter), proposed the wine be bottled and branded for export instead of being sold in bulk.  With his father, Mario Silva Cifuentes, they built the brand, and now Mario Pablo runs operations in conjunction with brothers Francisco and Gonzalo.

The company has vineyards in three distinct areas in the Valley, with this being from Los Lingues in the northern edge.  They produce a very broad range of bottlings, from entry level to the very high end, largely varietal from at least ten different varieties.  Like many Chilean producers, they are focused on the export market, with distribution to over 50 countries.

This wine is not in any of the ranges they advertise on their website, and I’m not certain if it is still being produced as it was part of a three year experimental project that has now concluded.  Viña Casa Silva worked with Professor Yerko Moreno from the University of Talca to analyse various aspects of their terroir, in fact small plots within their holdings, hence the microterroir, to determine which varieties were best suited to each.  While it’s not a popular position, I’m very sceptical of the notion of terroir, largely because there’s been so little conclusive scientific research on the topic, with many producers preferring the romantic notion of capturing the essence of a place in a bottle.  (Unlike beer, where the connection with geology is well understood.)  However, I’m the type of sceptic who becomes less sceptical the more scientific finding are published, therefore I applaud Viña Casa Silva and Professor Moreno for their work.

As is often the case, when I was researching for this post, I came across an article at that provided far more detail than I would have been able to pull together from any number of other sources, so for more information have a look at his page on the project.  I’ve recently put his blog on my sidebar, not because anyone ever clicks on those links, but because it is an excellent site and I find my research takes me there frequently.  If I work hard for 15 years and get a PhD in chemistry or biology, I might hope to be as good as that site is now.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a dark garnet colour and quick, thick, coloured legs.  On the nose it is clean and developing with medium plus intensity, sweet spice, red berries, and a bit of funk.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium minus tannins, and a medium plus length.  There are notes of black pepper, strawberry, a little charcoal/ash, and raspberries.

I rate this wine as very good.  It’s certainly interesting, with the peppery, developed flavours contrasting the still sweet fruit and spice.  I think it’s developing nicely, though I was a bit surprised that Carmenère is generally meant to be consumed young.  I have another bottle from the Microterroir line that I think I’ll give another year or two in the cellar.

Viña Ventisquero Apalta Vineyards Pangea Syrah 2005

Viña Ventisquero Apalta Vineyards Pangea Syrah 2005

Viña Ventisquero Apalta Vineyards Pangea Syrah 2005

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.

De Martino El León Maule Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

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De Martino El León Muale Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

De Martino El León Muale Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

February 29th is apparently Carignan Day.  I know what you’re thinking – how is it that this has not been on the front page of every newspaper in the world?  I’m not sure either.  But it’s here, and to jump on the bandwagon, I’ve decided to go with the De Martino El León Maule Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006.

So what about Carignan is so inspiring that some people think it deserves a day of its own, albeit only every four years.  I think if it had been proposed a few years ago, it would have been seen as ironic.  Some, I’m sure, see it that way now, for Carignan is a much maligned grape, described in the OCW as “the bane of the European wine industry”.

First, the facts about the grape.  It is black, late budding and late ripening, which makes it suited to the warmer areas of the Mediterranean, including North Africa.  It is difficult to train for machine harvesting, and is susceptible to a number of blights, including powdery mildew, downy mildew, rot, and grape worms.  (Grape worms?  Who knew there was such a thing?)  It produces a wine with high levels of colour, acid and tannins.  So far, pretty ordinary.  What made it popular was its ability to produce very high yields.  At rates as high as 200 HL/HA, it’s hard to beat the vast quantity of wine that could be produced from it.

The problem is the wine produced could typically not be described as quality.  The colour, acidity, and tannin levels were matched only by its bitterness.  The wine produced was not one to be consumed young, but nor was it good enough to age.  Nevertheless, the vine was planted widely in the south of France to replace the grape Aramon, which suffered greatly from late frosts, something the late blossoming Carignan could handle.  Between the mid-1960s and the late 1990s, Carignan became the most planted vine in France, contributing greatly to the EU wine lake, though vine pull schemes through the 1980s and 1990s put a big dent in the area under vine and Merlot surpassed it around 2000.

For all the Carignan hate, there are actually some very nice wines made from Carignan.  Old vines on poor soil with low yields can produce varietals of significant character.  Carbonic maceration has also been a technique in the winery that takes the edge off the product at a younger age.  It can also serve as an important component in a blend, given its colour, tannins and acidity.

In addition to the south of France, Carignan is also found in Spain (called Mazuelo or Cariñena) as the major component in the wines of Priorat, and as a minor element of the wines of of Rioja, Costers del Segre, Penedès, Tarragona and Terra Alta.  It’s also found in the Americas, in minor amounts in California, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, and in the case of this bottle, in Chile.

Speaking of Chile, we’re back, having been once before to try some Sauvignon Gris.  This time we’re in another valley, the Maule Valley, further south and in from the coast than on our first visit to the San Antonio Valley.  The Central Valley is the overriding DO, with Maule Valley being a region which in turn has at least six subregions.  Being one of the more southerly regions, it is cooler than most wine areas of Chile, as well as cloudier.  The climate is Mediterranean, and the soils are generally clay-loam, and often lack nitrogen and sometimes potassium.

The area is considered the one of Chile’s most traditional areas of wine production, with Pais having been planted by Spanish conquistadors, with that variety making up roughly 25% of the area under vines.  Bush vines in dry grown vineyards are the traditional style of viticulture, though newer plantings are trained to wires and irrigated.  Cabernet Sauvignon plantings have eclipsed those of Pais, with smaller shares of the remaining 45% going to Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère, and Chardonnay.  While I can’t find any figures for the percentage of Carignan, there are a number of other producers using it in their wines.

Speaking of producers, De Martino is a family-run winery founded in 1934 and currently on its 3rd and 4th generation of contributors.  They have vineyards from Elqui in the north of the wine growing range all the way down to Bio Bio, which is the second most southerly Chilean wine region.  The were the first producer to release a wine labeled Carmenère after DNA profiling established that much of what had been thought to be Merlot in Chile was not.  They produce a wide range of wines, including an impressive collection of single vineyard releases.  Their vineyards are farmed organically, though they have not been certified.  They are also all planted on original roots instead of being grafted onto phylloxera resistant rootstocks, which fortunately has not been a problem in Chile.

So this wine in particular is from a dry-grown, bush vineyard, planted in the 1950s on granite soil, with a dry growing season but plenty of rain in the winter.  The vineyard has small amount of Carmenère and Malbec, in addition to Carignan.  I’m slightly disappointed, in that I really want to tick the varietal Carignan box for my century, but alas the tasting notes for the 2007 indicate 5% each of Carmenère and Malbec, and I have no reason to believe they’d have skipped them for this 2006.  The wine saw over a year in French oak.

None shall pass

None shall pass

I decanted the wine, and I know the photo isn’t going to do it justice, but the cork is an absolute hero, with maybe 1mm of darkening.  It could have been put in the bottle this morning.  Not a lot of sediment, but I only bought this bottle over the weekend so while it’s been stood up ever since, it could perhaps have used a few more days.

The colour is a deep ruby, showing very little sign of development.  The nose is slightly hot, with dried red fruit and spice in a potpourri style.  There’s a hint of wood and even vanilla which I wasn’t expecting given the oak treatment was French.  On the palate, the fruit is much fresher, almost juicy, and still red.  The spices shift from sweet to green peppercorn, and dried herbs. The acidity for which Carignan is known is certainly there, but in the context of the full flavours and reasonably full body, it works.  The tannins are well integrated, to the point that I really have to concentrate to pull them out.  There’s some black pepper and liquorice on the finish, and the length is well above average.

This is an very good wine, and I’m not just saying that because it’s Carignan Day.  It has a serious intensity, as well as good complexity of flavours on the palate.  I really think this is one for the cellar, in that I while it’s not overly young, I expect some very interesting secondary characters to start emerging over the next five to ten years.

As with so many larger producers, the point on the map is their address/cellar door, and sadly is quite a distance from the location of the actual vineyard.  However, on their detail page for this wine, their is a cute popup map that shows the vineyard location.  I really would love to find a way to display both the winery pin and a polygon detailing the wine region, even if it would increase the amount of work I’d have to do per post by 100% (until I’d made maps for every region).