While I complain about the lack of imported New World wines in Australia, other than from New Zealand, I do come across some now and again and it’s often a pleasant surprise. This wine is an example of exactly that, a gift no less, as well as a new region and variety. Unexpected in several ways, I give you the Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011,
When I passed the 70/100 mark in my mission to taste a century of varietal wines, I thought that I would be hitting on the rare and obscure for the last 30, such as the recent Romorantin and Kerner. However, Pedro Ximénez is a very well known grape, and one which is readily identifiable with a single sniff in its most typical form. However, such would not have been the case with this wine.
Pedro Ximénez, often shortened to PX, is a white grape of Iberia. It produces large bunches of unevenly sized berries and is vulnerable to a number of rots and diseases. However, it is fairly vigorous and delivers good yields with high sugars in warm to hot climates, though typically with low acidity. In its most common vinified form, a sweet, fortified wine, Pedro Ximénez is very distinctive. It’s typically a rich, brown colour, often almost black, with a substantial body and a pronounced nose which combines raisin purée with a shot of spirit.
In South America, Argentina has a grape called Pedro Giménez (PG) which is more known for the production of bulk wines than anything else. Within Chile, there are some plantings under the name Pedro Jiménez (PJ), and it is used in both table wine and distilled in the production of Pisco. Wine Grapes says that DNA profiling has established that PG is unrelated to PX, but it is not clear yet if PJ is related to either of them, or if it is in fact a completely separate grape.
This wine is from the Elqui Valley in Chile, which along with the Limari and Choapa Valleys, make up the Coquimbo region. It is the northernmost of Chile’s commercial wine regions, stretching east to west across much of the country just within the 30-50° latitude that favours production. Elsewhere in the world, 30º from the Equator would potentially be a very warm climate for growing grapes, such as the centre of Texas, the north coast of Libya, or southern Iraq. (Which is not to say that grapes aren’t grown there – they most certainly are in Texas at the very least.) The Elqui Valley differs from the aforementioned regions in that it has altitude, up to 2,000 metres, and so can in fact get very cold, particularly with the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean to the west or down from the Andes Mountains to the east. It is a high desert, with very little rain but plenty of sunshine and large diurnal variation. Pre-Columbian channels provide irrigation from snow melt. The primary soil types are clay, silt and chalk, and the most common plantings found are Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carménère.
Viña Mayu was founded in 2005 by Mauro Olivier and is part of the Olivier family group. The family business began with Mauro’s father Aldo who started growing grapes for Pisco production, eventually founding a distillery and expanding to be the third largest producer in the country. The group moved into wine production in the 1990s and also includes neighbouring Viña Falernia.
Viña Mayu has vineyards that range from 350 metres in altitude some 18km from the Atlantic to 1000 metres some 85km inland. Beyond this Pedro Ximénez, they also produce varietal wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese, as well as three red blends.
This wine is clear and bright and has a pale lemon green colour, but no legs – just a quick film inside the glass when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity, and notes of lemon curd and freshly baked bread, a hint of grape, some vanilla and a cake-like confection note. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium intensity and medium plus length. There are notes of lime zest, white pepper, some white grape, red apple, ginger, and a little orange peel on the finish.
This is a good wine. It’s unexpectedly spicy on the palate, but well balanced and satisfying. The complexity of flavours is somewhat intriguing, though some flavours are at odds with others. It’s an interesting wine, particularly because it has so little in common with every other PX I’ve ever tried.
As to the variety, while I have been able to spot a fortified version of Pedro Ximénez in an exam without even needing a sip, I never would have identified the variety of this wine even with repeated tastes and guesses. Does that mean that this is a different grape? Since this is my first experience with something claiming to be an unfortified Pedro Ximénez, it’s completely new to me and I cannot say. For the purposes of this post however, I consider this wine to be Pedro Ximénez (not Giménez or Jiménez), because that’s what it says on the label, and if I have to update this at a later date, so be it. It’s new to me either way.