Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

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Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

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.

It is at home in southern Spain, though it can be found to a lesser extent in Portugal as well.  In Montilla it is typically used to make a sweet, fortified wine and very ripe grapes are often further dried before pressing.  Unfortified wines are made as well, though they too are high in alcohol.  In neighbouring Jerez they also use it to make a sweet, fortified wine, and most of the larger sherry houses produce a varietal.

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.

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 wineanorak.com 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.

Matetic Syrah 2006

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Matetic Syrah 2006

Matetic Syrah 2006

When I attended the Shiraz Benchmark Tasting by Sommeliers Australia a couple of weeks back they had a great selection of wines from throughout Australia, the Rhône Valley, and one each from South Africa and New Zealand to round out the flights.  It was a very well organized and presented tasting, with some most excellent wines.  However, since there were no wines from the Americas, and as I happened to have pulled one out of my cellar earlier that week, I brought along a bottle of the Matetic Syrah 2006.

A quick note about the tasting:  it was excellent.  There was a good selection of wines, the information presented to go along with it was top notch, and the environment was well suited to the event in terms of space, lighting, and the size of the flights.  So well done to the organizers!  Also, I brought a bottle not in the spirit of trying to improve the tasting, but rather it was clearly going to be such a good event, and I felt a bit lame turning up empty handed.

So what do we have here?  Matetic is a relatively new producer that I had the pleasure of visiting just over three years ago.  They’re based in Chile, in particular at the west end of the San Antonio Valley.  The company was founded in 1999 by Jorge Matetic, who came to the wine trade already established as a very successful businessman, which is evident in a number of ways.

First, he hired in top international talent to get things going, including Alan York (Biodinamic Consultant), Ken Bernards (Consulting Winemaker), and Ann Kraemer (Viticultural Consultant) – not an inexpensive proposition.  Second, it looks as though they planted their vineyards from scratch on a green field site, which requires not just an initial outlay of cash, but reserves to keep things moving while you wait for vines to mature.  Third, the winery was amazing – gravity fed, huge capacity, new stainless steel and oak everywhere – and beautiful at that, looking out over vineyards with no expense spared.  Finally, they’re organic and biodynamic, and therefore a bit of exposition is required on my part.

Biodynamic agriculture is based on the “spiritual science” of Rudolf Steiner, a self-described clairvoyant, and I’ve had a rant about it before.  While there are certainly some true believers, if you’ve already spent as much money as possible on land, your winery and oak but find you have some left over, by going organic and biodynamic you’re able to charge an additional premium, because for some reason misguided people are prepared to pay it.  Matetic has clearly put a fortune into their production, and it certainly shows in terms of the quality of wine produced, but I wouldn’t put any of the quality down to the phase of the moon or energized water.

They produce a range of varietals from international grapes:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer for white wines, with Pinot Noir, and Syrah for reds.  They also produce a red blend each year, with a varying mix of grapes – most recently Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah.  This Syrah is their flagship, and I personally carried it back from their winery.

Matetic is based in the San Antonio Valley, which I covered in February when I wrote about  Casa Marin.  Matetic is specifically in the Rosario Valley subregion, which it describes as temperate Mediterranean climate though like the rest of the region, it has a strong maritime influence from the Pacific and a high diurnal temperature variation.  Their vines are planted across two soil types – thin red clay over decomposed granite on the hillsides, and darker soil with a thicker layer of clay over granite on the valley flats.

I wrote about Syrah, or Shiraz, when I covered another Chilean example last month, the Viña Ventisquero Pangea Syrah, and so with the producer, region and grape covered, it’s time to have a look at the wine itself.

In the glass it is clear and bright with a dark purple colour and coloured legs.  On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, a developing character, and notes of Ribena, concentrated blackberries, violets and a bit of earthy funk.  On the palate is more ripe, juicy fruit, with blackberries, blueberries, perfume, and some more of that funk, though green instead of earthy.  It’s dry and has medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium plus alcohol, medium fine to green tannins, medium plus flavour intensity, and with medium plus length.

This is a very good quality wine.  It’s a good example of a cool climate Syrah, with a high level of concentration of fruit, even at six years after vintage.  Given the fruit, and the fact that it’s still purple, I think it will continue to improve, and I hope the tannins go from being slightly green to a bit more developed.  I think this is a clear example how a company that has made significant investment in producing quality wine and is on the right track.

 

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).

Casa Marín Sauvignon Gris 2008

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Varietal:

Casa Marín Sauvignon Gris 2008

Casa Marín Sauvignon Gris 2008

Back to back interesting varietal wines, and if you thought Largein was obscure, get a load of this:  Casa Marín Sauvignon Gris 2008. I have to talk about the grape variety first, because it’s quite unusual.

First off, Sauvignon Gris is a real grape variety, though I had never heard of it until I visited Casa Marín for a tasting.  It’s a clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, but not to be confused with Sauvignon Vert which apparently has nothing to do with either of them.  It’s primarily found in Bordeaux (who knew?) and Chile where is was brought in along with Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Vert clippings.  Stories of varieties in the New World mistakenly being thought of as another variety abound, from Carménère  growing in Chile under the name Merlot, to the recent Albariño that turned out to be Savagnin confusion in Australia.  However, while Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Vert are difficult to distinguish on the vine, Sauvignon Gris has grapes that are more pink, along the lines of Pinot Gris.  It also ripens earlier, has thicker skin and is fuller-bodied.

Bordeaux, New Zealand, and Chile have Sauvignon Gris producers.  In Bordeaux it’s allowed in their whites, and Haut Brion grows some, most likely as part of their white blend. However, it’s seriously obscure, and as identifying the exact blend of your wine is very optional, there’s no good way of knowing who else might be using it.  There are a few producers experimenting there with it as a varietal, such as Domaine des Marechaux.  I’ve found references to it being known as Fié Gris in parts of France, but the only Fié Gris wines I’ve come up with are from the Loire and it’s not clear it’s the same variety.

New Zealand has a few producers experimenting with Sauvignon Gris.  The largest, Montana Wines, now known as Brancott Estate, released a Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2009, and as Brancott Estate it released  the “R” Renwick Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2010, though I don’t know if it was considered enough of a success for them to continue with it.  Clearview of Hawkes Bay released a 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Gris, though it’s not clear if they’ve released a 2011 (yet?).

Chile is where Sauvignon Gris has the most traction.  That’s not to say it’s an important grape there, rather that there are more producers making varietal wines out of it and advertising them as such than anywhere else.  Cousiño-Macul does a varietal in Maipo Valley.  Viña Leyda produce a Single Vineyard Sauvignon Gris in their corner of the San Antonio Valley, inland and south from where Casa Marín produces it, 4km from the Pacific.

Even though this is the first Chilean wine I’m covering, I’m going to focus on the San Antonio Valley in particular instead of Chile in general.  While the wines of Chile are a bit thin on the ground in this part of the world, I’m sure I’ll find others about which to write, and failing that there are more in the cellar.

The San Antonio Valley in Chile is a very small region and officially part of the D.O. Aconcagua, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the much larger Maipo Valley.  (Confusingly, there is also a San Antonio Valley AVA in California.)  The entirety of the region is within 15km of the sea, with both maritime influences and altitude.  While the Aconcagua Valley is generally described as having alluvial soils, on their official website Casa Marín itself has a detailed description of the terroir of each of their vineyards.  (Their blog is worth a look as well.)  They have a wide variety of clays:  red, deep, heavy and loamy depending on the vineyard, along with other calcerous and sandy influences.  Plantings in the San Antonio Valley are largely dominated by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, though there is no shortage of less widely planted varieties.

Casa Marín is a medium-sized, family-owned winery that was established in 2000, and it sits only 4km from the coast.  To me it is one of the ultimate New World wineries, in that the founder created it from absolutely nothing.  Much of the land that is now their vineyards had never been cultivated.  Effectively, Maria Luz Marín arrived with expertise in wine and business, as well as what I imagine must have been considerable funding.  She picked a location, divided it into blocks by terroir, planted appropriate varieties in each, and built a state of the art winery.  Four or so years later she brought her wines to the UK as the most expensive white wines from Chile.  Nicely done.

As to the wine in front of me, it’s very interesting.  On the one hand, it’s very familiar.  Colour with most modern whites says so little, and this is no exception.  It has slightly more of a green tinge than most, but nothing out of the ordinary.  The nose is herbaceous in a way that is not uncommon in Sauvignon Blanc, but with a slight whiff of Eastern Skunk Cabbage. (It was a common water plant where I grew up and the smell is very distinctive, and not in a bad way.  Apologies for using an obscure reference, but it’s really the only thing that it conjures up.)  The palate is medium-bodied, with zesty acidity.  There’s certainly some citrus, lime perhaps, and it’s very crisp.  The palate is not overt – there’s some underlying pepper, but it’s as though the flavours are so well integrated that it’s hard for me to pull out individual flavours.  (That may be more me and my palate than the wine.)  I think this is a very well made wine, and I’m putting it in the very good quality bracket.

On the other hand, with a new (to me or on the scene) varietal wine, the question is where does it fit?  I think the obvious starting point is Sauvignon Blanc, which is incredibly popular of late.  It’s a great grape, but fashion is fickle and people drift in their tastes.  I can imagine some moving to Sauvignon Gris, in that is offers many familiar flavours, but has more body and seems to focus on the flavours of Sauvignon Blanc that people like most.  I think it will not be an easy sell, but I’m sure starting a world class winery from nothing in Chile in 2000 wasn’t easy either.