In terms of land area, Chile is not a particularly large country, but from north to south, it covers more than 2,650 miles, giving it a wide range of climate conditions ranging from desert in the north to ice cap in the south. In central Chile, however, is a area with a Mediterranean climate that is perfect to grow wine grapes.
Two of Chile’s wine regions were highlighted in a West Indies Wine Company “Somm Series” event on Oct. 18. On hand to present the tasting, called “Wines of Chile,” was Patricio Torres, regional sales director of the Gonzalez Byass group of wineries.
Each of the wines was paired with elaborate small bites prepared by Abacus chef Will O’Hara.
Located roughly 50 miles west-northwest of Chile’s capital city, Santiago, and less than 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the Casablanca Valley offers a cool Mediterranean climate with a pronounced maritime influence. Although the Casablanca Valley is located about as close to the equator as quality wine grapes can grow, the cool Humboldt Current that flows offshore moderates the summer temperatures. This coastal plain area is normally very dry, but regular morning fog helps keep the temperatures cooler and gives moisture to the vines.
The Casablanca Valley is a new wine region that was planted only in the mid-1980s. It is planted with mostly international varieties of wine grapes, and is regarded as one of Chile’s best regions for white wines, three of which were tasted at the Somm Series event.
Two different Sauviginon Blanc wines were sampled, the first from the Veramonte winery, which Torres said started producing organic wines from 2014.
“We are firm believers that organic gives you healthier vines, which are going to give you healthier grapes and better wines.”
Torres said that wine is known for its freshness and acidity as well as its mouthfeel and lingering finish.
The Ritual Sauvignon Blanc tasted next came from the same vineyard and producers, but tasted very different.
“This is a higher quality Sauvignon Blanc in our portfolio,” said Torres, noting that it is more in the style of French Sauvignion Blancs.
Instead of being fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks as the Veramonte is, part of the Ritual Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in neutral, used French oak barrels and part in 1,800-litre concrete eggs.
“This gives richness and complexity to the wines,” Torres said. The wine displays intense acidity, flavours of nectarines and a finish that shows some herbaceousness similar to Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre in France.
While the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc is perfect as an aperitif wine, the Ritual Sauvignon Blanc has enough complexity for a variety of seafood dishes and salads.
The final white wine tasted from Casablanca Valley was Ritual Chardonnay, which is also made in a French style. Part of the wine is aged in new French oak barrels, giving it subtle flavours of vanilla, and part in concrete eggs, giving it a soft mouthfeel. These characteristics complement the fresh acidity from the cool-climate grapes. The Casablanca Valley part of the tasting ended with a red wine, Ritual Pinot Noir.
“In Chile, Pinot Noir is a new varietal for us,” Torres said, noting that well-known United States winemaker Paul Hobbs was a consultant for the winery’s Pinot Noir project team for five years when it launched. The 2008 vintage of the Ritual Pinot Noir was listed in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top 100 wines in 2010.
Fermentation of the wine is triggered by native yeasts that come in from the vineyard already on the grapes, rather than commercial yeasts. The natural yeasts increase the wine’s intensity and complexity.
“This wine has a long, lingering finish and yet it’s delicate,” Torres said. “I think it’s an outstanding effort from our winemaking team.”
The varietal Chile is best known for is Cabernet Sauvignon and that grape grows best in the Colchagua Valley. Located about 80 miles south of Santiago in the southern portion of the larger Rapel Valley, Colchagua’s latitude suggests it should be very hot, but as is the case in the Casablanca Valley, the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current provides a cooling influence. However, the unique geography of Colchagua Valley also allows for a lot of sunshine and warm days, followed by cool nights. These conditions, which are very similar to California’s famed Napa Valley, are ideal for many international red grape varieties.
In addition to varietal wines, Colchagua wineries also produce a number of blends, like the Primus wine simply called “The Blend.” It is made from 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 per cent Merlot, 23 per Carménère, 10 per cent Petit Verdot and 3 per cent Cabernet Franc.
“So it’s a Bordeaux Blend,” Torres said, noting that Carménère is one of the allowed varietals in Bordeaux.
The Blend is aged 12 months in French oak, 20 per cent of which is new, giving the wine complexity.
“The style of this wine is not strong, but it is lingering,” said Torres.
The tasting finished off with a wine called Neyen, which means “spirit” in the language of the indigenous people of the area. The wine is a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. The grapes are sourced from vineyards in Apalta, which is known as the best area to grow wine grapes in the Colchagua Valley.
“The winery takes a very a hands-off approach with this wine,” Torres said. “They want the grapes to speak for themselves.”
Neyen is a powerful, yet elegant, wine that displays complex aromas and lush fruit flavours, soft tannins and a persistent finish.