As South America is currently dominating the World Cup being played in South Africa (with all their teams clearing the group stages and Argentina looking good for the title) it is perfect timing to write up a recent tasting of Chilean and Argentinean wines I attended and highlight some of the excellent wines the region is producing in general.
As you may know I am a member of the North East Wine Tasting Society, or NEWTS as it is colloquially known. The format is simple; each month we sit down to critique 8-10 wines, typically following a theme and usually sourced and presented by one of the society members. Occasionally we have a trade presentation from one of the local retailers and this month it was from the UK national wine chain Oddbins on South America, given by Laura from the Newcastle branch. At the start Laura admitted she had been apprehensive about the wines to bring for the evening and had called in a few favours from other Oddbins stores around the country to pull together a selection of bottles not readily available in Newcastle, including one which only just arrived on the morning of the tasting.
The first wine was the 2009 Garuma single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc by Viña Leyda in the relatively new winemaking region of Leyda Valley, only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Chile is starting to make a reputation for itself with good Sauvignon Blanc in a richer, smoother style compared to New Zealand – one of my favourites is the Terrunyo single vineyard by Concha y Toro – and the Garuma was in that vein. It had a smooth, rich nose with aspects of Sauvignon typicity (but not over the top) while in the mouth it had a very pleasant texture; dry, fruity with a lemon zing – although there was a touch of heat at the end from the 14% abv. For £9 a bottle this was a very well made wine, good value for money and didn’t change my opinion that Chile is worth looking at if you’re tired of all those carbon copy Marlborough Sauvignons.
The next white was from Argentina, although surprisingly not a Torrontes, which is fast becoming as synonymous with that nation as the Malbec grape is for its reds. Instead we were given Dona Paula’s “Naked Pulp” Viognier, made from the free-run juice – the grapes then used to co-ferment with the wineries “Olives road” Syrah-Viognier.
After 10 months in new French barrels the Viognier had an overtly oaked nose which masked any fruit, but an enjoyable texture and viscosity in the mouth, along with a touch of sweetness, brought out pineapple flavours. The viscosity, oak, alcohol (14.5%) and £14 price are likely to put off some but many more would enjoy this full bodied white.
The reds started with a confused offering from Italian producer Masi, taking some of their home-grown ideas into Mendoza’s Tupungato Valley to produce the 2008 Paso Doble. Malbec grapes were fermented first and then a second fermentation was started after the addition of 30% of semi-dried Corvina grapes, in the Passito style more commonly seen in Valpolicella. Considering the large Malbec component, the wine was relatively thin, with a menthol component on the nose but a green aspect I didn’t appreciate. Although smooth in the mouth it was dry with a short finish, a simple wine for its price (£13) and winemaking technique.
Thin and simple couldn’t be applied to the next wine, Norton’s 2006 Privada blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Norton is rightly known as a consistent producer of quality wines and the Privada is made from old vines with very low yields of 4 tonnes per hectare (ton/ha) to justify the £20 price tag. This was a big, dense wine with a massive nose of black fruits and spice and an almost syrupy texture with tannins throughout, rich and fruity from the mid-palate but a disjointed herbal bitterness to the finish detracted a little.
After 2 Argentinean reds it was time to cross over the Andes into Chile and Cono Sur. The winery was founded as a subsidiary of Chilean giant Concha y Toro in 1993 and has developed a reputation for environmentally friendly winemaking under Chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado (Tim Atkin has a good interview from last year on his site).
Initially building its reputation on reliable low to mid-priced wines it moved into the premium sector in 2003 with the launch of the “Ocio” Pinot Noir and it was the 2007 vintage that was next on the tasting list.
Some questioned tasting a Pinot Noir after a big Malbec blend but it soon became clear that this was no ordinary Pinot! Also produced from yields of 4ton/ha, mostly from the El Triangulo Estate in Casablanca, the concentration could be seen as the bottle was poured. There was some mushroom on the nose behind plenty of fruit and some cigar-box, while the taste was clean with overt acidity, but a savoury sort which carried a host of subtle flavours into a moderate finish. I can appreciate that the acidity would be seen as too much by many palates, but for me it made the wine with a sharp savouriness that I had not come across in a Pinot before, although at £32 a bottle the price is outside of my typical purchasing range so that may not be surprising!
We stayed on the Pacific side of the mountains with Neyen de Apalta in the Apalta Valley, part of the larger Colchagua region. This small winery only produces one label and the 2004 vintage was a blend of Chile’s signature red grape, Carmenère, with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon at 14% abv and £28 a bottle. The two grapes came together in a very dark wine with a thick, concentrated nose of liquorice and smoky fruit. This was extremely smooth and seamlessly integrated; fine grain tannins and subtle complexities resounded around the mouth with a strong chocolate component.
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon went solo next for the 2005 Viñedo Chadwick, a wine with an impressive pedigree as part of Eduardo Chadwick’s blind-tasting roadshow first brought to the attention of the world after the 2004 “Judgement of Berlin”, when the Viñedo Chadwick and the Viña Errázuriz Seña were ranked ahead of Château Margaux, Château Lafite, Château Latour, Sassicaia and Tignanello. Tom Cannavan did a tongue in cheek re-enactment (The Judgement of Glasgow!) on his UK Wine Pages last year which included the 2006 Chadwick.
As for the 2005, this had an ethereal nose with little cherry wood, was also very smooth (more so than the Neyen) and was fresh with a touch of mint. Tannins came in on the mid-palate and carried on through the very long finish. I am not going to try and describe the various secondary flavours of this wine as I would undoubtedly fail to do it justice, but when someone shouted out “bargain” at its £35 bottle price (on Bin End at Oddbins) I had to agree – this was as close to a 5 star wine as I have come across, not trying to be anything else other than stunningly good.
A final hop back over the Andes for the last wine, the 2005 Finca Pedregal single vineyard Malbec (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) blend by Pascual Toso.
This had a strong savoury nose with some tar and maybe a little volatility and there were big tannins and a lot of blackberry in the mouth. I used the word seamless for the Neyen, but this was more so with a long plateau of flavour from start, thought the mid-palate and into the sweet and fruity finish. with. At £38.50 I wouldn’t put it ahead of the Chadwick, Neyen or even Ocio, but like the others this was an exceptional wine which gave a lot of enjoyment for a price far lower than some of the more established Old World equivalents.
I left the room at the end of the evening with a strong feeling of being privileged to have tasted some beautiful wines all on the same day. Of course the tasting was more of a Chile and Argentina tag team match – Brazil and Uruguay still have some way to go before they can lay claim to the same accolades – but if there’s anyone left who thinks South America is only for Supermarket wines then they need to think again.
Source: Karl Laczko