Trekking around Chile

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, July 21, 2016…

Chile is a very long, narrow country that is physically isolated—to the north is the Atacama Desert; to the south, Antarctica; to the west, the Pacific Ocean (with the cold Humboldt Current); and to the east, the Andes.  Hot and dry, with ample water from melting snow in the Andes, the country is a fruit-grower’s Eden—generally, no insect pests, no diseases, and no need for fungus or weed killers.  Many wineries are organic (even if not certified), and the world’s largest biodynamic vineyard is located in Chile.

Wine production began in the 1550s with sacramental wine, but the mid-19th century saw major changes.  As the economy prospered, it became fashionable for wealthy families to build country estates and produce wine in the French style.  From Europe, the onset of phylloxera and powdery mildew provided “refugees” who had the know-how to run these estates and make wine.  Despite centuries of Spanish dominion, France (particularly Bordeaux) has had the most influence on Chile’s wine industry: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are the primary grapes used in fine wines.  Chile’s wine laws require that wine labeled with a viticultural region, a grape variety, or a vintage must contain 75% of the named region, grape, or vintage.  Many Chilean wines are blends.  About 60% of Chilean wine is exported, and there has been a great deal of investment in winery hardware.  Chile’s producers are well traveled and competent; their wines increasingly reflect the sophistication the world market demands.

We’ll consider today’s wines moving from north to south.  Limarí is one of the northernmost regions, cooled by the Humboldt current but very dry.  Tabalí Syrah Reserva Especial 2012 is made from hand-harvested estate-grown grapes fermented in tank and aged a year in both new & used French oak.  The result is an elegant, layered wine with black cherry, smoke, spicy dark fruit, and pepper notes, smooth and balanced, with a long finish.  Moving southward, we come to the Casablanca Valley, a newer region located on the coast near Valparaiso.  Cono Sur is a leader in sustainability, certified carbon neutral.  The Cono Sur Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013, also made from hand-harvested estate fruit, is a fresh minerally wine with pineapple and grapefruit and a touch of toast.

Chile’s Central Valley is influenced by both the Pacific and the Andes, with sunny days and cool nights.  Grapes for the Anakena Winemaker’s Selection Red Blend 2013 come from several subregions; this is the only blend in today’s tasting.  The wine is ripe and red fruit driven with a kiss of oak and mocha.  From a pioneer in fine wine since 1856, we meet Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.  Made from grapes grown in the Maipo Valley, this wine offers red and black fruit, fresh spice, and a long and complex finish.  Our last stop is in the Curicó Valley.  We’ll taste a surprise — Viña Echeverria Moscato Frizzante 2015, with typical orange blossom and nectarine aromas and a flavor explosion of fruit.  Try this as an aperitif, pair with slightly sweet or spicy foods, or partner with fruit-based desserts.

This is just a hint of what Chile has to offer, and we didn’t even try her signature grape, Carmenère!

–M.P. Rouse

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