Not so long ago, I blogged about a Chilean wine that was voted overwhelmingly the best of the day at a course on the wines of the Americas I ran at Stoke Lodge. And now, another bottle from the same country, opened at home recently, has confirmed my view that Chilean wine really is going places.
Errazuriz’s Max Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Waitrose, £12.99) is full of lovely red berry fruits enhanced with subtle vanilla flavours from 12 months oak ageing. At almost 3 years old, the tannins are still noticeable but neither they, nor the 14% alcohol are in any way intrusive. This wine is just beautifully balanced.
Errazuriz is a long established company producing a number of different wines. Their entry level bottles – widely available in supermarkets and other high street chains for around £8 – £10 – are always reliable and worth buying, while their more premium offerings often outshine wines selling for several £s more.
Their ‘Max’ range, named in honour of the company’s founder, Don Maximiano Errazuriz, is from sites at the foot of Mount Aconcagua where the combination of warm days and cool nights is ideal for ripening the grapes while retaining good acidity. The Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted comes from vines planted more than 20 years ago on gravel-rich soils. This copies what we find in Bordeaux where the best Cabernet Sauvignon regularly comes from vines planted on well-drained, gravelly soils; the reflected heat from the stones helps ripen the grapes while the good drainage means the vines have enough water to grow but aren’t rooted in cold, damp earth. The use of older vines, too, is a sign of quality – they typically yield wines with more intensity and character.
So, while wines from Chile are already deservedly popular in the UK, I’d suggest exploring those at a slightly higher price – that’s where the bargains really begin.
“Which are your favourites of the wines you’ve tasted today?” is a question I frequently ask at the end of a wine course or tasting that I’ve run. The result is normally very close, often with 2 or 3 of the wines tying for the most popular. That isn’t surprising; tastes vary enormously with everyone having their own particular preferences. And those preferences will be reflected in how they vote, which is why it is rare for one wine to have a clear win.
So, on the few occasions when it does happen, the winner must be quite special and have wide appeal – not always the same thing. Such a wine emerged from a recent day course on the Wines of the Americas that I ran at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre. From a dozen wines from such diverse countries as the USA, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil, Tabali’s Encantado Reserva Viognier from Chile’s Limari Valley (Waitrose, £9.99) was not just a clear winner – it secured more than twice as many votes as any of the other wines we tasted.
Although I can’t remember such a decisive result before, I wasn’t surprised this wine was popular; I’ve opened it on a number of occasions previously. It has really appealing floral and citrus aromas which carry through onto a rich, just off-dry palate balanced by good, clean acidity and with flavours of ginger and apricot. A lovely wine: complex, fruity and characterful.
It is only in the last 20 years or so that the Limari Valley has started to concentrate on quality wines – previously much of the production there was distilled into pisco, the local brandy – and Viognier is hardly a mainstream grape for the area but Tabali’s site, just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling influences, is clearly well suited to this tricky but high quality variety. Perhaps we’ll see wider plantings there in future.
And, looking to the future, a date for your diary: on Saturday 7th March my next course at Stoke Lodge will be on ‘The Hidden Corners of Spain’. We’ll focus on wines from some of that country’s less well-known regions and grapes. Places are still available but booking is essential: www.bristolcourses.com or 0117 903 8844.
We’re all familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, but there are a number of other grape varieties with the word ‘Sauvignon’, or something very similar, in their names:
Savagnin, for example, is native to the Jura in eastern France and is used for the strange, sherry-like Vin Jaune – about as far from a Sauvignon Blanc as you can find. For something rather closer in style, look to Sauvignonasse (also known as Sauvignon Vert and, in Italy, as Friulano). This used to be grown widely in Bordeaux but, today, you’re more likely to come across it in Chile or Argentina. Easily confused with Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyard, it rarely has as much aromatic character when vinified and often becomes quite flabby with high levels of alcohol. Watch out for bottles labelled simply ‘Sauvignon’ without the word ‘Blanc’ following, particularly cheaper examples; they usually signify, at best, a blend of the two varieties and hardly ever make exciting drinking.
Surprisingly, despite the similar name and appearance, Sauvignonasse is not thought to be related to Sauvignon Blanc, but there is an interesting and most under-rated variety that certainly is: Sauvignon Gris. Also known as Sauvignon Rose due to its distinctive pink-coloured skin, it’s originally from France (Bordeaux and the Loire) but has found its way (in small quantities) to South America and New Zealand where it is made into some highly drinkable wines.
One of my favourite examples is from Leyda’s Kadun vineyard in Chile (Great Western Wine, £11.95). This is to the south of the capital, Valparaiso, and planted in the 1990s just 12km (8 miles) from the coast to take advantage of the cooling ocean breezes. These are ideal conditions for aromatic varieties like Sauvignon Gris (there’s plenty of Blanc planted there, too) and this wine is wonderfully crisp and intense with delicious pink grapefruit flavours and a long spicy finish. Yes, there’s some similarity to Sauvignon Blanc, but this is distinctive enough to have both on your wine rack.
A couple of days ago, the latest edition of ‘Decanter’ dropped onto my door mat. Only this time, the ‘thud’ was rather louder than usual as the magazine was accompanied by a bulky supplement announcing the results of the annual Decanter World Wine Awards. Although I had plenty of other things to do, I couldn’t resist a quick flick through the list of the top prizes – the wines that had won Platinum Medals (the new combined name for the old Regional and International Trophies).
One entry caught my eye: the winner of the ‘Best Pinot Noir in Chile’ category – Cono Sur’s ‘20 Barrels’. By chance, we’d got a bottle sitting on our wine rack, bought a few weeks previously in a Waitrose special offer – £14.99 instead of £19.99. We were going to be eating some pan-fried duck breast with a spiced raspberry sauce that evening, so it was a great chance to open it and put it to the test.
I can see why it won; it really is a delicious wine – lots of red and black fruit flavours, plenty of Pinot character, well-balanced and with a good, long finish.
But how does it compare with other Pinots? Decanter have their view, but just a day earlier, I’d included some bottles from New Zealand in a tasting I was running for a local group. If the 20 Barrels was worthy of Platinum in its category, then so, surely, was Martinborough Vineyards’ Te Tera (Majestic, £16.99). Yet, on checking the New Zealand results, that wine was down among the Silver Medalists in its group – not even Gold! Still a creditable result, but a long way short of Platinum. So, why the difference?
Different judges, judging by different standards, perhaps? Or is it that the New Zealand Pinot category as a whole is stronger than Chile and therefore harder to win? It’s difficult to say, but the lesson is clear: awards or points awarded by judges, even professionals, should only ever be used as a guide. In the end, just trust your own taste buds.