A Detailed Look at Wines from Chile

Change is a constant in our world and in the world of wine. It’s probably fair to say that change in younger wine regions is greater than in long-established ones. As viticulturists learn the intricacies of soil and climate, where varieties are planted can change. And viticulturists and winemakers must at least respond to changes in the climate if not changing styles of winemaking. As a relatively young wine region, Chile is experiencing its share of change.

Winemaking first came to Chile with the Spanish. That colonial influence was built upon in the early 1800s when Carménère, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot were brought from Bordeaux. Vineyards were often planted as field blends and without a good understanding of where they were best suited. 

And it was only in 1994 that French ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot correctly identified some Merlot plantings in Chile as Carménère. As much as 50% of Carménère may have been misidentified as Merlot.

I recently sat in on a Master Class titled Today’s Chile: Right Place, Right Time, Right Wines led by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein that was part of the Full Circle Beverage Conference 2020. Goldstein is partners with Limeng Stroh in Full Circle Wine Solutions, organizers of the Full Circle Beverage Conference 2020.

Full Circle Beverage Conference
Full Circle Beverage Conference

As part of the Master Class we tasted six wines (all sent as tasting samples.) We tasted each wine as Master Sommeliers Rebecca Fineman and Vincent Morrow provided additional background and shared their impressions. Here’s what I learned.

What’s Happening in Chile

Carménère might be the variety most closely associated with Chile, but Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-planted variety, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay then Carménère. Carménère now made in a style with more subtle green flavors, less oak influence, more nuanced fruit flavors and lively acidity. Particular attention is paid to vineyard soil types and controlling vine yield as well.

And Cabernet Sauvignon is a star in its own right. Cabernet represents 30% of total plantings in Chile, it’s 15% of the world’s total, and is number two in the world after France. Look for the best examples from Alto Maipo, Cachapoal, Colchagua and Curicó. Hillside plantings, earlier pick times resulting in lower alcohol and less intervention in the winery are all trends in Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. 

Chardonnay is a more recent import to Chile than Sauvignon Blanc, but it is gaining ground quickly. And don’t overlook other white wines from Chile such as Riesling, Muscat, Semillon and Albariño.

Newer, cooler, coastal regions have been planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir with great success. And based on knowledge gained over the years, sub-regions are being identified in Chile’s wine regions. Rather than thinking of Chile’s wine regions from North to South, it is also appropriate to consider the difference from West to East. A new classification includes Costa (adjacent to the ocean), Entre Cordilleras (valley floor) and Andes (mountain influence).

What’s old is new again with very old plantings of País (Mission in California) and Carignan featuring prominently in varietal wines as well as blends or cortes. Red blends once were based on Bordeaux varieties, but blends are now more eclectic and may include Cinsault, Garnacha, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah and Syrah. A new generation of winemakers is taking Chilean wines to new levels using experience gained in Chile and around the world. 

A Taste of Chile’s Diverse Wines

Limeng Stroh and Evan Goldstein are also partners in Master The World, a new wine education platform. The wines I received were bottled by Master The World in 187ml bottles. Prior to this Master Class I had the opportunity to experience blind tasting these six wines using the Master The World platform. I wrote about that experience in a prior post.

Chile Master Class featured photo
Limeng Stroh and Evan Goldstein MS at Full Circle Beverage Conference presentation

2019 Leyda Single Vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chilepale yellow in the glass with generous aromas of cut grass and jalapeño. Stone fruit flavors underlie flavors of cut grass and jalapeño and stony minerality all supported by bracing, lively acidity. 13.9% abv. 

The flavor profile and acidity scream cool-climate white wine. Grapes were whole-cluster pressed with 20% de-stemmed and macerated. Fermentation took place in stainless steel and 400L used barrels with lees stirring for 7 months. The final blend is 90% stainless steel fermented and 10% barrel fermented.

Leyda is a coastal valley just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean that is a sub-region of the San Antonio Valley. The winery was established in 1997, and the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in this cool-climate region. 

The El Maitén vineyard was planted in 2008 and lies a scant 7.5 miles from the ocean. Several south-facing blocks are the source for the Garuma bottling and chosen for their very cool microclimate. These grapes are the last Sauvignon Blanc to be harvested. The soil is granitic with calcareous qualities.

Leyda winemaker Viviana Navarrete is thought of as one of the new generation of winemakers redefining wine in Chile. She has been named among the world’s top winemakers by Tim Atkin, MW and  Wine Enthusiast magazine.

2016 Amayna Pinot Noir, Leyda Valley, Chilelight ruby in the glass with aromas of red fruit, earth and toast. Fruit flavors include blackberries, dark cherries and berry bramble along with earth and bright acidity. Tannins are a bit drying. 14.5% abv. 

The vineyard, planted in 2003, sits at 820 feet above sea level in this cool region. Amayna and it’s sister winery, Boya, are made by Garces Silva Family Vineyards.

Pinot Noir was brought to Chile in 1879 by Alberto Valdivieso who established Champagne Alberto Valdivieso S.A., made the first sparkling wine in Chile and remains an important brand today. For many years the Valdivieso Pinot Noir clone was the only Pinot Noir planted in Chile. That is no longer the case as Dijon clones, ENTAV material and “targeted massal selections” have become available.

More complex wines come from older Pinot Noir vines, over 20 years or so. Over half of all Pinot Noir planted in Chile is younger than that, so expect more great things from Pinot Noir in Chile.

Also look for Pinot Noir from Casablanca, Elquí/Limarí, Osorno (Ranco) and cooler parts of Colchagua and Aconcagua.

2017 Santa Ema Reserva Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chilemedium ruby with predominantly red fruit aromas, hints of dried mint and vanilla. Flavors follow with mint and a bit of vanilla along with ripe blackberries, plums and earth. Tannins are smooth and drying in a medium body. 13.5% abv.

Pedro Pavone’s father was a winemaker who immigrated to Chile from the Piedmont region of Italy in 1917. He began planting vines in Peumo’s Rosario area in 1931 and established Santa Ema in the 1950s. The fourth generation of the family now manages the winery.

Merlot stands entirely on its own in this bottling with aging in both French and American oak. The vineyard is planted along the Maipo river and enjoys cooling breezes from the Andes.  

2013 Odfjell Aliara, Central Valley, Chiledense ruby in the glass with ripe, dark fruit aromas, dried herbs and dusty earth. Generous flavors or ripe blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and plums are backed by earth and supported by gauzy, firm tannins. 14.5% abv. 

This gorgeous wine is a blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah, 15% Malbec sourced from three vineyards that range in age from 20 to 80 years. It is made with organic grapes and has plenty of character and youthful flavor.

We have previously tasted and written about this wine and the winery. It’s a winner and as an added bonus all Odfjell vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic.

In what might be the tip of the day, Rebecca mentioned the VIGNO (short for Vignadores de Carignan) project dedicated to preserving and showcasing old vine Carignan. If you love this variety and recognize the value in preserving old vines, these are wines to look for. Odfjell is a member of VIGNO.

2017 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chiledark ruby in the glass with aromas of earth, cedar, plums and blackberries. Flavors lead with blackberries, currants, plums, raspberries and earth with notes in the background of cedar and leather. Tannins are drying and a bit grippy and savory notes linger on the finish. 14.5% abv. 

Grapes are sourced from two hillside vineyards located at 1870 and 2132 feet above sea level at the foot of the Andes. These locations are cooler, with significant diurnal temperature change allowing a longer grape-ripening cycle to develop flavor while retaining great acidity.

Rebecca described this Concha y Toro wine as classically Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to her. By that she means it smells ripe like a new world wine but tastes old world like a warmer Bordeaux vintage. The blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% each Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot.

2017 Viña San Pedro Sideral, Cachapoal Valley, Chiledense ruby in the glass with aromas of red berries and plums. Complex flavors of tart red fruit and riper dark fruit are backed by notes of dried herbs and earth. Tannins are drying. 14.3% abv.

What a beautiful blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carménère. Only 20% new, plus at least second use, 225L French oak barrels used in aging for 12 months.

Two vineyard sites represent different soils and terroir in the high part of Totihue Valley in the foothills of the Andes. The brilliant fruit flavors shine through without too much influence of oak aging. Just delicious.

Other wineries represented in this tasting whose wines I did not taste include: Boya, Viña Ventisquero, Casa Silva, Emiliana and Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Viña Los Vascos).  

A huge thank you to Creative Palate Communications for extending the invitation to participate in this informative tasting and to Full Circle Wine Solutions who organized the class. 


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