Graeme Shepherd – New Barnet Manager
Nothing short of spectacular. Chile is geographically protected with the Atacama Desert to the north, ice fields in Patagonia to the south squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. This varied land provides ideal conditions for wine production. Chile was protected from the dreaded Phylloxera louse that decimated vineyards in the 19th century that changed wine production forever.
We arrived in Chile with most of the harvest being completed although some vineyard parcels of the slow ripening red signature grape of Carmenere still had to be gathered. As one of seven Majestic Managers I was lucky enough to be invited to South America by Wines of Chile for an unforgettable adventure. Although Majestic staff are well trained by completing their Wine exams there is nothing that can replace seeing the production process first hand and the passion that is transferred in-store. We visited twelve fantastic wine producers, their wineries and vineyards. These producers varied from large companies to family affairs. The highlights of my trip are detailed below.
Concha Y Toro (CYT)
A massive wine company that displayed the huge regional differentiation between wines made in different valleys. The most famous brand from this company is Casillero del Diablo – Cellar of the Devil. Let me assure you that the cellar is indeed rather tense. All very much centred for the tourist. We tasted their various wine ranges with Frank Griffoul CYT’s ‘Wine Tasting Coordinator’. My personal favourite was the terrific Winemaker’s Lot Chardonnay.
On the same day we visited Vina Perez Cruz in the Maipo valley with an impressive new wooden winery designed to: “harmonise with the environment and avoid an abrupt intrusion into the rural landscape”. This winery is entirely different from the CYT visit. It’s owned by eleven sons and daughters of the founder – must be hard to have so many bosses! This is where we tasted the first of many impressive Carmeneres with ripe red fruits, spice and liquorice. We stock their Limited edition which is fantastic value for money and the sheer quality is astounding.
Montes was started in 1988 with four partners with the founding philosophy to produce premium and ultra-premium wines. This has continued. The winery itself is based on Feng Shui where all the basic elements allow harmony and positivity. Even in one of the barrel aging rooms there was Requiem music playing. We stock the Montes Alpha Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay which are firm Majestic choices. The Cabernet Sauvignon is in particular what Chile is famous for with blackcurrants and well integrated French oak. Attached to Montes’s wines are numerous awards, Robert Parker and Wine Spectator Points.
We had lunch on the hillside of the Montes vineyard where we had traditional Chilean cuisine and breathtaking views to take in.
Casa Lapostolle is an awe inspiring location, winery and house. The winery was built by drilling down 6 stories into a mountainside. Owned by the Grand Marnier family there is the undoubting air of success and sophistication here. Their objective is to produce world-class wine with French expertise. The flying winemaker Michel Rolland is even involved here. We were given a tour by one of the winemakers Jerome Poisson. Powerful, fruit forward wines are produced and stock the Cuvee Alexandre Merlot and Pinot Noir. If you want to find out the possibilities Chilean wine can achieve these are certainly wines to consider!
A far more informal presentation from Vetisquero was given in a hill lodge in the Colchagua Valley. We stock this winery’s Yali range exemplifying quality and consistency. The sauvignon blanc is a zingy number with citrus fruits whilst the cabernet carmenere has red fruits intermingled with vanilla, spice and all things nice. The company is very much involved in sustainability especially with the Yali wetland which is a huge source of flora and fauna. You can enjoy these wines without feeling any environmental guilt.
Cono Sur is a subsidiary of CYT but has retained its independence and makes wines that are a little bit too experimental for the mainstream company. On the labels of some of their wines there are bicycles which are often used by vineyard workers. We had the opportunity to cycle around their main vine plots but had to navigate around the geese that are used as natural pest controllers. We had the chance to help out in the winery as well by ‘punching down’ fermenting grapes.
Cono Sur were the first to demonstrate quality Pinot Noir can be produced in Chile. Many valleys are used by Cono Sur which are best suited for the particular grape varieties they grow. The emphasis is to retain their varietal character. We stock many of Cono Sur’s wines but their Viogniers are superb. It is fast becoming the new fashionable grape displaying peach and apricot aromas with excellent acidity.
Personally this was my favourite visit. A family created operation by Maria Luz Marin. The vineyard is in the San Antonio valley and only 2 1/2 miles from the sea influencing the wine greatly. The mantra of this venture is to let the wine reflect the terroir or where it comes from.
When I tasted the two different sauvignon blancs and two pinot noirs this terroir philosophy is confirmed – same vineyard and techniques but different plots. There will be subtle differences in soil type, sun exposure etc. but on the palate it was amazing. Maria Luz even gave us a tour of the winery where we were fortunate enough to try the current vintage’s tank samples.
On the vineyard there is even a Sauvignon Gris grown which is rather rare especially for Chile. When Maria Luz was asked why she had chosen this variety the answer was simple: I love it! We currently stock the Cipreses Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc that has a New Zealand element but added complexity with extra minerality.
On the last day Hugo and Danilo from Undurraga invited us all for dinner on our last evening in Chile. We have recently started to stock their sparkling brut from the Maipo valley at Majestic but I hadn’t have the chance to try it yet. I was impressed mainly when you consider the value for money. A light, elegant, dry style great for entertaining. There are not very many sparkling wines from Chile but I expect in a couple of years we’ll see more on the market.
Overall this was an amazing intense experience. The underlying message is that Chile is changing. Winemakers are discovering different areas and are continually experimenting achieving the best that Chile has to offer.