November 1 Roundup: Wines of Chile Special Edition, Harvard Paints California Wine Country Crimson and We’ll Always Have Casablanca…

Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

**We’re interrupting your regularly appearing format again this week to bring you the mildly informed and completely amateur impressions of a selection of Chilean wines.**

Torontonians have every reason to fall in love with the wines of Chile, especially if they attended the Chilean Wine Festival this past Tuesday at the Royal Ontario Museum. (Unfortunately, I don’t have photos. The set-up wasn’t the most conducive to finding places to rest your tasting glass, tasting book, and copious pieces of marketing collateral, plus it was so crowded I was jostled a whole lot, so the photo quality would have been pretty poor.)

At first I felt a bit like herded cattle as ticket holders were asked to line up outside the Peter F. Bronfman Hall. (Always a great view of the museum’s gold-mosaic ceiling when you’re loitering on the second floor!) When the doors finally opened and everyone streamed in, we were handed a tasting glass and booklet before being let loose to sample the offerings of some 30 participating wineries. The room’s layout had wineries at booths along the perimeter, while two gigantic tables in the middle were designated as food stations serving an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including braised lamb, sweet and savoury pastries, assorted cheeses, fruits and other nibbles to nosh on. The live music was a treat, and the waiters zipping by with fresh cevice and flaky tartlets filled with bright greens and aromatic herbs helped clean and refresh the palate from the dozen or so wines I tasted.

Although I prepared by listening to a great master class hosted by the First Lady of Wine, Jancis Robinson (see this week’s “One-Minute Wine Tutor” entry below for the link), I was like a kid in a candy store and every intention of approaching tasting in a more systematic way, based on regions and geography, was quickly tossed aside.

I know Carmenere is all the rage — Chile’s signature grape, and with an exciting story of rediscovery in the New World after assumed extinction in the Old — but I was equally interested in sampling those classic Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as Sauvignon Blanc.

Some of the wines sampled are available in the LCBO, and some are on their way — a good thing, too, since yours truly may want to taste some of these wines (including an astonishingly exciting Syrah) again — but all the wines could be purchased through the local merchants representing them.

So, what did I try?

Caliterra Reserva, Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc, Central Valley (LCBO #275909)

According to the winery, Caliterra’s Sauvignon Blanc is produced using environmentally friendly methods, right down to the paper on their labels! This Sauv Blanc was surprisingly light and not nearly as herbaceous as some others I tasted either at the Wine Fest or in the past (long-time readers will recall my green-pepper complaint with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc). I enjoyed the flavours of tropical fruit, citrus and, yes, herbaceous notes of asparagus and bitter greens. I probably wouldn’t buy it, but it would be a very nice wine for salads or seafood.
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)

Carmen Gran Reserva Syrah, Alpalta (LCBO #: 301903)

Really liked this wine. It was a super full-bodied Syrah with a heavy mouth feel and powerful tannins. I picked up elements of black fruits, smokiness, wood, cocoa and spices, especially some anise and cloves. I don’t think it’s a crowd-pleaser because of the complexity (I have to deal with some red-haters on a regular basis), but it’s something exciting for a steak or lamb stew dinner. Great autumn and winter wine!
HJ System Scoring: 2 glasses (means I quite liked the wine, or there is nothing else to drink)

Bisquerrt 2014 La Joya Gran Reserva Syrah, Colchuga Valley (LCBO #: 325407)

If I had blind tasted this (not that I’m any good), I would never have guessed that this was a Syrah. Unlike the above Syrah, this one was astonishingly light, fruity and atypical in terms of flavour profile. It was mellow, lacking in spice and herbaceous notes, and was the kind of wine you could easily serve with a tomato-based pasta dish or pork chops without it overpowering the meal or seeming too bitter.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

2012 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere, Alpalta ($17.95)

Following the Syrah was such a big mistake! Even with a clean palate, this seemed blander, but by no means a disappointing expression of the Carmenere grape. Lightly stewed fruit compote flavours mixed with a slightly lighter body (although it’s still quite full) makes this my more likely go-to between the two for a dinner party.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenere 2013 (Vintages #: 57513 – Available February 16, 2016)

Again, a fine expression of the Carmenere grape. Really liked the reddy-black fruit notes of this wine, coupled with some mint and spicy-woodiness that added depth and complexity. A nice wine, once again, for heavy red meat and game pairings. I’m splitting hairs, I know, but I probably liked the Carmen just a touch more.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

San Pedro 2012 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley ($19.95)

Oh dear. Reviewing scribbles, likely jotted down as the evening wore on, reveals some unusual and less incisive musings. “Nothing special,” I seem to have written, “Slightly astringent tannins. Reminds me of a young Sangiovese.” Well, that’s that, I guess. My review should really be corroborated with a more reliable source, RPJr. or maybe that WineAlign site?
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)

Pérez Cruz 2012 Pircaas de Liguai Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Collection, Maipo Andes

A solid wine, with more well-balanced tannins than its predecessor, and tasty black fruit flavours. Definitely lighter in style than some other Cabs on display that night, but my use of a check mark appears to have been shorthand for, “Yup, I’d buy this.”
HJ System Scoring:  1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

Pérez Cruz 2012 Chaski Petit Verdot, Maipo Andes

“Yup, I’d buy this” check mark present here as well, with a few words, “light,” “like Pinot,” “easy drinking.” Fruit notes say, “red cherry, tart raspberry, nutty.” Clearly a later-evening wine due to poor penmanship.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

Morandé 2014 Edición Limitada Sauvignon Blanc ($30.25)

Wow. I liked this one, despite how heavy it was on the herbaceous notes, especially the slightly in-your-face green pepper. Compared with some of the other Sauvignon Blancs this had marginally more body and a really refreshing acidity to help round out the finish. There’s a smiley face beside this one, too, but I can’t remember what that was shorthand for…possibly “I’m cutting myself off soon.”
HJ System Scoring: 2 glasses (means I quite liked the wine, or there is nothing else to drink)

Morandé 2014 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley ($22.80)

I think this is the first Pinot on the list so far. It wasn’t bad as far as this finicky little grape goes. I tend not to enjoy the lighter body of Pinots — and this one was, unquestionably, lighter-bodied — but it had a nice ruby-purple colour, with a prominent berry profile and no real hints of oak to overpower the palate. Youthful, fresh, a red for summer. Red wine drinkers who complain about knockout tannins or heavy mouth-feel would enjoy this one, but I didn’t love it.
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)

Indómita 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.95)

The “Yup, I’d buy this” check mark makes another appearance. Deep purple colour, almost opaque, full-bodied, dark fruit flavours, richly complex, with hints of bitter dark chocolate and warm baking spices.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)

And, if you’ve lasted with me this long, I’ve saved the best for last.

Call me a geek, but part of what I love about wine is the learning that goes along with it. If I had one complaint about the evening (OK, fine, two complaints for all those keeping track), it’s that some of the folks at the booths weren’t nearly as conversant in the wines they were representing as I had hoped. (And don’t even get me started on the people who ignored me as I sidled up to their booths! I won’t mention names…) I’m sure I’m in a minority, but I believe that you should be armed with a great elevator pitch that, when asked “Tell me about your wines,” or “What’s your standout?”, you could answer with a twenty-second spiel on your winery, where you have your vineyards, how the climate and aspect influence grapes grown, and what your most impressive wine is. Few people could answer this for me, but the gentleman at the Koyle booth was a superstar in this department.

I tried all six wines on offer, and was very patiently led through a quasi-tutored tasting of their: 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.75), the 2011 Royale Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95), 2013 Gran Reserva Carmenere ($14.75), 2014 Don Cande Cinsault ($14.75, my first New World Cinsault ever!), 2012 Gran Reserva Syrah ($14.75) and 2010 Auma, all Colchagua Andes wines. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is currently available at the LCBO and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (I really enjoyed this one!) will be available later this month.

I think I appreciated how each wine had been presented from lightest body (the Cinsault) through to fullest (Syrah), with the Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs, in particular, displaying such nuanced, albeit markedly different flavour notes, that it seemed like the most exciting impromptu study in contrasts. I especially loved how, between the Cabs and Syrah, the fruit notes grew darker, riper and more robust, and by the time I got to the Syrah, I was blown away by the prominent mint and smoky-pepper notes, which were notably absent in the preceding wines. The gentleman representing Koyle knew the ins and outs of the winemaking technique so thoroughly I felt privileged when I was shown photos of the egg-shaped aging tanks that helped the wines circulate constantly to avoid sediment from collecting at the base of the vessel. I think my overall experience would have been that much better if everyone had taken the time to chat with me in this level of detail. It was evident that the Koyle folks were really passionate about their wines — something I won’t forget next time when walking the aisles of this city’s LCBOs.

The verdict: Koyle Cabs and Syrah get   — my highest scores of the night — with the wines of Chile, more generally, being worth a second, third and fourth look, especially as I increase my familiarity with the country’s myriad winemaking regions.

Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.




Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 


Casablanca: Spotlight on Chile’s first cold-climate wine region

I pulled myself back from a dangerous precipice: providing an overview of all Chile’s viticulture areas from north to south. I’m reminded that this is not only a weekly blog (so, I need to conserve material), but also one that I wanted to ensure achieved a level of pithiness in the entries that allowed readers to breeze through while still acquiring some new knowledge about wine. So, for this week, one region.

Why Casablanca? In an informal poll which included a sample size of one, I asked, “Do you think of Chile as having a warm or cool climate?” Those polled said “warm,” adding that they didn’t expect to see penguin (a subject, no doubt, handled by a different blog). For that reason, I think Casablanca is pretty neat, because summers can be as nippy as 15-18°C.

Casablanca Valley’s climate is strongly influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current which carries chilly sea breezes inland, contributing to colder night temperatures and to morning fogs that help minimize frost in the winter and spring. The temperate climate — which allows for a longer ripening season for white varieties and warmer, frost-free zones for red varieties — has led to comparisons being drawn with the U.S.’ Los Carneros AVA (which includes parts of Napa and Sonoma County) and Bordeaux, though these are both further from the equator than Casablanca Valley. Noting the latter, in particular, it’s probably little wonder that many of the varietals grown in the region include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others. Many Burgundy and Southern Rhône varieties also make an appearance, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Chile’s Casablanca Valley also grows a number of those fun aromatic grapes we so adore, like Gewürtztraminer, Muscat of Alexandria, Riesling and Viognier.

Serious winemaking in this region is relatively recent. During the gradual influx of domestic and international investment in Chilean winemaking in the late 1970s and 1980s, the country also saw the pioneering efforts of viticulturalists and vignerons, like Pablo Morandé (note the Morandé wine reviewed in this week’s “Tasting Notes”), who planted the first vines around the industrial city of Casablanca in the 1980s, defying skeptics and naysayers who doubted the region’s potential for making quality wine. According to wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd, today the wines from the Casablanca Valley now enjoy an “internationally established reputation…for [their] arresting, vibrant, mouth-watering white wines.”

Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute. 

We’re running a bit long here this week in terms of word count, so I’ll try to be brief. I toyed with renaming this the “One-Hour Wine Tutor” this week to allow for the fact that there’s a very lengthy, albeit informative, Chilean wine tasting master class with none other than Jancis Robinson available through the Wines of Chile website. You probably won’t have the wines in front of you (I certainly didn’t), but it was nonetheless a fascinating introductory journey into the myriad varieties and expressions of some of the country’s best wines, a few of which I’ve already described above. So hunker down with a glass and enjoy!


4 thoughts on “November 1 Roundup: Wines of Chile Special Edition, Harvard Paints California Wine Country Crimson and We’ll Always Have Casablanca…

  1. Ahh, flaky tartlets. I’ve had so many in my day that I can’t even remember their names.

    The “100% Grown By Grape Growers of Ontario” should also include “100% Grown By Grape Growers of Guelph,” or the legendary 4-G certification.

    And, yes, people at what is essentially a trade show should have an elevator pitch readily at hand. Amen. It’s silly to be there and have the extent of the interaction be (a) nothing or (b) “have a drink of wine!”


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