Last week, I attended a Wines of Chile Master Class at Charlie Palmer Steak in DC, led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer. The wines, which ranged from $9 to $85 per bottle (wholesale), didn’t disappoint. They were tasted in three flights — Chardonnay, Workhorse Reds, and Icons.
The Chardonnays were from opposite ends of Chile, literally. Two were from the Limarí Valley, in the north, and one from Malleco, at Chile’s southern end.
Limarí, a subzone of the Coquimbo DO, has historically been known for bulk wine, table grapes, and Pisco distillation. But the region is home to veins of calcareous soil, much like the clay/lime soils of Burgundy. So it’s no surprise that the region is capable of producing Chardonnays with crisp minerality.
Such minerality really showed in the 2012 Merino “Limestone Hill,” which was the most precise Chardonnay of the day and bursting with green apples, tart citrus and a leesy tang which developed while the wine matured in (likely neutral) French oak for one year. Slide this wine one on to your list of “Patio Pounders” this summer.
Also from Limarí, yet on the other side of the Chardonnay spectrum, was the 2012 Concha y Toro “Marques de Casa Concha.” While this might be more popular among grandmas than sommeliers — it’s quite ripe and sees 12 months in French oak, at least some of which is new — it still features enough minerality and acid to be quite enjoyable. Considering this wine lands on some retail shelves under $15, why not?
About 1,000 miles south is the Malleco region. The smallest wine region in Chile, Malleco is home to just 42 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The 2010 Clos des Foufs “Latuffa” Pinot Noir was wild. Showing a deep color, akin to Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir (perhaps a similar black rock soil?), the nose was overt with notes of garrigue, sage, smoke, and meat. The fruit profile on the palate showed bursting berries and bramble, with the innate acidity of Pinot Noir and a soft grip to it.
Of course, if you want to drink Chile, it’s big red territory. So I was pleased to see the 2009 Emiliana “Coyam” on the table when I walked in. It’s a wine with which I have had a lot of success selling at Bourbon Steak DC and one I would certainly consider ordering myself. This vintage is a biodynamic blend of Syrah, Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre & Petit Verdot. A very complex nose brings about dried spices, animale, and ripe dark fruits. Pit it against your favorite chewy Napa or Washington red.
The last flight featured the “icons.” A list of outside Chile’s outside investors reads like who’s who list — Los Vascos and Château Lafite-Rothschild; Concha y Toro and Château Mouton-Rothschild; Miguel Torres; Michel Rolland; etc. Iconic indeed.
A look into how these wines can age was provided by the 2007 Errázuriz “Don Maximiano.” The structure on this wine featured a regal, even tannin set, refreshing acidity and well-integrated fruit and earth. I’d be excited to try this wine in ten years — or more.
Finally, you can’t talk about Chile without mentioning Carmenere, the forgotten Bordelais variety. Almost extinct elsewhere, when done right, it can produce a fragrant, floral and grippy wine. Tasted on this day was the 2007 Santa Rita “Pehuén” from the Apalta Valley. This wine, like the other reds, balanced a savory green pepper crunch with ripe fruits, here going into the plum, boysenberry and slight raisin categories. Big tannins, no doubt, but again with a long and even finish. This forgotten grape was recently planted by famous St. Émilion garagiste and wine infidel Jean-Luc Thunevin at Château Valandraud. His reason? “Maybe!”
In case you’re wondering, all the reds, had a pyrazine, or green pepper, character – even the expensive ones. As they should! The Cabernet family of grapes has this characteristic, and if the flavor is integrated, it helps give wine depth, structure, and adaptability to food as a savory component. Many times I’ve seen a quality wine dismissed for this aspect, but honestly, if your Cabernet is not showing some green aspects, that’s the wine that should be put into question.
Now that I’m off my soapbox, drink some Chilean wine!