Chile 2012 media preview

Chile will be the featured wine at the upcoming 33rd annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (February 27 to March 4, 2012). Vancouver will be able to sample from 35 Chilean wineries making an appearance at the Festival.

Over 30,000 bottles have now been finalized from 15 countries. An estimated 25,000 wine fans will attend the upcoming Festival, one of the largest and oldest wine festival events in the world.

Chile 2012 media preview

A country that’s often mistaken for a small island-size strip, Chile is a bountiful country comprising a landmass equivalent to the distance between Alaska and Mexico, with Ojos del Salado, a massive stratovolcano in the Andes (bordering Argentina), ascending 22,588 feet high. Chile contains ideal conditions for grape growing and cultivation, its warm, dry summers yielding a great range of varietals. The country’s latitude also creates long, steady ripening seasons.

Chile 2012 media preview

The history of Chilean winemaking goes back to the mid-1500’s. Chile is currently the world’s eighth largest wine producer and the fifth largest exporter.

So many aspects of the country make it ideal for wine growing, from its different soil layers and types, to excellent drainage, cool air at night, several microclimates, and the Pacific Ocean’s low salinity. In other words, it’s easy to be a vine in Chile!

Chile 2012 media preview

I was invited to learn about this fascinating region yesterday, with Mark Shipway (a winemaker who also happens to be the The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institute of Vancouver’s Program Director), Iain Philip, wine consultant and an AI Senior Wine Instructor, Harry Hertscheg, the Wine Festival’s Director, and moderator/International Sommelier Guild instructor/chef/Wine Access Magazine writer DJ Kearny.

Not only did we sample 12 of Chile’s premier wines from several wine producing regions, but we learned a lot about Chilean wine production. For instance, Chile enjoys an ungrafted wine legacy, and is one of the exceptionally rare places left on earth where original European rootstock can grow unaffected by phylloxera.

Chile 2012 media preview

Chile’s white wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Moscatel of Alexandria, Riesling and Viognier, while Cabernet Sauvignon leads the pack with the reds, followed by Merlot, Carmenere, Syrah, Pinot noir, Cabernet franc and Malbec.

Chile 2012 media preview

There’s a huge movement in terms of sustainability and biodynamic viniculture in Chile, aiming to become the top leader of both sustainable and diverse premium wines by 2020. Having the advantage of better drainage, light and exposure to the sun offers different characters for each grape as well as fidelity year in, year out.

Pedro Parra, a leading terroir consultant and geologist, works his way up and down the country in order to help wine growers understand sub-soils and ways to sustainably produce wine for future generations.

As well, sustainability and biodynamic leader/consultant Alvaro Espinoza works to ensure that winemaking methods are kept green.

Chile 2012 media reception

After our guided tasting, we were invited downstairs to the Art Institute restaurant for a self-paced wine sampling with food.

Chile 2012 media reception Chile 2012 media reception Chile 2012 media reception

To learn more about the 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, visit the website.
What follows are my notes from the guided tasting.

Chile 2012 media preview

We sampled three Sauvignon Blancs from the Leyda Valley:

MontGras Amaral 2009 ($16.99), Viña Santa Carolina 2010 ($12.99), and Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter (TH) 2008 ($23.00).

MontGras offers a mellow, fruity, floral and crisp finish, with a well-defined Sauvignon Blanc character. Viña Santa Carolina’s Sauv Blanc was so fragrant, and my favorite of the three. Its pear flavour also has a nice minerality to it, making it not too showy a wine. I tasted the grapefruit’s ripeness in the Undurraga TH, and enjoyed a long finish with this one. 10% of this wine is fermented in stainless steel barrels, giving it that minerality.

A Cono Sur Ocio Pinot noir (Casablanca Valley, 2009, $64.99) is considered to be Cono’s icon Pinot, and uses fruits from different locations in Chile. I was amazed by its velvety smooth, dense fruit flavor, aged 14 months in French oak. Over 3,000 hectares of Pinot noir grapes are now planted up and down the Chilean coast, making it a fast growing varietal.

Emiliana Vineyards was up next, with a 2007 Coyam (Colchagua Valley, $29.99). This wine contains a black fruity deep flavor, with hints of vanilla, and aged 30 months in oak. It’s a big, refined wine that for under $30 offers great quality for the price.

Viña Maipo’s Gran Devocion Carmenere Syrah (Maule Valley, 2008, $18.99) hints of currant and vanilla, and has a smoky flavor, capable of cellaring. We learned that Maule’s vines are historic, and winemakers take advantage of the deep root systems here. Chileans have taken some time to embrace this particular wine, as it’s not easy to either grow or ripen. The blend is a tasty mix of 75% Carmenere and 25% Syrah.

A couple of Carmeneres followed:

Carmen’s Gran Reserva (Apalta Valley, 2009, $21.99) is a velvety, smoky wine containing dark fruit and is both herbal and savoury in taste. The wine originates from an up and coming region of Apalta, where vines are grown on hillsides. This makes the grapes struggle a bit more, as the soil is less fertile, reducing yields, however the southern exposure (not typical of the southern exposure we would think of in N. America) provides cooler temperatures and thus a longer ripening time.

Chile 2012 media preview

We then tasted a Viña Montes limited selection Cabernet Carmenere (Colchagua Valley, 2010, $19.99) that I found very smoky, as well as buttery on the palate. There’s less wood and more fruit in this blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Carmenere. The Cabernet component keeps the wine juicy and fresh, while the Carmenere imparts a cassis flavour.

Santa Rita produces a rich, supple Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley, 2008, $19.99) with a complex finish of dark fruits, menthol, and black olive. The texture is delicious and has a lingering finish. Harry pointed out that he always likes to keep a bottle of this on hand wherever he’s storing wines. I can’t say I blame him.

Cousiño-Macul is an ancient, established winery, the last family owned winery left from the 19th century. The flavourful wine that we sampled, an Antiguas Reservas (Maipo Valley, 2008, $21.99), can be cellared and enjoyed 20 years down the road.

Concha y Toro produces a special assortment of beautifully ripened benchmark Cabernets. The Marques de Casa Concha Cab (Maipo Valley, 2009, $19.99) has chocolately and black olive notes, a gravelly aroma, and grainy texture. Over half of this wine is deliberately aged in older barrels to impart a ripened character to it.

Our 12th tasting was a Viña Chocalan Gran Reserva Blend (Maipo Valley, 2009, $28.99). This full-bodied blend contains 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Syrah (for spiciness), 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Carmenere and 4% Petit Verdeau. The grapes are hand-picked and spend 16 months in French oak barrels, creating nice aromas in this very complex blend. A balanced, elegant, and well textured wine. This winery is located close to the coast, near the Maipo River.

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