The Next Star Grape-6

Another highlight of my Vancouver Playhouse Int’l Wine Festival was Friday afternoon’s The Next Star Grape – Syrah seminar. In just shy of two hours, we sampled 12 of Chile’s syrahs from regions spreading from Limari to Maule. Rhys Pender and DJ Kearney moderated the seminar, providing additional commentary and flavour to the principals who presented their wines.

Best feature of Chilean syrahs is they’ve got acid. Chile’s terroir is defined by its different styles, making it great for tasting the wine. Syrah comprises only about 4% of Chilean acreage. However, these wines are picking up awards year after year, getting the attention of wine experts around the globe.

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The grapes share a special granite-derived soil in Syrah. There are plenty of both rocks and granite found in this region of the world, and according to Felipe Tosso, chief winemaker at Viña Ventisquero, “This is the best time to improve the wine, so that it will be ready when the world is prepared to once again taste and appreciate Syrah.”

Onto the wines.

12 syrahs

We first tasted Viña Errázuriz’s Max Reserva Syrah ($19.99) from the Aconcagua Valley. The winery’s president, Eduardo Chadwick, was the first to bring Syrah to Chile, finding Chile’s climate similar to that of France’s Rhône Valley. The Syrah wine regions grew north from Aconcagua Valley. I tasted notes of black cherries and blueberry with a round palate. This is an award winning wine that sees its way onto many international lists yearly. The grapes are hand picked and aged in French and South American oak for 12 months. The clay soil that these grapes grow in produces a bigger, more powerful wine.

The Arboleda Syrah 2009 ($21.99), also from the Aconcagua, is a very perfumey, silky wine with rounded tannins. This wine likes to break away from tradition, keeping sustainability at the forefront of production, disturbing as little flora and fauna as possible. Growing Arboleda’s grapes on the coast provides a cool climate with the Pacific Ocean winds. A cool climate means more purity of the fruit in this syrah. Arboleda means “a grove of trees” in Spanish.

Emiliana Vineyards’ Winemaker’s Selection Cool Climate Syrah 2008 ($24.99) comes form the Casablanca Valley. This is a larger wine region where 70 hectares of vineyards are planted. Pinot noir does well in this slightly warmer climate. Since 2002, this syrah is grown biodynamically. It’s aged in French oak for a year, then bottled. This year, 7% Merlot has been added, along with 5% Viognier. The wine has a creamy texture, with a floral nose, and good complexity.

Viña Tabalí’s Syrah Reserva Especial 2009 ($28.00) is grown in the Limari Valley, about 30 kilometers from the coast. Cool climate, and only 80-100 mm of rain per year yields wine with calcium carbonate and less acidity. They have more minerality and are chalky in character. Not yet available in Canada, this delicious wine has a dark berry and cinnamon nose and is harvested in May.

Tamaya’s Reserve Syrah 2010 ($19.00) is highly influenced by the coast. The soil there is mineral and calcium-rich. A combination of 95% syrah and 5% viognier are fermented together. Another of their wines, the Syrah Winemaker’s Selection, won a Best of Chilean wine award recently. The Reserve is soft, elegant wine that’s not too jammy or over the top. It has a lovely floral scent with violet hints.

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Vino numéro seis was my hands-down favourite. Chono’s Syrah Reserva 2009 ($18.00) produced in the Elqui Valley, is planted on riverbed close to the sea, and surrounded by high mountains. The region receives 350 nights of stargazingly-perfect nights per year, with two times the light intensity than southern Chile. This naturally stressed environment produces an intense colour in the syrah, and this winner in my eyes is gentle, elegant, with a leathery feel at the same time. Its acidity and minerality come alive, and the tannins are soft and ripe. Chono harvests this syrah in mid-May and this former hippy-loving area is the most north appellation in the country.

De Martino’s Alto Los Toros Syrah 2008 ($45.00) is produced on original root stock in the Elqui Valley. The vineyards are planted at 1,950 metres above sea level. The syrah comprises 85% syrah and 15% petit verdot. Alto Los Toros spends 24 months in used French barrels and these young wines were planted in 2001/2002. The fruit has a great purity in the glass and is perfect for that second glass (or as Rhys added, that second bottle). This vineyard also built a special roof that shields the grapes from the intense UV and hours of sun that it receives.

One of my other favourites was Viña Morandé’s Gran Reserva Syrah 2009 (29.99) planted in one of the country’s oldest wine regions. Its vines have deep roots. 20% of Chile’s wines are produced in the Maule Valley. This dry and warm area produces great flavour and aromas in the wine. Aged in American oak, the red fruit in this wine makes a good match for the oak. The character of the grapes eat up the oak beautifully, producing great structure without too much jamminess. It has the potential to age well, according to Carlos Spoerer, Viña Morandé’s North American sales rep.

Viña Maipo poured a Limited Edition Syrah 2009 ($29.95). This one’s from the Maipo Valley, an area known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. The Maipo River influences the day and night temperature ranges, and the winds blow in the from the ocean. The area’s soils are basaltic from volcanic ashes and contain deposits from the Andes. This wine is French barrel aged and is herbal, with a black olive earthiness, perhaps coming from this unique soil combination.

12 syrahs

Keeping track? Wine #10 was MontgrasAntu Ninquén Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2010 ($21.99) from the Colchagua Valley. This region produces about a third of Chile’s syrahs. Located in the middle of the valley, Montgras has strong Canadian ties. One of the winemakers is from Niagara Falls, joining this family-run winery and producing syrah since 2000. Both new and used barrels are used in production, and the syrah spends 16 months in them. Tastes of cherry, blackberries, and coffee are noticeable. As well, I got a hint of chocolate and orange peel.

A 2007 Pangea Syrah ($59.99) from Viña Ventisquero followed. Lucky for us, winemaker Felipe Tosso chose winemaking over tennis! This wine is very fragrant with a strong floral nose. Felipe believes that the best wines in Chile are yet to come. His is the most recent winery to arrive in the Colchagua Valley. “Syrah is special because it reflects the quality of the soil. You are what the soil is.”

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Our final wine in the tasting seminar was Viña MontesFolly 2007 ($86.99). This was my second favourite wine after the Chono and before Viña Morandé’s. Another Colchagua Valley wine, Folly’s grapes are grown between the Andes and the coast. The wine is rounded, with a big mouth and nice finish. The fruit tastes very ripe on the palate, with blueberries on the nose. This syrah is grown in red granite soils on slopes. Though poor in quality, the granite works great on the slopes, producing four to five tons per hectare. The winery waits for the right tannins to appear, and then cold macerates for seven days. The wine later spends 18 months in French oak, and rests in bottles for a year. Viña Montes has been in the wine business for 23 years and is Chile’s wine pioneer. With this remarkable, classy wine, it shows.

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