Happy Chilean Wine Day!

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoThis Friday 4 September 2015 has been declared National Chilean Wine Day, which is to become an annual event.  The day was chosen because on 4 September 1545, Pedro de Valdivia, the Governor of Chile, wrote to King Charles V of Spain to ask him to send vines and wines “to evangelize Chile”.  This marked the very beginning of Chilean wine production. Today, 470 years later, Chile is a major wine producer, exporting more than 824 million litres per year.

A whole range of events have been organized right across Chile in honour of this day. Some wineries are offering free tours to the public, including the following (check first for availability):

Whatever you are doing over this weekend, this is the perfect excuse to raise a glass of Chilean wine!

Chilean Carménère tasting

 

A big thank you to my friends Smilja and Audrey for joining me for a special tasting of Chilean Carménère.

The Carménère tasting panel
The Carménère tasting panel Left: Smilja Radosav from the former Yugoslavia; Centre: Helen; Right: Audrey Jeannet from Switzerland.

These were our findings:

De Martino Reserva 347 Vineyards Carménère 2011

Intriguing spice and black pepper mingle with the fruit in this medium-bodied, very pleasurable and easy-to-drink wine.

Undurraga Aliwen Carménère 2012

A nice, well-balanced, easy-drinking wine with red fruit and spices. Astringent tannins but a nice, fruity finish.

Miguel Torres Las Mulas Carménère 2012 (organic wine)

Red fruit, mushrooms and damp earth. Medium-bodied, slightly bitter in the finish.

[Las Mulas is usually a very consistent, pleasant line of wines so perhaps this bottle had been stored incorrectly.]

 

Koyle wine tasting

Tasting led by winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga at Vinoteca in August 2015. These are biodynamic wines.

Cinsault rosé

New, not yet available for sale. A light and refreshing dry wine, perfect for a hot summer’s day.

Savouring Koyle's iconic wine, Auma
Savouring Koyle’s iconic wine, Auma

Carménère 2012, Alto Colchagua

Pleasant, easy-drinking Carménère with upfront spices, such as cloves, followed by a touch of green pepper.  Medium + tannins.  Smooth enough to drink on its own, but would pair well with any red meat.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alto Colchagua

Contains 10% Cabernet Franc. Another versatile and easy-drinking red. Plenty of black and red fruit, followed by the spices. Medium body, tannins and finish.

Syrah 2012, Alto Colchagua

Another very pleasant wine, a little more intense with interesting notes of meat and gunpowder.

Koyle Royale Carménère 2012

Contains 8% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot. This Carménère packs a punch; black pepper, cassis, cacao and a touch of the farmyard and slight minerality in the nose. Nice ripe tannins, spice, delectable acidity, lovely mouthfeel with just that touch of ashtray.

Koyle Royale Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Intense, fruit first, then the spices (vanilla, cinnamon, a touch of menthol). Lovely mouthfeel, tooth-coating tannins, pleasant acidity, very fresh.

Auma 2010

37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carménère, 18% Malbec, 13% Syrah and 7% Petit Verdot

What a wine! The first thing that hits you is that perfume coming right out of the glass!  Intense, sweet and hard to define. I asked Cristóbal and he suggested mandarins and violets.  I would add cherry pie with cacao and a touch of liquorice and blueberry. Just smelling this wine is like a feast in itself. In the mouth, smooth, rounded with big smooth tannins, lots of body and fruit and a slightly bitter cacao note, long in the finish.

Auma 2009

33% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carménère, 14% Syrah and 7% Petit Verdot

Quite a different beast.  Intense and powerful with cassis, cherries, cinnamon and that bitter cacao note again.  Delightful wine but pales beside the 2010 vintage.

Winemaker Pablo Barros presented some Apaltagua’s wines at Vinoteca in July 2015.

Costera Extra Brut sparkling wine, Leyda Valley

Interesting and delightfully refreshing; an affordable sparkling wine made using the in-bottle fermentation method. Nice salinity thanks to the coastal origin of the grapes.

Helen at Koyle tastingSauvignon Blanc Reserva 2014, San Antonio

Nice, chewy Sauvignon Blanc with crisp, apple and chilli acidity and a saline note just begging for some seafood.

Gran Reserva Envero 2013, Colchagua Valley

93% Carménère, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Upfront vanilla and cinnamon followed by red fruit and blackcurrants with a slight hint of yogurt. Very elegant, ripe tannins, good acidity, creamy with a touch of ashtray in the mouth. This would go beautifully with a juicy steak and peppers.

Tutunjian Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Curicó

Black fruit, blackberries and blackcurrants are followed by vanilla. Smooth is the word for this wine; smooth entry, smooth tannins, pleasing acidity with a nice, smooth finish with a touch of spice. Very drinkable.

Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo

This is a lean, elegant and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of fennel and liquorice in amongst the fruit. High acidity, nicely balanced body, good length. Would work well with a highly flavoured meat dish, such as lamb or game.

Tutunjuan Entrevalles

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Carménère, 12% Syrah, 10% Malbec, from different wine regions. Raspberries, blueberries and currants combine with liquorice and cinnamon in an elegant and smooth fruity wine with firm tannins and high acidity.  Cries out for a rich lamb dish.

Apaltagua Grial 2009, Colchagua

Inky Carménère with an expressive nose featuring plums, blackcurrants, black pepper, chilli and liquorice. Smooth and well-rounded with elegant tannins, a vegetal touch and a hint of ashtray. This wine will hold its own with spicy dishes, as well as a well-seasoned red meat dish.

Cheers!
Cheers!

Emiliana tasting at the winery, part of the tour

Adobe Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca

Very pale and shiny. Apples and maracuyas. Good acidity, light-bodied, well-balanced. Refreshing and pleasant.

Novas Viognier 2013, Casablanca

Shiny, light yellow. Nose of melon, honey, white flowers, lychees, banana. Unctuous, slightly oily hint, sweet touch, chewy, high acidity and good finish.  Slight pneumatic hint again in the aftertaste.

Novas Carménère-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013, Colchagua

Medium purple in colour. Nice fruity nose features raspberry jam, plums, cherries, some black pepper and green peppers, a touch of cinnamon and vanilla. Medium tannins, nice and smooth, high acidity, medium + alcohol, peppery, medium finish.

Coyam 2011, Colchagua

38% Syrah, 31% Carménère, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec, 1% Mourvèdre

Medium + intensity, reddish purple. Complex nose reveals cassis, blackberries, plums, cinnamon, vanilla and a hint of smoke. Smooth tannins, medium+ alcohol, good body, good acidity, medium finish.  Nice, elegant wine.

The story begins in 1939, when central Chile was hit by an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people died and many livelihoods were lost, including those involved in the local wine industry. As part of its plan to help farmers get back on their feet following this disaster, the Ministry of Agriculture brought some French Carignan cuttings to Chile, with the idea of blending Carignan with Chile’s traditional wine grape, País, to produce red wines with greater colour, body and freshness. Farmers planted these vines in the traditional way, in blocks of free-standing bushes (gobelet-style) and they did not water them.

The years passed, viticulture moved on to favour neat lines of wire-trained international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and winemakers turned their backs on these rustically grown and seemingly uncommercial varieties. Then, in the 1990s, a handful of winemakers began to experiment with wines made from these old, dry-farmed Carignan grapes with outstanding results.

It turns out that the granitic, quartz-rich soils in the Maule region are ideal for Carignan, which also thrives on the climatic conditions. The winter rain gives the plants all the water they need. In the summer, the days are hot and the bush formation means that the leaves shade the grapes from the searing sun. The nights are cool and this slows down the ripening process, ensuring even greater concentration in the grapes.

All of these conditions result in low yields of concentrated red grapes which make exciting, medium to full-bodied and fruity wines with good acidity

Recognizing the potential of this very special wine, a group of wineries joined forces to develop an interesting wine marketing strategy. The name they came up with was “Vigno”, based on the Spanish word for wine (vino) with the “g” from Carignan inserted in the middle. Vigno is at the same time an association of wineries, a brand and a self-styled AOC.

To be able to label a bottle of wine “Vigno”, at least 65% of the blend must be from dry-farmed, bush-trained Carignan vines which are at least 30 years old and located in the Maule region. The other 35% can be any other variety of grape grown in Maule, so long as the Carignan character is not lost. The wines must be aged for at least 2 years prior to release.

These are mostly robust, acidic and fruity wines which pair well with strongly flavoured dishes featuring red meat and tomatoes. Try it with tomato-based dishes, like spaghetti Bolognese or sausage and tomato casserole or check out my recipe for Carne Mechada.

Miguel Torres Cordillera Vigno 2009: Intense, inky purple. Sour cherry nose with prunes underpinned by liquorice, bitter chocolate and a racy minerality. Teeth-coating, acidic cherry mouth with medium body and a long finish. Exciting.

De Martino Vigno 2008: Austere, cherry nose with a mouth-filling sweet jammy palate. Long in the finish. Very nice.

Odjfell Vigno 2010: Intense ruby. Cherry and raspberry nose peppered with spices. Fruity with astringent tannins and plenty of body.

Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2010: Intense earthy purple. Smoky nose with red fruit. Racy and smooth, with that delicious sour cherry and smoke following through into the finish.

Other producers of Vigno: Alcance, Garcia Schwaderer, De Martino, El Viejo Almacén, Garage Wine Co., Gillmore, Lapostolle, Lomas de Cauquenes, Meli, Undurraga, Valdivieso, Viña Roja

You know those dishes so ingrained into local culinary culture that everyone will swear that their own recipe is the right one, such as paella in Spain or pumpkin pie in the States? Well, here in Chile, one such dish is Carne Mechada, a piece of stewing beef stuffed with vegetables and slowly braised in liquid until it almost melts in your mouth. We’re talking serious comfort food.

Well, this is the way I make it.

Ingredients

1 kilo of beef (any braising cut)

1 large onion, diced

Half a red pepper, diced

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 carrots, cut lengthways into thick sticks

2 kilos of tomatoes, skinned and chopped.

Lots of fresh Mediterranean herbs, whatever you have to hand.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

  • First use a large, sharp knife to make holes in the meat.
  • Stuff these holes with the carrot and garlic.
  • Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • Cook the onion until translucent.
  • Remove and put to one side.
  • Turn up the heat, put the piece of meat into the pan and brown it on all sides. Then add the fried onion, the red pepper, chopped tomatoes and herbs.
  • Top up with water until the meat is covered with liquid.
  • Put on the lid and leave to simmer over a low heat for an hour or so, checking every once in a while.
  • When the meat is cooked through, remove the lid and continue to simmer.  The meat will become really tender and the sauce thicker and more concentrated.
  • When the sauce has reduced and thickened or you’ve run out of patience, season to taste.
  • Remove the meat from the pot, slice it, then return the slices to the hot sauce.
  • Serve with pasta.

Carne mechada is even better one or two days after it is cooked.

This dish pairs beautifully with any characterful, fruity Chilean red wine, especially ones with medium to high acidity, like Carignan. You could try Indomita Gran Reserva Carignan 2013. For more information about Chilean Carignan, check out my article Vigno: the renaissance of Chilean Carignan.

 

Casas del Bosque
Casas del Bosque

Casas del Bosque is well set up for tourism. There is a restaurant, shop, two outdoor seating areas, one of them a bar area beside the vines. There are bicycles available, or you can just do a tasting or go for a picnic.  They clearly work at coming up with seasonal attractions, for instance you can pick grapes at harvest time. I was there during the Copa América football championship and they had organized events on that theme.

I didn’t try the restaurant, but it was busy on a weekday in winter, which is a pretty good indicator.

We had an efficient guide and the group was just enough with around 12 people.

Overall score 7 / 10.

Details

Cost $16,500 Chilean pesos for Premium tour (other options available)
Ease of booking Good. Booked by form on the website. They responded by email within a couple of hours.
Information prior to arrival No prices on the internet but they did send a brief description of tours and prices by email. The website has a reasonable level of information.
Getting there Easy. I took a taxi from the centre of Casablanca, which cost $2,000 pesos. The same taxi driver came to pick me up when I was ready. For anyone driving, the winery is signposted from Casablanca centre.
Welcome on arrival Good.
Efficiency Good
Toilets Spotless.
Café / restaurant Didn’t stay to eat but the restaurant was busy.
Vines in winter before pruning
Vines in winter before pruning
Where the wine is made
Where the wine is made
The cellar, where the wine is aged in oak barrels
The cellar, where the wine is aged in oak barrels

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shop Very well stocked with wine and good quality wine accessories and souvenirs.  Quite pricey.
Languages available English and Spanish
Brief description of tour Short but quite interesting.  The guide was pleasant, gave a good introduction and offered to take photos for anyone who wished. We saw some vines, had a brief tour of the plant and a few minutes in the cellar among the barrels. Some noisy cleaning work was going on in the plant, which made it difficult to hear, but otherwise it was all easy to follow.
Tour guide’s ability to answer questions The guide was good at responding to queries about the growing and winemaking process but not so strong on the winetasting and she misunderstood a couple of questions.
Tasting We tasted 5 wines, which were very good, worth the additional cost for the premium tour.
Tasting time!
Tasting time!
Bikes available at Casas del Bosque
Bikes available at Casas del Bosque
Great for summer
Great for summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting time!
Tasting time!

Pequeñas Producciones Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Casablanca

Clear, light, almost translucent. Fruity nose dominated by grapefruit, maracuya, apple and a touch of green chilli pepper with a floral hint. Good acidity in the mouth, citrus but not like sucking a sour lemon, well-rounded, with good body and relatively long in the finish.

Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2013, Casablanca

Shiny yellow. Oak aromas mingled with bananas, pineapple and red apple.  Good body, a bit oily, high alcohol, good acidity, that hint of oil in the mouth.

Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2013, Casablanca

Light purple; classic nose of strawberry flavoured toffee with hints of chocolate and vanilla.  Dry, high acidity, slightly astringent tannins, good alcohol and fruit.

Gran Reserva Syrah 2012, Casablanca

Classic inky purple colour. Nose of blackcurrant cordial with olives, black pepper and a hint of leather. Strong, tannic with high acidity, good body, almost chewy.  Potential to evolve a little more.

Gran Bosque Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo

Intense purple with good legs. Expressive nose featuring blackcurrants, blackberries, cherries, sweet spices, such as cinnamon and cloves. A sweet, chewy, elegant wine with smooth tannins, high alcohol and well-integrated acidity.  I think this would benefit from more ageing.

This tasting was part of the premium tour at the winery in June 2015.