South of the Equator Wins Again: Morande Reserva Pinot Noir 2009

chileI wrote a few days ago about a cheap and cheerful red wine from Chile. I said Morande Pionero Carmenere was easy to enjoy, without challenging your palate or grey matter in any way. So I pulled out another bottle of Vina Morande from their higher-end Reserva line.

This one is the Morande Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley 2009, and I admit I was skeptical when I saw “Pinot Noir” on the label. Beyond a cheap grocery store brand, Chile isn’t known for its Pinot Noir, but for the bolder, earthier reds such as Carmenere, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. So I put on my Researcher cap and dug up some useful info.

First of all, Chile represents a vast wine-growing region, with many different micro-climates. Its geography is unique, because the country is boxed in by four topographic features: the towering Andes mountains to the east; the cool Pacific Ocean to the west; the driest place on earth to the north (that would be the Atacama Desert); and glacial Antarctica to the south. Wow — that’s a lot of geography for a long, skinny country.

But those seemingly-daunting features have also created a wine-growing paradise. They protected Chilean vineyards from the Phyloxxera epidemic that decimated the world’s growing regions in the late 1800′s. They’ve also created many micro-climates that make it possible for Chilean winemakers to source world-class fruit.

Let’s look at the Pionero. The Pinot Noir used to make the Reserva line is grown in the Casablanca Valley, which sits very close to the Pacific Ocean. That should create a cool coastal climate, but in addition, the cold Humboldt Current slides by just offshore, travelling north from the cold waters of Antarctica. The current creates morning fog and cool breezes that slow down the development of the fruit. And remember what that does? The longer it takes for the grapes to ripen, the more they’ll develop complex, intense flavors. (Here’s the techie-talk version: both the sugars and the phenolics are allowed to fully develop).

And that’s good, right?

Take my word for it: it’s good. And on top of that, the Casablanca region has really lousy clay soils, which perversely produces better grapes (they’re gluttons for punishment: the more “stressed” the vines are, the more interesting flavors they produce).

So let’s get to the bottle. When I popped to cork the nose just about hit me in the face. There was no struggling to pull out aromas: intense, rich cherry and cranberry were waving “hello.” They matched the color in my glass: deep and intense garnet.

The palate followed through from the nose. Bright, fresh berry flavors were right up-front, with a velvety mid-palate and a hint of spice and acid on the finish. The balance was very good: relatively high alcohol was countered by the acid and bold fruit.

This is a lazy man’s Pinot Noir: you don’t have to work a bit to get lots of enjoyment. Mind you, there wasn’t a lot of complexity on the end, but I may have emptied the bottle before the complexity had a chance to show. And who expects much complexity for $12?

Yes, Morande Reserva Pinot Noir is only $12, and it’s a STEAL at that price. I’d go lay in a case or two, because you can drink the heck out of it all summer and then put a few bottles back to see what age does to this thing.

I can’t think of any Pinot Noir that comes close in quality, certainly not from California, so go take a trip south of the Equator. Adios, and Cheers!

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