Archive for the ‘Review Chile wine’ Category

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Carmenere of a Different Color: Errazuriz 2008

chileOK, so in my post a few days ago I promised that we’d do our own Battle of the Carmenere’s. If you read that piece, you got a crash course on the history of the grape that’s been called, “the lost Bordeaux varietal.” Of course, it was never really “lost:”  all along it was flourishing in Chilean vineyards, disguised as Merlot. Once it revealed itself to grape growers and the wine world at large, some good varietal and blended wines started happening.

Our first Carmenere, Morande Pionero Carmenere 2009, was an entry-level, bargain buy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… But it usually dictates the style: you can expect the wine to be lighter-bodied, less complex, and less structured. And you know what? That’s often just what you’re looking for…

But last night we stepped up to a more upscale Carmenere. This one, Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere 2008, is priced almost twice as much as the Pionero (although still under $20), and comes from a winery that’s been producing wines for more than 100 years. Errazuriz is very well respected, too: they get high ratings from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and all the big boys. So let’s get to it…

As its name implies, the grapes for this wine are sourced from a single estate vineyard. Does this make a discernible difference? You bet — it’s assumed that the grapes are of higher quality than those used for a blend. The Errazuriz opened with a bright purple color and a tight nose: it seemed to me that this wine is still young and needs more time to develop. By swirling like crazy I got some subtle aromas of red berries and iodine. After more swirling like crazy, I sipped, and the red fruits were there, with some earthiness chasing them around the glass. I still sensed a tightness, as though this thing was hiding its best features.

I was a little frustrated by now: I’d expected to be wow’ed by this wine, because it got a great rating from the Wine God himself. I wasn’t finding this wine to be “mouth-filling and pleasure-bent.” On the contrary, I was working way too hard to pull something out of this bottle.

So I thought about the lost-and-found-again Carmenere grape. In France, it was a blending grape, grown to play its part in the pageant that was Bordeaux. In Chile, it found a second home, and one where the friendlier climate allowed it to reach its potential. But does it really have the potential to carry a wine all by itself? Or should winemakers accept its mission to be a contributing player on a bigger playing field?

Maybe. If this is a great Carmenere, maybe this grape doesn’t have everything I need to create a single varietal that I can love. When it comes right down to it, I’d rather drink the simple but pleasurable Pionero Carmenere, and save myself a few bucks.

But please: if you’ve had a really good Carmenere, send me the name so I can check it out. In the meantime: try Malbec instead??


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Bordeaux + Chile = Carmenere

morandeI admit it — I really like South American wines. They can be bold, rustic, in-your-face and over-the-top, but that’s they’re style. They’re like a Latin lover: hot-blooded, hot-tempered, but oh, so fun to play with.

So this week I’m in Chile. Well, not literally south of the Equator, but that’s where my tasting is focused. I have two Chilean Carmenere’s and we’re going to let them duke it out. But let’s get some perspective and context first.

Don’t feel like a dummy if you’ve never heard of the Carmenere grape. For about a century and a half, no one knew about Carmenere. The grape was native to the Bordeaux region of France and was one of the six grapes blended into red Bordeaux wine (for the wine-geek-wannabe’s, the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot). Cuttings from Bordeaux vines were taken to Chile sometime in the 19th century, and Son of a Gun if they didn’t grow much better in Chile’s warm, dry climate than they had in their homeland.

But somewhere along the way, the Carmenere got lumped in with the Merlot, because they were visually similar. Funny, though, that what the Chileans bottled as Merlot had a very distinctive, earthy edge… So it wasn’t until the 1990′s that the lightbulb went off and Carmenere got its own locker in the locker room. Growers realized that it had the potential to make classic wine, blended or by itself, as long as it got a little more hang-time for the grapes to fully ripen and develop their phenolics (that’s the stuff in the grapes that delivers complexity and flavor).

So Carmenere, the “lost Bordeaux varietal,” leap-frogged from being a no-name to becoming Chile’s signature red grape.

But is it any good? Well, sure. At its best it offers intense color, lots of rich berry flavors, spice, hints of things like smoke, leather, tobacco or earth, and a smoother, less-tannic finish than Cab Sauv.

So my job here is to taste two Carmeneres, from different wineries and at different price points, and see what we think. I started with Morande Pionero Carmenere Maipo Valley 2009. Vina Morande is only 15 years old, but it’s made a huge commitment in vineyards, facilities, and personnel. The winery has created about five tiers of wines, from everyday stuff to world-class. Pionero is Morande’s entry-level line, and is designed to be “Friendly, lively, and approachable.”

All those words fit the Carmenere I tried. It’s the kind of bottle you could slam down on the table when you get together with friends, or pop open on a Tuesday night without a bit of “guilt” about spending yet more of your grocery budget on alcoholic beverages. (This is the definition of a Tuesday Night Wine, and Tuesday Night Wines should form a significant part of your wine collection.)

This wine doesn’t need any fancy descriptors. It’s round, which means there are no harsh edges. It’a also full-bodied enough to satisfy your wine appetite and stand up to your burgers or chicken. It’s fruity, but not in a Juicy Fruit kind of way: the taste reminded me of cherries and red berries, with some spice-herb-mint on the side. I didn’t get the earth or smoke I expected, so the wine is relatively simple. But that’s not a bad thing: this is a “drink and enjoy” wine, so drink and enjoy! For under $10, I think it’s a great value.

In a day or two we’ll taste a single-vineyard Carmenere, and see what we can learn by way of comparison. Cheers!

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Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine

globeI just read a post by Tim Fish, a contributor to He talked about the effect our expectations have on our experiences. He tells a really cute story about childhood memories that’ll make many of us think back to the wood-paneled station wagon and 8mm movie camera’s of our youth.

In wine terms, he said we expect much more from an expensive bottle than an inexpensive one, and are much more disappointed when “name” bottles and legendary vintages don’t live up to their press.

I couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture where the price tag is equated with the value, and a big-ticket car or watch or wine bestows tremendous cachet on its owner — sometimes more cachet than they deserve.

Fish says it’s a pleasure to find things that over-deliver: where the value far exceeds the price. Again, ditto. He mentions several California wines that are a great deal for the money.fuego

So here’s where I disagree: I’ve become more and more disappointed with the value of California wines. The cheap ones — i.e. under $10 — have flaws that put me right off. The whites usually have an edge of sweetness where there shouldn’t be one: I don’t want sugar in my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay! (Watch this video to see me rant about this.) I assume they put sugar in wine to cover up the wine’s flaws, and to pander to Americans’ penchant for sweet foods (Sugar Frosted Flakes anyone?) Read the rest of this entry »

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To Oak or Not To Oak… A Chardonnay Wine Review


Montes modern facility in Chile

“I love this warmth and richness.”

“I hate this heavy oak.”

Or how about…

“I love this snappy grapefruit.”

“I hate how this acid turns my mouth inside out.”

Both these examples of diametrically opposed taste buds are classic examples of why we can’t all enjoy the same white wines. Oak is oak, acid is acid, and never the twain shall meet. And these are not made up comments: they are actual conversations between me and my husband while tasting white wine.

“A-Ha!” you say. Does this indicate irreparable marital discord? I don’t think so. I hope not.

But what it comes down to is this: white wines represent a very wide array of styles and winemaking techniques, from super-dry, flinty and acidic wines such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Austrian Gruner Veltliner, to oaky, soft, even flabby Chardonnays (classic California style). In my vast (or pretty vast) experience of conducting and participating in wine tastings, people’s palates go either one way or the other: they either love New Zealand whites or they hate them, and they either love oak-y Chards or hate them.

But let’s make a big wine wish: What if we could find a white that would bridge the gap; that would be like the Nobel Peace Prize of the wine world and unite the warring factions? Read the rest of this entry »

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Embrace the Diversity: The New Wines On The Block

signpostWe’ve all seen it happen: you’ve got the status quo going nicely in your company, your school, or your neighborhood. Everyone knows where they stand in the pecking order: who’s the boss and who are the supporting cast. So when someone new moves into town, you expect them to work their way up the ladder, and pay their dues along the way.

But what if they don’t? What if they just come storming into the neighborhood, acting like they own the place. Or not acting at all – just taking charge by doing what they do very well.

If you’ll pardon the long-winded analogy, that’s exactly what’s happening in the wine world with the so-called “emerging wine regions.” Countries such as Spain, Argentina and Chile are taking American wine markets by storm.

Of course, they’re “emerging” only to us North Americans. These countries have a much stronger wine-drinking heritage than North Americans and have been producing wine, and lots of it, for centuries. But much of it was relatively low quality stuff. That’s all changed in the last five to 10 years with significant improvements in vineyard practices, grape quality and winemaking technology. We’re now seeing lots of good, better and best quality wines from these countries – and often at bargain prices. They’re giving domestic producers a run for their money. Read the rest of this entry »

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Old World Pinot Noir from the New World

llai llai3CorksRATING – 3 corks out of 5 When wine drinkers think of the long ribbon of vineyards that forms Chile’s wine regions, we think of bold and robust reds like Carmenere or Cabernet Sauvignon. But Pinot Noir? Who would’ve thought?…

A review of this wine, Llai Llai Pinot Noir Bio Bio Vineyard 2008, wouldn’t be complete without a little back-story.  First, the vineyards are located 300 miles south of Santiago, in the southernmost wine-growing area in Chile.  That’s way far away from the Equator… But the distant latitude creates  a cool climate, which explains how it’s possible to make respectable Pinot Noir in Chile.

The Llai Llai winery also began as a joint venture between Chile’s Bodegas Corpora and — wait for it — Burgundy’s Boisset Group. So winemakers from the Mecca of Pinot Noir brought their expertise to this New World outpost. Pierre Marchand and Louis Vallet actually make wine in Burgundy after the fall harvest, and then high-tail it to the Southern Hemisphere to work the opposite-season harvest there.

So what about the wine? Well, Chile is undeniably a New World wine region, but you’d never know it from sampling this wine. Llai Llai Pinot Noir drinks as though it fell off a truck somewhere in Burgundy. The appearance is delicate and ruby-colored, and the nose offers a hint of delicate cedar and mushroom. The palate leads with tart berries and — let me say it again — delicate spice notes. The finish has a little tannic grip, which is surprising in a Pinot that was aged only 50% in oak. I think it just needs a little time to soften up.

Long back-story short — if you favor the style of Burgundy and Oregon, you’ll appreciate this as a well-made, well-structured Pinot Noir. Especially at the value price of $12 -$13. That’s a cool $10 or $20 less than any quality wine from the other regions. Enjoy!

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Crisp and Clean: Los Vascos Sauv Blanc Review

los vascos3CorksRATING – 3 corks out of 5 There are plenty of wine drinkers out there who’ve given up on the heavy, oaky California Chardonnay style. Rather than gnaw on a piece of lumber, they’re happily sipping unoaked wines just like Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley 2009. This Chilean white got rave reviews for its crisp, clean, but juicy style.

I’ve gotten to expect this style from South American Sauvignon Blancs. Brands such as Montes and Veramonte have been producing Sauv Blancs that are pretty darn close to the legendary Southern Hemisphere Sauv Blanc producer, New Zealand. The Los Vascos has a similarly aromatic nose, with lots of lime, pink grapefruit and just a hint of minerals. There’s a burst of fruit on the front of the palate, with flavors of kiwi, lime, and maybe a bit of pear.

Read the rest of this entry »

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