Sunday, September 4: At 22:55, flew Air Canada to Santiago. At the airport met Anne Popov, head of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, who will judge with me at Catad’Or. Must have dozed off on the twelve-hour flight but it didn’t feel like it. I had a couple of cognacs in the lounge before boarding (on top of half a bottle of Tenuta da Anfora 2008) to ensure I slept on the flight. Put ear plugs in and a face mask on as soon as we took off but seemed to be up every 5 minutes to change positions.
Monday, September 5: Arrived in Santiago at 10:38 local time (a hour ahead of Toronto) and met others of our group as we waited for the driver – Richard Cooper from Michigan and his wife Yuriko, a sommelier, a Hungarian named Josef Kosarka, who knows my friend Zoltan Szabo in Toronto, and Fumiko from Japan whom I haven’t seen ages.
The driver eventually arrives as we are being hustled by every taxi driver at the airport. He had the wrong time of arrival. He drives us to the W Hotel in Los Condes where I stayed a year ago. Our group, which is augmented by two sommeliers from Rochester, New York – Lorraine Hems, who teaches at the hospitality and Tourism Management department of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and her partner Andrea – a sommelier from Mexico City, and a couple I have yet to meet all have lunch with our hosts in the hotel’s Noso dining room.
I am sitting next to James Hughes, the hotel’s GM, who, in spite of his very English name, is Uruguayan. He speaks perfect English, having lived in the US for twenty years.
Lunch menu: Caesar salad with Casa del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 (grassy, minerally, green mango and gooseberry flavours – 90), followed by pork belly with pureed sweet potato flavoured with honey and spices, with Terre Noble Carmenère Grand Reserva 2008 (dense purple ruby; tobacco leaf, blackcurrant and vanilla oak nose; robust, spicy and minty but fades a little on the finish – 88) and Haras de Pinque Syrah 2008 (spicy blackcurrant nose, very elegant; firmly structured with a floral note – 91). Dessert: Cognac parfait with vanilla cream sauce. Coffee and petits fours.
Slept for an hour after answering emails. Wrote up my notes before walking with the group to Miguel Torres Vineyard Restaurant a short walk from the hotel. We started with a glass of Santa Digna Estelado Rosé Sparkling 2010 made from Pais). Then a sit-down tasting in a private room of the following wines:
- Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2011: pale straw colour; grassy, peach nose; fresh green plum flavour with a note of white pepper. (88)
- Las Mulas Carmenère 2010: deep purple colour; black cherry and vanilla oak nose; spicy, leather flavours; firmly structured, dry and savoury with ripe tannins. (87)
- Cordillera Cariñeña 2008 (70 year-old bush vines, with a small proportion of Syrah and Merlot): floral, creamy nose of black fruits; rich, sweet fruit that finishes dry with firm tannins. Needs time. (89+)
- Manso de Velasco 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon from 117-year-old vines): deep ruby-purple colour; cinnamon, blackcurrant with a minerally, smoky note and a floral grace note; lovely mouth feel, elegant blackcurrant and licorice flavours; firm finish with supple tannins. (91)
- Santa Digna Estelado Rosé Sparkling wine 2010: pink with a bluish tint; tiny bubbles; a nose of wild strawberries; soft mouth feel, light on the palate with a cherry flavour; fresh and easy drinking. (88)
- Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia 2008 (Riesling, 375mL): coppery-gold colour; honey, dried apricot, Botrytis nose; barley sugar flavour, medium sweet, burnt orange peel with good length (rather like Sauternes, little Riesling character). (90)
We moved into the restaurant for dinner:
Marinated salmon in a lemon sauce with orange zest, served with Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Baby lamb shank, caramelized apple with rosemary, with Manso de Velasco 2007
Chocolate biscuit with walnuts and vanilla ice cream, with Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia 2008
Tuesday, September 6: Awoke at 7:15 am. Thought it was the middle of the night, as it was pitch dark outside. This morning I have to deliver my address to winemakers on how to penetrate Canadian restaurant wine lists. I’m followed by Lorraine, whose topic is the American wine consumer, and then the Mexican sommelier, who speaks for an hour (we were allotted 20 minutes each) about wine and tourism in Mexico – in Spanish. My Spanish is limited to “Dos cervezas, por favor.”
At 1:30 pm, on to the bus once more for the 135-kilometre drive to Casa Silva in the Colchagua Valley. We arrive at 3 pm and are greeted by Mario Silva, the owner of the company, and his staff. We’re greeted with a glass of Casa Silva Carmenère Rosé 2010 (dry, raspberry flavour – 87) with empanadas, cheese, ceviche. A Chilean rodeo has been arranged for us with a display of bull control. This apparently is the number two spectator sport in Chile after soccer. The concept is that two horseback riders have to pin a bull against a padded area of the ring. They are awarded points as to which part of the bull touches the cushion. Mario Silva himself shows us how it’s done. The horses used for this sport are called corralero, smaller than polo ponies. Mario has a polo field adjacent to the rodeo ring which is enclosed by a stand of eucalyptus trees.
Then we visit the Los Lingues vineyard, 150 hectares planted mainly to Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. It was purchased in 1997 and today it contains a trial block of three Carmenère clones that have been isolated from 40 different plants from all over Chile. We return to the winery to tour (Mario Silva is an antique car collector and 12 of them are parked in the above-ground cellar; many others are parked elsewhere, apparently). Then into the tasting room.
- Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2011 (99-year-old vines): pale straw colour; grassy, peach pit nose; fresh and lively with a tart, green plum flavour; good length. (88)
- Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc Cool Coast 2010: very pale colour with a green tint; herbaceous, asparagus; tart, minerally, salty, grapefruit, lime, gooseberry flavours with a freshly cut grass note; tinglingly fresh on the palate. (91)
- Casa Silva Chardonnay Angostura Gran Reserva 2010: straw colour; apple, earthy, evident oak; sweet, spicy fruit, full on the palate and fruity; oak not fully integrated. Needs time. (87+)
- Casa Silva Quinta Generación White 2009 (Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier): oak dominant nose white peach, green bean nose; fennel, apple and oak flavours; not quite knit yet. Needs 2 years. (88–90)
- Casa Silva Carmenère Reserva 2009: dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, blackberry note; spicy, floral black fruit with a licorice note; full on the palate with a dry, savoury finish. Ripe tannins. A well-made wine. (89)
- Casa Silva Carmenère Los Lingues Gran Reserva 2009: dense ruby-black colour; cedar, blackcurrant nose; elegant, sweet spicy, blackcurrant fruit; lovely mouth feel, full on the palate with lingering fruit flavours and a tannic lift on the finish. Beautifully integrated oak. (92)
- Casa Silva Petit Verdot Gran Reserva 2009: dense ruby-black; cedar, currants, blueberries, violets on the nose with a minty-eucalyptus note; acidity kicks in and the fruit drops off to reveal the tannins. Blunt finish. (88)
- Casa Silva Quinta Generación Red 2008 (45% Carmenère, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot): deep ruby colour; intense blackcurrant, almost Australian in its intensity, with a smoky, cedary nose; Syrah come through on the palate; juicy, fruity and firm. Ripe tannins on the finish. (91)
- Casa Silva Microterroir De Los Lingues Carmenère 2006: dense purple colour; vanilla, spicy blackcurrant, sweet oak; rich and fine, firmly structured with ripe blackcurrant fruit; full on the palate, beautifully balanced. Great length. (92)
- Casa Silva ALTURA 2005 (Los Lingues 50% Carmenère, 35% Cabernet Sauvigon, 15% Petit Verdot): dense ruby; a nose like a fine St. Emilion in a warm vintage – ripe currant fruit with a cedary note perfumed with new oak and a tobacco note; elegant, beautifully balanced with a fine spine of acidity. Beautifully balanced. (92)
On to dinner after checking into Casa Silva’s Relais et Châteaux hotel. Dinner is at a restaurant overlooking Casa Silva’s polo ground. I have a pisco sour, my first since arriving in Chile. It’s very sweet so I cut it with Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc Cool Coast 2010. The table is set with salad, grilled vegetables, bean puree, corn risotto and stuffed mushrooms. Then come the conger eel and steak. With the meat course a glass of Casa Silva Gran Reserve Syrah 2008 (dense purple-ruby; blackberry nose with a medicinal note; dry, savoury, full-bodied with a firm finish – 88). Dessert: Semi-freddo, crème caramel, chocolate cake with strawberry ice, fresh fruit and passion fruit parfait, with Casa Silva Semillon Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2010. To bed at midnight.
Wednesday, September 7: Brazil’s national day, as one of our group, a sommelier from São Paulo, informed us. After breakfast we leave at 9:30 am for Clos Apalta in the Rapel Valley. We are welcomed by the winemaker Andrea Leon, whom I last saw in January when Deborah and I visited the winery and stayed here for two nights. Andrea showed us the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard that was planted in 1920, now farmed biodynamically. The winery is surrounded by native trees and plants, including verbena that smells like maple syrup and curry powder. The sundial is surrounded by five carved stones that symbolize the five stages of the vine.
Andrea and her co-winemaker Jerome Poisson tour us around the gravity-fed cellar on six levels, four of which are underground. In the barrel room, in a place of honour, are five barriques that were made from oak tree grown in the Fôret de Campiègne, planted in 1638 and felled in 2008. Next, into the tasting room.
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2009: straw colour; ripe tropical fruit, nutty note on the nose; rich and full on the palate, sweet fruit; full-bodied. (89)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 2008 (15% Carmenère): dense purple-ruby colour; briary, blueberry; blackberry and blueberry flavour, good ripeness, firmly structured with a good acidic spine and a dry, tannic, savoury finish. Needs time. (88+)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Carmenère 2009 (15% Merlot): dense ruby; cedar, red berry fruit bouquet; chocolate, red berry, rich and full on the palate, ripe tannins. (89)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2001: dense ruby; cedar, briny note, mature; sweet fruit, blackcurrant and soy flavours; well-structured and firm like a Graves on steroids with an apple-like note on the finish. Tannins still evident. (89)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (15% Carmenère): deep ruby colour; cedar, oyster shell, red and blackcurrants on the nose; elegant, dry, mocha and berry flavours; cocoa powder tannins. Needs time. (89+)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah Apalta 2009 (first release of this wine): dense purple colour; cedar, black olive, blackberry nose; lively acidity, chalky tannins, still tight. (88)
- Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah Les Kuras 2009 (a stony vineyard): dense purple; smoky, blackberry nose; broader than the Apalta Syrah, firmly structured, floral note with a chocolate note. (90)
- Clos Apalta 2008 (73% Carmenère, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot): dense purple colour; cedar, blackcurrant nose; spicy, sweet blackcurrant and blueberry fruit; very elegant, great mouth feel and beautifully balanced; firm structure. Will develop beautifully. (92+)
On the sun deck the group takes a glass of Casa Sauvignon Blanc 2010 cheese and ciboulette empanaditas before going inside for lunch. As I sit down the folding chair collapses under me and I end up on the floor. None the worse for wear, I tuck in to Tuna carpaccio, scallop ceviche and a bouquet of green leaves from the garden, served with Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2008 (deep straw colour; spicy, tropical fruit nose with a mineral note and vanilla oak; elegant, ripe and full on the palate with lively citrus acidity (89)). A main course of filet steak with Syrah sauce, potatoes and pumpkin millefeuille, roasted garden vegetables, with Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah Les Kuras 2004 (dense purple-black colour; herbal, blackberry nose with a note of iodine; well-extracted fruit, full-bodied, south mouth feel with flavours of ripe plum and bitter chocolate and a savoury finish (90)). Dessert: Black and white chocolate, dried fruits and nut ragout with fresh kiwi sauce, with Lapostolle Gran Marnier Luis Alexandre.
Next stop: VIA Wines in San Raphael, south of Curico. The company was founded in 1998 by British (Bibendum) and American wine lovers with a Chilean partner. In 2008 two Brazilian companies bought 70% of the enterprise. In total they own about 1000 hectares, 500 hectares here on the San Rafael estate in the Maule Valley. The company has three core brands, Chilcas, Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) and Chilensis. Here they grow Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec and Carmenère as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In Colchagua, Cabernet Sauvignon and in Casablanca, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
We are given the obligatory tour of the vineyard in a series of pick-up trucks before settling in a large modern cabin at the edge of an artificial lake. Mulled red wine with orange and cinnamon to warm up, served with beetroot soup and cheese and smoked salmon. A glass of Chilensis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2010 before
sitting down at table (dry, savoury, blackcurrant and plum flavours with a minty-vegetal note and a finish of dusty tannins – 86). First course; tuna ceviche, crab cake, abalone with avocado cream, served with three wines:
- Oveja Negra Sauvignon Carmenère Reserva 2011 (an unusual blend but in keeping with the off-beat style of this brand): very pale colour; grassy, grapefruit nose with a touch of filter pad; but more fulsome on the palate with tropical fruit notes, especially pineapple, dry with good acidity. (87);
- Chilcas Pinot Noir 2010: deep ruby colour; spicy, beetroot, redcurrant nose; medium-bodied, dry, savoury taste with a touch of volatile acidity. (86)
- Chilensis Carmenère Reserva 2010 (5% Merlot): deep ruby; violets, plum and redcurrant nose with evident oak and soft tannins. Harvested on my birthday, May 12. (87)
Main course, a typical Chilean meal – charquita (a mix of potato, corn, spinach and pumpkin with chorizo sausage in a small clay pot, vegetable lasagne and a single lamb chop resting on sweet potato mash). Three wines served with this course:
- Chilcas Single Vineyard Païs 2010 (the first time I have tasted this grape as a table wine): ruby colour with a nose of lavender, mint and cherries; light and fruity, easy drinking with a red licorice note, tannic grip on the finish. Very interesting wine. (89)
- Chilcas Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2009: deep ruby colour; a nose of mocha, cedar, spice and pencil lead; firm, medium-bodied, evident oak and lively acidity; a little blunt on the finish and rustic. (87)
- Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan 2009: deep ruby colour; cedar and red berry bouquet; short finish, rustic. (86)
With the cheese course, four wines:
- Oveja Negra Lost Barrel 2008 (a blend of Syrah, Carignan. Carmenère and Petit Verdot): deep ruby colour with a smoky, blackcurrant and cedary nose; sweet red berry
fruit, firmly structured; medium-bodied. (89)
- Chilensis Lazuli 2009 (Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Malbec and Petit Verdot!): deep ruby colour; floral, currant, white pepper nose; creamy oak, red berry flavour; tannins suddenly kick in. (88)
- Chilcas Red One 2009 (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot): deep ruby colour; cedar, oak, spicy blackcurrant nose; juicy and fruity, medicinal note, with the oak sitting on top. Needs time. (88+)
- Chilcas Las Almas 2008 (Carmenère – deep ruby colour): minerally, savoury nose of blueberries and white pepper; firmly structured and nicely balanced, ripe tannins, good length with a cinnamon finish. (88)
Dessert: fresh fruit and a small glass of cherimoya are orange juice, served with Chilcas Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (5% Gewurztraminer – old gold colour; grassy, off-dry, grapefruit and honey; rather dilute with a brittle, aspirin-like flavour on the finish – 85). The Mexican judge embarrassed us by reading out the scores he had given each wine. I hope he doesn’t do this again.
A half-hour drive to hotel in Talca, an industrial town south of San Rafael. To bed at midnight.
Thursday, September 8: Awoken at 2 am by some drunk shouting outside my window. Up at 7:15 am. We leave the hotel at 8:30 am for a three-hour drive to the Leyda Valley for a visit to Garces Silva. It turns out to be four hours. Francisco Ponce is the winemaker here, selecting grapes from 170 hectares of vineyards close to the ocean. The winery makes 20,000 cases under the Amayna label in its gravity-fed winery. Ponce grades his new barrels by sniffing each on arrival for smoke, toast and vanilla. In the wineries contemporary tasting room we sampled the following wines:
- Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2010: medium straw colour; grassy, green fig nose with a touch of saltiness; crisply dry with gooseberry and white peach flavours and a lively acidic finish. (89)
- Amayna Chardnnay 2008: pale straw colour with a green tint; intense vanilla, fennel, toasty oak and spice nose; melon, mango and pineapple flavours well integrated on the palate; soft mouth feel and beautifully balanced. (90)
- Amayna Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Fermented 2007: intense nose of grassy, tomato leaf and nettle notes with sweet oak; ripe gooseberry and grassy flavour tempered by oak; fills the palate with green fruit flavours and a touch of sweetness. (91)
- Amayna Pinot Noir 2009: ruby colour; black raspberry nose beautifully balanced with oak; graphite, jammy strawberry and plum flavours with a note of violets; full on the palate with soft tannins; good length with a warm alcoholic finish. (91)
- Amayna Syrah 2009: dense ruby black in colour; herby, blackberry, pepper and iodine nose; dry, austere and tight; lively acidity with green tannins. Needs time. Augurs well for the future when the vines mature. (88)
We lunched at the family’s cottage on the property, starting with empanadas stuffed with cheese before sitting down to barbecued lamb, corn, celery and olive and cucumber salad, baked potatoes and the wines we had at the tasting. Dessert: turon (banana cream caramel).
A 40-minute drive to Matetic. The winemaker, Paola Cardenas, tours us around the ultra-modern winery and then into the tasting room. The Matetic family owns 9000 hectares in the Rosario Valley (which divides the San Antonio Valley from the Casablanca Valley – a small creek marks the border of the two political jurisdictions). They own another 6000 or 8000 hectares of land depending on whom you talk to. Only a small percentage of the Rosario Valley property is given over the modern winery and vineyards (170 hectares planted in 1999). The majority of the property is grasslands for sheep and cattle, wheat and corn fields and trees for forestry products. They also have a blueberry farm that covers 24 hectares.
The vineyards are planted to Syrah (the first planting of this variety in the region – people thought they were crazy to plant Syrah in such a cool climate. But the Matetic Syrah 2004 ended up as one of Wine Spectator‘s Top 100 Wines). They also have Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, some Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The tasting:
- Tank sample: Matetic EQ Sauvignon Blanc 2011: pale; grassy, gooseberry, minerally; very fresh and tart. Elegant and lingering with good presence on the palate. Will be bottled next week. (90)
- Tank sample: Corralillo Riesling 2011: pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, grapefruit, lemon with a vegetal note. (87)
- Tank sample: Coralillo Gewurztraminer 2011: pale straw; intense rose petal and lychee nose; dry and perfumed, very elegant and clean; long spicy, perfumed finish. Dances on the palate. (91)
- Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2009 (fermented and aged in French oak for 11 months): medium straw colour; Burgundian-style nose – spicy, toasty, apple with a hint of barnyard; fresh and lively on the palate medium-bodied apple and pear flavours; good length. (89)
- Matetic EQ Pinot Noir 2009: medium ruby colour; raspberry candy nose with a touch of vanilla oak; sweet and fruity, medium bodied, a little high in alcohol with a firm finish. (87)
- Matetic Corralillo Winemaker’s Blend 2008 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and a bit of Syrah): dense ruby colour; blueberry and currant on the nose; nicely balanced blackcurrant and integrated oak, firmly structured with a floral note; tannins are evident but softening. Hold two years. (89)
- Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2009 (from young hillside vines): dense ruby colour; blackberry, toasted herbs, vanilla oak nose; spicy, peppery blackberry with a strong spine of acidity. (88)
- Matetic EQ Syrah 2008 (vines planted on the flat in 1999): dense ruby colour; spicy, peppery, blackberry nose; mellow and fine with a Northern Rhône flavour; medium-bodied, well balanced. (89)
- Matetic Syrah 2008 (4 tonnes per hectare): dense ruby colour; ripe blackberry with a herbal, medicinal note on the nose; spicy, concentrated fruit, reminds me of a St. Joseph. Well balanced, lively fruit with supple tannins. (90)
The Mexican judge was at it again – reading out his score for the wines. I only hope I’m not on his panel for the competition this weekend.
After the tasting we checked in to Matetic’s Vineyard Residence, a hotel (what they call a casona in Chile) about 15 minutes’ away from the winery. The house, built in the early 1900s, was first owned by the Errazuriz family. The rooms are named after grapes. Mine is Riesling.
Dinner in the formal dining room whose table sits 14: Serrano ham with endives, mustard sauce and hydroponic lettuce; baked reineta with caper sauce, pesto rice and sautéed vegetables, followed by lemon mousse cake. The accompanying wines: Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2009.
Friday, September 9: After breakfast we are driven back to the winery to visit the biodynamic vineyard below the winery. In an old rauli tank under the shade of boldo trees, Matetic’s head winemaker, Julio, showed us the organic preparations and the horns that are filled with cow manure and buried in the vineyard à la Rudolf Steiner. He explained that to get concentration in their Syrah they will drop as much as two-thirds of the crop in a green harvest.
Next stop: Casas del Bosque in Santa Rosa, Casablanca Valley, 80 kilometres west of Santiago. 245 hectares here of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah with a little Merlot and Riesling. In the vineyard by a small artificial lake we taste Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2011: very pale straw colour with a lime tint; grassy, gooseberry nose; very elegant and clean; pure fresh flavours of grapefruit and white peach. Great energy and length here. (90) We drink this with vegetable chips and ceviche.
Next, Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2011: this wine has been given oak treatment and comes across as very Bordelais in style – again very pale colour with a lime tint; not as concentrated on the nose as the Reserva but a lovely expression of guava, grapefruit and cut grass with a top note of oak; medium-bodied, more structured than the Reserva with a ripe peach flavour. Soft mouth feel and very elegant. (91)
Then into the winery for a sit-down tasting before lunch lead by winemaker Milenko Valenzuela:
- Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Pequenas Producciones 2011 (fermented in oak): pale straw; smoky, guava, grassy note; lovely mouth feel, fresh, green plum and guava flavours with well integrated oak. Great length. (92)
- Casas del Bosque Chardonnay Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2010: straw colour; high toned, buttery, spicy apple nose; full-bodied, spicy. Nutty; well extracted apple and butter flavours; firm finish. (89)
- Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2009: deep ruby colour; high toned, raspberry, vanilla oak, white pepper nose; ripe fruit with lively acidity; full-bodied with a firm tannic finish. (88)
- Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Pequenas Producciones 2009: deep ruby, intense colour; earthy-barnyard nose, very Burgundian, minerally, floral; elegant, spicy, raspberry, firmly structured, lovely mouth feel. Best Pinot Noir I’ve tasted in Chile from this vintage. (91).
- Casas del Bosque Syrah Gran Reserva 2009: dense purple colour; high toned, blackberry jam, herbal notes on the nose; dry, fruity with a strong acidic spine and a tannic lift on the finish. A little drop-out in mid palate. (88)
- Casas del Bosque Syrah Pequenas Producciones 2009: concentrated purple-black colour; lifted blackberry, tobacco and toasted herb nose; rich, sweet blueberry and blackberry flavours with an animal note; intense with lively acidity and ripe tannins. Needs time. (91+)
Lunch at the restaurant, which was voted by Wine Access magazine to be one of the Top Winery Restaurants in the world. First course: cream of onion soup with goat cheese phyllo rolls, followed by steak (well done!) and potatoes. Dessert – chocolate crème caramel. Accompanying wines: Casas del Bosque Chardonnay Reserva 2010: golden straw colour with a green tint; a nose of spicy oak, tropical fruit with a buttery note. A full-bodied wine with sweet tropical fruit flavours and a spicy oak finish; soft and fat on the palate. (88)
- Casas del Bosque Carmenère Reserva 2010 (5% Syrah): dense purple-black in colour; cedar, herbs, blackberry notes – the small amount of Syrah really sings through on the nose; medium-bodied, creamy oak and soft blackberry fruit whose initial sweetness finishes on a savoury note. (89)
- Casas del Bosque Late Harvest Riesling 2010: old gold colour with a greenish tint; honeyed grapefruit, lime, Botrytis and green tea with a mineral note on the nose; medium-sweet with peach and mango flavours well balanced with citrus acidity. Great length. (91)
After lunch, the bus to Santiago and check back in at the W Hotel. This evening I’m having dinner with Derek Mossman and his winemaker wife, Pilar. They own a boutique winery called Garage Wine Co. Derek is part of MOVI, an association of small Chilean producers, and he has brought along some of his members’ wines for me to taste – as well as his own. We dine at a Peruvian restaurant called Casa Lima.
- Aylin Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Leyda): pale straw colour with a green tint; lime and grapefruit nose, minerally with a lick of vanilla oak; soft mouth feel, tapering a bit on the finish. (88)
- Fèvre Chardonnay Gran Cuvée 2010: pale straw with green highlights; green apple, vanilla oak nose; very fresh and lively, Chablisesque (but wouldn’t you expect it). (89)
- Garage Wine Co. Cabernet Franc Lot 21 2009: dense purple colour; a nose of vanilla oak and chocolate, coffee bean and blueberries with a floral note; medium-bodied, firmly structured, like a Bourgueil in a warm vintage. Finishes with good acidity. (90)
- Garage Wine Co. Cabernet Franc Lot 28 2010: dense purple colour; high toned, plum and prune nose; forward fruit, port-like, spicy and tannic with a vanilla oak finish. (88)
- Garage Wine Co. Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 23 2009 (9% Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrants and smoky vanilla oak on the nose; chocolate and red berry flavour, firmly structured with good concentration of fruit; gamey finish. (89)
- Erasmo 2006 (Maule – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot): dense ruby colour; spicy plum, blackcurrant and cedar nose; sweet fruit, firmly structured, very Italianate in style but with Bordeaux flavours. Well balanced. (91)
- Erasmo Late Harvest Torontel 2008 (Maule): orange-copper colour; unctuous, burnt sugar and muscat grape-like nose; full on the palate with a honeyed lychee and a spicy orange flavour. Beautifully balanced with great length. (92)
Over ceviche and a light chicken-and-beef dish Derek told me about the Vignadores de Carignan, a loose association of fourteen Chilean producers, large and small, who produce a Carignan. Their wines are labelled collectively under the brand name Vigno and must be made from dry-farmed, head trained old vines of at least 30 years in Maule, and contain at least 65% Carignan.
On the way back to my hotel, Pilar, who was driving, hit a pot hole that burst the front curb-side tire. As it was after midnight, they gracefully hailed a cab for me because I had to be up to start tasting in the Catad’Or competition at 8 am in the morning.
Saturday, September 10: Up at 7 am. The competition is held in three floors underground at the W Hotel. There are 20 judges from around the world. All the scoring is done on computers and we have to award gold, silver or no award based on the average of points. There is also a Gran Gold for an average of 95 or over. This morning out panel of five judges tasted 26 wines. We gave two Gran Golds – one to a Carmenère, and one to a Cabernet Sauvignon. Following the wine judging we were asked to taste 8 craft beer from brewers from the Los Rios region. The best for me was Cuello Negro Ambar Las Fanegas. The same brewer’s stout was also very good. Then onto the bus to drive to Errazuriz in the Aconcagua Valley. En route we munch on empanadas and Sprite or beer.
Eduardo Chadwick welcomes us at the 45-hecatre Viña Seña vineyard. At the highest point of the vineyard we stop for a glass of the Seña 2008 (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenère – which Eduardo calls Carmener-ee – 10% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; rich, blackcurrant, cedar and tobacco leaf nose; initial flavours of sweet blackcurrant and raspberry metamorphose into savoury dark chocolate and toasted herbal notes. The tannins are supple with a lovely mouth feel. (93)
Then on to Errazuriz, a 20-minute drive away towards the Andes, for a tour of the new icon winery followed by a tasting led by winemaker Wladimir Medel:
- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Aconcagua Costa): bright straw colour with a green tint; intense, grassy, green plum nose; richly extracted fruit – gooseberry, nettle and passion fruit flavours; racy acidity giving it great length. (91)
- Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 (Aconcagua Costa): shining straw colour; peachy, apple nose with a hint of toasty, vanilla oak; pineapple and melon flavours, full on the palate with lively acidity; clean finish with good length. (89)
- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenère 2009 (Valle de Aconcagua): dense ruby-black colour; cedar, green pepper, blackcurrants and chocolate on the nose with vanilla oak; herbal note in mid palate, well extracted fruit, blackcurrant and black plum with evident acidity rounded out with toasty oak and mellow tannins. (88)
- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Syrah 2010 (Aconcagua Costa): dense purple-black, blackberry and graphite nose, pepper and violets on the nose; lively acidity with peppery blackberry flavours with a firm tannic finish. Lovely savoury taste. Young vines that promise well for the future. (89)
- Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Max I, Max II, Max V Vineyards 2009 (15% Cabernet Franc; Valle de Aconcagua): deep ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and blueberry with vanilla oak on the nose with a tobacco leaf note; sweet, spicy blackcurrant fruit with supporting acidity and a licorice note; firm finish. (90)
- Errazuriz The Blend 2008 (40% Carmenère, 25% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Mourvèdre, 8% Cabernet; Valle de Aconcagua): dense ruby colour; sweet oak, blackcurrant and blackberry nose; great fruit expression on the palate with acidity; firmly structured. Needs time to soften the tannins. (89+)
After the tasting we walked down to the cellar, where long tables had been set for dinerr. A series of hors d’oeuvres were served with Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and Errazuriz Max Reserva before we sat down. The menu: Duck confit, magret and foie gras with Errazuriz KAI 2006 (Carmenère): deep purple-ruby-colour with a spicy, floral, cedar, blackberry and pepper nose; rich and velvety with a blackcurrant flavour; firmly structured with a lovely mouth feel (93)); and Errazuriz La Cumbre 2007 (La Cumbre means “top of the hill” – the summit of the Syrah vineyard; deep purple ruby colour; graphite and minerally nose of blackberry and vanilla oak (91)).
Wild boar ravioli with porcini mushrooms in truffle butter and zucchini ragout, with Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 1984: this was the winery’s first vintage, aged in rauli tanks, and it is still remarkably alive – ruby colour with a brick rim; cedar, blackcurrant, smoky leather and white pepper nose; drying out a bit but still vibrant redcurrant flavours; dry and elegant and well structured. Reminiscent of a mature St. Julien. Remarkable (90); and Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2005: deep ruby colour; spicy oak, clove, blackcurrant and cigar box nose; well extracted, creamy blackcurrant flavour, beautifully balanced with a lovely lush mouth feel and fine tannic finish. (92)
Magellanic lamb two ways: braised and grilled with chick pea hummus, served with Seña 1995 (60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Carmenère and other Bordeaux varieties; the first vintage of this wine – still holding its dense ruby colour; spicy blackcurrant nose with vanilla oak; sweet fruit with cigar box notes, ageing gracefully; very elegant and drinking beautifully (93); and Seña 2001 (deep ruby colour; vanilla oak, minerally, blackcurrant nose; elegant, firmly structured, soft and pliant on the palate; showing signs of maturity but very succulent (92).
Cheese course, with the winemaker’s recommendation for “a perfect combination”: Manchego with Kai; Brie with La cumber; Chartreux with Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve; Appenzeller with Seña. Dessert: Strawberry soup with raspberry and blueberry sorbet. Back at the hotel by midnight.
Sunday, September 11: Up at 6:40 am. Another morning’s tasting of 26 wines (no Gran Golds today but 9 gold medals from our panel). The tasting of wines was followed by a lecture on Chilean Pisco and then a tasting of 20 piscos that we had to rate. I have never had anything quite as difficult as this tasting, since piscos can be between 30% and 43% alcohol. However, I survived and lunched with the group in Noso restaurant (gazpacho with avocado followed by chicken breast with a glass of Bouchon Las Mercedes Esemblaje 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah – 86)). In the afternoon walked around Santiago for an hour and visited a supermarket to buy some merken (the local blend of hot spices).
A few of us dined at Tiramisu, a very popular pizza restaurant kitty corner to the hotel. I smuggled in a half bottle of Garage Wine Co. Port 1 which we consumed following plates of antipasti, salad and pizzas. Derek Mossman told me that his wife Pilar made it from Pinot Noir and Viognier. It was pronounced very tasty.
Monday, September 12: The final day of the competition. We tasted 36 wines in the morning, Chardonnays, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Carmenère and red blends. The rest of the group went on to Haras de Pirque but I have to catch a flight back to Toronto. The organizer of the competition, Isabel Sáiz Kafack, invited me to lunch at Noso – salad and chicken with a glass of Montes Alpha Carmenère 2010. A taxi to the airport and catch up on my notes before boarding.