I just got back from a fantastic seven day trip to Chile, sponsored by the Wines of Chile, as a prize for their Tweet Chile contest. It was an even better trip than I could have possibly hoped for prior to going. Chile is a phenomenally beautiful country and the people there are friendly and hospitable. We got to stay at some fabulous hotels and eat at great restaurants (many at wineries). In the end, we visited even more wineries than we’d initially planned: Cavas del Valle, Vina Falernia, Errazuriz, Santa Rita, Montes, Bisquertt, and Lapostolle. We also got to visit Pisquera ABA, a pisco distillery in Elqui Valley.
I was accompanied on the trip by my beautiful and brilliant girlfriend Lori. Neither of us had ever visited a winery before and frankly neither of us are particularly big wine connoisseurs. But we both enjoy good drinks and have a big background in tasting fine cocktails that we thought would be a good baseline for tasting wine. We’d also never been to Chile before, so the trip was going to be a whole boatload of new for us.
I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to present information from my trip. I was tweeting throughout the experience, as was Lori. The #TweetChile hashtag is a pretty good live record of the vacation, including our winery visits and food experiences. Part of me wants to do a write-up for each winery we visited, but frankly I don’t think I have that much energy in me.
In the end I decided a Top Ten list of my favorite wines from the trip made the most sense. This is just a list covering the wines I tasted on the trip. It doesn’t cover all Chilean wines. It doesn’t even cover every wine made by each winery we went to. For the most part, we were tasting between three and seven wines at each visit; but most of the wineries we went to made between eight and twenty wines. Take this list with a grain of salt, as it’s just my opinion about which wines were my favorite from the trip. Lori would definitely have some different opinions.
Without further ado:
- Seña 2007 (Errazuriz): Seña is a project of Errazuriz’s Eduardo Chadwick and Robert Mondavi. It was recently given a 96 point score by Robert Parker. This was the best structured and most complex wine I tasted in Chile. It had a big body and a long finish. On the nose there was red fruit, red pepper, light leather, currant, and oak. The taste started with sweet fruit, sour cherry, light peat, spearmint, pink peppercorn, coffee and chocolate. It evolved and revealed layers with each sip. I’d never had a 96 point wine before, but this made me understand what a truly great wine could be.
- Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2006 (Errazuriz): Another Errazuriz wine, the Don Maximiano has aromas of cherry, cassis, blackberry, along with wet leather and green olives. The palate is bold, with lots of light spice and round tannins. There are tastes of light red fruit, pomengranate, clove, as well as scorched earth and minerality. It has a very long finish, with a fresh, rich mouth feel. It too received a high score from Robert Parker: 94 points.
- Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Santa Rita): We enjoyed this wine with dinner at Hotel Casa Real, on the premises of the Santa Rita winery. I think this was the only Cabernet Sauvignon we had on the trip, but it was incredible. It was a big wine, with intense ripe plum, blackberry, and vanilla on the nose. It had many layers and expanded over time, with a chewy mouth feel and a long finish. It tasted of dark fruit, oak, vanilla, and earth. I was probably more surprised with this wine than any other I tasted on the trip.
- Clos Apalta 2008 (Lapostolle): The 2005 version of this was rated the best wine in the world by Wine Spectator in their 2008 rankings. I have no doubt this vintage is also incredible, but in the ten minutes I had to taste this wine it remained quite closed. I know there was more to it, but based on what I tasted it, this is where it stacked up. I would have loved to have it with more time, but so it goes on a winery tour. On the nose there was red pepper, oak, leather, and tobacco. The palate was plum, very robust blueberry. It has a medium mouth feel and has a long finish. It pretty much stuck to my cheeks it was so chewy. There was a great sweet/dry balance. Again, I’d love to try this with an hour to let the wine breath first.
- Carmenere Reserva 2007 (Falernia): A deep purple color is met with green pepper, red fruit, plum, and chocolate on the nose. On the palate, there are great fruit and oak notes, with some spice. It’s very rich, with good chewiness. One of my favorite carmeneres.
- Ecos de Rulo Carmenere 2008 (Bisquertt): Deep purple wine. Purple fruit, red pepper, and leather on the nose. The mouth feel is medium-rich, with a long but soft finish and mild peppery notes. There are soft, round tannins with cherry, chocolate and tart oranges on the palate.
- La Joya Reserva Syrah 2009 (Bisquertt): An opaque purple wine yields a nose of leather, tobacco, blackberry, light oak, and vanilla. After about fifteen minutes, the nose brought out graham cracker and chocolate, which was delightful. The wine had a very thick, rich mouth feel, with cherry, black pepper, blackberry, gold rum, and vanilla on the palate. It also evolved some smokiness.
- Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard 2010 (Errazuriz): This clear straw colored wine has strong notes of honey, citrus, green vegetables and olive oil on the nose. It has a very fine mouth feel with light bubbles. The palate brings mild citrus, green apple, good minerality, and complex vegetal notes. It’s very balanced and was probably my favorite Sauvignon Blanc on the trip.
- Casa Apalta Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Lapostolle): Mild yellow color with tropical notes, banana, green apple, rosemary, and a flash of green grape on the nose. The palate brings peach, lime, savory spices, toffee, and a mild pepper on the front of the tongue, with crisp minerality. A very complex wine, with good structure.
- Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 2009 (Errazuriz): I’d never had a dessert wine made from Sauvignon Blanc before and it knocked my socks off. This had a golden yellow color, with elderflower, honey, and passion fruit on the nose. These aromas carried through to the palate, which had bright notes of elderflower, vanilla, and honey, with a very rich, thick mouth feel.
While I could easily give four or five more descriptions of wines that I really loved, I’m going to stop at ten. But the other notables on my list are:
- La Joya Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Bisquertt)
- Pinot Noir Wild Ferment 2009 (Errazuriz)
- Syrah Reserva 2007 (Falernia)
- La Joya Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2007 (Bisquertt)
- Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2008 (Montes)
- Medalla Real Reserva Chardonnay 2009 (Santa Rita)
As you can tell, I was the most impressed with the wines from Errazuriz, from their top of the line icons to their more entry level offerings. In most places there were a number of wines I liked and others I didn’t like. Only at Bisquertt did I truly enjoy every single wine I tasted. I credit this to the fact that every Bisquertt wine I had was incredibly balanced, a great statement of the talents of their wine maker Joana Pereira.
The only other thing I’d like to note is that I’m primarily a white wine drinker. Gruner Veltliner, Viognier, and Riesling are my favorite varietals. But it wasn’t until this trip that I really began to appreciate how great great reds can be – in terms of their depth, complexity, structure, and layering. As I wrote this list, I was shocked how dominated it was by reds. This wasn’t because Chilean whites are lacking – far from it, they were incredible. But my new found appreciation for Carmenere, Syrah, and Pinot Noir won out.
Between the hospitality of the people we met and the outstanding wines we drank, I see myself as a convert to Chilean wine and an enthusiastic one at that. Go out and try some of the wines I’ve listed above. They range in price, from under $20 to over $100, but all should be available in the US. And if you have trouble finding them online, I’d say it’s worth the trip to Chile to have them in person. Seriously.