MyWinePal Visits Chile – October 2009, Part 1

This October, I spent two weeks touring Chile, which of course included visiting several wineries. I had made appointments ahead of time with the winemakers so that I could go through their wines with them, as they would be the best knowledge of their wines. The Chilean people are very hospitable. My meetings with the wineries, were more than just sitting down and tasting their wines. They would start with a tour of their vineyards around the winery, a walkthrough of their winery and cellars, and finally a tasting of a selection of their wines. In total I visited with 9 wineries, and must have tasted over 50 wines. I will provide you with my tasting notes for all the wines I tasted, as well as information I gleaned about the winery and their vineyards.

If I were to list all my wine info on this page, it would be a novel in length, which I don’t think you have time to read. So, I am breaking my tour information into 2 parts. In the first part of my tour notes, I will talk about the wineries I visited in the Casablanca and Maipo Valleys. I will then provide a Part 2, which will cover the Aconcagua and Colchagua Valleys.

The wineries I visited in the Casablanca and Maipo Valleys are:
Casas del Bosque
Vina Santa Rita
Vina Undurraga
Vina Tarapaca ex Zavala

Before I talk about these wineries, I should tell you a bit about the valleys as they influence the grapes and of course the wines that are produced. The Casablanca Valley is located to the west of Santiago and extends to the coast where the city of Valparaiso is located. Most people think of the Casablanca Valley as cool climate, which is true in part, but it does have some warmer areas that are located toward the eastern edge of the valley. When I was driving to the Casablanca Valley, I remember that it is famous for the fog that comes off the ocean to cool the grapes in the evening and early morning. To get to the Casablanca Valley you have to go through a tunnel on the highway. As we approached the mountain tunnel, I could see the fog clinging to the peaks of the mountains and slowly trickling over the edge out of Casablanca. It was a sunny day on the Santiago side, but as soon as we passed through the tunnel it was very foggy. Immediately. It was amazing how the climate changed so fast.

About 20 minutes after getting into the Casablanca Valley, we arrived at the Casas del Bosque winery. I met with a very informative lady named Judith Ramirez Aquirre. Judith took me through some of the vines surrounding the winery. As it is spring here in Chile, there are no berries yet. The vines have started to sprout leaves and some have the buds for the grapes which have yet to bloom. Grape vines i am told bloom in November in Chile. That there are buds now is surprising to the people at the winery. They mentioned that it was the Pinot Noir vines that were 3 weeks advanced. There was also chardonnay and sauvignon blanc vines around which were still with very small leaves forming. After walking through the vines, we viewed the crushing area, the stainless steel fermentation vats, the oak barrel aging room, and the bottling line, before we moved to the Tasting Room. Judith led me through a tasting of 8 wines. We started with Sauvignon Blanc, then to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. All the grapes are from the Casablanca Valley, except for the Cabernet, which was from the Rapel Valley. One wine of note was the 2009 Casas del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc Reserva. This is made very much in a New World (New Zealand) style. This one was pale lemon with a green tint. Lots of gooseberry and herbal on the nose, and a bit of celery. Good acidity, with gooseberry, herbal, celery and green apple flavours. Pair with some oysters on the half shell or lightly cooked fish for a nice complement. On the red wine side, you may want to try the 2008 Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Gran Reserva. This wine spent 9 months in french oak. They like to use 2-3 year French oak barrels as much as possible for all their barrel aged wines so the oak is there, but not in your face. This one had a wide range of aromas. Strawberry, oak, red cherry, dill and mushroom at first, but then some vanilla on the nose. The wine was quite fruity. Lots of red cherry, but also some dill and vanilla. Quite smooth, medium length, and a dry finish. I’d try this with grilled salmon, or pan fried chicken breast with vegetables and herbs. As an aside, I quite often pick up an aroma of peas on some Chilean white wines. When speaking with Judith, they classify that aroma as mushroom, and in particular porcini mushroom. An interesting difference.

The other 3 wineries are located just south of Santiago in the Maipo Valley. Once you get out of the city limits, it is about 45 minutes of driving till you reach the first winery, Vina Santa Rita. I’ve met two of Santa Rita’s wine makers in the past through their visits to Vancouver, and now it is my turn to see the winery. Mr. Jose Ignacio Villalobo gave me a tour of their winery as well as pointing out the historical sites that are within the winery. One of the lines of wine is the “120” series. In 1814, General Bernardo O’Higgins, one of Chile’s forefathers, together with 120 patriots fighting to achieve Chile’s Independence, found refuge in the Santa Rita Hacienda, after a fierce battle against Spanish Crown soldiers in the city of Rancagua where they had been defeated. They stayed in what is now the wine cellar. The cellar is now a national historical site. It was quite inspiring to be in this cellar and feel the history of the place. The design of the cellar, and other cellars, was French in design, so if you ever go to France, you may recognize the arched design.

Mr. Villalobo had selected 5 wines for me to taste: 2 Sauvignon Blanc, 1 Carmenere, and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were from their entry to to their premium levels. The Santa Rita Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 had a mix of asparagus and citrus on the nose. Medium acidity, with more asparagus flavour as well as some herbaceousness and citrus. The wine had medium body and a bit of roundness. For a red, you may want to try the Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2007. This one was deep garnet in colour, with cassis, back cherry and a hint of vanilla on the nose. Lots of black cherry flavour, with a bit of meatiness. The tannins were medium and allowed for a smooth mouthfeel. Nice. The tasting notes for all the Santa Rita wines are on my Wine Reviews page.

About 30 minutes away from Santa Rita, you reach Vina Undurraga.Their grounds and winery were beautiful, just like Santa Rita. Don Francisco Undurraga was one of the pioneers of winemaking in Chile and is the founder of Viña Undurraga. He personally brought vine cuttings from France and Germany and developed the first vineyards in the Santa Ana Estate, in the heart of the Maipo Valley in 1855. With this, the Maipo Valley received its first plantations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

I’d love to just spend a day at each on their grounds enjoying the sites. At Undurraga I met with one of the winemakers, named Pilar. She led me through a tasting of 5 different wines; 2 whites, 2 reds, and 1 sparkling. I found out that Undurraga has a range of 5 sparkling wines; 3 are Brut using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, one is a Brut Rose, and one is a Demi Sec. Hopefully we will get them in BC sometime soon. A white from Undurraga was the Sibaris Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from the cool climate, Leyda Valley. The Sibaris line is a special reserve line of wines with silky tannins, fruity aromas and subtle oak. This wine was light lemon in colour. It had a sweet and saltiness to the nose with lemon and a herbal note. It was quite high in acidity making it quite refreshing. I tasted green fruit, herbaceousness and some lemon. It had a long length with a spicy finish. On the red wine side, I enjoyed the Sibaris Carmenere, 2008 from the Colchagua Valley. This wine spent 23 months barrel aging in French and American oak. It was deep purple in the glass with good legs. It had tarry, meaty, cassis ad a bit of capsicum aromas. On the palate there was tar, vanilla and black cherry. It was quite smooth in the mouth with a slight peppery and dark fruit finish.

They also have a micro-terroir line of wines called “T.H.” which stands for Terroir Hunter. Thse are very limited production wines from very small parcels of land found by one of their winemakers throughout Chile. The tasting notes for all the Undurraga wines, including Terrior Hunter, are on my Wine Reviews page.

The third winery of the day was from Vina Tarapaca ex Zavala. This winery was a bit out of the way but well worth it. It has 8 km of private road that leads you to the winery. You drive through their vineyards along the side of the valley overlooking I think the Maipo River. Once there, there is beautiful grounds, and a private airstrip!

Viña Tarapacá Ex Zavala came into being in the nineteenth century, in 1874, and was then named “VIÑA DE ROJAS” after its founder, Don Francisco de Rojas y Salamanca, a well-known businessman of that period. With vines imported from France, Don Francisco established the vineyard on the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Later, under the ownership of Mr. Antonio Zavala, the winery became “Viña Zavala“. When Antonio Zavala and his wife split up, she received the estate as part of the divorce settlement. Mrs. Zavala´s lawyer at that time was Don Arturo Alessandri, known as the “Lion of Tarapacá“. In recognition of Alessandris services, the estate was renamed “Viña Tarapacá Ex Zavala“.

Mr. Edward Flaherty, the winemaker from Vina Tarapaca, led me through the tastings of his wines. Edward is originally from California, but has been living in Chile for many years. A white wine I enjoyed was the La Isla Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from the Leyda Valley. This wine has a herbal nose with some green pepper, some floweriness and some lime. It had a ice round mouthfeel which was balanced with medium acidity in the glass. Green pepper and herbal flavours, with a long length. For the reds, I enjoyed the Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from the Maipo Valley. This wine was deep garnet in colour. very aromatic. Tar, ripe black fruit and cassis aromas. On the palate, there was tar, cassis, and black cherry. The tannins were medium, leading to a dry, sweet ripe black fruit finish. Very tasty.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings and restaurant reviews.

MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.