Chile is a fascinating country, with climate and terrain that vary from the Atacama desert in the north to glaciers in Patagonia to the south, and everything in between! From Wikipedia I learned that by surface 80% of South America’s glaciers lie in Chile. Then there are the Andes Mountains, which controls/modifies the weather coming in from the Pacific Ocean. With all this complex geology, temperature, and weather patterns, you can say that Chile has a wide range of terroir for grape growing and wine production.
I was recently invited to a Wines of Chile – Terroir Seminar in Vancouver, with the guest speaker Pedro Parra, a Chilean agronomist and geologist who has a nose for rocks, terroir, and wine. According to Pedro, if you map your soils and sub-soil carefully, you can choose the best varieties of grapes to grow there. I learned for example that Cabernet Sauvignon does not like to grow in granitic soil, and that Syrah likes schist. Granite provides width to the wine, while schist gives vertical, targeted power in the wine.
In 1997 Pedro received a grant from the French Embassy in Chile to go to Montpellier University to do a Master’s degree. For 18 months he studied agronomy and soil types, and combined that with his growing love of wine. Some of his clients include Ventisquero, Undurraga, Errázuriz, Perez Cruz, Koyle and MontGras in Chile, as well as locally in BC, Okanagan Crush Pad.
Pedro had for us a selection of 14 wines to sample from across Chile, north to south. He talked about the “old” Chile and the “new” Chile, which represents the old ways of selecting and growing grapes, and the newer way (which takes into account terroir much more and the wines express their place of origin). Many of the wines we tasted come from granitic soil.
Our Wines Tasted
- Falernia Pedro Jimenez, Elqui Valley, 2012 – This was a very interesting wine as it is made from the white grape Pedro Ximénez. PX as it is commonly known is usually distilled for Pisco in Chile, and is used for sweet wine production in Spain. This wine had a light citrus with vanilla and lees on the nose. Very high in acidity, dry with a light plus body. Some floweriness on the palate followed by citrus and vanilla. A long, mineral finish.
- Koyle Paredones Sauvignon Blanc, Colchagua Valley, 2011 – The grapes for this wine come from a single vineyard with a granitic soil, but as it is not close to the coast, the soil is not so decomposed, which reduces the effect of the granite influence. A very grassy, herbal, lime nose to this wine. Medium body with lots of salty minerality, grassy and herbal flavours. Dry with a long length. Leaves you with lime on the back corners of your tongue.
- Casas del Bosque Pequenas Producciones Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, 2012 – This Valley is close to the coast, resulting in a very humid climate which really decomposes the granite making the soil super fertile. A very intense nose, full of asparagus and herbal aromas. High acidity with an acidic prickle to the tongue underlain with minerality. Lots of asparagus flavour, with a peppery finish. This wine is too intense in flavour to drink on it’s own; enjoy with a meal.
- Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, 2009 – Did you know that Cono Sur is owned by Concha y Toro? Neither did I until the seminar. Again the grapes for this wine come from a granitic soil. I liked the nose on this wine; with it’s smoky, vanilla, ripe cherries and sweet spice aromas. A very fragrant wine. Medium body with sour cherries and some leafiness and licorice. Sweet cherry and vanilla on the finish. An enjoyable wine.
- Undurraga Terroir Hunter Carignan, Maule Valley, 2010 – The grapes for this wine are from 100 year old vines growing on granitic soil. Soft dark fruit, vanilla and some licorice on the nose, and after a bit of breathing I noticed some chocolate too. Full body and very round mouth feel. Minerality on the palate, followed by dark ripe bright cherries, violets and vanilla flavours, and then by spice. Medium length that falls off quickly. Dry tannins on the finish.
- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Syrah, Aconcagua Valley, 2011 – The first wine we tasted where the grapes were grown on a schist-based soil, not granite. As I mentioned earlier, Syrah loves to grow on schist. The Cote Rotie in France, famous for Syrah, has a schist soil. A deep ruby colour that coats your glass when swirled. Lots of black pepper and purple fruit aromas. Full body, dry, with lots of mineral, black pepper and spiciness, followed by blueberries and purple fruit. Medium length. A very nice wine.
- Santa Carolina Herencia Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, 2008 – This wine comes from grapes grown on volcanic soil. The wine was deep garnet in colour. Some capsicum, red fruit and vanilla aromas. Medium body, round, with mineral, graphite, dark cherries and vanilla on the palate. Later comes the capsicum and spice. An interesting, complex wine.
- San Pedro Tierras Moradas, Maule Valley, 2008 – These grapes ( 96% Carmenere and 4% Petit Verdot) also come from volcanic soil. The difference with the previous wine is the wine maker, in this case a Napa Valley wine maker called Paul Hobbes. The wine has a light intensity nose with light vanilla and dark fruit aromas. Full body, dry and round with dark fruit and vanilla flavours. Not as complex as the previous Carmenere.
- Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, 2009 – For this wine we are getting grapes that come from closer to the Andes Mountain range, with a soil made from gravels. Light intensity aromas with nutmeg, oranges and dustiness. A very unique combination of aromas for a Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium plus body, soft and sort of floats on your tongue. Soft red cherries and cassis fruit flavours. A short finish with tannic kick. An integrated wine.
- Ventisquero GCM Blend, Colchagua Valley, 2012 – Granite soil for the grapes (Grenache, Carignan and Mataro) for this wine. The grapes come from the Apalta sub-region of Colchagua. Pedro noted that this is one of the “new” Chile wines. It is medium translucent garnet in colour with a light intensity nose, with black pepper and cherries. Medium body, soft, with higher acidity. Cherries and some violets on the palate followed by light spiciness.
- Clos des Fous Cauquenina Blend, Maule Valley, 2011 – This is a winery where Pedro is one of the owners. This blend consists of old vine Malbec, Carignan, Syrah, Pais, and Carmenere growing on granitic soil. Pedro noted that Carmenere provides spiciness to wine. This wine was very deep ruby in colour. Dark fruit, with some vanilla (or banana?) as well as dark fruit on the nose. Nice flavour with medium plus body. Lots of minerality, purple & black fruit and blueberry flavours, followed by spiciness. Very little tannins. it has quite a peppery character. Tannins kick in on the finish. Very good.
- Emiliana Coyam, Colchagua Valley, 2010 – Another winery I found out that is owned by Concha y Toro, and in addition was the first winery in Chile to be certified biodynamic. The grapes for this blend include 38% Syrah, 27% Carmenere, 21% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Mourvedre, and 1% Petit Verdot. Some capsicum, ripe purple fruit and vanilla aromas, and a hint of cocoa. Full body, round with sweet ripe fruit flavours and blueberries. Mid-palate black pepper spice becomes noticeable and vanilla gets more prominent. Long length. Dry, astringent finish. I think this is my favourite wine of the tasting.
- Santa Rita Triple C Blend, Maipo Valley, 2007 – Santa Rita is one of my favourite wineries in Chile. I have met their head wine maker, Andrés Ilabaca, several times. He is a very down to earth and interesting person. We were told by Pedro that Triple C is not produced every year. When it is, it is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carménère. This wine was deep ruby with an opaque core. Ripe dark fruit, cooked apples, red cherries, tea leaves and vanilla aromas. Quite complex nose. Lighter body, spicy with ripe purple fruit flavours. Vanilla shows up later followed by tannins on the finish. A very balanced wine.
- Montes Folly Syrah, Colchagua Valley, 2010 – Aurelio Montes is one of the wine making pioneers in Chile, producing iconic wines that make the world notice. He was the first to plant Syrah in the Apalta sub-region of the Colchagua Valley. Other grape growers thought it was “folly” to plant this grape and it would never ripen, but they were wrong, and Aurelio was right. This wine had aromas of vanilla, dark fruit and some dustiness. Medium plus body, light mouthfeel with blueberry and purple fruit flavours, followed with spiciness / black pepper on the mid palate then oak. Long finish with firm tannins. A very good wine.
Based on Pedro’s experience with soil types and grapes, he had some predictions, such as Cabernet Sauvignon being pulled from granite soils for other better suited grape varieties to be planted. He noted that there is still much to explore in Chile and further refine which grape varieties are planted where across the country. A country with a long history in wine making, but in some sense is starting off like a New World wine region. I think this is exciting for Chile and I look forward to see how their wines evolve over time. Enjoy!