The words “Vinho Verde” conjure up a particular image in the minds of wine lovers: usually that of a tall green bottle of spritzy, refreshing and (usually very) inexpensive Portuguese white wine that rarely speaks to the soul but sure as hell speaks to a parched throat on a hot Summer’s day. It’s the kind of wine you buy by the case (and with some very good examples to be found well under $10 a bottle, you can afford it), toss into a cooler, and lug out for hot, sunny day picnics.
In essence, Vinho Verde can have a soft spot in the hearts of wine geeks (this one included), specifically because they’re wines for imbibing and not wines for contemplating.
Just across the border from Portugal’s Vinho Verde region – in Spain – however, you will find whites made from the same varieties (Verdehlo, Loureiro, etc.), made in similar climates, but that cost several times the price as a typical Vinho Verde. The message? The Spanish versions of wines from those grapes are just more… graves than their Portuguese counterparts.
It’s a situation that’s often left wine geeks like me wondering why the Portuguese don’t get a bit more serious themselves when it comes to Vinho Verde. Nothing against simple Vinho Verde of course (in fact I’d personally be pretty pissed off if those inexpensive quaffers dropped out of the marketplace), but why not add a few bottlings that take Alvarinho or Lourerio to a more thought-provoking level?
Why not get all graves on us?
Turns out that finding serious Vinho Verde is not a question of Portuguese desire or capability, but of production and distribution.
Because Vinho Verde is, in fact, trying to raise the profile of their wines to heights lofty enough to match the vines that grow up (and up, and up) the high trellises that dot the area (actually, the vines can be found growing up just about anything in Vinho Verde, the better to protect them from mold and mildew in the wet weather). And it’s not just still whites that are in their crosshairs – they’re also targeting reds and sparklers (of both color persuasions) – and if the wines of Afros are any indication, they’re on to something…
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Last week, I had the pleasure of “attending” a tasting meeting with a handful of Chilean winemakers. “Attending” meaning I followed along via video while tasting a handful of samples (all red blends) made by that handful of talented winemakers – me and a handful of other wine bloggers, at the invitation of Wines of Chile for their fourth Blogger Tasting / Q&A to promote wines from the region – roughly a year after the last such event that I was able to attend with the Wines of Chile crowd.
The wines, though quite good, were not really the highlight of the evening; nor was being able to see, and (sort of) chat with, the Chilean winemakers via video during the event. The highlight, for me, was that during the tasting the last of the 33 trapped Chilean miners was rescued. That news brought cheers and high-fives from the winemakers, but their actions belied something much bigger and more emotional. It was a bit strange and wonderful to be connected (even if virtually) to the country of Chile while that long-awaited moment was taking place – the country of Chile is wearing badges of honor, relief, and well-deserved pride after the rescue, and it was great and touching to have had some (even minor) direct exposure to that.
Not that the wines were totally out-shadowed by the news – the Wines of Chile selections, for the most part, showed a continuing upward trend in the level of winemaking artistry of which Chile is capable. Chile still has its red wine detractors, and I for one seemed to be in the minority of those who found the level of pyrazines (nettle and green bell pepper aromas) still more distracting than appealing.
But… where Chile is getting the balance right, they’re getting it soooo right. There were three standouts from the tasting for me that I wanted to highlight, two of which can be had for prices that make them real bargains:
08 Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol (Colchagua Valley): 140 chars don’t really do this elegant & refined red blend beauty due justice. $23 B+ –>
Araucano’s head winemaker Luca Hodgkinson was a hit with the lady bloggers during the tasting, but it was his wine that was a hit with me and from a personal-preference standpoint was my fave of the night. Luca cut his winemaking teeth in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and the Rhone, and the French influence is remarkably clear in the wine (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere), which goes for elegant subtlety (and achieves it, despite a 14.2% abv). Tomato leaf, supple blackberry fruit, and a hand-in-hand balance of black and white pepper that might as well have been singing “Ebony & Ivory.”
07 Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Private Reserve (Casablanca Valley): If the nose were more complex it’d be a quantum physics equation $50 A- ->
The most expensive wine of the tasting (another Syrah-based blend, with Merlot and Pinot Noir – yes, really, Pinot as a blending grape) was also the most complex and best-constructed. While it was a bigger wine than I prefer, the nose alone was enough for me to consider it Kick-Ass material: dark chocolate, herbs, pepper, smoke, cedar, toast… you could write a dissertation on the complexity of this wine. The mouthfeel was silky-smooth and if this wine could actually speak it might well have said “me honran, porque yo soy impecablemente hecho.”
08 Montes Ltd Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere (Colchagua Valley): At this $ it’s like hitting a tobacco & black fruit lottery. $15 B –>
The lowest-priced wine of the night was easily the biggest bargain for those who like their Cabs to be like Shaft – bad-ass, serious and black (there’s a 30% smattering of Carmenere in here, too to keep things interesting). Black fruits abound, but there dense rather than in-your-face, followed by leather, tobacco and oak. If not a “big” wine, it’s certainly a “big-ish” wine and certainly could fool many a blind taster into thinking it was more expensive.
Full list of wines and reviews after the jump…
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I don’t know bumpkis about baseball.
Never have. I prefer sports where guys hit each other at high-velocity (football, hockey), or where the mere act of finishing a game is near-miracle of aerobic survival skills (soccer). As for all of the numbers that flash up on the screen when someone comes to bat? I don’t call that fun with stats, I call that torture; forget beating or water-boarding, you wanna get details on terrorist attacks from a suspect, submit them to an endless series of baseball games… that ought to get them talking in a hurry.
But Phillies fever is (rightfully and deservedly) sweeping the local populace out my way, and I do appreciate how hard it is to hit a baseball thrown in the major leagues – it might be the most difficult thing to do in all of professional sports. So I know the value of a homerun – and “home run” is an apt descriptor for the results of the recent Frederick Wildman twitter tasting event with Burgundy producer Olivier Leflaive.
I have such a troubled history with Burgundy; in my opinion, there is no more inconsistent a wine experience on offer for so much money as there is in the vinous produce from rolling hills of the Burg’. At this point, I think I’d have better luck in playing craps than in buying Burgundy wines, and to this day it is just about the only wine region that I won’t touch with my own money without a close friend experienced in Burgundy wines at my side in the wine shop (fortunately, I know a lot of experienced wine people).
And yet, there exist producers like Olivier Leflaive that can steer you so right so often – for a (sometimes steep) price, of course. But if you have the cash, you’re in for a treat when it comes to Leflaive, particularly the 2008s…
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