Chile and Peppers (or “Wine Shopping in the Veggie Aisle”)

Vinted on October 25, 2010 binned in commentary

Am I crazy for thinking Chilean wines still have way too much pyrazine/green pepper action?

Well… am I???

That’s a question that’s been on my mind lately, especially after taking part in the Wines of Chile red blends on-line tasting recently and finding myself in the minority of participants who found the levels of nettle / green pepper aromas in the reds almost… distracting.  The Syrah-based wines showed the most promise (and to me the lower amounts of pyrazine action).  In my experience, those green-ish aromas are ok in very, very small quantities, adding hints of interesting smells to the dark fruits and giving reds the occasional bump from “very good” to “astoundingly complex” territory.

Notice I am saying “very very small quantities” and I mean just that – the pyrazines that contribute to those aromas are potent and a little goes a loooooong way, baby.

To be honest, I’m beginning to think that Chile may never really get it totally together on this; it might just be part of their climate, their terroir, their vinous destiny.

Which means that Argentina might be poised to clean Chile’s clock in the South American fine red wine market.

Not all Chilean reds are overly green, and I’m not the only one who thinks that Syrah might be the variety with the brightest (and least green) future in Chile: Michael Cox from Wines of Chile said the same thing during his talk at the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna.

BUT… After tasting more and more examples of excellent, complex, and reasonably-priced higher-end red blends from Argentina, I’m growing increasingly more convinced that Argentina’s future is looking rosey… er, make that dark red… and that the one who might suffer most from that success is Chile, at least in the U.S. because consumers here probably don’t prefer the wet blanket of green bell pepper aromas laying all over the dense black fruit of their supple reds.

This all really hit home for me when I caught up with Argentine producer Doña Paula’s Edgardo Del Pópolo, their head Viticulturalist and Operations Manager, for dinner in downtown Philly to taste through their recent releases and generally talk shop.  Edgardo didn’t think I was crazy for being turned off by the pyrazines in Chilean reds, but he was a bit more diplomatic about the differences and saw them mostly as complimentary.  He did, however, offer this tidbit:

“In South America, we have a saying: shopping for wine here is like shopping at the grocery; in Argentina you get your fruit, and in Chile you get your vegetables…”

Never mind that Doña Paula’s Torrontes is a killer entrant into invigorated the S. American white wine market (it’s got a killer nose of passion and star fruits); their Seleccion de Bodega Malbec is not only proof that Argentina has nailed the dark-fruit-profile red thang, it’s also a great example of how complex (think hints of graphite) and age-worthy Malbec can be in the right hands.

And the pepper?  Black, white, but definitely not green.  Sign me up, baby.

So… I ask YOU… am I crazy?  Shout it out in the comments.

To get you started, here are some of the responses (the serious and not-so-serious!) to that same question when I posed it on twitter and facebook last week…

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Weekly Twitter Wine Mini Reviews Round-Up for 2010-10-22

Vinted on October 23, 2010 binned in wine mini-reviews
  • 07 C. Donatiello Floodgate Vineyard Block 15 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): Like liquified red-berry-flavored satin sheets. $49 B+ ->
  • 09 Bodegas Marqués de Vizhoja Torre la Moreira Albariño (Rias Baixas): A Citrus, mineral, & acid assault to unleash on grilled prawns. $10 B ->
  • 06 Lokoya Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): A master clinic in black cherry & black currant depth, power & intensity $200 A- ->
  • NV Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvee Brut (Cava): Honey, flowers, pears, apples deliver a very high celebratory deliciousness/price ratio. $20 B ->
  • NV Shingleback Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz (McLaren Vale): Bubbly for blackberry lovers. This shingle bites back on the finish tho $22 B- ->
  • 09 Masi Masianco (Venezie): How did all that tasty pineapple get in here? On 2nd thought just give me another glass & forget I asked. $12 B ->
  • 06 Masi Campofiorin (Veronese): Odd name, but a good bargain. Will probably have you reaching for prosciutto-covered anything. $15 B ->
  • 08 Banfi Chianti Superiore (Chainti): I wouldn't call it superior, but it's certainly not disappointing. Bring on the veggie lasagna. $11 B- ->
  • 06 Marchesi de Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva (Chianti Rufina): Dark, supple, and pasta-ready, though a bit rough-ina around the edges. $22 B ->
  • 06 Catena Alta Malbec (Mendoza): A blackberry, chocolate & spices delight, sort of like dessert only with booze instead of sugar. $48 B+ ->
  • 08 Catena Alta Estate Lots Chardonnay (Mendoza): Got it all going on, from tropical fruit to nutmeg, if you can get past the butter. $30 B ->
  • 09 Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste Rose (Napa Valley): Tasty strawberry action that would taste even better if it was priced even lower. $24 B ->
  • 07 Blackbird Vineyards Paramour (Napa Valley): A more enjoyable balance between dark cherry & mint probably can't be found for the $. $90 A- ->
  • 07 Blackbird Vineyards Contrarian (Napa Valley): Red lovers can rejoice. Cab Franc lovers might not believe this is almost 50% CF tho $90 B+ ->
  • 07 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration (Napa Valley): A plum & tobacco classic, but not to be taken for a spin for another 8 yrs minimum $90 A- ->
  • 06 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration (Napa Valley): Not sure how they did it, but they're already close to delivering a Merlot legend. $90 A ->
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Badges of Honor (And Wine) in Chile (Wines of Chile Red Blends Tasting)

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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