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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Papa Don’t Preach (New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine & Wineries)

Vinted on October 20, 2010 binned in book reviews, wine publications

Full disclosure: Charlie Olken, the driving force behind The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, is my dad.

Not my biological father, mind you.  In fact, he’s not related to me in any way; he’s not my adoptive father, either.

It happened back in February: I was sitting at one of the evening dinner events at the 2010 Professional Wine Writers Symposium, and was talking about how I thought Charlie was awesome and that I’d recently commented on another website that I wish Charlie was my dad.  Then, someone pointed out that Charlie was sitting about two places to my right, and Charlie kindly agreed to pseudo-adopt me on the spot.  Highlight of the trip for me, in a lot of ways.

Charlie has a new version of his Guidebook to California Wine (The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries, of which I received a review copy), so we are (and by “we are” I mean “I am”) extending the theme of publication reviews this week by spinning some yarn about Charlie’s new book, co-written with Joseph Furstenthal (the book, that is, not this review).

The first thing I noticed about The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook is that it’s mildly addictive.

What I mean is, it offers up thoughts on the history and products almost 500 California wineries, which invariably leads to the following sequence of events (for me, anyway):

“I wonder if they cover [insert winery name here]?”


Read commentary.

“Hmmm.  I never knew that about [insert winery name here].  Wonder what they think of [such-and-such-winery]’s more recent releases.”


You get the idea. The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook is like searching the Internet on CA wineries, only in miniature (and in print) and guided by the expertise of people who have covered the winemaking in the state since most of us wine bloggers were eight year old kids drinking Coke from glass bottles

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The World of The World of Fine Wine Magazine

Vinted on October 18, 2010 binned in wine publications

I receive quite a bit of wine for which I pay nothing.  I have never bothered to measure the volume of influx of wine samples to my door, but it is high enough that whenever the doorbell rings in the afternoon, my toddler daughter now exclaims “more boxes of wine, daddy!”

Generally this volume of samples means two things for me:

  1. I cannot dream of complaining about the situation, even though it largely results in my basement storage space being taken up with shipping materials full bottles of wine that aren’t necessarily very good; and
  2. Whenever I receive a sample of something that isn’t actually a bottle of wine, I take notice immediately.

So naturally, the sample copy of Issue 29 of the UK-based publication The World of Fine Wine I received recently really stood out, as did the letter of introduction from its editor, Neil Beckett (and not just because it was printed on A4 paper).  Here’s what Neil wrote to me (I’m hoping he doesn’t mind me reproducing it here):

“Some of my team here are followers of your site and we hoped you might like to see what we do in a rather more old-fashioned medium…”

That medium of course being a printed magazine, though calling The World of Fine Wine a magazine is a bit like calling the Bible a doorstop.  It’s a gorgeous example of print, with stunning art reproductions and photography, and its 200+ pages put it more into the coffee-table-book species than what we in the U.S. customarily think of when asked to picture a wine magazine in our mind’s eyes.  It also costs £30 per issue – or, roughly $170 for four issues.  Ouch!…

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