Sunday, 15 February 2015

Chile’s Image Dilemma - A Tasting with GVV Terroirs

What impression does Chilean wine leave on you? This was the thought running through my mind as I attended a presentation on Chilean wines by Stefano Gandolini and Cristian Muñoz of GVV Terroirs. That Chile is a reliable producer of affordable varietal wines is indisputable. From the parched Atacama desert in the north to the icy fjords of Patagonia, Chile offers a diverse viticultural landscape. It is also known for its signature red grape variety, Carmenere, and its phylloxera-free vineyards.

Although a source of many inexpensive and rather pedestrian wines, Chile does produce examples that buck the norm. At a previous tasting of wines from Errazuriz I was exceedingly impressed by their top drops. However it seems to me that Chile is still working on establishing a link between terroir and wine. The wines do not yet possess a defining trait, such as the purity of fruit that is evident in many New Zealand offerings or the savoury and cigar box notes that are often to be found in Bordeaux. More often than not, the ability to pick out a Chilean wine in a blind tasting rests on detecting that slightly underripe note (a result of over-generous yields), certainly not a trait that you would want in your wines!

GVV Terroirs is an acronym for Gandolini, Ventolera and Viña von Sibenthal, three wineries located in different parts of Chile. Stefano’s eponymous winery focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley, while Ventolera is based in Leyda and makes cool climate wines from Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Viña von Sibenthal is located in Aconcagua and makes a number of red wines from Bordeaux varieties. Stefano is the chief winemaker for these joint ventures. I asked him how he was able to manage the three projects and he replied that the grapes matured at different times, thus he was able to allocate his time during the harvest as needed. Besides these three wineries, GVV also represents Cruzat, a sparkling wine company, and LTU over in Argentina.

Christian was keen to highlight that these wines represented a shift from mass market wines, saying, “This is the new Chile, a Chile that is delivering world-class wines. All the wines are family owned and terroir oriented.” Stefano drives this last point home by showing us his work on identifying the various topsoils and subsoils in each region and assessing their suitability for different grape varieties. At Ventolera, he plants Pinot Noir on granitic soils to add a dimension of minerality to the wine, while Sauvignon Blanc is rooted in clay to preserve freshness.

It is through tastings such as these that a clearer picture of Chilean wine emerges. In recent years Chile’s wine industry has expended great effort in enticing wine experts to visit while at the same time its winemakers have crisscrossed the globe hosting seminars, tastings and dinners. The glaring chink in the branding of Chilean wine is the lack of a strong national identity. The slogan for Chilean wine, announced by the promotional body Wines of Chile, is Chile Hace Bien, which can be translated into “Chile is Good for You”, or “Chile Does Things Well”. Not exactly descriptive.

Chile is a country of corporate behemoths, and has acquired a reputation for being somewhat staid and risk-averse. Yet the beauty of wine is that it often attracts people with drive and passion. Cristian shared his personal story of riding a motorcycle from Santiago to New York, a journey of roughly 21,000 miles, while packing a 3 litre bottle of Carmenere in a bid to raise profile of Chilean wine. Along the way, he was robbed and nearly plummeted off a bridge, but he persevered and completed the journey. Chile’s road to recognition as a fine wine region is similarly protracted, but it looks like there is a genuine commitment to make it happen. Promises Stefano, “We are going to come here (Asia) a lot more because that is the only way to change the image of Chilean wines.”

Tasting notes: 

Ventolera Sauvignon Blanc 2013
– From the cool climate region of Leyda, influenced by the Antarctic waters of the Humboldt Current. A very pale lemon appearance. The nose is expressive with notes of tomato stalk, fresh lime and tart gooseberry. Clean and crisp on the palate with a lovely depth of flavour and excellent length.

Ventolera Claro de Luna 2011
– Full-on aromas of redcurrants, malt, and violets. This is a Pinot Noir in a muscular, concentrated style, with bright acidity and a satiny, meaty palate. Shows good extract and fruit concentration, but may not appeal to those who like their Pinots in a lighter style.

Viña von Sibenthal Montelig 2009 – 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere and 30% Petit Verdot. 25 months in new French oak barriques. Deep ruby with a crimson rim. Sweet ripe fruit on the nose with hints of cranberry, blackberry and sweet spices. The palate shows resolved tannins with a well-knit structure and a blackcurrant finish.

Tatay de Cristobal 2010 – A blend of 90% Carmenere and 10% Petit Verdot. Slick and smooth with lots of oak and burnt toast on the nose. Sweet, almost unctuous fruit on the palate with notes of dark chocolate and ripe black cherry. A big, showy wine with high quality oak and plush fruit.

LTU 2010 – The grapes come from a single vineyard in La Consulta (Uco Valley). This pure Malbec offering displays a vibrant ruby hue with hints of purple. Fruity aromas of blueberry and pepper are immediately apparent, while the palate shows a high concentration of tannins and refreshing acidity. Alcohol clocks in at 15% but it’s so integrated as to be unnoticeable. Graceful with pinpoint precision.

Gandolini Las 3 Marias 2011 – This Cabernet Sauvignon wine from Maipo Valley exhibits concentrated and classic flavours of blackcurrant with a hint of cedar. Balanced and restrained rather than flashy. It’s a convincing example of a top Cabernet with real character.

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