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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 218 (December 8, 2008)

Saturday, November 29: Last night before the flight to Chile David Lawrason, Sadie Darby and I – after a retaste of the ports from yesterday's tasting – had dinner at the Badminton and Racquet Club on St. Clair in their new dining room. Chris Boland, late of The Tasting Rooms and Trappers, is managing the restaurant. The food is first rate with an interesting mature wine list. We ordered a bottle of Inniskillin Klose Vineyard Chardonnay 1998 and Chave St. Joseph 1999. They also had on the list Château des Charmes Chardonnay 1995! The wines are very inexpensive, but you have to be a member to dine here.

Sadie drove us to the airport for the 11:55 pm flight to Santiago. Met up with Margaret Swaine and Ann Martin, who were also on this winery tour. Fell asleep before the plane took off and slept intermittently until 8:30 am. Breakfast of an omlette. Used my British passport, thus avoiding the $132 visa fee that Canadians have to pay.

Great weather in Santiago – 30 degrees. A minivan takes us to the Plaza el Bosque Hotel in the new part of Santiago. We are all on the 15th floor. On the 17th, at the top of the hotel, is a small swimming pool and a great bar. We have our first Pisco Sour and then the local Kunstmann Torobayo Ale. A chicken breast sandwich with avocado and mayo and French fries for lunch. Hook up to the Internet and send Deborah an "arrived safely" message. We are staying one night here and then in a different hotel each night for the next five days.

For dinner we walked to a restaurant called Happening. Started with a goat cheese and arugula salad followed by a tough rib steak that I couldn't finish. The wines: Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (herbal, grassy, elderberry flavour; great mouth feel ****½); then Amayna Pinot Noir 2006 (charred oak, toasty, black cherry, chunky ****), followed by Tabali Syrah 2007 (deeply coloured, dusty, blackberry, chocolate with a herbal note, rich, well balanced ****). The restaurant comps us with a drink because we're not happy with the meal. We order a round of Araucano Aperitivo Digestivo. Then onto Flannery's Irish Geo Pub for a Pisco Sour before bed.

The matchstick sculptor; below: a close-up of the sculpture

Sunday, November 30: Up at 8 am for breakfast. By ten, checking out and onto the bus to Los Dominicos artisans market. Beautiful jacaranda trees here. Bought a matchstick carving of a fisherman for my fishing buddy, Steve Cohen. Then on to the Central Market, designed by Eiffel, for lunch at Donde Augusto. A selection of seafood and fish dishes – abalone, crab, shrimp, clams, mussels and deep fried eel, with Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Leyda (crisp, lean, grassy, grapefruit, ****). Dessert: chirimoya, papaya and strawberries. You need a ticket to go to the men's room, up a spiral staircase.

We drive to Vina del Mar on the coast, through Casablanca Valley. At the Radisson Hotel, my room on the fourth floor overlooks the ocean. A Pisco Sour on the roof garden, then a sauna. The private sauna room has a window that overlooks the Pacific. I watch the waves breaking on the rocks as pelicans and seagulls perch on the peaks. Dinner in the hotel but I can't eat – stomach upset from lunch. Order a salad but manage to taste the three wines the group ordered.

  • William Cole Sauvignon Blanc 2007: very Californian in style, reminds me of St. Exupery Sauvignon – grassy, green plum, lime and green melon, full on the palate. ****
  • Luiz Felipe Edwards Dona Bernarda 2004 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 Shiraz, 10% Carménère, 10% Petit Verdot): very oaky, black fruit flavour with chocolate, rich and full bodied. ****
  • Luiz Felipe Edwards Dona Bernarda Family Selection Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: oaky, soft, jammy, creamy and full-bodied, cedar and black fruit flavours. International style. ****

Bad night's sleep, up every hour because of what sounded like the first ring of a cell phone but couldn't find the source.

Monday, December 1: 8:30 am departure for Errazuriz in the Aconcagua Valley. Walked around the vineyard and saw the new winery buildings under construction.


  • Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Casablanca Valley): pale with a lime tint; green fig, cut grass flavours; lovely mouth feel, tropical notes with lively acidity. ****½
  • Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Aconcagua Coast): pale straw, green tint: grassy, elderberry; leaner, crisp, very elegant. ****
  • Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2007 (Casablanca Valley): medium straw, Burgundian style, toasty, orange, apple; well integrated oak, full on the palate but well balanced. Good length. ****
  • Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2007 (Casablanca Valley): solid ruby; minerally, pencil lead, black raspberry; sweet, raspberry flavour; firm structure with a minty note; full-bodied, ripe. Firm tannic finish. ****
  • Carménère Max Reserva 2007 (Max II, Max V vineyard locks, Aconcagua Valley): dense purple; blackcurrant, red pepper, oak; very ripe with a rose petal note, great length, with currant and blackberry flavours. ****½
  • Max Reserva Shiraz 2007 (Max I, II, V Vineyard blocks): dense purple; blackberry with a herbal note; full-bodied, spicy blackberry, minty with soft, dusty tannins. High alcohol. ****
  • Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Max I, II, V Vineyard blocks): deep ruby, cedar, sweet red fruits; full-bodied, chocolate flavour, firm structure with a floral note; tannic lift on the finish. ****
  • The Blend 2006 (Aconcagua Valley) (46% Sangiovese, 25% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Carménère): deep ruby, black cherry vanilla oak, cinnamon; firm structure; sweet tannins. Lively acidity. Needs time. ****
  • Kai Don Maximiano Estate 2006 (Aconcagua Valley) (87% Carménère, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Shiraz): tight, minerally, red berry; spicy sweet blueberry with vanilla oak. Full-bodied, chocolate flavour with a savoury finish. ****½
  • Shiraz La Cumbre Don Maximiano Estate 2006 (Aconcagua Valley) (3% Petit Verdot): dense purple-ruby; violets, vanilla, blackberry; spicy, floral, rich blackberry; firm structure; full-bodied with a herbal note. ****½
  • Don Maximiano Founder's Reserve 2006 (Aconcagua Valley) (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Shiraz): deep ruby; cedar, blackcurrant; intense, herby-floral blackcurrant flavour; firm structure. Well balanced. Hot finish. ****

Last difficult vintage was 2002 (rainy, cloudy) according to the winemaker Francisco Baettig, otherwise good vintages, 2005 the best along with 2001. Francisco thinks that 2007 will be good, especially for long ageing. 2008 was cooler in some areas and heat peaks in others. (Best 2007, 2005 and 2008.) Errazuriz owns 600 hectares of vineyards with new plantings. going in. They also have Tempranillo and Sangiovese. "In the past," Francisco says, "the sin of Chilean wines was greenness; now it's high alcohol. We're picking earlier to get lower alcohols."

A two-hour drive to Concha y Toro in Pirque. We are offered a glass of Casillero del Diablo Brut Reserva 2007 (Limari Valley) on arrival: dry, apple, crisp (100% Chardonnay). Lunch on the terrace of Don Melchor's summer house in 70 acres of gardens. Parrots chattering in the trees. Menu:

  • Salmon tartar on cucumber slices with Maycas del Limari Reserva Chardonnay 2007 (Limari Valley): medium straw, green tint; leesy, green apple, lively lemony acidity; medium-full-bodied; minerally. ***½
  • Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2007 (Limari Valley): straw, green tint; toasty, butterscotch, citrus acidity; green pineapple flavour; fresh finish, lengthy acidic finish.****
  • Beef with rice with Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2006 (4% Carménère): dense purple-black; creamy. International style; blackberry flavour with a floral note; concentrated, mouth-filling, sweet blackberry with a herbal note and soft tannins. ****
  • Maycas del Limari Syrah 2006: dense purple; blackberry with a medicinal note; leaner, more Northern Rhöne style; sweet chocolatey fruit with soft tannins. Lovely wine. ****½
  • Maycas del Limari Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2007 (Limari Valley): straw, lime tint; elegant, Burgundian style, apple, undergrowth; minerally, long acidic finish. ****½
  • Cassillero del Diablo Malbec 2007 (Rapel): dense purple, stains the glass; vanilla, slightly green, cranberry, floral, lively acidity, cocoa-like tannins. Good value. ****
  • Cassilero del Diablo Carménère 2007 (Rapel Valley) (8% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; blackcurrant, green pepper,; sweet fruit with lively acidity, smoky, toasty oak finish. ***½
  • Cassilero del Diablo Shiraz 2007 (Rapel Valley) (plus 3% Carmenere, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; stewed plum with a herbal note.
  • Cassilero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Central Valley): vanilla, leather, blackcurrant; firm, lively in the mouth. Tannic finish. ***½
  • Winemaker's Lot Carménère 2007 (Rapel Valley): dense purple, stains the glass; peppery, red berry; sweet fruit with driving acidity; mouth-filling, black plum, bitter chocolate, firm finish. ***½
  • Marques de Casa Concha Carménère 2007 (Rapel Valley) (14% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; blackberry, herbal note, creamy; youthful, firm structure, well balanced with lively acidity. Good length, minty finish. ****
  • Terrunyo Carménère 2005 (Cachapoal Valley): dense purple; cedar blackcurrant, pencil lead, tobacco. Intense, ripe fruit; beautifully balanced, full-bodied, elegant yet powerful; great length. ****½
  • Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Maipo Alto Valley) (6% Carménère, 1% Petit Verdot): vanilla oak; blackcurrant; intense, concentrated, chunky, slightly medicinal, with a floral grace note. ****½
  • Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Maipo Valley) (9% Cabernet Franc): dense purple; cedar, blackcurrant; tight nose; beautifully balanced though on the palate, concentrated but elegant, chocolate, sweet black fruits, firm structure, sweet tannins with a floral note. *****
  • Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial 2008: chosen by Chile's leading wine writer as the best white wine of 800 wines he tasted. Pale straw with a green tint; Racy, lime, elderberry. Very fresh and lively. (Newly bottled but showing well.) ****½

Drive to Santa Rita and check into a room called Merlot. Then outside for a tasting on the terrace.

  • Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Central Valley): medium straw with a green tint; grassy, green plum; well extracted fruit, good acidity; touch of bitterness on the finish. Good value. ***½ (225,000 cases)
  • Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Casablanca Valley): medium straw with a lime tint; grassy, green bean, kiwi, lime, white pepper. ***½+ (70,000 cases)
  • Medalla Real Chardonnay 2007 (Casablanca): straw with a green tint. Buttery, apple, touch of oak; spicy, pineapple, medium-bodied, sweet fruit. Good length. ****
  • Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Maipo): dense purple; vanilla oak, blackcurrant, graphite; well extracted, sweet fruit; firm structure. Well made. Savoury finish. Good value. ***½
  • Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Maipo Valley) (5% Cabernet Franc, 14 months in oak): dense purple, stains the glass; malty, minty, well extracted, sweet blackcurrant fruit; firm structure. ****
  • Floresta Apalata Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Apalta Valley) (10% Carménère): dense purple-black; vanilla, cedar, sweet blackcurrant and plum; sweet juicy, spicy fruit, firm structure, chocolate and herbal notes. Soft tannins. ****½
  • Triple C 2005 (Maipo Valley) (55% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carménère): dense purple; creamy, black fruits, dark chocolate with vanilla oak; well integrated oak, great balance, well structured, seamless; lovely mouth feel with soft tannins. ****½
  • Pehuen Apalta Carménère 2005 (Apalta Valley) (5% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense ruby; cedar, blackcurrant, creamy, rich and chocolatey, mouth-filling. Good length, soft tannins. ****½
  • Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Maipo Valley): dense purple-black; slightly corked.

Dinner on the terrace – prosciutto with hearts of palm followed by sea bass in a caper butter sauce with a mousse for dessert. The wines: Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007, Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Reserva Carménère 2007 (dense purple, spicy, blackberry , cinnamon, well extracted sweet fruit. ****) and Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (intense blackcurrant, firm, chunky, earthy, full-bodied with a dry savoury finish. ****). After dinner, played pool in the pool room and downed a couple of glasses of Torres brandy.

Undurraga's iconic bottle

Tuesday, December 2: Up at 8 am for the drive to Undurraga. We tour the gardens. The last time I was here was 1985, during the earthquake which destroyed the house.

Aliwen range:

  • Aliwen Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Curico): pale straw, bright; grapefruit, honeyed note; ripe with lively lime. A touch hard on the finish (over-pressing?). ***½
  • Aliwen Chardonnay 2007 (Curico/Maipo): straw; buttery, touch of oak, apple; medium-bodied, green apple, buttery oak. ***½
  • Aliwen Cabernet Syrah 2007 (30% Syrah, Rapel Valley): deep ruby; raspberry with a medicinal note; sweet fruit with a savoury finish, dark chocolate. Some tannin on the finish. ***½ (The Aliwen brand donates a portion of the profits to a foundation that helps the Mapuche children with their education.)

T. H. line (stands for Terroir Hunter):

  • T. H. Sauvignon Leyda 2008: pale straw with a green tint; grassy, fig; tart and lively, green plum and green fig flavours. ***½
  • T H. Sauvignon Lo Abaca 2008: pale straw, green tint: ripe elderberry with a white pepper finish. Salty note on the nose. Good acidity. ****
  • T. H. Syrah Limari 2007: dense purple; blackberry, iodine; well extracted, spicy, licorice, pepper. Medium-bodied, good acidity: ****½
  • T. H Syrah Maipo 2007: dense purple; licorice, smoke, dark chocolate; soft mouth feel, blackberry, dark chocolate; firm finish with soft tannins. ****

Sibaris range (special reserve):

  • Sibaris Sauvignon Blanc 2008: (Leyda Valley) pale with a green tint; grassy, green plum; initial sweetness gives way to fresh, tart acidity with a grapefruit zest; long finish. ****
  • Sibaris Pinot Noir 2007: (Maipo) ruby; minty, eucalyptus, raspberry; spicy, soft mouth-feel with a dry finish. Well made. ****
  • Sibaris Carménère 2007: (Maipo) dense ruby; chocolate, floral, spicy; well extracted fruit, blackberry and green pepper, firm structure, dusty tannins. ****

Founder's Collection (Alvaro Spinoza consults on these wines)

  • Founder's Collection Carménère 2006 (Colchagua): dense purple; concentrated, vanilla, floral, blackberry; lovely ripe fruit, juicy; spicy great balance and lovely mouth-feel. ****½
  • Founder's Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Maipo): dense ruby-purple; nose still tight, cedar, red berry, eucalyptus; soft, polished, with a floral mid palate, feminine and elegant. ****½
  • Altazor 2006 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 15% Carménère, 12% Merlot): dense ruby; cedar, spicy, red berry, mocha; .mouth-filling, sweet fruit; firm structure. ****½
  • Undurraga Late Harvest 2007 (85% Semillon, 15% Gewurztraminer, Maipo): straw; honey, spicy, elegant, well balanced, raisiny, peach; good length. ****½
  • Undurraga Brut (40% Chardonnay, 60% Pinot Noir): Charmat process – simple, easy drinking, dry. apple flavour. ***½

Altair's modern winery

The wall sculpture at Altair

Drive to Altair about 90 minutes away in Cachapoal Valley. Our driver, Alfonso, insists we stop for "the best empanada in Chile" at Don Benito. They are the size of a side plate. Altair is a beautiful winery set into the foothills of the Andes. Originally a co-venture between Vina San Pedro and Château Dessault, it was subsequently bought out by San Pedro. Great sculpture and art on the walls by Samy Benmayor. The winemaker is Ana Maria Cumsille. A tour of the vineyards with the agronomist Rene, who shows us a cave that demonstrates how the vine roots grow and the humidity of the soil. They only make two wines here – Altair (a representation of the Eagle constellation that can be seen in both hemispheres) and Sideral.

  • Sideral 2002 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah, 1% Sangiovese): dense ruby, tobacco, blackcurrant, plum, vanilla; sweet, ripe blackcurrant fruit, mocha; firm structure with a fine spine of acidity; supple tannins. ****½
  • Sideral 2003 (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 4% Syrah, 2% Sangiovese): dense ruby; black cherry, cedar, sweet, chunky fruit, mocha; mouth-filling, intense. Well balanced with good acidity. ****½
  • Sideral 2003 (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 15% Carménère-Cabernet Franc- Syrah-Sangiovese): dense ruby; creamy, minerally, elegant, damson and red berry flavours; beautifully balanced, lovely mouth feel; firm structure yet velvety. *****
  • Altair 2002 (86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Carménère, 7% Merlot): dense purple-ruby; spicy, tobacco, vanilla oak; sweet, concentrated and claret-like; rich and full-bodied, blueberry and blackcurrant; flavours beautifully balanced; ripe tannins but a touch rough on the finish. ****½
  • Altair 2003 (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Carménère, 6% Merlot, 4% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby; vanilla, pencil lead, creamy black fruit note; firm structure, full-bodied, firm tannins. ****½
  • Altair 2004 (73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Carménère, 15% Syrah, 1% Cabernet Franc): dense ruby-purple; cedar, firm, cinnamon, rich blackcurrant flavour and spicy. Youthful but will be great. *****

Lunch, cheeses, empanadas, salad, strawberries and chirimoya.

Aurelio Montes

A drive of 90 minutes to the Cachapoal Valley and Montes. The winery has been designed on Feng Shui principles with pools of water flowing towards the building. Aurelio Montes greets us and conducts the tasting. We are late and he has to fly to Curico in his own plane before dark so his son Aurelio Junior takes over towards the end of the tasting.

  • Montes Sauvignon Blanc Leyda 2008: pale straw with lime tint; grassy, grapefruit, elderberry, guava; good fruit, lively acid. ****
  • Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2006 (Casablanca Valley): straw, spicy, buttery, tropical fruit; rich, full-bodied, nicely balanced citrus and pineapple flavours with well integrated oak; hazel nut finish. ****½
  • Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah 2008 (Colchagua Valley): deeply coloured, light ruby with a blue tint; raspberry nose, candied raspberry fruit, well extracted, full in the mouth. ****
  • Montes Pinot Noir Limited Selection 2008 (Casablanca Valley): deep ruby; earthy, beetroot, black raspberry; smoky, tarry, leather, well extracted: Good value. ****
  • Montes Cabernet Carménère Limited Selection 2007 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carménère, Colchagua Valley): dense ruby; cedar, blackcurrant; sweet fruit with a medicinal note; spicy blackcurrant flavour, full on the palate, soft, supple tannins. Great value at $14.95. ****
  • Montes Alpha Pinot 2007 (Leyda Valley): deeply coloured ruby; violets, undergrowth, raspberry; sweet raspberry, rich and juicy; good acidity. Another good value wine at $22.945 ***½
  • Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (10% Merlot, Colchagua Valley): dense ruby; cedar, blackcurrant,, medicinal note; rich, mouth-filling sweet minty blackcurrant; full-bodied. ****½
  • Montes Alpha Syrah 2006 (10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley): dense purple-ruby; sweet blackberry, smoky, dark chocolate; full-bodied, spicy with a firm tannic finish. ****½
  • Montes Alpha "M" 2006 (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, Santa Cruz/Apalta Vineyard): dense ruby-black; cedar, blackcurrant; concentrated sweet cassis with a floral note; beautifully balanced; firm structure. *****
  • Montes Folly Syrah 2006 (Santa Cruz/Apalta Vineyard): dense purple-black; smoky, blackberry, meaty; concentrated, chunky, rich, dark chocolate, creamy and full-bodied. ****½

We then taste the same grape varieties (2007) from two different regions, Marchigue and Apalta – Carménère, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Montes Purple Angel 2006 (92% Carménère, 8% Petit Verdot): dense purple; blackberry, green pepper, cedar; well extracted sweet fruit with a savoury finish, firm tannic structure, full-bodied. ****

We drive to Santa Cruz, where we stay tonight at Santa Cruz Hotel on the main square. We dine in the hotel. I order Serrano ham and melon, only they don't have any melon. The waiter suggests pineapple instead. For some reason I accept. It's terrible. Then filet steak with fried eggs and chips. A Pisco Sour followed by Viu Manent Viognier 2007 (straw coloured; barnyard note of bound in sulphur, tangerine and peach flavours ***½) and Viu Manent Malbec 2005 (deep purple; cedar, red berry with a floral note ****). We drop into the casino and sit first at a "practice" blackjack table, which is more to train the dealer than the players. The dealer looks about eighteen. Order a round of drinks. Move to the roulette table and win $20. Then to the blackjack table, where I win another $20, which I drop on the slots. In bed by 12:30 am. At 1 am the phone goes. It's the casino. They say that there is a mistake on my bar bill. I had not been charged for a Remy Martin XO. They come to my room to collect!

The spiral staircase at Casa Lapostolle
Lapostolla, winery dog at Casa Lapostolle

Wednesday, December 3: It's David Rose's birthday today and we have organized a cake for breakfast. This morning we drive to Casa Lapostolle, an extraordinary new facility near Santa Cruz. Set on seven levels with a large stone spiral stairway, it looks like a pumpkin set into the hills. The winery dog's name is Lapostolla. Here women hand-destem the grapes, which are carried to the press in robot-like containers they have christened R2D2. The winemaker Andrea Leon Iriarte leads us through the tasting.

  • Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (10% Semillon, Rapel Valley): very pale with a green tint; minerally, stoney, green plum; fruit round on the palate, creamy, grassy, grapefruit; lively acidity: ***½
  • Casa Lapostolle Casa Chardonnay 2007 (Casablanca Valley): bright straw; buttery, pineapple, spicy, sweet pineapple, nicely balanced with well managed oak; full in the mouth, minerally finish. Good value at $14.95. ***½
  • Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay 2007 (Casablanca Valley): straw; butterscotch, oaky, rich mouth-feel; orange, toasty, mineral flavours; good length with a nutty finish. ****
  • Casa Lapostolle Pinot Noir Cuvee Alexandre 2006 (Casablanca Valley): raspberry, floral note with a mineral background; round and full, well extracted with a sweet core, elegant., lively finish. ****½
  • Casa Lapostolle Casa Merlot 2007 (15% Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel Valley): deep ruby; ripe blueberry, floral, mineral note; very clean fruit, firmly structured, medium-bodied with a tannic bite on the finish, ****
  • Casa Lapostolle Casa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (6% Carménère, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, Rapel Valley): dense ruby; cedar, black fruit; well extracted black fruit flavours with a licorice note; firm structure, earthy note with a tannic finish. ****½
  • Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2006 (15% Carménère, Colchagua Valley): dense ruby; vanilla oak, somewhat closed on the nose; but rich sweet fruit, plum, firm structure, earthy with a tannic finish. Needs time. ****(½)
  • Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (15% Merlot, Colchagua Valley): cedar, blackcurrant with a floral note; sweet blackcurrant fruit, lovely balance with a firm tannic finish. ****½
  • Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Syrah 2006 (Cachapoal Valley): spicy, blackberry, vanilla oak; rich, well extracted, sweet blackberry fruit with a savoury finish; full-bodied and well structured. ****½
  • Clos Apalta 2006 (43% Carménère, 21% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot): dense purple-black; intense floral, blackberry, dark chocolate; rich, full-bodied yet a wine of great finesse with a real sense of terror. *****
  • Casa Lapostolle Borobo 2004 (Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot): dense purple; cedar, red berry, very elegant and refined – a seamless wine with chocolate and red berry flavors. ****½
Tony on horseback at MontGras

Drive to MontGras, where we are welcomed by Hernan Gras, flying the Canadian flag. The winery is a large hacienda built around a central courtyard.

  • MontGras Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2008 (San Antonio Valley, Leyda): pale straw; creamy, grassy, gooseberry; fresh sweet, gooseberry and mango; medium-bodied, fresh with good length. Easy drinking. Great value at $11.95. ****
  • MontGras Carménère Reserva 2008 (Colchagua Valley): dense ruby-purple; blackberry, minerally, vanilla oak; sweet black fruits and mocha notes; dusty tannins, toasty finish, good length. Great value at $12.95. ****
  • Antu Ninquen Syrah 2006 (Ninquen Mountain Vineyard): dense purple-black; cooked plum, minerally, cedar note; chunky, sweet fruit, high toned, acetic, tannic finish. ***
  • Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère 2006 (25% Carménère, Ninquen Mountain Vineyard); sweet, floral red berry, vanilla oak; sweet, soft, jammy; easy drinking with a chocolate note; firm finish. ($15.95) ****
  • Ninquen 2005 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; cedar, creamy cassis; sweet, jammy, full-bodied, chunky mouth feel with a spicy, mineral note and a plummy finish. ****
  • Intigra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Maipo Valley): dense purple-ruby; minty, eucalyptus, vanilla, cassis; sweet fruit, concentrated, fleshy, chocolate and blackcurrant flavour with dusty tannins. Good value at $19.95. ****½
David Rose's second birthday cake

Lunch on the terrace: Shrimp Over Avocado Puree, Tomato & Basil Gazpacho, with Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (first vintage of this wine: pale straw; ripe sweet gooseberry and kiwi flavours; full on the palate with a fresh finish. ****). Roast Beef with Mixed Lettuce, Arugula and Palm Heart Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette, with MontGras Reserva Carménère 2008. Dessert: Fresh Summer Fruit. They bring out a birthday cake for David Rose.

After lunch we drive up the Linquen mountain and tour the vineyard up there on horseback accompanied by two frisky Jack Russell terriers. Then we drive to Casa Silva in San Fernando, a large family-owned winery whose passion for horses is evident. We are escorted around by Arno, a Belgian who came to Chile to surf and stayed. He tours us around the old winery and then drives us through the vineyard to watch a polo match between Silva family members.

Casa Silva is a Carménère specialist. They are currently researching Carménère clones with Talca University and have identified 43 clones.

  • Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2008 (Colchagua Valley, 96-year-old vines): One of four wineries that make a Sauvignon Gris. Very pale, almost water white; grassy, quince; tart, vanilla, almost Muscadet-like, green plum with a herbaceous note and lemony finish. ***½
  • Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Colchagua): pale straw; earthy, green plum pit, grapefruit, well extracted fruit, medium-to-full-bodied. ***½
  • Casa Silva Viognier Lolol 2008 (Colchagua – Coastal Shadow): Medium straw; earthy, minerally, white peach; spicy, peach with citrus acidity, reminiscent of a Rhone white. Full on the palate with well handled oak. ****
  • Casa Silva Quinta Generacion White 2007 (1/3 each Viognier, Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay): medium straw; peachy-melon, mineral note, spicy white fruit and pear flavours, lively acidity; full-bodied, dry finish. ****½
  • Casa Silva Merlot Reserva 2007 (Colchagua Valley – Angostura, Lolol, Los Lingues): deep ruby; cedar, earthy, lightish cherry with a floral note, light on extract. ***½
  • Casa Silva Carménère Reserva 2007 (Los Lingues, Lolol): deep purple; red berry, smoke; medium-bodied, red berry with balancing acidity. Well made. ****
  • Casa Silva Carménère Los Lingues Gran Reserva 2007: deep ruby; minty, red and blackcurrant, nuance of oak; lovely mouth feel, silky, medium-bodied, red berry flavour with a chocolate finish; soft tannins. ****½
  • Casa Silva Syrah Reserva 2006 (Lolol with some Los Lingues fruit) dense ruby purple; smoky, blackberry, pencil lead; lean, sinewy, peppery, red berry fruit, lively acidity with a firm finish. A lighter style of Chilean Syrah. ***½
  • Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon Los Lingues Gran Reserva 2007: deep purple-ruby; smoky, cassis, cedar; sweet fruit, mocha, soft tannins; good mouth feel with a firm finish. ****
  • Casa Silva Petit Verdot Gran Reserva 2007: deep purple-ruby; floral, red berry, vanilla oak; elegant, lovely mouth-feel; firm structure with a tannic lift on the finish. ****
  • Casa Silva Quinta Generacion Red 2005 (35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carménère, 25% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot): deep ruby; cedar, currants, spicy oak; medium-bodied, claret style, good acidity; very elegant with a lovely mouth feel. ****½
  • Microterroir De Los Lingues Carménère 2006: deep purple-ruby; intense blackcurrant, mineral notes, white pepper; very elegant, rich and stylish , well balanced red berry fruit, firmly structured with a floral grace note. *****
  • Casa Silva Altura 2003 (60% Carménère, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot): dense purple; elegant, red berry, spicy, redcurrants, well balanced, firmly structured. Lovely mouth-feel. Drinking well now but will last another 10 years. *****

Dinner in the hotel dining room. We start with Cuvée Geisse 2004, a Brazilian sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. A little short but enjoyable. Then with tapas, Casa Silva Syrah Carménère Rosé 2008 (which has some Sauvignon Gris in it – deeply coloured, dry, fruity, raspberry and redcurrant flavours; easy drinking and well made.) Most of us order Hamburguesa Colchagua Valley with sautéed mushrooms, Mozzarella Cheese and Potato Chips. The wines: Casa Silva Lolol Shiraz Gran Reserva 2005 (dense purple; peppery, blackberry, floral note, savoury, medium-bodied, soft tannins. ****). Then they bring out a birthday cake for David Rose, so he ended up having a cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Thursday, December 4: We drive to Curico and Miguel Torres' Santa Digna winery. It was here in March 1985 that I experienced a force 8.9 earthquake. A lot more peaceful this time. A quick tour of the winery and then a tasting outdoors.

  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Rio Claro): pale straw with a green tint; grassy, grapefruit rind; fresh and lively, spicy, green plum and green apple; decent length ***½
  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewürztraminer Reserva 2008 (15% Muscadelle, Rio Claro): aromatic, lychee; spicy, lively in the mouth with tangerine and lemon flavours. ***½
  • Cordillera Chardonnay 2007 (Curico): medium straw with a green tint; oak, apple; spicy, good mouth-feel and lively acidity. Clean, full-bodied, good length, sour cream finish. ****
  • Miguel Torres Pinot Noir Brut: active mousse; bready, dry, crab apple and lemon, fresh with good length. ****
  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon Rosè Reserva 2008: pink with a blue tint; redcurrant with a candied note; flavourful strawberry and redcurrant, touch of sweetness mitigated by lively orange acidity. ****
  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2007 (Central Valley): dense purple; cedar, blackcurrant; well extracted sweet fruit, vanilla oak, dark chocolate. Youthful. Good value at $14.95. ****
  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Carménère Reserva 2007 (15% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; smoky, minerally, red pepper; ripe blackberry/blackcurrant with a peppery edge; soft mouth-feel with a savoury finish, cocoa-like tannins. ****
  • Miguel Torres Santa Digna Carinena 2005 (22% Shiraz, 15% Merlot): dense purple, still holding colour; plum jam, warm, touch of oak; spicy, cherry and plum flavours, firmly structured with a tannic bite. Needs time..****½
  • Manso De Velasco 2006 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 100-year-old vines): dense ruby; concentrated blackcurrant, spicy, with a mineral note; very elegant, rich with fine grainy tannins; sweet ripe fruit with great length. *****
  • Conde de Superunda 2002 (63% Tempranillo 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Carménère, 4% Monastrell): dense purple-black that stains the glass (very youthful for the vintage); spicy, animal, black fruits on the nose; sweet and savoury, spicy, peppery and firm with a tobacco leaf finish; stylish. ****½ (with age *****)

Valdevieso's winemaker, Brett Jackson

Our next stop is at Valdivieso's 200-hectare vineyard, La Pimavera, in the Lontué Valley. Brett Jackson, their winemaker from New Zealand, has prepared an outdoor BBQ on a large veranda that overlooks the valley. He has set out 29 wines for us but we can taste at will.

  • Valdivieso Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2007: straw colour; with a nose of sweet corn; medium-bodied, apple and pineapple flavours; good acidity. ****
  • Eclat 2006 (a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Malbec and Merlot): dense pruple-ruby with a nose of lavender and black fruits; full on the palate with soft tannins. ****
  • Caballo Loco Number 10 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Carmenère with no vintage date since it is made in solera style with a small portion of the previous number being left in the barrels): ruby; cedar, red berry and chocolate nose; firmly structured with a dark chocolate finish. ****½ (a better wine than the lightly oxidative Number 8)

The ambiance, the food and the wine are so relaxing that I put away my notebook and drink wine for pure pleasure. I give high marks to the following wines: Valdivieso Nature Sparkling (Curico), Validvieso Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2007 (Leyda Valley), Valdivieso Viognier Sagrada Familia Reserve 2008 (Curico), Valdivieso Pinot Gris Single Vineyard 2007 (Curico).

Drive to Cono Sur in the Colchagua Valley. We are shown around by the head winemaker Adolfo Hurtado, who is wearing a T-shirt that reads "No family tree, no dusty bottles, only quality wines." He tells us that Cono Sur is probably the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world. They were the first to plant Pinot Noir in Chile. They have 150 hectares of Pinot Noir here and plantings of this and other varieties, particularly Viognier in Bio Bio, Casablanc and San Antonio Valleys. After Concho y Toro, they are Chile's second largest wine exporter (3.6 million cases).

  • Cono Sur Sparkling Brut (Bio Bio) (90% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Noir, 4% Riesling): very pale with a lively mousse; citrus and apple nose; fresh and lively on the palate, spicy note; good length. ****
  • Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc 20 Barrels 2008 (Casablanca): light straw, green tint; passion fruit, grassy; ripe fruit, minerally, almost salty; fresh with great length. ****½
  • Cono Sur Chardonnay 20 Barrels 2007 (Casablanca): medium straw; white flowers, butter, vanilla oak, toasty; sweet melon and peach flavour; lovely mouth feel; medium bodied, lively citrus and nut finish. ****
  • Cono Sur Viognier 2008 (Colchagua): Cono Sur planted Viognier first. Straw; medium-bodied, spicy peach, sweet peachy fruit with lively acidity. Well balanced. Great value at $9.95. ****
  • Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2008 (Central Valley): deep ruby-purple; oaky, black cherry, mineral note; full on the palate, well extracted fruit. Great value at $10.50. ****
  • Cono Sur Pinot Noir Vision 2008 (Colchagua): deep purple; vanilla, black cherry; rich mouth feel, well extracted black cherry fruit; firm structure with a note of violets in mid palate. Great value at $15.95. ****½
  • Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2007 (Casablanca): deep purple ruby; violets, black raspberry; very Burgundian in style, lovely mouth feel; lively acidity, firm tannic finish. ****½
  • Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2007 (Casablanca): dense purple-ruby; cinnamon, black raspberry, violets, oaky note;velvety mouth-feel, well balanced sweet fruit; firm structure. Needs another year in bottle but will be terrific. Very Burgundian. *****
  • Cono Sur Cabernet Carménère Organic 2008 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Carménère, Colchagua Valley): dense purple-black; oaky, cedar, creamy blackcurrant-black cherry; richly extracted, sweet fruit that finishes savoury; firm tannins, dark chocolate end taste. ****
  • Cono Sur Merlot 2008 (with Petit Verdot and Malbec, Central Valley): dense purple; spicy, cinnamon, vanilla, sweet ripe fruit with a plummy note on the finish. Great value at $9.95. ****
  • Cono Sur 20 Barrels Merlot 2007 (10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, Colchagua Valley): dense purple-black; minty, floral, oaky, cinnamon; well extracted, sweet blueberry and blackberry fruit; firm structure, a little green on the finish but great length. ****
  • Cono Sur Syrah 2007 (8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Carménère 1% Alicante Bouchet, Colchagua): dense purple; spicy blackberry, vanilla oak; sweet, chunky black fruit, juicy, white pepper; mouth-filling sweet fruit. Very stylish for $9.95. ****
  • Cono Sur Syrah Vision 2006 (10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Viognier, Colchagua): dense purple black; vanilla oak, chocolate, blackberry; sweet fruit, lively acidity with a black plum flavour and tough tannic finish. ***½
  • Cono Sur Carménère Vision 2007 (8%, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec, Rapel Valley): dense purple-black, stains the glass; concentrated blackcurrant, spicy oak, cedar; firm structure with a tannic finish. Plummy note in mid –palate. A little heat there but lots of flavour. ****
  • Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon 20 Barrels 2006 (10% Merlot, Maipo Valley): dense purple-black; vanilla, floral, cassis; concentrated, sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with a lavender and cinnamon note; lovely mouth-feel; firm structure. ****½

The house at Tarapaca

A long drive to Tarapaca, a huge estate with over 600 hectares of vines along the Maipo River. The house is magnificent with nineteen rooms – all named after wines and wine regions. I'm in Bordeaux. Drinks on the terrace at 9:15 pm with winemaker Ed Flaherty, whom I knew many years ago at Errazuriz – sparkling wine. Then in to dinner in a formal dining room. We begin with salmon tartare with tomato and lettuce, steak and an orange and chocolate pâté. The wines: Tarapaca Chardonnay Grand Reserva 2008 (spicy, apple, sweet fruit, full-bodied, ****), Tarapaca Syrah Gran Reserva 2007 (dense purple black; floral, blackberry jam; full-bodied, soft and velvety; spicy, chunky with soft tannins, ****).

Friday, December 5: Tasting in Tarapaca's tasting room.

  • Tarapaca Sparkling Charmat (Mostly Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley): very pale; citrus, apple peel; vanilla, creamy with a lemony finish; light and easy drinking. ***½
  • Tarapaca Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Central Valley): light straw with a green tint; sulphur, green apple; light fruit character. ***
  • Tarapaca La Isla Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Leyda Valley): sulphur; asparagus, gooseberry; good extract but a little short. ***½
  • Tarapaca Chardonnay 2008 (Central Valley): oaky, crabapple, spicy, apple, medium-bodied. ***½
  • Tarapaca Merlot 2007 (Central Valley): dense ruby: vanilla, spicy, red berry; sweet fruit with a plummy aftertaste; firm, dry, savoury. ***½
  • Tarapaca Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Central Valley): dense purple: cedar, blackcurrant; sweet fruit, spicy, with fine grained tannins. Good value at $9.80. ****
  • Tarapaca La Cuesta Cabernet Syrah 2007 (Maipo Valley): dense ruby; smoky, charred note, blackberry; smoky, sweet fruit, chocolate notes; soft tannins but well strucured. ****
  • Tarapaca Natura 2007 (organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Carménère, Maipo Valley):dense purple; dry, spicy , floral nose; sweet fruit with gutsy tannins and a chocolate finish. Needs time. ****
  • Tarapaca Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Maipo Valley): medicinal, blackcurrant; sweet fruit, smoky note, dry and savoury with a tannic lift on the finish. ****
  • Tarapaca Gran Reserva Etiqueta Negra 2006 (Maipo Valley): dense purple-black; coconut, black fruits; sweet berry fruit but chunky tannins. Needs time. ****
  • Tarapaca Gran Reserva Etiqueta Negra 2007 (Maipo Valley): dense purple;: spicy, vanilla, black fruits; soft creamy mouth-feel; well integrated oak; firm structure with soft tannins. ****½
  • Tarapaca Zavala 2005 (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 25% Merlot, Maipo Valley): dense purple; minerally, medicinal, spicy, black fruits; sweet berry fruit; rich, elegant; lovely mouth-feel. ****½
  • Tarapaca Zavala 2007 (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah, Maipo Valley): dense purple-black; oaky, spicy, black fruits; rich, mouth-filling sweet fruit with spicy blackberry; creamy, smoky bacon with a firm tannic finish. Great length. ****½
  • Tarapaca Carménère Gran Reserva 2007 (5% Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley): purple-black: spicy, floral, pepper; richly extracted, blackberry-blackcurrant; full on the palate, with a dry, tobacco leaf. finish. Good length. Sweet fruit, California style. ****½

Drive to the Leyda Valley and Vina Garcia Silva (Amayna). Very near the ocean, a series of rolling hills densely planted, mainly to Sauvignon Blanc (50%) and Pinot Noir (25%) (20%) and 5% Syrah , with Chardonnay and other varieties. First planted in 1999 by four companies.

  • Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2007: intense, minerally, grassy, tropical; very rich, sweet mango and passion fruit flavours; full-bodied and powerful with good balancing acidity. A very succulent wine. ****½
  • Amayna Chardonnay 2006: straw; toasty, nutty, vanilla, peach: rich, full-bodied, sweet pineapple-melon; intense and concentrated, fat fruit that starts off sweet and becomes salty-caramel with a nutty note. A very bold wine. *****
  • Amayna Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Fermented 2006: straw; spicy, grassy, fat, soft, sweet peach and tropical fruit with a grassy, salty note on the finish. ****½
  • Amayna Pinot Noir 2006: dark ruby; black cherry, vanilla, spicy note; sweet fruit, juicy, full-bodied, intense with soft tannins. A bit hot and lacks long finish but very tasty. ****
  • Amayna Syrah 2007: dense purple-black, stains the glass; concentrated, peppery, iodine blackberry; concentrated, blackberry, chunky, with a floral note and a peppery finish (very much Guigal single vineyard style). Powerful with soft tannins. ****½

The Matetic winery

Drive north for half an hour to Matetic Vineyards in the San Antonio Valley. The winery was created in 1999 (first vintage 2 years later). Very modern. The family owns 20,000 hectares, 124 hectares planted to vineyards. Across the hills that mark the extent of the property is the Casablanca Valley. They also raise blueberries. Alpacas graze the vineyards in winter. The vineyards are organic and they practice biodynamic growing and will go for certification this year.

  • Matetic Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (San Antonio Vineyard): light straw: grassy, green plum; racy, minerally, sweet fruit with lemony acidity and a chalky finish. Medium-bodied, a wine that carries its 14.5 alcohol well; good length. ****
  • Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2007 (San Antonio Valley): medium straw; floral, buttery, nutty; bright pear and peach flavours and spice flavours with a honeyed note and citrus acidity; good length. ****
  • Matetic EQ Pinot Noir 2007 (San Antonio Valley): ruby; violets, raspberry with a spicy, mineral note; sweet, jammy fruit, hefty with a tannic lift on the finish. ****
  • Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2007 (San Antonio Valley):dense ruby, stains the glass; spicy, peppery, blackberry; iodine note; rich, spicy, elegant, Northern Rhône style, medium to full-bodied with a bitter chocolate finish. Good length ****½
  • Matetic EQ Syrah 2007 (San Antonio Valley): dense purple-ruby; smoked meat, peppery; very elegant, dry, savoury balsamic note, with a firm structure and a cinnamon finish. Good length. ****½
  • Matetic Corilillo Gewürztraminer 2007 (San Antonio Valley): pale straw; lychee, rose petal; spicy, lively grapefruit acidity; medium-bodied, fresh and lively. ****

A long drive back to Santiago for a visit to Santa Carolina. Along the way we see lots of people walking along the highway making a pilgrimage to the Casablanca Valley on this holiday weekend. Santa Carolina, named for the founder's wife, is one of the oldest wineries in Chile (1875), declared a national monument in 1973. They used to have vineyards all around on land considered the best Cabernet Sauvignon terroir but now covered with housing. The subway is two blocks away. We are welcomed with a glass of Santa Carolina Brut Reserve (a blend of 90% Chardonnay, 10% Chenin Blanc): off-dry, honeyed pear flavour; Charmat process, well made and good value at $12.95. ***½

A tour of the old cellars and then we sit down to dinner. With the smoked salmon and ceviche they served Vina Casablanca Nimbus Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Casablanca Valley): grassy, nettles and gooseberry; soft, elegant grapefruit and gooseberry flavours with lively acidity and a minerally finish. ****

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserve 2007 (Casablanca): medium straw colour; peach, dried apricot with a note of oak; sweet, spicy tangerine and tropical fruit flavours; nicely balanced with a clean finish. Easy drinking. Good value at $11.95. ***½

This is served with Saffron Agnoletti with beef and Serrano ham in a rich cream sauce.

Santa Carolina Barrica Selection Carménère 2006 (Rapel Valley): dense ruby; blackberry, vanilla; fruity, plummy with lively acidity, finishing with a pruney, tannic flavour. ***

Rabbit with vegetables served with Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Alto Maipo): dense purple-black; cedar, graphite, blackcurrant nose; lovely mouth-feel, firmly structured, well integrated oak with rich chocolatey flavour and a tannic finish. ****

Lamb stew in kidney sauce served with Santa Carolina VSC 2006 (Alto Maipo/Alto Colchagua) (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carménère, 10% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot): dense ruby-black; cedar, graphite, licorice and floral tones; full-bodied but elegant, firmly structured with black fruit and clove flavours. ****½

Flank steak and corn pudding served with Vina Carolina Nimbus Estate Syrah 2007 (with 5% Riesling (!) - Casablanca Valley): Dense purple; lifted nose of blackberry and iodine; sweet fruit initially that fades on the palate to a tannic, alcoholic finish. ***½

Dessert: Melon granite with ginger, marzipan chocolates.

Checked into the Ritz Carlton Hotel at midnight.

Saturday, December 6: A two-hour drive to Ventisquero. Ventisquero means glacier and some of the wines are named after Chilean glaciers. We tour the vineyards and winemaker Felipe Tosso shows us the difference between Carménère and Merlot vines.

  • Yali Wetland Lolol Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard 2008 (Rapel Valley): very pale; minerally, green plum; crisp, citrus peel with a chalky finish and a salty note. ***½
  • Ventisquero Queulat Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Casablanca Valley): pale straw; smoky, grassy, gooseberry; crisp and lively; minerally, long finish. ****
  • Ventisquero Queulat Barrel Sample Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (low yield, 12% fermented in new French oak): like a white Bordeaux; medium bodied, salty, guava, grassy. Very elegant and full in the mouth. ****½
  • (Tank sample) Ventisquero Queulat Lolol Chardonnay 2008 (Casablanca): lemony colour; spicy, oaky, apple-pineapple; sweet pineapple with a toasty note. ****
  • Ventisquero Queulat Chardonnay 2007 (Casablanca Valley): bright straw; spicy, peach-melon; ripe peachy flavour with lively acidity and a toasty, nutty finish. ****
  • (Barrel sample) Ventisquero Chardonnay Premium 2008 (Casablanca Valley): lemon colour; a little closed, but showing good fruit on the palate with a toasty nutty finish. **** (****½)

Five different barrel samples of 2008 Syrah from different soils in Apalata but all the same clone:

  • Syrah A: dense purple; peppery, blackberry, firm structure with chalky tannins (red clay soil, 25% clay, over granite soil, quartz and iron)
  • Syrah B: sweeter fruit, more evolved with a lavender note, more tannic, good acidity (red clay with quartz and iron, with granite)
  • Syrah C: more smoky, chunky, more minerally, gutsy, broad, firm (same soil as before but 1.2 meters of clay soil)
  • Syrah D: minerally, creamy, smoky, meaty mocha, soft (200 meters higher than other wines; loamy, then clay and granite)
  • Syrah E: more elegant, lovely blackberry, feminine, a little short, acidic (highest vineyard, stoney soil, similar to Syrah B but higher clay)
  • Ventisquero Queulat Pinot 2007 (Casablanca Valley): ruby minerally, beetroot, black cherry; high toned, well extracted fruit; firm structure with good length, high alcohol. ****
  • Ventisquero Grey Merlot 2006 (10% Syrah, 5% Carménère, Apalata): dense ruby-black; black cherry, vanilla oak; full-bodied, rich, sweet black cherry and blueberry fruit, spicy and elegant, with good length and supple tannins. The best Merlot I've tried in Chile so far. ****½
  • Ventisquero Grey Carménère 2006 (7.5% Syrah, 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple-black; intense minty, blackcurrant; concentrated, full-bodied, fruit-driven; soft tannins. ****

Lunch: salmon ceviche with Ventisquero Queulat Sauvignon Blanc 2008.

Cold roast beef, avocado, tomato, corn with Ramirana Tinto Premium 2005 (Maipo) (58% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Carménère): dense ruby-black; spicy, black fruits, pencil lead; sweet black plum, minerally, hefty mouth feel, savoury finish. ****

  • Ventisquero Vertice Carménère Syrah 2005 (55%/45%, Apalta): dense purple; vanilla, blackberry, medicinal note; floral, sweet fruit, burnt sugar note; full-bodied, iodine, warm alcoholic finish. ****
  • Ventisquero Pangea Syrah 2005 (with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta): dense purple-black; minerally, blackberry; full-bodied, soft, chocolate, floral note with good acidity; good length; soft mouth-feel; very elegant. ****½
  • Ventisquero Pangea Syrah 2006 (Apalta): dense purple-black; rich, blackberry, minerally, pencil lead; chocolate; sweet blackberry fruit, better acidity and structure than 2005. ****½

Perez Cruz winery

We drive two hours to Perez Cruz in Huelquen. The winery is set back from the road at the end of a 1.6-kilometre avenue with vineyards on both sides with the foothills of the Andes as a backdrop. The huge modern winery (6000 square meters) is shaped like two half barrels executed in laminated pine. Very dramatic. They only make red wines here and virtually all six are exported. 80% of their production is Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemaker German Lyon Larrain leads us through the tasting.

  • Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2007 (Maipo Alto): deep ruby; cedar, blackcurrant with an oaky note; medium-bodied, initial sweetness leads to a dry, savoury flavour with cocoa-like tannins. Warm alcoholic finish. Good value at $14.95. ***½
  • Perez Cruz Cot Reserva Limited Edition 2007 (with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alto): dense ruby-purple; blueberry, blackcurrant with a whisper of oak; well extracted, sweet black fruits; firm structure, sweet with good acidity and a firm tannic finish.****
  • Perez Cruz Carménère Reserva Limited Edition 2007 (some Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alto): dense ruby chocolate, medicinal note; mouth-filling, sweet, unctuous, black fruit and red pepper; firm structure, full-bodied; tight finish. ****
  • Perez Cruz Syrah Reserva Limited Edition 2007 (9.4% Syrah, Maipo Alto): dense purple-ruby; vanilla, blackberry, white pepper; chunky, sweet blackberry, spicy flavour; minerally with a raisiny finish. Well integrated oak. ****½
  • Perez Cruz Liguai 2005 (40% Syrah, 35%, Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carménère, Maipo Alto): dense purple-black; intense blackcurrant with an animal, herbal note; rich blackcurrant, full-bodied, concentrated with fine-grained tannins; well structured. A big wine. ****½
  • Perez Cruz Quelen Special Selection 2005 (42% Petit Verdot, 35% Carménère, 25% Cot, Maipo Alto): dense purple-black; violets, cedar, tar; plum, iodine; sweet, spicy, chocolate; full-bodied, rich and hedonic. *****
The Elvis Cow table at Nolita

We drive back to the Ritz Carlton, arriving at 8:30 pm. At 10:15 pm we go out for our last dinner in Chile at Nolita Restaurant, a few blocks from our hotel. It's a funky modern place with an Elvis cow table as you enter. We order Pisco Sours for old times' sake. I order Crab & Shrimp Bisque. The accompanying wine: Tabali Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2007: medium straw colour; fresh, grassy, elderberry nose; rich elderberry and guava flavour; full on the palate. ****

Main course, Osso Buco with rice, accompanied by De Martino Carménère 2006: dense purple-ruby; lavender and blackberry nose; soft, plushy blackberry flavour; very sexy with an almond note on the finish; evident tannins. ****

Cremaschi Furlotti Reserva Privada Nebbiolo 2004: deep ruby colour; rose petal, bright cherry nose; very elegant, medium-bodied with soft tannins. A great food wine. ****½

We finish with Aresti Late Harvest Gewürztraminer Reserve 2007: honeyed but chemical notes. ***

Chef Guillermo Rodriguez

Sunday, December 7: A late breakfast and then we drive over to an artisan colony in Providencia, where Chef Guillermo Rodriguez has his gastronomy kitchen. He cooks for the President of Chile and used to be head chef at the San Francisco Hotel in Santiago. He speaks no English but French, having worked for a few years in Paris. Our host is Rene Merino, the owner of Tamaya in Limari. Two weeks earlier he bought out family members to be the sole proprietor of this 60,000-case winery. He used to be a surgeon and joked that he could always go back to that profession if the winery didn't work out. We start with Valdevieso Sparkling Brut with a local berry called "mirtilla" that looks like a blueberry but is more red and spicier. Then Tamaya Pink Goat Rosé 2007 (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese): deeply coloured with a minerally, raspberry nose and a touch of sweetness on the palate mitigated by a good acidic finish but marred by sulphur. ***½. Then we sit down at the table. With a delicious plate of salmon ceviche with smoked and baked salmon, we are served Tamaya Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007: very pale colour; minerally, grassy, passion fruit; crisp and elegant and perfect with the dish. ****

The next course, aged veal with quince sauce and native potatoes, served with Tamaya Syrah Reserve 2007: dense purple –black; minty, peppery blackberry with vanilla and iodine notes; a floral note on the palate, very elegant and well balanced; full in the mouth with a lovely mouth-feel. Amazing value at $13.95. ****½

Dessert: a millefeuille with apple, cream, a basil sorbet and a baked wheat salty biscuit that married beautifully with the chocolate top. This was served with Tamaya Sweet Goat Moscatel de Alexandria 2007: (straw colour; intense, honeyed peach; spicy, full-bodied and unctuous with a carnation and sweet orange flavour. ****

After lunch we walked over to Hector Vegara's wine store Vinos del Mondo on Av. Isidora Goyenechea, but unfortunately he wasn't there. Hector used to be a sommelier in Toronto at the Sutton Place Hotel in the late 1980s. I left a bottle of Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider 2005 from Quebec for him to try. Finish packing at the hotel and Alfonso picks up our group and drives us to Santiago Airport for the flight to Toronto.




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