Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chilean Syrah and Pinot Noir Come to the Party in a Big Way!

Last night I took part in a tasting of Chilean cool climate red wines consisting of four syrahs and four pinot noirs. I posted a quick preview of the tasting here, before it got started. Today I'm recapping each of the wines I tasted and highlighting the ones I recommend you seek out. I'll also talk a bit about how the format went and where I think it can be improved upon for next time.

Instead of tasting with my usual crew, the (in)famous San Diego Wine Mafia, I figured I'd give them a break from my obscure tasting note references and host some friends at my place. I was able to bribe (free wine) my mom into cooking up some awesome food including fried pork chops in a port reduction glaze and an orzo-herb salad. My friend Beth came over and sauteed up some sliced portobellos sauteed in myrtleberry chutney. We also had an assortment of cheeses, a Mancego, Port Salut, and an aged Gouda.

1. 2009 Valdivieso Reserve Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley -- Beautiful light ruby color, nice clarity. Bouquet of mixed sour cherry and strawberry. some vegetal aromas, spice and smoky wood. touch of heat but it's barely there. all the aromas flow from one to the next very nicely in a linear manner. spicy cranberry and zippy acidity were the first two things i noticed when i sipped the wine. I could feel acid all over my palate, giving the wine a lighter feel. there is a core of ripe fruit mixed with earth and smoke that i do like, however the near-effervescence is distracting to me. Hard to ilke this wine right now. B- $17

2. 2009 Casablanca Nimbus Estate Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley -- Much darker than the first wine, closer to a Mendocino County zinfandel or California syrah. That intrigues me, I wonder how different the bouquet and flavors will be. Way more vegetal on the nose, black cherries and a plastic scent, smells like a hospital oxygen mask. The green scent overpowers most everything else though, however I can get a bare hint of dusty earth too. Much softer acidity and spices than the Valdiviseo and no green vegetal flavors at all. More round mouthfeel, spices, baking chocolate, chalk, black cherries. I like the mouthfeel a lot actually, would gladly have a glass of this with some food. B $20 **Smart Buy**

3. 2009 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley -- Very dark for a pinot noir, closer to a syrah-based northern Rhone wine. Smells like a funky Burgundy right off the bat. Also getting the quickest hit of red licorice and fennel. The funk is great, balanced by a sweet red fruit component. Much softer than the first two but with almots a white pepper heat in the background. Good complexity. Ripe red cherry, oak, spices, earth all playing nicely in the sandbox. Well done! B $20 **Smart Buy**

4. 2008 Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley -- Very nice garnet color, excellent clarity through the glass. Gorgeous bouquet! Candied cherry, teriyaki, dark chocolate, and smoke are all wafting out of my freshly swirled glass. Absolutely amazing. Granted for $65, it better be. Graceful approach that turns into the taste of sour cherry gummy worms, campfire and baking spice. The tannins are very approachable right now, framing the wine beautifully. Very, very high quality finish too, it goes on and on, gently tapering off after many seconds. Superb juice. B+/A- $65 **Recommended**

5. 2009 Tamaya Reserva Syrah Limari Valley -- Last night I referred to this wine as "fresh Krispy Kreme donut drenched in blueberry jam". Today as I stare at the color, an opaque purple, I wonder if the same thing will be true. To an extent, yes the blueberry and sweet aromas are still there but they have been supplemented by ripe blackberries and dark chocolate along with a bramble component leading into some alcoholic heat. This is a big wine, right off the bat it has spice, fine grained tannin, hints of leather and tobacco along with a crushed pepper flavor dancing around the fruits clapping along to the beat. While I can smell the 3% viognier in here, I cannot taste it save for what might be right on hte finish, a slight oily twist. The Tamaya is begging for fire roasted beef and grilled vegetables. B $17

6. 2006 Loma Larga Syrah Casablanca Valley -- I can't see through this dark purple concoction in my glass, wow! Smells like vanilla, fresh baked pastry and black pepper. Something fruity too, dark and ripe like a black cherry on a hot day. Earth and bittersweet chocolate are there but a little difficult to detect for my nose. Loads of meaty goodness are the first thing I taste, followed by more black pepper, forest fire mixed with dirt, and some nicely grippy tannins that help keep all those flavor elements in check. I wish for a bit more carry-through from the grapey fruit flavors, they seem to get covered up by the dirty wood smoke taste. This is perhaps a bit more rustic than I anticipated but it has it's charm, perhaps because of that. B- $30

7. 2009 Undurraga "Terroir Hunter" Syrah Leyda Valley -- The Undurraga looks lighter than the Loma Larga, a bit more of a bright purple than a darker, brooding purple. Here we go with ripe berries and cream, this reminds me a little of the Tamaya's nose from last night. There are more berry scents here though, blackberry, boysenberry and the like. More of the green pepper or green bean aromas are coming out as well. Even a hint of black cherry candy, very interesting! I was struck by the softness with which the Undurraga announces its prescence, nothing loud or overbearing. Hints of cinnamon and oak, chocolate, firm tannins and a streak of acidity that keeps the wine lively. I get the feeling that this saw enough time in oak to mellow out that acid but still keep the tannins from being too soft. B $25 **Smart Buy**

8. 2009 Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah Lolol Valley -- Very dark but appropriately so, this is syrah and looks like it. Sweet ripe fruit dominate, like a jar of mixed berry preserves next to some Balsamic vinegar. Again more of the hospital oxygen mask smell, easy to spot but hard to describe. Baked graham cracker crust is a cool new thing I rarely get from syrah. I was assaulted by loads of peppery spice and alcohol when I sipped and swished the Araucano, not quite a pleasant sensation. Despite that, I found good drying tannins, ripe black fruit and dusty earth notes. All very pleasant if my palate wasn't still reeling from the cudgel of pepper and booze that beat it into submission on the first sip. B- $14

A couple of things to bear in mind after you read through the reviews, each price is the suggested retail price, and I know the wines can be found for less. Also, I was told that all of these wines have nationwide distribution, the best place to start looking is and I've linked each winery website in the name, so you can search there to find a distributor list, if necessary.

After the tasting I used WineSave, so theoretically each wine was completely preserved until I pulled the corks today to re-taste. Trying to objectively taste, follow a chatroom, entertain guests, spit, tweet, and eat was just too many things to do last night. In the future I recommend the Wines of Chile people use a site like Tastelive so that our chat messages can be tweeted with a hashtag, saving us from having bounce between checking Twitter and the chatroom.

So to wrap this blog post up, I offer a few final thoughts. Each wine was well made and indicative of quality fruit. The styles varied widely, which helped me (and my palate) get a handle on what Chile is doing with syrah and pinot noir.

The ones I mentioned as smart buys are what I'd buy and enjoy. That doesn't mean the others were bad, just an indication of my palate preferences. Each is worthy of purchase and of enjoying a glass or two after a long day. Some though are going to be much better when accompanied by food, which I suspect might have been the goal of the respective winemakers. For example, a juicy steak or cheeseburger would pair wonderfully with any of the eight wines I tasted. The pinot noirs would be also wonderful with lamb and pork, while the syrah begged for venison, bison, or anything earthy and rich. This was the first Wines of Chile tasting that I was invited to and I had a great time, the blogger kits were extraordinarily well assembled and the wines were consistently good to excellent. I hope to be invited to more because as shown last night, Chile is producing wines that are on par with the best of the rest.

I was provided with these wines as a member of the press by The Thomas Collective for Wines of Chile

Beau Carufel


  1. Beau,

    I'm going have to check out Tastelive; agree that it's tough to bounce b/t the chat and Twitter. Also like your use of "cudgel" to describe the Araucano.

    Jameson (@winewithjameson)

  2. Thanks for the comment Jameson. I first used Tastelive last year and found it to be quite useful. I think in the case of the WoC event, it would have made commeting (in real time) easier for those of us trying to do more than one thing at a time.
    Glad someone liked the cudgel word play, I heard nothing but crickets after the first day so I feared the worst.