Michael Schachner of Wine Enthusiast in his article “Chile’s Fresh Faces” (November 1, 2005 issue), recently profiled Chile’s newcomers, many boutique-style vineyards, who are favoring quality-driven wines and whose first vintages were all in this millennium. The “fab five” cover different wine valleys in Chile’s central region, a couple of which even qualify as “garage” wineries with very low quantities and yields. The next time you want to try some inspiring Chilean terroir in a bottle, I recommend getting your hands on some of these gems. And if you are in Chile, try to visit them (our wine tours visit several of these!) With further delay, Ladies and Gentlemen, the “fab five”:*
Altair Vineyards and Winery (www.altairwines.com): The investment of the Laurent Dassault family in Bordeaux and the mammoth-sized wine powerhouse Viña San Pedro (responsible for Chile’s own “Two Buck Chuck”, otherwise know as Gato Negro). Located in the Cachapaol valley, one of Chile’s newest wine appellations producing particularly good Carmeneres, Altair’s first vintage was in 2002. In addition to the premium wine Altair 2003 (94 points) US$60, a rich Bordeaux-style blend that is world class, they also produce a lower line Sideral 2003 (excellent price-quality ratio, 91 points), US$30.
Caliboro Estate (www.caliboro.com): Located in the southern wine region of the Maule, owner Count Francesco Marone Cinzano (heir to the Cinzano vermouth fortune) fell in love with the land and transplanted his family from Italy to Chile. The first vintage was in 2001, an excellent vintage by Chilean standards, with the help of expert local Chilean winemakers Augusto Reyes and Andres Sanchez. The production of the 2001 vintage only came to 1,200 cases but there is capacity to increase production. The result is Erasmo (88 points) US$30, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc, fresh with less concentration but still compelling.
Matetic Vineyards (www.mateticvineyards.com): Located in the tiny San Antonio wine valley, only 20 kilometers from the wind blow Pacific coast, Matetic and its sleek gravity-flow wineries, have been pioneers in what is quickly becoming known as Chile’s cold weather wine valley since their first vintage in 2001. Cool maritime breezes, cloud cover, rolling hills, and the right soil have turned this into prime terroir for producing their outstanding line of EQ: Syrah 2003 (91 points) US$25 smoky, sensual and very masculine; 2003 Pinot Noir (86 points) US$25 mineraly, black currants, slightly peppery, a different kind of Pinot; and 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (88 points) US$15, with fresh melon and citrus flavors and such a crisp acidity that you hardly notice the high alcohol (14.6%).
Kingston Family Vineyards (www.kingstonvineyards.com): On the far western edge of the Casablanca wine valley, the fourth and fifth generations of the Kingston family (whose family originally came to Chile at the turn of the century in search of copper and gold), with the expertise of Byron Kosuge (former winemaker of Saintbury in California) are producing small quantities of high quality Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Syrah on their 200+ planted hectares. The wines are, in a word, outstanding. You can order them via their mailing list to be shipped anywhere in the US via the website. Cariblanco 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (90 points), US$15: citrus and lush melon but also an earthy component, perhaps from the natural yeast. Alazan Pinot Noir 2004 (89 points), US$30: Lush black cherries with a rich almost brawny background, earthy, and toasty flavors. This for me, was love at first sip. Bayo Oscuro Syrah 2003 (85 points) US$28: A wine with character, whether you like it or not. Violets, berries, and a lovely lingering peppery note. (Personal note: Wine Enthusiast didn’t seem to dig this wine. I personally liked it. Palates are subjective, keep this in mind!)
Odfjell Vineyards (www.odfjellvineyards.cl): Who would have thought that a huge international (Norwegian) shipping company would become one of Chile’s most interesting newcomer wineries? Well they have–and are causing a buzz. They turned the land purchased in the Isla de Maipo (Maipo Valley) west of Santiago from an orchard into a vineyard, with Laurence Odfjell, overseeing the business (he also is an architect who designed both their gravity-flow winery and Matetic Winery’s). Employing some interesting new technologies like whole-cluster fermenting (you don’t crush the grape, the wine is cold soaked and macerated), the unfiltered wines, all reds, offer lots of fruit, manageable tannins, and good prices. Here are the stars: Orzada Malbec 2003 (91 points), made with grapes from Curicó, US$18; Orzada Carmenere 2003 (90 points), from the Maipo valley US$18; Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (89 points), from the Colchagua Valley, US$18.
*All the wine points and prices are quoted directly from the Wine Enthusiast article