New World “Fun”

by Liz Caskey on August 13, 2006

Friday night, innocent cosmopolitans with friends at the Ritz’s new martini lounge led to an impromptu dinner party at my apartment. With freshly made Moussaka lurking in my oven and no company to share it with, I decided to invite over my drinking companions and have them partake in this intense Mediterranean dish accompanied by some well-chosen Argentine and Chilean wines. Although the whole event was completely spontaneous, the wines selected ended up being quite coordinated. If you could characterize the central wine theme, perhaps it could be coined as New World “Fun” Wines. “Fun” is one of those vague words like “interesting”, that doesn’t necessarily define anything. In this case, fun referred to the distinct personality of the wines and that they all said something about where it came from and/or how they were made. They were all non-committal price wise, none of them passing the US$20 mark, and most importantly, they were an absolute delight to drink, which well, in good company certainly makes wine taste better.

Alta Vista Grande Reserve 2004 Malbec, Terroir Selection (Argentina, Mendoza)

Alta vista is a French-Argentinean venture seated in the Luján de Cuyo area of Mendoza, specifically (for those familiar with Mendoza), in the area called Vistalba at around 1,000 meters above sea level. Alta vista is a perfect example of French know-how well employed with a local winemaking and vineyard management team to produce wines that express Mendocino soil and climate, focused heavily on Malbec. This Malbec is a terroir blend meaning that 54% of its grapes come from its vineyard plots in Vistalba and 46% from the Valle de Uco, about 1 hour south of the city. In 2004, the grapes from Vistalba were very mature and create a noticeable volume in the mouth and long finish. The grapes from Uco, known for its freshness in general, gave the wine a general (nice) roundness and freshness. For being a 2004, a very, VERY young wine, it was quite balanced—no tannins out of check here—which is noticeable as Malbec can be tannic at times. Hence, it is the terroir that produces naturally in the fruit these soft, lovely tannins. In terms of flowery adjectives, I cannot remember much (especially after several cosmos) of the taste other then I will remember this wine as utterly enjoyable and at one point, while sautéing zucchini as a side for the Moussaka, stopping with a winemaker friend to comment that it had a “soul”.

Gillmore Meritage 1999 (Chile, Maule)

Opened mid-way through dinner (now midnight, yes we eat late here!), this wine was quite a departure from the former bottle. Gillmore is part of the Tabonitaja winery, located in the southern Maule valley, about 300 kilometers south of Santiago. The Maule has a centuries-old tradition of winemaking, although mostly in the país variety, red table wine. A special edition wine produced in 1999, a very good year for both the Maule valley and Chile, this wine was one of only 2,500 bottles produced and sold. A blend of Carignan, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was a break from most Chilean reds with only 13.5% alcohol. It was drinkable, went down easy and was perfect for drinking now. I personally found the acidity to be a hair off (which can be a general trait of Maule wines due to the cooler weather and tendency to “pick green” to avoid early rains), or rather, not totally integrated into the “flow” and “feel” of the wine on the palate. It was representative though definitely of its land and was well made so it is more a stylistic comment than anything.

Coyam 2002 (Chile, Colchagua)

Now onto a dessert of fried empanadas stuffed with dulce de leche (milk caramel) and the local nutty-tasting fruit paste, Lucuma, which I somehow had ready-made in my freezer, we opened the last trophy of the evening, Coyam 2002. Coyam, from Viñedos Orgánicos Emiliana, is one of my favorite wines in Chile and one of those lovely US$20 wines that is solid and maintains the price-quality ratio perfectly. Coyam means “Chilean Oak” in the native language and also happens to be the trees that delimit the parameters of the Los Robles vineyard in the Colchagua valley. Coyam is made from Carmenere, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mouvedre grapes. I love the addition of Mouvedre to soften and round out this robust blend (note apart: these lesser-known Rhone grapes, such as Mouvedre and Marsanne, sneak into different VOE blends as they are the closet love of Emiliana winemaker Alvaro Espinoza). What surprised me though, was that had the 2002 vintage in our wine cellar. While certainly not a bad year, 2002 (at least for Coyam) was a “shy”, unremarkable vintage that was wedged between two heavyweights: 2001 and 2003. Coyam 2001, as indicated in an earlier post about “G”, got the best grapes and was one of those wines that made critics (and consumers) swoon. 2003 in Chile was a blockbuster harvest with many wines now  scoring 90+ points in Wine Spectator—quality, complexity, and longevity went through the roof—Coyam included. I am still not sure if was the time of night (now the madrugada, or early morning hours), all the previous flavors (and alcohol) at that point but Coyam 2002 came and went very pleasantly but without really leaving much of an impression.  That’s okay though. Feeling inspired yesterday, I made a hybrid Texas chili so we are going to give the 2003 a test drive tonight.

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