Wine of the Week – a surprise from Chile

Vines at Casa Silva.

Readers of these pages will know that I revel in finding something new. For me loving wine is all about seeking out the unexpected, the different and the surprising.

Whether it is a region that I have never heard of, a grape variety, or a whole new wine producing country, that is what excites me most about wine.

So, in truth the wine I want to share with you today doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but it does come close.

It’s from Chile, which is not unusual, but it is made from an obscure grape called Romano, more usually called César. There isn’t much César left in the world and most of that grows northwest of Dijon in Burgundy, where it is principally used to make up to 10% of the blend, together with Pinot Noir, in the wines of Irancy.

The names come from the long held belief that the grape was introduced into the region by the invading Roman Legions who were led by Julius Ceasar. With DNA testing we now know that is not true, but it was believed for centuries.

Huasos, Chilean cowboys in Colchagua – photo courtesy of Enoturismo, Chile.

Strangely enough the only other pure César that I have tasted is also from Chile, made by Morandé from a vineyard that no longer exits. The destruction of Morande’s vineyard may well have led to the rumours that this grape variety had actually become extinct, but that was always unlikely given its traditional use in Irancy.

To me it seems to have been an odd choice to plant this grape in Chile’s Colchagua region, given that it has a Mediterranean climate. All that sunshine and warmth together with pretty much no rain during the growing season means that the grapes can have plenty of hang time and get fully ripe. This is the exact opposite of what happens in Irancy, which is very near Chablis, so has a Continental climate with a short growing season meaning the red wines of Irancy are usually light and acidic.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Whatever their rationale for planting César/Romano was, I am glad they did though because it has produced a style of wine in Chile that is totally unlike the examples of this grape that we get from France. In fact it has produced a wonderful wine that I really enjoyed and I think others will too.

The old Casa Silva winery and its grounds – photo courtesy of the winery.

2017 Romano Viñedo Original 
DO  Valle de Colchagua
Viña Casa Silva
Chile

Casa Silva is one of the great wine estates of the Colchagua Valley. They were originally a French family of grape growers who came to Chile in 1892 and have been growing grapes there ever since. However the family vineyards became divided up with multiple owners and it was not until the 1970s that Mario Silva pieced the estate together again and they have been bottling and labelling their own wines since 1997. They are based in Angostura where their beautiful original homestead is now a hotel and well worth a visit. The land around the house is their initial plantings with vineyards going back to 1912. This is where they have some fabulous speciality grapes including old vine Carmenère, Sauvignon Gris and this Romano. All of these are ungrafted, so grow on their own roots. This helps the vines to live longer and old vines produce smaller crops and smaller berries that have more concentrated flavours. Old vines also ripen with less sugar, so produce wines with lower alcohol, which makes for better balance and more elegance.

The harvest was done by hand with a further manual selection of grapes at the sorting table before the grapes were de-stemmed – stalks can give harsh tannins. There is a pre-fermentation cold soak, a cold fermentation in stainless steel followed by a further maceration on the skins. Half the wine was aged in stainless steel and half in second use French oak barrels. This older oak means that the wine is not overly oaky in taste, but has the softening that ageing in barrels gives as the oxygen gets to the wine through the wood, making it rounder and richer.

The barrel ageing room at Casa Silva – photo courtesy of the winery.

The wine looks very appealing with a deep and bright ruby colour. The nose is full of rich red fruits like strawberry, cherry, a hint of raspberry, black pepper and a delicate mushroomy/earthy savoury note. The palate is smooth, round and mouth filling with rich ripe red fruit, smooth, supple tannins and some lovely freshness too. There is plenty of beautiful, concentrated fruit, but good structure and that attractive earthy, savoury quality. This will appeal to Pinot Noir drinkers – and Syrah and Grenache drinkers too – in my opinion, as well as anyone who wants a really flavourful, suave and supple red wine that is full-flavoured and medium bodied. It really is a gorgeous wine – 93/100 points

This is a very versatile wine too. It is mellow enough to be enjoyable without food, has enough freshness to go with pizzas and pastas, has enough elegance and structure to partner haute cuisine and enough richness to go with cheese and enough pizzazz to go with burgers, chilli con carne or shepherd’s pie and to keep everyone happy.

Available in the UK at around £15.00 per bottle from Duncan Murray Fine Wines – Market Harborough, Staintons – Lake District, Guildford Wine CoBottle Shops – Cardiff, Penarth, Field & Fawcett – York, Naked Grape – Alresford, Hants, Palmers Wine Store – Dorset, The Vineking – Reigate, East Molesey, Weybridge and the Oxford Wine Company.

More information is available from Casa Silva’s UK distributor, Jackson Nugent Vintners.

 

Wine of the Week 27 – it’s oh so nice to be familiar!

Cabernet Sauvignon is a wonderful grape. I love the sheer intensity and richness that it can deliver and sometimes I crave wines like the juicy, delicious, fruity New World Cabernets of my youth. Well, recently I have discovered a vibrantly fruity Cabernet that also has structure and elegance, so I have been using it in my wine classes to illustrate what Cabernet is all about – the fact that it is good value too is just a bonus.

It comes from Chile and shows what enjoyable wines that amazing country can produce, even at good value prices. I am sure that by now everyone knows that Chile enjoys a blessed climate that is perfect for grape growing and wine production. They have a long growing season, plenty of sunshine, diverse soils and cooling influences coming from both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. All of this, plus a great deal of knowhow means they can make wines that are capable of being utterly delicious – like my new Wine of the Week.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Wild horses at the Caliterra Estate - photo courtesy of Caliterra.

Wild horses at the Caliterra Estate – photo courtesy of Caliterra.

Caliterra Res CS2013 Caliterra Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
D.O. Colchagua Valley
Rapel, Chile
Cabernet Sauvignon is, of course, grown and made all over the world, but ever since the mid nineteenth century it has been Chile’s star grape and was the variety that made Chile’s reputation as a great wine producing country. Styles vary enormously from being very soft and fruity to something more complex and interesting – this wine manages to be both fruity and interesting. I have known the Caliterra winery for a long time and first visited it more than ten years ago. Now owned by Errazuriz, it was originally a joint venture between Eduardo Chadwick, of Viña Errazuriz in Chile, and Robert Mondavi of California. Sadly Robert died in 2008, but they are both towering figures in the wine world and I have been lucky enough to meet them both over the years. 

Caliterra is a very beautiful place and I enjoyed seeing it, but it is fair to say that their wines have got better and better of late. What’s more, in recent years they have gone all out for sustainable viticulture and have left some 75% of their 1,085 hectares (2,681 acres) untouched to ensure the land has bio-diverse flora and fauna. The place is called Caliterra after all, which is from the Spanish word Calidad – meaning quality – and Tierra meaning land. By the way, although it looks Christmassy to a British eye, that bird on the label is not a robin, but the chucao tapaculo which is native to southern Chile.

Cabernet Sauvignon originates in Bordeaux where it is normally blended with other grapes for greater complexity, well this wine gives a nod in that direction by being 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot adding some elegance. The winemaking shows an interestingly light touch with just 30% of the wine being aged in barrels for  7 to 9 months in 2nd and 3rd use barrels, which give less obvious oak flavour than new oak does.

The colour is a deep, dense and an opaque purply-black. The nose is vibrant and lifted with rich cassis, blackberry, deep raspberry and something floral, as well as some vanilla, tobacco and a waft of some mint or eucalyptus together with some black olives for good measure. The palate delivers rich, ripe black fruit balanced by lovely vibrant, fresh blackcurrant acidity, a touch of cream and some espresso on the long finish. This is a wine to enjoy without so much as a backward glance, or to serve with a classic meaty meal like a Sunday roast. There’s no hurry to drink it either, you could easily lay this wine down for four years or so to make it more complex. All in all, an excellent Cabernet for the price – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £9.75 per bottle from The Oxford Wine Company, The Vintage House, Bin 21, EdencroftCheers Wine Merchants and Partridges of Sloane Street.
Stockist information for the US is available from Rodrigo Rodero: rrodero@chadwickwines.cl

I chose this wine because I find it so easy to focus on what is new and different, that it is nice to give a shout out for an old favourite from time to time and it offers great value for money.

Just so you know, I do sometimes do some work for Caliterra and their UK agents, Hatch Mansfield, but this is my honest and unsolicited opinion.

 

 

Chile – experimenting and perfecting

As readers of these pages will know, I have long been a fan of Chilean wine and although it has been too long since I visited Chile I love the country too. It is a very beautiful place with wonderful sights to see and the people are a delight.

At Luis Felipe Edwards in the Colchagua Valley 2003

If I have had any problems at all with Chilean wine it was that they have for too long relied upon a narrow a range of grape varieties. I am sure that is not a commercial problem for them as consumers usually drink from a very, very narrow range of grape varieties. However for someone like me it can get dull if everyone only makes their own versions of the same old thing. There is only so much Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay I want to drink – however good they are.

Which is why I am really delighted to find that of late Chile seems to be pushing the boundaries further than ever before, finding new grapes, new styles, new blends and new grape growing areas. As a consequence I have recently been able to taste some wonderful new wine styles from Chile, so if you are getting bored with the same old, same old and want to drink something exciting you should give Chile a go. Continue reading

The Terrible News from Chile

I love Chile, it is a wonderful country that produces great wines and the Chilean wine industry is full of lovely people, many of whom have become friends over the years.

So, the recent news from Chile has shocked me deeply. I know that the epicentre of this terrible earthquake was between the wine regions of Bío Bío and Maule, but that wine areas as far north as Colchagua have been affected and that damage has been done even as far away as Santiago itself.

It is at times like this that we realise how very small the modern world is. Chile is no longer a far away land of which we know nothing, but a vibrant, leading and integral part of the wine world.

My heart goes out to all my friends in Chile, even the ones I have yet to meet.  I can barely imagine what you are going through at the moment, but I wish you well and am with you in spirit.

If any of you would like to leave messages of support here, I would be grateful.