Chilean Wines 12/14

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A deep dive into my first experiences with Chilean wines...

Casablanca Valley: Vineyards above Casas del Bosque winery

This page captures what I learned in (potentially nauseating) detail visiting four of Chile's major wine regions. I segregated it from the main Chile travel page to spare those who don't have a deep interest in wine. The map to the right opens in a separate window, showing the geography covered.

Central Chile map

"We're not in Kansas any more"

Wine tasting is very different in Chile than anywhere that I have been in the United States, France, or Italy. Arranging just a tasting without a long tour attached was very challenging. Wineries mostly close down on weekends and those with posted open hours were often closed. Credit when we were successful goes to my driver, Christian Montenegro, the "Van Man" (+1 56 9 52390170,, for both his advance preparation and on-site persuasion. In the tasting rooms, hosts were in general a part of the winery, very knowledgeable and accommodating. I was almost always able to taste flights of my own choosing including iconic, expensive wines, paying a reasonable charge per tasting size glass (50-70ml), which proved very efficient.


Colchagua Valley: Montes winery tasting room


Cut to the chase: The standout wines for me in Chile were the Carmeneres and Sauvignon Blancs. Carmeneres because they add a unique sweet follow to a big, bold Bordeaux-style wine. Sauvignon Blancs because of Chile's uniquely "pure" citrus character. Bocanariz Vinobar in Santiago was the standout restaurant of the trip for its remarkable wine-driven approach.



Cousino Macul wines

Concha y Toro tasting room


Concha y Toro wines


Note - All of the bottle pictures on this page were taken with my cell phone camera "in the heat of tasting" and are not up to any decent photography standards.


Thursday December 11th - Maipo Valley

The Maipo Valley is on the southern outskirts of Santiago. As my first wine region of the trip, tasting here set the tone for good things to come


Cousino Macul – The 2010 Finus Terrae (Cabernet / Merlot / Syrah - first picture above) is reasonably priced and wonderfully structured. The 2008 Lota (Cabernet / Merlot - second picture above) is their icon wine and it lived up to the hype. Smooth, long and changing personalities as it slowly faded away. (GPS: S33° 29.836' W70° 33.687')

Concha y Toro – Chile's biggest winery, yet with focus on just some specific wines, it turned out to be the best of the day. I spent several hours in this tasting, which was done in their small restaurant (third picture above) to dodge the long tour. I started out with a 2012 Costa Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc Block 5 (fourth picture above), which was wonderfully refreshing, showing a unique sweet citrus character that I came to enjoy a lot my whole time in Chile. Next up was an unremarkable 2012 Margues de Casa Concha Merlot (fifth picture above). Moving then to Chile's signature grape, Carmenere, I did a side by side of an expensive 93 point 2009 Carmin de Peumo with an inexpensive 2012 Margues de Casa Concha Carmenere (sixth and seventh pictures above). The Carmin de Peumo blew the cheaper wine away.


Moving on to Cabernet Sauvignon, I tasted a library 1992 Don Melchor (eighth picture above), which was easily the best wine of the day. The nose showed plum followed by tastes of marmalade, smoke, leather and cloves. Before I finished the 1992, they comped me for a 95 point 2010 Don Melchor (ninth picture above) to compare side by side. Although it was good, I didn't think that even with age the 2010 will build the richness of the 1992. Although I had looked forward to finishing my tasting with the 94 point 2011 Almaviva (tenth picture above), which is a joint venture with Rothschild analogous to Opus One in Napa, the wine was just not impressive. I got a nice eucalyptus nose followed by tastes of dark fruit tempered by Carmenere's sweet finish. (GPS: S33° 38.133' W70° 34.459')

Santa Rita – Another big winery that proved excellent with focus. Good wines across the board, especially the blends. I started out with a 93 point 2010 Triple C (Cabernet Franc / Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon - first picture below), showing a floral nose, strong tannins, dark fruit and a long chocolate follow. Moving on to Cabernet Sauvignons, the 2010 Floresta Cabernet Sauvignon (second picture below) seemed too acidic to me. The 92 point 2011 Casa Real Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (third picture below) was well structured and tannic, showing a tobacco finish. My last taste for the day was a 2010 Bougainville Petite Syrah (fourth picture below), which stood out from the crowd with a unique nose, a powerful tannic start followed by a smooth lingering finish. (GPS: S33° 38.137' W70° 34.462')



Santa Rita wines


Emiliana tasting room and wines


Casas del Bosque wines


Kingston Family winery and wines


Friday December 12th - Casablanca Valley


West of Santiago about 90 minutes over a series of mountains is the Casablanca Valley. The Casablanca Valley is the newest of the wine regions in Chile. It is closer to the coast and has a cool climate, as such more suitable for Pinot Noirs and white wines than the other regions. It looked to me a lot like California wine valleys. I visited four wineries here before continuing on to the coast at Valparaiso.

Emiliana - The first winery in Chile certified organic with a new beautiful tasting room (fifth picture above, viewed form the balcony). I started out with a 2014 Novas Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (sixth picture above) which had the pure refreshing citrus character that I came to love in Chilean Sauv Blancs. Next was a 2013 Signos De Origen La Vinilla (seventh picture above), a white blend (Chardonnay / Roussanne / Viognier) showing sweet fruit, almonds and walnuts. In their same Signos line, next up was the 2012 El Rincón Pinot Noir (eighth picture above) which had a deep red color and bing cherry notes. Last up was their Syrah / Carmenere / Merlot blend, the 2011 Coyam (ninth picture above), which was an intense, well-structured wine, finishing with that Carmenere sweetness to cut the edge. (GPS: S33° 21.605' W71° 18.458')

Matetic - This winery had beautiful grounds and wines with excellent reviews, but I didn’t find anything in a 6 wine flight that I liked, including their 90 point EQ Syrah. (GPS: S33° 28.743' W71° 28.474')

Casas del Bosque - The highlight of the day in wineries with their Gran Reserves showing best. The vineyard grounds were impressive (large picture top of page left) and the tasting room was like a nice boardroom, lined with wines in storage on the walls and multi-glass setups ready at each seat around the "conference" table when I entered. I choose 4 wines from their premium list and they comped me a couple more as we proceeded. I started out with their 2014 Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (tenth picture above), which had that pure refreshing Chilean character. Next up was another Sauv Blanc, their 2014 Pequenas Producciones - limited production - (eleventh picture above), showing more subtle citrus but a more full-bodied finish.


Moving on to reds, next up was a 2013 Reserve Carmenere (twelfth picture above) with a dark fruit nose, heavy tannins and that wonderful sweet Carmenere follow. Two Syrahs were next: the 2011 Gran Reserve which was wonderfully intense, showing black olive notes, followed by the 90 point 2011 Pequenas Producciones sporting a more subtle character. The big finish was a comped iconic 2011 Gran Bosque Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (thirteenth picture above) which was a high alcohol, heavily structured Cab that had an extraordinarily long finish. (GPS: S33° 19.108' W71° 26.140')

Kingston Family - Officially this winery was closed for a private party, but we showed up anyway. The owner, Andy Pflaum from California, saw me wandering around the production facility (fourteenth picture above) and graciously gave me a three wine mini-tasting from the library wines he was serving to the party guests – good karma and good luck I guess. All Kingston wines are named after their horses. I started out with the 94 point 2010 Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc, which was a standout for its pure, low citrus taste. Next up was the 91 point 2008 Alazan Pinot Noir (fifteenth picture above) which had a very old world nose with a plum and cherry taste, reminiscent of French Burgundies. My last taste was the 91 point 2006 Bayo Oscuro Syrah (last picture above) starting with a distinct chocolate nose followed by a smooth lingering finish. (GPS: S33.316767, W71.460614)



Von Siebenthal barrel tasting


Sanchez de Loria wines

Bocanariz wine list on wall


Montes wines


Saturday December 13th - Aconcagua Valley


North of Santiago about 90 minutes is the Aconcagua Valley. It turns out that in Chile, Saturday is not a good day for wine tasting. Trouble began when we arrived at the first and main winery that I wanted to visit, Errazuriz - closed all day for a wedding. (GPS: S32° 47.908' W70° 49.705')


Von Siebenthal - The front gate was open, but no one was around. We stopped some of the vineyard workers to ask about the tasting room, and one of them called the owner. After some fast talking by my driver Christian, the owner, Mauro Von Siebenthal, agreed to open up the barrel room for a visit. This turned out to be the best wine experience of the day by far. Mauro is a Swiss lawyer who gave up his practice in the late 90s to move to Chile and start the winery. His wines have gotten good attention and some are very highly rated with a price to match. In the barrel room he talked me through his history, philosophy and the nature of the wines. His philosophy bears repeating - "I strive for wines of elegance. Elegance can only be achieved through the right combination of three elements - terroir, technology and art." (GPS: S32° 47.987' W70° 50.041')


Mauro started my barrel tasting (first picture above) with his 2014 Viognier, which was incredibly refreshing and earthy. Next up was the 2013 Toknar Petit Verdot with a cherry and spice nose followed by a tangy black fruit and floral finish. Last and best was von Siebenthal's iconic 2013 Tatay de Christobal Carmenere - one of the best wines that I have ever tasted anywhere. Swirling it in the glass, the nose filled up the room and the taste hit fast and strong, then tempering into a lingering smooth coffee and black fruit finish. In lieu of a tasting fee, Mauro offered me a bottle of 2007 Toknar (second picture above) for less than half price, which I enjoyed over the next couple of evenings in my hotel. Leaving Von Siebenthal, we drove to San Esteban Winery - also unexpectedly closed.

Sanchez de Loria - Sanchez de Loria Winery was open, but there were only two wines there that I felt were worthwhile. First up was their 2012 Oidor Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (third picture above) showing a nice structure and a bold, but short finish. After a couple of bad dessert wines, the hostess brought out a nice 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Licoroso (fourth picture above), which while fortified, was not overly sweet sporting a strong licorice taste that I imagine would pair well with chocolate or cheesecake. (GPS: S32° 47.491' W70° 52.124')


Sunday December 14th - Bocanariz Vinobar in Santiago


Bocanariz Vinobar is a remarkable wine and small plate bar in the historic Barrio Lastarria district of Santiago. I had read that it was a "sketchy" area of town, which was nonsense. I walked there through Parque Forestal from the museum district where I had ended my sightseeing for the day. Barrio Lastarria was alive with families and street vendors when I arrived and still going strong when I left a few hours later. Sporting over 400 wines by the bottle (wine list on the wall - fifth picture above) and more than 40 wines by the glass, half glass and tasting glass, Bocanariz was a wine enthusiast's dream restaurant. They offer a chef and sommelier chosen prix fixe dinner for those who don't want to make their own choices.


Instead, I chose seven courses of tasting glasses of wine myself which were then paired with tapas plates suggested by the sommelier. The following was my line up of seven wines, copied from the little stem cards they attached to each glass: 1) 2014 Viu Manent Secreto Sauv Blanc, 2) 2012 Estampa del Viento Sauv Blanc, 3) 2012 De Martino Legado Chard, 4) 2012 Villard Gran Vin Pinot Noir, 5) 2011 Odfjell Armador Carmenere, 6) 2011 Santa Rita Casa Real Carmenere and 7) 2012 Antiyal Carmenere / Cabe Sauv / Syrah blend.


Monday December 15th - Colchagua Valley


South of Santiago about 2 hours is the Colchagua Valley. Once again it was difficult to find wineries that would do a tasting without a tour, but we were successful at four of them. We first stopped in the morning at Viu Manent and although they were open, they refused to do a tasting until the afternoon - so just like Arnold said poignantly, we said "We'll be back". We then drove to Lapostolle, (GPS: S34° 36.502' W71° 17.779') which had beautiful grounds and a remarkable building along with a reputation for outstanding wines. Even though they were open, they refused to do any tasting without taking their long vineyard tour - frustrating. The winemaker assured us that no other winery in the valley would do a tasting without a tour, although he had no explanation for why he or they wouldn't want to. "No soup for you!" came to mind as we left. Of course he was wrong as well. On to Montes just a short drive down the road.

Montes - The best of the day with several of their top line wines served and explained in a beautiful private tasting room (large picture top of page right). Montes was a pricey tasting, but worth it. I started out with their 2012 Outer Limits Apalta blend of Carmenere, Grenache and Mourvedre (sixth picture above) which was rich, but unremarkable. I then moved on to Montes' three icons -  Folly Syrah, Alpha M Cabernet Sauvignon and Purple Angel Carmenere (last picture above). The 95 point 2011 Folly was deep purple in color with a strong blackberry and blueberry nose, a strong structure and cocoa on the taste with a layered follow. The 96 point 2011 Alpha M had subtle red fruits on the nose followed by a vanilla and coffee taste. The 2012 Purple Angel was outstanding, a great example of everything I had come to love about Carmenere in Chile. It showed plum, nutmeg and cherry on the nose followed by a well structured sweetness on the palate. I finished the tasting with a refreshing 2014 Sauvignon Blanc chaser. On the way out, my host took me through the circular barrel room (first picture below) where they play soft music 24/7 to set the right mood for the wine to age. (GPS: S34° 36.954' W71° 16.429')

Neyen  - I did a quick tasting at Neyen (second picture below) that included only two wines - a 2009 and 2010 vertical of their 92 point Espiritu de Apalta Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon blend (third picture below). Although both wines had similar characters - a strawberry / plum nose with dark fruit and vanilla on the palate, I found the 2009 to be more refined and ready to drink. (GPS: S34° 37.784' W71° 14.677')

Viu Manent - Afternoon had arrived and we headed back to where we had first stopped in the morning. Before tasting, we ate lunch at their on-site Chilean restaurant. True to their word, after lunch Viu Manent did a good tasting for me encompassing six wines. I started out with a 2014 Secreto Sauv Blanc (fourth picture below) which was bright and crisp. I then moved on for a side-by-side of two 2012 Gran Reserves - a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Carmenere (fifth picture below) demonstrating the distinction between the two Bordeaux varietals. I then tasted one of their icon wines, a 2010 El Incidente Carmenere (sixth picture below) sporting an inky black color, dark fruit and silky tannins with that sweet follow - easily the best wine of the flight. Shifting to Malbec, the 2012 San Carlos (seventh picture below) was unremarkable. Last up was their second icon wine, a 2008 Vibo Malbec (eighth picture below) which was better than the San Carlos, but not in the same league for me as either of the Carmeneres. Perhaps a different order to the tasting would have changed my viewpoint. I couldn't talk the hostess into opening their last icon, Viu 1, for a taste. (GPS: S34° 38.835' W71° 18.074')

Laura Hartwig - Continuing through the valley, Laura Hartwig winery had a nice variety and was very inexpensive. First up was their 2012 Reserve Carmenere (ninth picture below) which had a rich front end, but a short, sweet follow. Next was their 2012 Reserve Petite Verdot / Malbec blend which was good, but unremarkable. Next was a 93 point 2010 Winemaker's Selection Syrah (tenth picture below) sporting an earthy nose and a tobacco and fruit finish. Last up was one of their icons, a 93 point 2010 Gran Reserva (last picture below), which is a Carmenere-driven Bordeaux blend showing lots of cherry and plum up front followed by notes of vanilla and caramel. Because it was getting late in the day, I couldn't talk the hostess into opening their other icon wine, Laura. (GPS: S34° 37.881' W71° 22.455')


Heading back toward the highway to Santiago, we figured we could make it to Silva before they closed. However, we had bad luck again as they had closed early for their annual holiday party. Big expansive property, nice looking buildings and locked doors. (GPS: S34° 31.880' W70° 58.734')


Montes' musical barrel room


Neyen tasting room & wines


Viu Manent wines


Laura Hartwig wines


Tuesday December 16th - Santiago Cafe Med at the Marriott


On my last day in Santiago I didn't expect to have any notable wine experiences, but I did. My flight home was in the late evening, so I decided to walk over to the Concha y Toro city wine bar for a late lunch. I ended up 20 minutes down the wrong side of the main boulevard's construction, making crossing the street almost the whole walk back to my hotel, so I threw in the towel and headed to the Mediterranean cafe in the Marriott, expecting little. Cafe Med turned out to be a great spot, with interesting mid-day food and a good wine list. I ordered an exotic one-person pizza and asked the head waiter for wine recommendations. He took an interest in where I had been over the past week and suggested first a 2013 Luis Felipe Edwards 'Marea' Sauvignon Blanc, which was very good, showing that pure grapefruit front end that I had grown to love in Chile. Second, he suggested a 2012 Casas del Toqui Codigo del Toqui blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Petit Verdot and Syrah, which was also excellent, showing dark berries, cocoa and licorice on the palate. Finally, he insisted that I just couldn't leave Chile without trying La Posta Cocina which was a Malbec / Syrah blend, so he comped me a glass. It was remarkable, with an inky black color, cherry nose and a vanilla spice finish - easily the best Malbec I had tasted on the trip.

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