Wines to Look Forward to….

From time to time, I am going to take the opportunity to tell you about exciting wines that are coming to Ontario.  I always like to share insider information with my readers particularly because sometimes I know about wines coming into the marketplace long before the folks at Vintages put them out on the counter to taste or on the shelves for you to buy.

I get to taste plenty of wines from around the world – and yes I have some favourite regions /countries besides my beloved home-base of Ontario (For example, Chile, The Rhone Valley – France, Veneto – Italy, just to name three).  I have long been a fan of Chilean wines, in fact, my love of red wine began because of a chance meeting (on a date to impress a woman) with a bottle of Chilean Merlot.  Since then I have always had a special place in my heart for the long, skinny country. The girl I was trying to woo turned me down, but the love of wine stayed with me, personally I think I got the better end of the deal.

The wines of Chile are known for big fruit, and because they are a hot climate country, they are also known for heavier (high alcohol) wines – although there are some regions of the country that are cooler (in climate) than others.  Just this past October I had the pleasure of meeting with Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Concha y Toro and head of some of their super premium wines, namely the Marques de Casa Concha line.  You’ve no doubt seen the Concha y Toro name in the Chilean section of the LCBO, most notably on bottles of Casillero del Diablo.  Vintages also brings out a number of the Marques wines annually, together with the Cabernet Sauvignon which is always available.

So you might be wondering, why was Marcelo in town to talk up Concha y Toro if they are so prevalent in the LCBO already?  He was here to talk about some new and exciting wines coming out of a new and exciting northern region of Chile, where cool climate-style wines can be grown and made.

In 2005 Marcelo took the reigns of a new line of wines called Vina Maycas del Limari, these are wines that start their lives as grapes grown in the Limari Valley in the north of Chile, 450km north of the Maipo Valley.  Limari is known as a cool climate region within this hot country and is most noted for foggy mornings and lots of calcium in the sub-soils, this helps to give the wines a different character than those grown in the hotter south.  The vineyards are 18-20km from the coast and, unlike their more southerly vineyards, these grapes see January temps (Chile’s hottest month) of 25C – 12C, maximum to minimum.  According to Marcelo: “the big problem in Chile is too much sun (heat), it’s good for sweet fruit but not good for acidity.”  These foggy mornings help reduce direct sunlight on the grapes, a fog that doesn’t lift till between 1-3 in the afternoon, which in turn reduces direct sunlight on the grapes – allowing them to mature more slowly.

There are three wines that will be available in the next few months, two have yet to come while the other has previously been in the marketplace. I urge you all to keep your eyes peeled for the next vintage of it to come through, because if Marcelo Papa has taught us anything, since taking over the reigns in 1999 of the Marques wines, it’s that “consistency” is his middle name.

The wines:

There are three reasons I am looking forward to seeing these wines in the market:  First, I can’t wait to share these with friends.  Second, at under $20 they might just be the best quality for value wines you’ll see out of Chile all year.  And three, these just might be the best under-$20 Chilean wines I’ve tried, period.

2009 Chardonnay, Reserva Especial ($19.95 – previously released) – a fresh, clean Chardonnay that delivers on all levels.  Lovely fresh white fruit of peach, pear and apple, there’s also quite a bit of minerality that keeps this wine lively on the palate. Great finish with palate cleansing acidity. For a guy who doesn’t impress easily with Chardonnay I can tell you I was very impressed. (**** ½)

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserva Especial ($19.95 – Feb 4, 2012 Vintages release) – the vineyard for this Cabernet is 45km from the coast, so the afternoon starts a little earlier (as the fog dissipates) which the Cab requires.  The fruit jumps out of the glass: blackberry, cassis, cherry and blueberry – the palate is lively with fruit and an acidic backbone that keeps things from getting jammy. The fruit coats the palate but that acidity keeps it from sticking there.  Rich, supple and tasty.  11% Syrah is also added to the wine.  (**** ½)

2009 Syrah, Reserva Especial ($19.95 – June 9, 2012 Vintages release) – dark fruit and chocolate without being cloying and sticky, this wine has a freshness about it that is not often seen in hot climate shiraz/syrah.  It’s juicy and jammy with tons of flavour in the mouth and those flavours seem to hang on forever, but there’s also a great seam of acidity that washes through the mouth keeping the finish clean and the palate ready for more – it would take more than a bottle to tire the palate out, but the brain might get a little fuzzy (14.5% alc).  This is one fantastic and delicious wine. (**** ½)

All these wines have wonderful cellaring potential of up to a decade – but they taste so good now that it might be hard to keep your hands off them till then.