Archive for ◊ January, 2009 ◊

30 Jan 2009 Wine Valleys of Chile
Overview of Chile's wine valleys

Overview of Chile

Chile is long narrow country next to the Pacific Oceans.  The proximity to the cool Pacific Ocean allows creates some great growing conditions in the valleys closest to the ocean — cool breezes at night to cool down the vineyards while the ocean acts as a thermal reservoir to keep the top temperatures in a good range.  The wide diurinal temperature swings is great for varietals that require a good amount of acidity.

Here are the valleys from the north to the south of Chile:

Limari Valley — vineyards: Francisco de Aguirre, Casa Tamaya, Tabli, Soler
The valley itself is mostly known for white grapes varieties distilled to make Pisco.  New technologies are being used to be able to grow grapes in the semi-arid conditions.

Aconcagua Valley — vineyards: Errazuriz, Sena, von Siebenthal
The region is known for its pioneering of Syrah.

Casablanca Valley — vineyards: Casas del Bosque, Catrala, Indomita, Matetic, Veramonte, Vina Mar, William Cole, Carmen, Casablanca, Casa Lapostolle, Morande Kingston, Quintay, Santa Rita, Ventisquero y Vinedos Organicos Emiliana

Casablanca Valley is Santiago’s gateway to the sea — located between Coastal Mountain Range and the Pacific Range.  The earliest vineyards were planted 20 years ago and was selected to grow white varietals due to the cool climate.  Currently, the area is known for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Wine route information: Ruta de Casablanca, Phone: (56-32) 274-3933,

San Antonio Valley — Vineyards: Garces Silva, Leyda, Matetic
San Antionio Valley is a very small growing area which is close to the sea (maritime climate).  The cool climate is excellent for Syrah which is helping to improve Chile’s repuation for Syrah.

Maipo Valley — Vineyards: Almaviva, Aquitania, Baron P. de Rothschild, Canepa, Carmen, Concha y Toro, Cousino Macul, Chocalan, de Martino, Domus, La rosa Odfjell, Santa ema, Santa Rita, Tarapaca, Undurraga, Ventisquero.

Maipo Valley is located between the Andes and the Coastal Mountains.  The Valley is considered to have three unofficial regions: Alto Maipo (closest to the Andes), Central Maipo (valley floor) and Pacific Maipo (closest to the ocean).  The valley has a Mediterranean climate with some climate adjustment based on the nearby geography (ocean or the mountains).  The Alto Maipo produce ulta-premium wines while the other regions produce softer, fruiter wines.

Wine route information: Ruta del Vino Maipo Alto, Phone: (56-2) 3350732,

Cachapoal Valley — Wine Route: Altair, Anakena, Casas del Toqui, Chateau Los Boldos, Gracia, Lagar de Bezana, La Rosa, Morande, Porta, Saint Gobain,Torreon de Paredes.

Carmenere is ideally suited for this valley.

Wine route information: Ruta de Cachapoal, Phone: (56-72) 584360,

Colchagua Valley — Wine Route: Bisquertt, Casa Lapostolle, Caliterra, Casa Silva, Cono Sur, Vinedos Organicos Emiliana, Estampa, Hacienda Araucano, Laura Hartwig, Las Ninas, Los Vascos, Luis Felipe Edwards, Montes, MontGras, Santa Cruz, Santa Helena, Santa Rita, Siegel, Viu Manent.

The valley is known to produce Chile’s finest red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, Malbec.  The valley is closer to the ocean so the cooling breezes at night help to maintain acidity in the red grapes despite the warm daytime temperatures.  The net results is a long, slow ripening period.

Wine route: Ruta del Vino de Colchagua, Phone: (56-72) 823199,

Curico Valley — wine route: Altacima, Aresti, Astaburuaga, Correa Albano, Chilcas, echeverria, Ines Escobar, La Fortuna, Las Pitras, Los Robles, Miguel Torres, Mario Edwards, Miguel Torres, Millaman, Molina, Pirazzoli, San Pedro, San Rafael, Santa Hortensia, Valdivieso.

The Curico Valley is the second largest producer of wine in Chile with strong representation by Chile’s top producers.  Miguel Torres brought modern winemaking techniques to Chile in the 1970’s.  The region grows 17 red varieties and 15 white varieties.

Wine route — Ruta Del Vino Curico, Phone: (56-75) 328972,

Maule Valley — Wine route: Balduzzi, Botalcura, Calina, Casa Donoso, Casas Patronales, Corral Victoria, Cremaschi Furlotti, J. Bouchon, Los Acantos, Hugo Casanova, Terranoble, Valle Frio, Via Wine Group.
The Maule Valley is largest producing valley featuring 43% of the countries total planted acreage.  The valley has diverse geography so there is no one style of wine the valley is known for.

Wine route: Ruta del Vino Valle del Maule, Phone: (56-71) 246460,

Itata valley — Vineyards: Calina, Casas Patronales, Hugo Casanova, Via Wine Group, Casas Giner
The Spanish black grape Pais still predominates in the area.  The valley has some of the earliest vineyards in Chile.

Bio Bio Valley — Vineyards: Canata, Gracia, Guilisasti
The region is known for rain and colder weather.  The climate helps Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling to express near old world levels of acidity.

29 Jan 2009 Lionheart wins 2 medals at the 2009 SF Chronicle Wine Competition

I am very proud to announce that Lionheart Wines has won two medals at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  We won the following:

We knew the Pinot Noir was special…this is a great confirmation of our (biased) opinion!  Our other wines were not submitted as the production level was too small to be entered into the competition.  Our other wines are tasting very right now…please give them a try!

29 Jan 2009 Judging Pinot Noir at the 2009 Pinot Noir Shoot-out

I was asked to be a judge at the final round of the 2009 Pinot Noir Shoot-out held at Boudin’s bakery on Fisherman’s wharf.  The “Shoot-out” tastings are organized by Affairs of the Vine.  Currently, there are “Shoot-out“s for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and region comparisons. 

Each winery submits 4 bottles of the same wine for consideration.  On the appointed day, the preliminary round of tasting is done on the wines to see which wines should be considered for the frinal round of judging.  There were 267 entries for the 7th annual Pinot Noir Shoot-out in the initial round.  The final round had 64 wines in it.  The final round wines were broken into two tasting groups — blue and green.  Each group was tasted by 8 or 9 judges.  The judges were asked to taste the wines in their group in flights of 8 wines and rate the wines on a 100 point scale.  It took 2.5 hours for the tasting to be completed.  The scores for each group per wine will be tabulated based on sex on the judge and then overall winners determined.  The final results will be posted in the near future. 

When the results become available, I will post a link to the results as well as do a comparison of how my scores compared to the averaged scores.  It will be an interesting test to see how my palate compares to professional wine judges, critics and journalists.  There is an interesting article in the current journal of Wine Economics, “An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition” by Robert T. Hodgson.   Hopefully, I fall into the 10% that can reliably score a wine given several chances to score the same wine in a blind setting…I guess time will tell. :)

There were a few surprises in the tasting for me.  In my group, there were three wines that we nearly undrinkable.  The judges were not allow to discuss the opinions of the wines during the tasting but afterward the judges in my group all agreed these 3 wines were bad.  Out of the group of 32 wines I tasted, three wines were in the top tier.  It is hard to determine quality of the wine because it depends on several factors: wine style, wine made to represent a specific terroir, balance, food-friendly vs. cocktail wine.  In this blind tasting, you did not know the region so you did not have to judge the wine to see if it is representative of a regional style which did make it a bit easier.  

Pinot Noir is hard to judge as it has a large range of styles, flavors and aromas.   Pinot Noir tends to be a love it or hate it type wine.  If it is made well, the wine can be very seductive and velvety smooth — what is not to like there. :)   However, Pinot Noir tends to either be very good or bad with very little in the middle.  I am always a bit reticent to try low-cost (< $10) Pinot Noir as the fruit for that wine tends to be low-quality with a resulting wine that is less than enjoyable.

It was a great experience being a judge and really helps to keep you focused as a winemaker to think about how your wine will be received by a judge vs. a consumer.  Judges and consumers are looking for different things.  As a winemaker, you need to be mindful of how to balance your wine to please both judges and consumer while respecting your personal style.  It is a hard tight-rope to walk at times!