2005 Valdivieso Eclat, Maule Valley (a carignan, mourvedre, syrah blend)
2006 De Martino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "Las Cruces," Cachapoal Valley (malbec and carmenere)
2008 Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere, Colchagua Valley
2008 Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere, Colchagua Valley
The underlined words are the names of the wineries -- Valdivieso, De Martino, Estampa, and so forth. After that, some of the wines have what you might call pet or marketing names. Think "Fat Bastard," although none were so silly. Valdivieso's "Eclat" is one example among the first four. Among these, you'll notice also how frequently carmenere repeats. Carmenere is of course a grape, formerly used in Bordeaux blends along with better known varieties, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot -- and incidentally, note how often all those grapes show up in this collection, too. Carmenere was gradually "phased out of Bordeaux winemaking in the 20th century," according to the New Wine Lover's Companion, but has been eagerly taken up in Chile, as malbec has been taken up in Argentina.
The next four, heavy on the syrah, were:
2006 Maquis Lien, Colchagua Valley (a blend of syrah, carmenere, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec)
2008 Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol, Colchagua Valley (syrah, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, carmenere)
2007 Emiliana Coyam, Colchagua Valley (syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, merlot, petit verdot, mourvedre) -- this is the one that slipped out of the freezer where it was chilling atop its fellows, crashed to the floor, and broke in one of those slow-motion kitchen tragedies that you can see but not prevent. It smelled good.
2007 Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Selection Family Reserve, Casablanca Valley (syrah, merlot, pinot noir)
Above we find more secondary or marketing names, or simply explanatory ones. (Maybe this would be a good time to recommend that Wines of Chile take a page from WineSur's book, and start telling their "Wine Stories" in 100 words or less.) Maquis' "Lien," for example, has a reason for the silver lizard on its label. For its part, Hacienda Araucano's "Clos de Lolol" comes from the Lolol Valley; Casas del Bosque's "Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve" amounts to a string of English words that even I can understand.
As carmenere repeats in the first list, so Colchagua repeats throughout. The Colchagua Valley lies just about in the exact center of the long strip of land that is Chile, sited as it were only a little to the left, towards the Pacific. It happens to be the source not only of five of these eight wines but of a number of others which we see fairly often on liquor store shelves. Casa LaPostolle, Santa Helena, Cono Sur, and Terra Andina all come from Colchagua. Other commonly seen place names on Chilean labels are Maipo Valley (Concha Y Toro comes from here) and Casablanca Valley (William Cole, Casablanca) in the north, and Bio Bio Valley in the south. Remember if your bottle says Mendoza, it's from Argentina. In that case, think WineSur.
And how did everything taste?
Very good, but to answer any more keenly, I feel obliged to circle back to preliminaries. Of course I scribbled hasty notes Wednesday night, and looked at other bloggers' comments streaming live as I poured, swirled, sniffed and sipped, listened to the live comments from Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, and enjoyed the wine-and-mushroom risotto made from the recipe supplied in the tasting kit. But really -- reactions like "silky," "potato peel," "needs a creamy meal," "hot, cedar," or "getting some eucalyptus now," do not the slightest justice to the wines or to their makers.
I could tell then, and can attest now, only that everything I tried was a classy, complex, and probably strongly masculine offering from a winemaker (pick one) who served a decades-long, roving apprenticeship all over the world before settling in Chile to farm. To take one example, Maquis "Lien" of the silver lizard comes from vineyards managed by "world renowned viticulture consultant Xavier Chone," who numbers among past clients Opus One, Cheval Blanc, and Domaine de la Romanee Conti. That's all.
I can also tell that these wines were beautifully made enough to start out perhaps a bit odorless and ungiving, tasting more like the sum of their parts, green peppery and tannic and acidic, than like wholes. In time, though, all were beautifully made enough to knit themselves together, and become something different from what they had been when first poured out and hastily if eagerly sampled. "Softness," fruitiness, caramel, cedar, chocolate, and "pepperiness" regularly entered my secondary scribbles, along with quick musings on the meals -- grander and grander, I envisioned -- they deserved. I must say "hot" was there all the time too, since for most of them, alcohol levels topped 14 per cent easily. The one I lost was 15 per cent.
It's this opening up and changing in the glass that commonplace wines do not do and are not intended to do. We recall that previous generations understood wines simply as "noble" or "common," exactly as they understood human beings as noble or common, though that part of the equation now offends us. Are there people who are finished growing up at sixteen or seventeen, and really don't go much further? It sounds so judgmental. Are there wines like that? Clearly, yes. Anyway it was as the simple realization dawned, these are surely very good, that I returned to preliminaries, to the technical information and biographies included in the tasting kit, and read about apprenticeships and consultancies in Napa or at Romanee Conti. And marveled, oh -- is that all.
One more small help to my comprehension of these wines' quality was the risotto recipe mentioned above. It's a creation of one Camila Moreno of Puro Chile, a New York based company and retail store which promotes Chilean products, culture, and tourism. (Wines of Chile is a member.) The dish is a rich one, calling for chicken stock, onion, red wine, olive oil, butter, wild mushrooms, shallot, Parmesan cheese, cilantro, and a full teaspoon of the smoky-peppery Chilean spice called merquen or merken. I made it, enjoyed it, and thought, what kind of wines do they think will be flattered by all this? Surely very good, complex wines will be, noble, masculine, and -- what did I manage to scribble, by the time we reached number 8? -- "mysterious -- all one." Not much help to someone else's perceptions, true, but then the same handful of fruit basket metaphors are not much help either. And, true, Casas del Bosque's Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve having an SRP (suggested retail price) of about $50 did help add to impressions of nobility.
Now one more small thing. About merken. In the rush of getting ready to shop, cook, chill the wine, open it all, log on, plus clean up Number 7, I had failed to observe the two little packages wrapped in white tissue and tied with green ribbon, nestled all this time at the bottom of the shipping box. I had already done a bit of quick research into "merquen" or "merken," however -- you may know the word has a very unappetizing definition in the Urban Dictionary -- and so by a combination of a little cayenne, cumin, coriander, paprika, and salt, was able to reproduce, I hope, a fair translation of the spice's smoked hot pepper flavor.
Then, the next day, I found those two little packages. And a corkscrew, mind you. So generous. And what should be wrapped in tissue and dressed in green ribbon? A bottle of Frantoio 1492 Chilean olive oil, and a jar of Etnia merquen. So now I have them. So generous.