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Friday, 9 March 2012

Two Wines from Chile's Caliterra‏

To celebrate the purchase of a company decanter, I decided to open up two wines from Chile's Caliterra and sample them with colleagues as part of our now-regular Thursday Wine Club.

According to its website, Caliterra was established in 1996 as a partnership between the Robert G. Mondavi family and Viña Errázuriz, whilst in early 2004 Viña Errázuriz acquired the Robert Mondavi family’s 50% share.

To me, Chile is perhaps the most exciting new kid on the oenological block with a wide range of terroirs and microclimates plus the benefits of altitude giving long growing seasons and ripe yet complex wines.

Add to this vines grown on original rootstocks (no Phylloxera here) and it's easy to see why it has been said of Chile that it has things just too easy.

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Leyda, Chile, £10.99

Sauvignon is perhaps Chile's signature white grape, different from steely Loire, lush tropical kiwi versions and fuller white Bordeaux.

Straw yellow in the glass, even straight out of the bottle the nose shows lots of herbaceous, aromatic cut grass, zingy gooseberry and nettley aromas underpinned by minerally wet stones.

The palate is full, weighty, rounded and minerally with good, grapefruit acidity and a fleeting touch of flintsmoke, whilst the finish is long, persistent and minerally with more pungent, green aromatics.

With lots of classic, almost textbook Sauvignon varietal character, this is a very well-made wine - aromatic, weighty, balanced and complex yet drinkable.

And whilst unmistakeably a Sauvignon, it is very different from the traditional styles of the Loire, Bordeaux or Marlborough. The nearest equivalent I can think of for this is Styria in southern Austria which shares Chile's modern techniques, stainless steel fermentation and altitude to give aromatic yet weighty wines.

£11 may seem like a lot for a Chilean white, but as a colleague commented - at this price, I'd be unlikely to choose this one off the shelf, but having tasted it, it actually is worth it.

Match with goat's cheese, meaty white fish such as sea bass or monkfish in a herb broth or either pasta or mozzarella with pesto.

Stockists: Leamington Wine Company, Ann et Vin, Bacchus et Al, Eagle Wines, Gwin Llyn Wines, Partridges of Sloane Street, Peake Wine Associates.

Caliterra Tributo "Edicion Limitada" Carménère / Malbec 2009, Colchagua, Chile - £14.99

Carménère, originating in Bordeaux and long thought to be Merlot, has become Chile's signature red wine grape and is, to me, Merlot's darker, artier brother.

By contrast, Malbec, also originally from Bordeaux but via Cahors, is the problem child who finally made good as a blue-collar Argentinian gaucho with a spicy, rustic charm.

Put them together and, with lots of southern hemisphere sunshine, you have Johnny Depp and Bruce Springsteen singing a Mötley Crüe cover.

Even on pouring this into the new Company Decanter before our weekly catch-up, there are lots of ripe fruit aromas - after about half an hour of updates and an assessment of the Sauvignon, we moved onto this wine.

Dark purple in the glass, it has a complex nose of ripe dark berry and bramble fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and dark spices.

On the palate, it shows intense, ripe fruit of black cherries and elderberries with good grip and a soft, velvety texture.

With juicy acidity, it feels ripe and warming, with a long, persistent and perfumey finish.

With more aeration and attention, I can pick out the different elements - there are hints of coffee and soy from the Carménère, whilst the Malbec provides leathery spice and liquorice.

On the nose, hints of sour cherry and undergrowth also develop, whilst the palate shows touches of mintiness.

The tannins are ripe and rounded and only the sticklers among us would note that they have an ever so slightly drying element on the finish.

Food matches are somewhat tricky for this wine - the fruit and spice of the Malbec demands a steak or something barbecued, whilst the more subtle aromas of the Carménère would match well with duck rillettes.

With 14.5% alcohol, this is definitely one for fans of international-style Big Reds with lots of ripe fruit and spice; a colleague whose palate I am learning is very European and classical found this just too big and heavy for her tastes. Another did not like the liquorice aromas in the wine, saying liquorice just isn't his thing.

However, in general, most people responded very positively to this with "Ooh, that's nice" at the first sniff.

Stockists: Cheers Wine Merchants, Taylors Fine Wine, Hailsham Cellars, slurp.co.uk.

I originally set up Wine Club as an opportunity for colleagues to get a little wine education, but it seems over time to have turned more into a social event - even if we do observe a few basic rules, such as using proper tasting glasses, extensive sniffing and at least some consideration of the wine's qualities before moving on to discuss weddings and holidays (true for the ladies, at least).

And that's probably right - wine is a social beverage, a maker of occasions and whilst geeky bloggers may enjoy the analytical process of subjecting a wine to scrutiny, a wine-club with a humourless, po-faced, overly serious approach to tasting has only a limited future.

Both wines provided for review.


Caliterra - http://caliterra.com/

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