Errazuriz' Eduardo Chadwick makes a point, as export manager Diego Solari listens, Tim Pawsey photo

Another Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival done! But what an action packed week, with an amazing array of events, most of which went off without a hitch. Kudos to the tireless Playhouse team, to the legion of unsung volunteers who make this thing work, and especially to Wines of Chile, for truly raising the bar on the theme region.

One thing’s for sure. What we wrote in last week’s North Shore News is more relevant than ever

“… When it comes to selecting who can exhibit (a process that takes the best part of a year—full disclosure: we’re on the selection committee), the Playhouse has stringent requirements.

You can’t just send your wine to Vancouver and have someone else pour it. Organizers are adamant that a principal must attend. And it’s that fundamental single-mindedness of the desire to connect the family owner/ principal/winemaker (or other key individual) directly with the consumer that sets the festival apart….”

Last week we had serious face time with an entire cast of Chileans—surely among the most warm and generous folk on earth—includingChilean luminaries such as Aurelio Montes, Eduardo Chadwick and Alvaro Espinoza.

Some of that time came courtesy of a novel tasting on Friday: Chile’s Diversity.

Instead of sitting looking at a dozen wine glasses and listening to ‘talking heads’ for 90 minutes this event was staged ‘speed-dating style.’ We got to move around the room in small groups of four or five, visiting (for just seven minutes) with each winemaker—in a roomful of luminaries. Top critic and Wine Access editor in chief Anthony Gismondi (Gismondionwine.com) put the event together—and it works really well. It’s a format we’ve both encountered a few times in the last couple of years—and you really do get a chance to chat with the people behind the wine.

If the goal of this tasting was to impress upon everyone not only the remarkable variety of wines Chile produces but also just how far the country has come in the last, say, 10 years, then it more than succeeded.

We’re not going to list every wine here (although they’re all worthy) but It was a lineup that also effectively emphasized Chile’s solid commitment to sustainable and biodynamic viticulture. While a few of the pours truly qualify as ‘icon’ wines and are priced accordingly, several are relatively inexpensive.

Here’s a few of our picks, based on how they represent Chile’s changing scene, availability and affordability…

Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Aconcagua Costa)

...very maritime influenced

A distinctly different style of Sauvignon Blanc from Errazuriz’ newer plantings just 12 km. from the coast. Eduardo Chadwick says the shiste soils are ideal for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—and this wine certainly bears that out: A very expressive nose, unique in its tropical tones, as well as herbaceous and asparagus notes. The quite complex palate that combines tropical, grassy and ripe fruit elements is the result of blending fruit from cooler and warmer facing slopes, he says. A big hit at the Trade Days lunch. Available at Everything Wine $19.99 and some other PWS.

(An aside, few audiences are tougher than the Wine Festival Trade Days lunch crowd, which is usually so pumped for the week they can barely hear themselves think, let alone listen to someone speak for a few minutes. In fact, they haven’t listened to anyone in  years—until now. Not a peep when Eduardo Chadwick spoke. And that in itself speaks volumes.)

 

Undurraga TH Carignan 2009 (Maule)

T.H.: We get a kick out of the label, one of Chile's more edgy designs

This wine popped up quite a bit last week, starting with Tuesday’s Gala Dinner at Hotel Vancouver. TH stands for ‘Terroir Hunter’ and in many ways the label reflects what’s happening in Chile at large, in a project that explores different terroirs and varieties. We like the red berry and gently earthy notes, not to mention its focused fruit and length.  It was at the BCLS festival store only ($29.99)—though hopefully we’ll see it here regularly in a few months time.

 

 

Montes Alpha M 07 (Colchagua)

Alpha M 05 and 06 were delicious matches with West's black truffle glazed duck breast, TP photo

Aurelio Montes says this wine owes its complexity to the sum of its parts, and, specifically, where they’re planted, in Apalta. Cab Sauv (80%), which brings the main character of intense black fruit, some cassis with red berry background and a hint of mint, comes from the lower slope, while the Cab Franc (10%), that brings measured structure to the mid palate, comes from the higher, more granite slope. Merlot (5%) is ‘feminine’, while Petit Verdot (5%) is the ‘wild child’ that brings tannin, acid and colour, but also makes up the skeleton of the wine. The result, says Montes, is a wine that enjoys the “elegance of Bordeaux but the approachability of the new world.” Available BCLS $86.99

(Both Alpha M 05 and 06 proved stellar matches with West chef Quang Dang’s black truffle glazed Yarrow Meadows duck breast.)

 

Emiliana Coyam 07 (Colchagua)

Alvaro Espinoza, one of Chile's most experienced biodynamic proponents

Emiliana’s Alvaro Espinoza is arguably the most passionate and more experienced of Chile’s biodynamic winemakers. Interestingly, he says when he joined the winery to implement its organic program, 12 years ago, it was more about protecting the workers and doing away with pesticides than anything to do with the wine. (He already had his own biodynamic vineyards.)

Today he oversees 1000 hectares of certfied biodynamic vineyards in four valleys. “In Coyam, we wanted to make our flagship wine showing what this new type of agriculture can do; we didn’t want to make just another (excellent) Syrah (37%) or Carmenere but a wine that relates more to place than variety.” The principal grape is Syrah (37%) but also Carmenere (21%), with Cab Sauv (21%), Merlot (17%), Petit Verdot (4%) and Mouvedre (2%). Wild yeast fermented. Layered, complex red berries, plum and spice notes wrapped in supple tannins before a lengthy, still vibrant close.

Ventisquero Pangea Syrah 2007 (Colchagua)

There’s lots of chatter about Syrah being Chile’s Next Big Thing—and this wine would certainly bear that out. Higher altitude, mainly terrace grown in Colchagua’s Apalta, very varietally true, with complex layers of meaty-gamey notes, bursting with red berries and mineral hints. Aged 20 months in French oak and cellared at the winery for two years pre-release. Chief winemaker Felipe Tosso says 07 was a classic year—and this wine shows it. Hard to believe the vines are only 10 years old. Organically farmed, although not certified.

 

Chono Syrah 2009 (Elqui)

This was among our top festival ‘value’ finds. (It also showed remarkably well at Syrah, The Next Star Grape beside some pretty heavy hitters.) Earthy mulberry top, dark fruit palate with some pepper and mineral notes wrapped in juicy acidity, thanks to the cool climate setting. Good structure but also very supple. Interesting to learn that Elqui has only been producing since 2000. Chono’s Sergio Reyes suggests Syrah could become the valley’s signature grape. And we’d agree. At BCLS $19.99 it’s The Deal. Though (for the moment) you might have to go to Salmon Arm, BC to find any.

 

Anakena Single Vineyard Viognier 2010 (Rapel)

We’re already all over this one. It made Belly Belly’s Budget Best in the North Shore News: “Classic apricot and floral notes with a generous, clean palate and a lengthy end. Think grilled chicken with apple and tangerine salad. Chilean value personified. BCLS $15.96″

 

Ocio Pinot Noir 09 (Casablanca)

(Also Previously reviewed, NSN): “Defenders of Burgundy may scoff at the notion of a $65 Chilean Pinot, but this drop could easily hold its own with a couple of similarly priced wines from both old and new world. This reminds us of some savoury toned New Zealand Martinborough wines, with a purity of focused fruit and measured, approachable tannins. Made in a dedicated winery within Cono Sur, it’s another example of how that winery delivers ‘QPR’ at every level. Available, BCLS $64.99”

 

During and since the festival, we had more than a couple of former Chile skeptics come up and tell us how impressed they were with the changes that have taken place in Chile over the last few years. And, we have no doubt, that as new plantings in regions such as Elqui, Leyda—and even far to the south in Bio Bio—continue to mature, Chile will continue to suprise and impress.

Much more to come …