Blakes Blog Chile it may be, but it’s certainly not cold..

It has been a long held belief that while Chile is considered a major player in the wine world Argentina is still seen as the “Sleeping Giant”.

 

In January I was lucky enough to have been invited to discover these two beautiful countries for myself. While it may be something of a trek…Limerick – Dublin – Paris – Santiago and some fifteen hours in planes…..it’s certainly worth it.
Santiago de Chile enjoys a spectacular setting: sprawled across the fertile Santiago valley, 100km (62 miles) from the Pacific coast, the city is dominated by the mighty Andes to the east and a smaller coastal mountain range to the west. Santiago is a quirky, vibrant City not to missed as a great starting point to exploring Chile.
As an invited guest of the Carmen Wine Group I was given a unique “Tasting” opportunity and complete access, along with invaluable local knowledge, by highly respected winegrowers, who between them, produce household names such as Carmen, Santa Rita, Terra Andina and the rising star of Argentina Dona Paula.
Tuesday dawned and the expectation of visiting the Leyda Valley was only overshadowded by the impending visit to Valpariso and later Casablanca Valley, producers of some the finest wines in Chile. A set of regional appellations was put in place but due to the speedy rate of development in Chile, they are likely to be changed and updated in the coming years. The current appellation system covers five regions North to South you have Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Central Valley and Southern Region. The principal grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere (aka Vidure), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
What can I say about Atacama? I hope the Chilean wine industry will forgive me, but this region which, in some parts, never see any rainfall, is one of the most unforgiving arid places in Chile and struggles to produce even the most modest table wine.
Coquimbo may be further south than Atacama, but it is still only producing slightly better table wine that Atacama and in fact I think that there is only one registered vineyard in the region. While the terrain may be suitable on paper for wine growing it needs a huge investment in irrigation and a grower with nerves of steel.
Aconcagua lies north of Santiago and has two major regions Aconcagua Valley and Casablanca Valley. The Aconcagua Valley produces mostly table wine but has also produced some outstanding reds. The Casablanca Valley has the edge on producing white grape varieties. With soil and temperatures combining with expert viticulture pedigree, Casablanca produces some extraordinary Chardonnay’s, Sauvignon’s and to a lesser degree Gewürztraminer.
The Central Valley region is perhaps the “Backbone” of the Chilean wine industry. The central region is home to several smaller valleys and are named after local rivers such as Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule. The Maipo Valley is perhaps the most internationally renowned of the region with big players like Santa Rita producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvingon followed closely by Chardonnay, Merlot and even Pinot Noir emerging. Semillon is the latest grape to be given the Chilean treatment. The Maipo Valley is said to be one of the most exceptional grape growing regions in the world.
The Rapel Valley with its warm, sunny summers and cool nights along with only moderate rainfall in winter combine with the purity of the water irrigated from the Los Cristales dam is a haven for wine growers, the upsurge in boutique wineries producing top class wines is a testament to that fact.
The Curico Valley has developed a reputation for first class whites including Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Not to be outdone the region also produced some fine reds, excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Pinot Noir and Merlot to name but a few.
The Maule Valley has seen some pioneering work in recent years and while they produce some very acceptable whites their forte is red especially Merlot.
The Southern Region is not only the other end of the scale in physical terms but in climate also. The region is open to rain, wind and even frost and so only a few hardy and brave growers have put their might into producing a handful of quality wines.
Argentina beckoned on Wednesday and after a quick flight I was in, the even sunnier climes, of this unique country. Before heading off to the Dona Paula El Alto Vineyard I had some time to drink in the sights and sounds of Argentina with its gorgeous landscapes, cosmopolitan cities and lively culture, Argentina is a traveler’s paradise. It stretches almost 3500km from Bolivia to the tip of South America, encompasses a wide array of geography and climates. The principal grape varieties grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes and the most influential Malbec.
Salta is one of Argentina’s most northly wine producing regions and at 6,500 feet above sea level, the highest. The slow ripening cycle of this microclimate allows development of concentrated varietal character in grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Malbec.
I can say without hesitation that although there are other wine producing regions such as La Rioja, San Juan, Rio Negro and Neuquen, Mendoza is probably the first name to sprint to mind when anyone thinks of Argentina and wine.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but with the Andes looking over my shoulder and the knowledge that this region produces 95% of Argentina’s export you get the feeling that you are cocooned in cradle of wine growers, producers and experts who live for wine and it shows. You also get a hint of Italian ancestry in the industry, with many descended from Italian wine immigrants who brought with them the roots to this very robust wine producing country.
The vineyard at Dona Paula reflect this and much more. I tasted the Dona Paula Estate and Los Cardos range. Each in their way outstanding and I have to say they deserve the hype that surrounds them. Look out in store and online for Dona Paula & Carmen ranges these exiting wines will be available over the next few weeks.

 

Carmen Discovery Sauvignon Blanc. Bright greenish in colour, the nose is clean and fresh with green capsicum, asparagus and a fine combination of lime and grapefruit. The wine on the mouth starts crispy and vibrant becoming rich and juicy in the mid palate. €7.99
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Carmen Discovery Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright ruby in colour with red fruit aromas like strawberry, cassis and blackberries mingled with menthol and spicy notes stand out. Good structure, fresh medium body and ripe soft tannins. €7.99
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Carmen Reserva Chardonnay has intense aromas of green watermelon, prickly pear, and pear backed by an alluring sweet toast. It has good weight with juicy and lively acidity. €8.99
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Carmen Reserva Sauvignon Blanc. Attractive herb and tomato leaf with intense lime, grapefruit and passion fruit notes. Crisp and refreshing on the palate. €8.99
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Carmen Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. Concentrated red wine with a solid core of blackcurrant, cherry and white spicy eucalyptus and mocha flavours. Nice bodied, deep vibrant and with a long finish. €8.99
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Dona Paula Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc is fresh attractive and vigorous with aromas of yellow grapefruit, lime and passion fruit that are well integrated with gooseberry and herbal notes. €7.99
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Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec presents a typical violet red colour. Its aromas of fresh red and black fruits, berries, spices and cigar box announce a smooth and round wine in the mouth. €7.99
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Dona Paula Los Cardos Chardonnay shows a golden colour with green hues. Its aromas of tropical fruits, pineapple, banana and pear combine with fresh citrus notes. On the palate, balanced acidity and white peach notes give a persistent finish. €7.99
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Dona Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon is an intense red colour. Ripe, red fruit can be found along with the complexity provided by mint notes and cassis. In the mouth, it has great body and an interesting tannic structure. It has a long lingering finish. €7.99
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