The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2017

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august 2017  /  the tasting panel  /  35 each small house has a garden filled with fruit trees, chickens and old vines. Vineyards are measured by vines rather than hectares, and everything is done by hand or with the occasional help of a donkey. "These Malbec vines are 140 to 300 years old," says winemaker Juan Ledesma as he shows me around San Rosendo, Itata. "The patrimonial importance lies in their isolation and astonishing diversity." Wine tasting is a wholeheartedly rural affair. Tasting at the home of local grower Don Tito, every neighbor joins in, bringing bottles from their own garage stashes. Field blends of Pais, Malbec, Cinsault and Carignan crowd the table. The bottles are almost indistinct, but the fla- vors inside couldn't be more individual. The fruit of each vineyard reflects two centuries of singularity, and each wine has its own nuance of earthy aromas and distinctive textures. The ancient wine culture is shared with a new one of fearless innovation. Less than 30 years ago, Chile's wine regions were restricted to the Central Valleys—safely nestled between the frosty heights of the Andes mountains on the east and the tempestuous Pacific Ocean on the west. Further isolated by the Atacama Desert bordering the north and Patagonia culminating in the south, Chile's Central Valleys are an oasis like no other: protected from foreign blights like phylloxera, and with a warm, Mediterranean climate that cultivates the fruit bowl of Chile and an almost effortless wine country where soft, fleshy wines abound. Today, Chile offers many more dimensions: The wine country now spans more than 1,000 miles, with a cornucopia of climates and soils. "Chile doesn't get the representation it deserves," sommelier Jaime Smith reflects. "With that comes a greater understanding that Chile is an amazing untapped wilderness of terroir and delicious flavors." Ever since Pablo Morande first planted in Casablanca in the '80s, Chilean winemakers have been edging their way closer to the cooling effect of Humboldt Current. Chile's most coastal vineyard is Casa Marin—barely two miles from the sea—whose cool climate produces stellar Sauvignon Blanc but also thrilling Syrah: lean and peppery, with tension. Coastal Limarí is home to some of Chile's most compelling Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, each characteristic of the cool, limestone soils. Further north, Tara's coastal vineyard on the edge of the Atacama Desert offers a bright, floral Syrah with a saline edge. Accompanied by climate change and technological advance- ments, winemakers have been able to push boundaries even further south to the slopes of Osorno Volcano and down to the shores of glacial lakes in Chile Chico and Peumo. The speed at which Chile's wine landscape is changing is unparalleled. After decades of appeasing the market, today winemakers are taking matters into their own hands—they are making the wines they want, where they want, how they want. Far from being whimsical or imprudent, the new wines display a maturity and greater finesse than ever before. "The Chileans are delivering on quality, terroir-driven wine, but I think we have a long way to go on our end," says sommelier Paul Grieco, who is proud to have a proverbial 'ton' of Chilean wines in his Terroir bars in New York, but still feels the market is playing catchup. "The pot is boiling over in Chile." One of the most seismically active countries on the planet, Chile has a wine scene that is also at the brink of explosion. De Martino 2015 Viejas Tinajas Muscat, Itata ($33) Made in old ampho- rae with old-vine Muscat in Itata, this orange wine is pure exuberance; heady floral notes combine with honey, citrus zest and a structured mid-palate. BROADBENT SELECTIONS Leonardo Erazo 2016 La Resistencia Pais ($25) Low-yielding old vines make this ethereal Pais; light in color, floral and fresh in character, with a subtle and elegant style. A Grand Cru of Itata. SEEKING U.S. IMPORTER Miguel Torres 2013 Escaleras de Empedrado Pinot Noir, Empedrado ($100) There are several super-premium Pinots emerging from Chile, and this is one of the best; terraced, schist vineyards in Maule offer notes of red cherry, underbrush and graphite. STE. MICHELLE WINE ESTATES Undurraga 2013 Terroir Hunter Syrah, Limarí ($25) From Undurraga's excel- lent single-vineyard series comes this aromatic, intense and spicy Syrah with bracing acidity from Limarí's coastal limestone vineyard. NO LONGER IMPORTED BUT STILL IN DISTRIBUTION De Martino winemaker Marcelo Retamal with his recycled tinajas, often used for fermenting or aging wine. The new Torres vineyards on the schist slopes of Empedrado.

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