One of the greatest things about being a wine writer is how I travel all over the world every week! Last Tuesday I went to South America to taste some delicious Chilean wines. After a good night's sleep back home in New York, the very next day I was back in Chile and even had time to stop by Argentina! How is this possible, you are asking, considering the 11 hour flight? Well, as you may have already guessed, what I am really doing every week is traveling in my imagination. When I taste superb wines from all over the globe, expecially while conversing with someone from the winery, I always find myself imagining what it would be like to be there. Of course I also do the real thing several times each year: traveling to vineyards to taste the wines and meet the people who make them. Those on-site explorations help me to get a full understanding of the wine and its nuances. The sunlight, the air, the water, the scent of the earth, the vegetation, the valleys, hills and mountains, the people, the food they eat -- experiencing all of this first-hand gives a deep understanding of the wine being made there. Unfortunately it is not possible to travel around the globe every single week. That's when my curiosity and imagination come in handy and, in my mind anyways, I have traveled far and wide.
Last week my trip to Chile started at a wonderful restaurant, Maysville, on West 26th Street in Manhattan. I was invited to a winemaker's lunch and I was very interested in meeting the New Zealand-born winemaker who is now producing wines in Chile at the Valdivieso Winery. I met some really nice people, had a delicious lunch, tasted some wonderful wines and felt like I had spent an afternoon in Chile.
Valdivieso dates back to 1879 when "Champagne Valdivieso" was founded as the first sparkling wine house in Chile. Back then there were no laws prohibiting the use of the word Champagne for wines outside of Champagne, France. Not long after that, the company also began making table wines and today half of their production is sparkling wine and the other half still wine. The winery produces wine from all the major appellations of Chile where there are many different climates and soils as you move East to West from the Andes Mountain range to the Pacific Ocean. Valdivieso makes many types of wine, both white and red, from simple, entry level ones to the higher end, more complex ones I tasted. Some of their wines come from warmer areas suitable to make soft Chilean reds while other wines come from cooler areas and make wines similar to an Old World style, more linear and with sharper acidity.
The Chief Winemaker
Brett Jackson is originally from New Zealand and at the age of 17 got the "bug for wine". Soon after, he began studying horticulture and then oenology. His experience making wine was first in Napa Valley then South Africa and the South of France until he landed in Chile 22 years ago. Since his arrival, Chile has been undergoing a gradual increase in the quality of winemaking and Jackson is a part of the movement to produce wines that are a true expression of their origin.
Lunch With The Winemaker
We started out the lunch with a beautiful Blanc de Blancs (100% chardonnay) sparkling wine ($25) from their Leyda Valley vineyards which are close to the ocean and made in the traditional method. It has mesmerizing aromas of brioche, apricot and other stone fruits.. This wine spends two years on its lees, giving it a rich texture and many layers of flavor with tiny, fine bubbles and a long finish of flavor on the palate.
The next wine we tasted was the Single Vineyard Chardonnay from 2013 ($25), also from grapes grown in the Leyda Valley. This fragrant white wine was very fresh and lively, reminiscent of a good Burgundy. The wine spends 9 months in French barrels (only 15% new oak) resulting in a wine with great complexity and balance. Paired with fried oysters topped with a pickle slice and smoked oysters with a spicy mignonette, it was a perfect combination. The bright acidity in the wine was a fabulous counterpart to the richness of the oysters and a complement to the tart pickle and vinegar flavors.
The next course I had was Arctic Char, slow roasted and served with cucumbers and a dill-yogurt sauce. The wine I tasted with it was the Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, 2013. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and fragrant. I loved how this fruity, yet savory and earthy wine was such a great pairing with the slightly smoky fish, a great value at $25 for such a complex wine. I even noted how I could smell cucumbers in the wine! Maybe it was just coming from the dish, but it really seemed to become a part of the wine too!
The last two wines were from the Caballo Loco ("crazy goat") line, The 2013 Grand Cru ($35) is a blend of 60% Carmenere and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is the most New World style with lots of bold "in your face" fruit flavors whereas the Caballo Loco Number 16 ($70) is a step up in complexity and elegance with more structure and a spicier edge. This unusual, non-vintage wine made is made in a style similar to Sherry with some of each new vintage blended with several past vintages kept behind in barrels. It has 20 different vintages in it yet was still very fresh! Unfortunately I was finished with my meal but I would've paired these big red wines with any type of meats, from roast pork shoulder to a big juicy rib eye steak.
Great Wines of The Andes Tasting
On my return "trip" to South America the next day, I ran into Brett at an Andes tasting at City Winery. The wines being poured had all been awarded 90+ points by the wine critic James Suckling. The event showcased the best wines from Chile and Argentina and Brett was pouring the Valdivieso Carignan Valle de Maule Eclat Vigno 2010 (awarded 93 points) and I found it to be a delicious, full-bodied wine with lots of herbal, savory flavors, and a bright acidity with intense, complex, fruit.
My trip to South America and the Valdivieso winery was an incredible experience of taste sensations and I can't wait to go back, in my imagination and also in person!! Cheers!
The Wine Chef