15 Dec 2011

My timing is off... (Curico, Maule and Cachapoal Valleys, Chile)

When I was planning my trip, calculating where I wanted to go and how long to spend there, I was generally looking at maps in the World Atlas of Wine, and plotting a course. The dates I put into my itinerary would often have little relevance, apart from being in regions during the week (to try to meet with winemakers/owners), and weekends in cities. This meant I wasn't taking into account any public holidays in each individual country, and have come up against some complications. There is a national holiday that is celebrated in many South American countries on the 8th of December, to commemorate the Virgin Mary. As it fell on a Thursday this year many people didn't work on the Friday and took a four-day weekend. So partly for this reason, I had no appointments for four days. This put a bit of a crimp on my travels, so all I could really do was drive through the regions.

The first region I drove through was the Curico Valley, south of Colchagua. It is technically part of the Maule Valley, but from my perspective I found it indistinct from Colchagua; very flat and very warm. I called into the Valdivieso winery in the hopes of catching up with New Zealand winemaker Brett Jackson, but unfortunately he was busy all day. The following day I drove around parts of the Maule region, which had some interesting elevation towards the coast. I attempted to find the J. Bouchon winery but missed a turn and had to go back to Talca as I was running low on fuel. The third region I drove through was Cachapoal, which is a little further North than Colchagua and closer to the Andes. Again, there didn't seem to be huge difference between this and other regions nearby. A dropped past Casa Silva and also Altair in the hopes of at least having a look, and that's all I got from outside the gate. It was a shame

I was lucky that one winery was open in Cachapoal, which was Anakena. A recent development by a wealthy individual (who owns Lider supermarkets), it is a gorgeous estate that looks up at the Andes mountains. There are several ranges of wines produced here, all very good value (a running theme in Chile). Fruit is sourced from several vineyards in different regions, designed to be the best for each variety. The wine that blew me away the most was the Single Vineytard Viogner 2009, which had enough age to be complex and textured, yet fresh and retaining fruit. I bought a bottle, as it was on special, and enjoyed it with a fellow Australian that evening back in the hostel in Santiago.

I was lucky to get the chance to meet with Julio Bouchon Jnr. when I was back in Santiago, to talk about the winery and taste a few wines. Although there is significant land dedicated to wine in the Maule (it produces more fruit than any other region), there are few wineries located there, and even fewer premium ones. Julio Bouchon, after spending many years in Cachapoal at Casa Silva and studying in Bordeaux, found a place in the Maule Valley which had immense potential to make premium wines, and thus J. Bouchon was born in the late '70s. Modernisation was the key objective, particularly as the Maule was a much more traditional region than others in Chile. Taking a lot of the collected knowledge of viticulture and winemaking from places like Australia, they designed a modern winery and vineyard system. J. Bouchon were actually one of the first modern wineries in Chile, as most of them didn't modernise until the late '80s. Julio Bouchon is an icon of wine in Chile, and he seemed lovely when I met him briefly.

At the entry level there is the Reserva range, which retails for US$10. The Sauvignon Blanc 2011 in this range was very fruity and tropically fresh, showing nice pineapple and peach notes. In spite of the fruitiness and alcohol (13.5%), it had very good acidity. It was exactly what you’d hope for an SB at $10. The Carmenere Syrah 2010 blend, was also very good, an interesting spice combination between the varieties. Good structure and volume, this is more of a food wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 on the other hand was a little disappointing, as it was too soft and mellow, seeming more like a simple merlot. The Reserva Especial Malbec 2009 was a very good, clean and approachable wine, albeit somewhat aromatically challenged. Not having a huge amount of experience with the variety on its own (soon to be rectified in Mendoza), I was unsure of what the wine was trying to be. The Las Mercedes Ensamblaje 2008 was wonderful, a blend of 25% cabernet sauvignon, 30% syrah and 25% malbec. It had some very complex tar, toffee and banana skin notes on the nose, with rich layers of mocha and blackcurrants on the palate. It had good depth and concentration, without too much weight or alcohol.

Click here to see a few more photos from the Cachapoal Valley

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