At a recent dinner with Felipe Tosso, Chief Winemaker at Ventisquero, we started with the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva from Casablanca Valley. The wine had the typical savory and citrusy aromatics and crisp acidity of Sauvignon Blanc without overwhelming the palate. Tosso calls 2013 “his coolest vintage ever” and he has been making wine in Chile for over 20 years.
Ventisquero is a Chilean winery that started production in 2000. Felipe Tosso comes with a winemaking experience of many regions both in the Old World and the New, having spent most of his time at Concha y Toro again in Chile. John Duval, one of the previous winemakers for the legendary Penfolds Grange also works with the team at Ventisquero on a few of the projects.
At our meeting, next came the 2011 Grey Pinot Noir from Leyda Valley. This wine retails at about $20 and I was pleasantly surprised by its forest floor, damp earth aromas combined with its ample ripe red berry fruit. It had a Burgundian note without giving up on the new world fruit. At that price range there are too many New World Pinot Noirs that either show overly ripe, candied fruit or are simply too dilute. Grey Pinot Noir showed a beautiful balance with its fruit and structure.
Leyda Valley, where the Grey Pinot Noir comes from, is a cool climate area of Chile due to its coastal location. Tosso explained that the mesoclimate “changes a little bit for every 4-5 miles of distance from the ocean,” with the coolest areas being the ones closest to the ocean.
As many readers are probably aware, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre varieties are often blended together, originally in the Rhone Valley and now in many locations of the world, including Australia. Tosso makes a GCM blend, replacing Syrah with Carignan. We tasted Ventisquero’s 2012 Grey GCM from the Apalta region of Colchagua Valley. GCM displayed the roasted strawberry fruit of Grenache and the spiciness of Mourvedre and had an elegant finish. As the rest of the Grey line, the GCM also retails at around $20.
For the Grey GCM they use small (1-2 ton) open top fermenters and employ manual punch downs to submerge the cap. The post-fermentation maceration is short (2-3 days) which probably contributes to the elegant texture of this wine. No new oak but only 100% French old oak barrels are used.
Then came the 2010 Grey Carménère from Maipo Valley. I find that some Chilean Carménères struggle to find the balance between their dark weedy, coffee notes and their blackberry, black cherry notes, the former being sometimes too dominant. This one was clean and had well-defined, focused fruit and a freshness in the finish. For this vintage, Tosso added 4% of Petit Verdot, a variety that makes itself apparent with its spicy aromas even in small amounts. At around $20 retail, it is not the cheapest (nor the most expensive) Carménère you can find, but it is well-worth the extra few bucks.
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon with plenty of lush blackcurrant, blackberry fruit but are a bit weary of the overripeness or the ample oak in some New World examples, try the 2010 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Valley, Chile’s mecca for Cabernet Sauvignon. It is full of fruit without being overwhelming and has a freshness that makes it very food-friendly.
We tasted the two higher end wines Vertice and Enclave at the end. The 2009 Vertice is a blend of Carménère and Syrah, about half of each, and comes from Apalta in Colchagua Valley. The 2010 Enclave is a Bordeaux blend, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and hails from Pirque in Maipo Valley. While the Enclave retails about twice as much as the Vertice (approx $60 vs. $35), I found the Vertice to be fresher and more approachable. Enclave needs more time in the bottle for the oak to integrate and the flavors to open up. Staying in the glass for about an hour did well for Enclave during our tasting as it quickly evolved to reveal more of its ripe black fruit and cedar notes. The ripe but grippy tannins are a testament to its high altitude origins as it comes from the highest vineyards in Maipo at about 2,000 ft.
For me, the Grey Pinot Noir was the wine of the tasting, especially considering its price. Following that closely is the Grey Carménère. The Pinot is a ‘must try’ if you are a fan of this grape. Grey Pinot Noir may also come in handy as a good ‘ringer’ for a Bourgogne Rouge or Oregon example if you are one to frequent blind tastings.
The Grey Carménère is a beautiful every day wine for the big red wine enthusiast who would like to venture out into new varieties without getting too far away from the shore.