Wednesday’s WoW! Hacienda Araucano Reserva 2009 Syrah

Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah 2009This week’s WoW, Hacienda Araucano Reserva 2009 Syrah, is from the Lolol Valley located in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, and is made by Bordeaux-based flying winemaker Francois Lurton.  The amazingly low price tag of only $14.95 definitely makes this a great value wine.

Francois Lurton

Francois Lurton is a member of one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine families. His father, Andre, was also in the wine business, reviving many estates in the Pessac-Leognan area of Bordeaux and making wine in Entre Deux Mers, so it seems that wine is in his blood.  In 1988, Francois and his brother, Jacques, teamed up to become ‘flying winemakers’ and began making wine not only in Bordeaux, but around the world.  They were pioneers in Argentina’s Uco Valley and were soon making wine in Italy, Chile, and Spain, to name a few countries.  Jacques eventually wanted a change, so in 2007 the pair agreed to go their separate ways and Francois acquired Jacques share of the business.

Hacienda Araucano

In 2000, 200 hectares of land in Lolol Valley, now a sub-appellation of Colchagua Valley, was purchased by Francois and Jacques Lurton.  At the time, this land was not used for grape growing, but now the estate has 36 hectares planted with grapes.  The Lolol Valley is a cool climate area due to its proximity to the Ocean.  Cool morning mists and fog help to retain the acidity and structure of the wine.  There is no phylloxera here which enables the vines to be planted on their own rootstocks.  Biodynamic practices have been used in the vineyard for a few years, and they hope to be certified organic sometime in 2012 with Biodynamic certification to follow.

Tasting Notes

Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah 2009 is a deep ruby colour with intense aromas of blackberry, black cherry, mocha, spice, licorice, and leather.  It’s medium to full-bodied with good acidity and grippy tannins.  It exhibits typical Syrah flavours of peppery spice, dark fruit (plum, blackberry), and chocolate, with quite a long finish for a wine in this price range.  Decant for about half an hour before serving to let the aromas and flavours open up.  Serve with braised lamb shank and mashed potatoes.  This wine was just released in Vintages at the LCBO this past weekend, but at this price it probably won’t last long.

Vina De Martino Wine Tasting

De Martino Organic VineyardChilean wine producer Viña De Martino’s vision to ‘Reinvent Chile’ includes showing the world that Chile has the potential to make world-class wines that are true reflections of their origin.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of De Martino wines organized by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers.  Guy Hooper, De Martino’s Export Director for North America and Asia, presented the wines.

Viña De Martino

De Martino was founded in the Maipo Valley in 1934 by Pietro De Martino Pascualone who arrived in Chile from Italy in search of a place to make wine.  The estate now has 300 hectares of certified organic vineyards.  The 3rd and 4th generations of the De Martino family are now in charge of the winery.  Their focus is on premium and super premium wines.

Organic, Sustainable, and Carbon Neutral Wines

In 1998, the conversion to organic viticulture began, with the first 100% certified organic vintage in 2001.  Mr Hooper explained De Martino’s belief that “healthy soils produce healthy grapes which produce great wines”.  They are now the second largest producer of organic wines in Chile.  In 2007, the winery began to implement a number of sustainable practices aimed at reducing their carbon emissions.  Their Water Treatment Plant has made them the first winery in the world to generate carbon bonds.  In 2009, they became the first carbon-neutral winery in Latin America and released Nuevo Mundo, Latin America’s first carbon-neutral wine.

In addition to their own vineyards, De Martino has long-term contracts with about 40 other grape-growers.  Even in these vineyards, De Martino overseas all that goes on to ensureSunshine in a De Martino vineyard they are purchasing the best possible grapes.

Too Much Sunshine is Not Always a Good Thing!

Even though Chile is what is sometimes referred to as a ‘winemaker’s paradise’, the vineyards are not without problems.  Mr Hooper admitted that too much sunshine is not always a good thing – the grapes can get sunburned. In order to combat sunburn, De Martino and other producers, have begun planting vineyards in an east-west direction instead of the more typical north-south direction.  This, along with canopy management practices, can reduce the amount of sunburn on the grapes.  The abundant sunshine can also cause the sugars in the grapes to rise to very high levels, producing wines that are very high in alcohol.  De Martino is currently experimenting with ways to naturally reduce the amount of alcohol in the wine, such as harvesting the grapes earlier and various canopy management practices.

Tasting Notes

De Martino Legado ChardonnayLegado Chardonnay 2010 Limari Valley:  50% fermented in French oak with 12% undergoing malolactic fermentation.  Aromas of tropical fruit, peach, guava, pineapple, vanilla, and white blossoms.  Fresh acidity cleanses the palate with flavours of yellow fruit, vanilla, cream, and smoke.  Good length.  Great value at around $15.  Private order through Halpern (halpernwine.com)

De Martino Legado CarmenereLegado Carmenere 2010 Maipo Valley:  Aged 12 months in 100% French oak.  This is a very young Carmenere showing blackberry, strawberry, coffee grounds, dusty earth, dried leaves, spice, and some green aromas typical of many Carmeneres.  Crushed blackberry and pencil shavings dominate the palate with soft tannins.  The 2008 vintage is to be released in Vintages at the LCBO on November 22 for approximately $15-$17.

De Martino Alto de Piedras CarmenereAlto de Piedras Carmenere 2009 Maipo Valley:  This single vineyard wine was aged 14 months in 100% French oak.  An opaque ruby colour with aromas of ripe plums, blueberry, blackberry, dark raspberry, cloves, and coconut, with a pretty floral note.  This wine is happily lacking the green vegetal aromas and flavours that can be typical of Carmenere.  Firm, fuzzy tannins with ripe dark berries and a hint of pencil shavings on the long finish.  A very good wine, but a bit pricier at $35-$45.

De Martino Legado SyrahLegado Syrah Reserva 2010 Choapa Valley:  12 months in French oak.  Very complex aromas of violets, black cherry, plum, raspberry, fruitcake, dusty earth, and cracked black pepper.  Lots of spicy fruit on the palate, with black pepper, and fine tannins.  Good length.  An excellent value at only $16 to $18.  Private order through Halpern.

De Martino Las CrucesLas Cruces 2008 Cachopoal Valley:  The grapes are from a dry-farmed vineyard planted in 1957.  A field blend of 60% Malbec, 30% Carmenere, 10% other grapes (Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and others).  Aromas of chocolate and mocha, spicy dark fruit, plum, and dark cherry.  Juicy on the palate with a firm structure and dusty tannins.  A long lingering finish.  Very Good. $35 to $40.

De Martino La Aguada La Aguada 2008 Maule Valley:  The grapes are from a small dry farmed vineyard in the Coastal Mountain Range of the Maule Valley planted in 1955.  A field blend of about 90% Carignan with the remainder being Malbec and Cinsault.  Aged 14 months in French oak.  An enticing wine with complex aromas of spicy dark chocolate, ripe black cherry, dark raspberry, and violets.  Big and bold on the palate with an abundance of very firm tannins, flavours of spice, earth and dark fruit, and a long length.  A couple of years in the bottle will help this wine mellow out a bit more.

A New Classification for Chilean Wine

De Martino Vineyard, ChileanAbundant sunshine, exceptional soils, plenty of irrigation water, diverse terroirs, and a long growing season are all reasons why Chile has become known as a “winemaker’s paradise”.  Throw in great quality wines that retail at reasonable prices, and ambitious marketing plans (to become the Number 1 producer of sustainable and diverse premium wines from the new world by 2020, for example), and it’s hard for many other wine producing countries to compete.  Since the 1990s Chile has been in the process of reinventing itself from being known as a producer of inexpensive ‘coca-cola’ wines, to the producer of premium and super-premium wines showing unique diversity.  In order to help drinkers of Chilean wine have a better sense of the origin of the product they are drinking, Chile has introduced a new classification system that we will begin to see on wine labels in the near future.

Viticulture in Chile

First, a little background on the viticultural landscape of Chile. It’s a long, narrow country with the Pacific Ocean to the west

and the Andes Mountain Range in the east. The icy Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica is a major cooling factor in the ocean.  The Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Chile is actually very cold, making the vineyards in the western section of Chile cool-climate vineyards, with more cloud cover and fog. The chilly ocean air is partially blocked by the Coastal Ranges, but some does penetrate inland through the many river valleys carved into the rock. As one moves further inland, the temperature and amount of sunshine increases. At night, cool air flows down from the snow-covered Andes mountains, creating wide diurnal temperature ranges, perfect for helping to retain acidity in the grapes while they ripen.

In most wine-growing countries, we tend to think of climate change by latitude, or north-south, which is also how the original appellation system (Denomination of Origin) in Chile was set up in 1995 (see map). But, in Chile, we must also think of an east-west dynamic. Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the coast is very different from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the centre of the country. An appellation such as Maipo Valley, for example, can have a huge diversity of vineyards, from high-altitude vineyards near the Andes, to coastal vineyards near the ocean, each producing very different wines.  In general, wines from the coast, where the climate is cooler, will tend to be leaner and crisper, while wines from the warmer, sunnier regions further inland are most likely be fuller and richer.

Birds Flying over De Martino VineyardA New Classification for Chilean Wines

In mid-2011, Chile officially recognized the differing wine styles from west to east by introducing a new classification of wine areas and denominations of origin for Chilean wines.  Starting this year, wine producers can use three new terms to indicate where their wines come from – Costa (coast), Entre Cordilleras (between the mountain ranges), and Andes.  The old Denomination of Origin (DO) system that most Chilean wine lovers are familiar with, naming wine regions from north to south, will also continue to be used.  To see a map of the new appellations click here.

While this system is intended to make it easier for consumers to understand the origin of the Chilean wine they are drinking, the system is not without critics.  Peter Richards MW is one such critic.  He says that certain areas have been classified into the new system inappropriately.  For example, parts of Limari have been classified in the ‘Costa’ designation, while other parts of Limari, which are geographically more west, have been designated as ‘Entre Cordilleras’.  He also states that designating the entire Casablanca region as ‘Costa’ does not account for the very different styles of wines produced in the much warmer easter parts of the region.  Mr. Richards states that in order for producers and consumers to really be able to identify the origins of the wine, a classification system must be based on localities.  For example, using the name Apalta, which isn’t currently legally recognized in Chilean wine law, would clearly indicate the style of wine in the bottle – a rich, lush red wine.  To read Peter Richards full article click here.

Even some producers are expressing concern over this new system, especially about the very large ‘Entre Cordilleras’ designation which makes up 89% of vineyards.  Aurelio Montes, president of Montes, and Eduardo Chadwick, president of Errazuriz, have both expressed concerns about the new system.  They are skeptical that the classification will actually help consumers understand the style of the wine in the bottle.  Will Maipo Entre Cordilleras really mean anything to consumers?

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