Chile Tour 2 Day 2

An early start: we were on the coach at 7.30am ready to go to the Aconcagua Valley.
Alfonso is our driver, and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chilean wineries, he has escorted everyone who is anyone among wine writers visiting Chile over the last 25 years.
We drove north to Los Andes, past the turn off to the road to Mendoza, the clouds lifting just as we arrived to reveal Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas.
San Esteban petroglyphy detailOur morning was spent at San Esteban. The mud brown Aconcagua river flows past Paidahuen, an Andean foothill on which the Vincente family have planted vines on both the East and West facing slopes as well as the valley below
San Esteban Petroglyph closeupHoracio Vincente met us at the winery and after a quick look at the barrel store we were driven up the hill. Our first stop was to view the petroglyphs, carvings made by pre Colombian people who had travelled through the area on their way from the Andes to the coast.  The site has been thoroughly investigated by archaeologists and is now a park which people can visit.
Horacio Vincente San Esteban Chile Wine TourIt is surrounded by vines and here we learnt more about Carmenere. Horacio described how they had struggled with ‘Bordeaux Merlot’ planted on the hillsides for many years. However ‘Chilean Merlot’ thrived in the flinty soils and was finally identified as Carmenere.
Carmenere was for years assumed to be a clone of Merlot, a rather inferior one producing very green unripe vines. It seems that the Bordelaise had almost abandoned the grape, which had been widely used pre phylloxera. Unlike Merlot and Cabernet, Carmenere does not do well grafted onto American root stocks. However in Chile not all wines are grafted and Carmenere has strarted to flourish especially as winemakers understand better its very long growing season. Grapes are not ripe till late May by which time the leaves have turned a vermillion colour and even fallen.
San Esteban tasting San Esteban tasting bottlesWe tasted the wines in situ, among the vines. ‘In Situ’ is the name Horacio has given to his premium wines – and a fitting recognition of terroir it is.
We knew we would not be looking for of south facing slopes which of course would be a bad idea in the Southern Hemisphere, but at San Esteban we learnt about the difference between East and West facing slopes. In this hot climate, East is best, getting sunshine in the morning before it gets too hot, and cooling down in the afternoon as the sun moves behind the hill. This allows a longer growing season before the grapes achieve full ripeness.
San Esteban vineyards EastThe long ripening season and pretty much guaranteed absence or rain during harvest allows Chile to produce late ripening varieties such as Carmenere, Petit Verdot and Cot (Malbec), all of which are grown by San Esteban.
It is really hard not to enjoy wine when tasting it on a beautiful hillside, with a backdrop of the Andes, but I’m pretty confident that the wines would have been impressive in a white-walled north facing tasting room on a rainy Monday.
A lovely rich Sauvignon Blanc and a fresh light Pinot noir from the Coastal Aconcagua area.
A very attractive Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier blend from the estate, with a Southern French garrigue nose and soft tannins.
A classic Bordeaux blend with Carmenere replacing the Merlot
And finally a the QV (think Cuvee). Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. What a lovely wine – cigar box nose, beautiful mouthfeel, great feel and balanced elegant tannins.  A wine to come back to in a few years too!

We could have stayed on the hillside all day but we had another appointment…

Errazuriz winery
Errazuriz is one of the best known Chilean wine companies and has a winery reflecting their status. Eduardo Chadwick the current scion of the family was hugely innovative – he partnered with Robert Mondavi in the 90s to introduce better techniques and gained world wide exposure in 2000 by running the Berlin tasting at which two Errazuriz wines beat first growth clarets in a blind tasting by experts. The tastings have been repeated with the same 1996 vintages and later ones over subsequent years in different locations with much the same result so we felt privileged to be tasting the five ‘Icon’ wines of the estate, all the 2012 vintage, with chief wine maker Wladimir.

Errazuriz Berlin Tasting displayWe started with the KAI, 95% Carmenere 5% Petit Verdot, a dark dense wine with great richness, revealing dark berry fruit as it opened out.

Then La Cumbre (95% Syrah 5% Mourvedre), also dark and dense but with spicy and floral note, and great ripe tannin.

The Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Carmenere, 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec) was more open with floral and herb notes along with the dark fruit, and an open approachable and complex palate.

Viñedo Chadwick (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) was the winner in 2000, and was clearly a great wine – from alluvial soils which make for elegance but still structured with rich fruit and fine tannins.

Finally Seña (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Carmenere, 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot), floral and elegant on the nose, felt more approachable and open on the palate – a glorious wine.

Errazuriz vineyard and icon wineryErrazuriz icon winery interiorWladimir had to leave us as he was that day making the decision about the blends that would go into the 2014 Icon wines, a rather pressing appointment, and we took a quick tour of the beautiful gardens and new Icon winery – another gravity fed design overlooking the vineyards,  then a fantastic lunch in the lovely shady courtyard

Despite finishing lunch thinking I wouldn’t need to eat again, I was glad we ventured out that night as we discovered Santiago’s revolving resturant el gyratorio, and watched the skies darken as we enjoyed our daily ceviche and a variety of different mains.