Monday, April 2, 2012

Chilean Syrah

For lovers of Syrah, Chile may be the undiscovered country.

One of the pleasures of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is the opportunity it provides to broaden your experience and knowledge of lessen-known delights. In a Wines of Chile sponsored guided tasting, hosted by Master of Wine Rhys Pender and wine educator DJ Kearney, I was afforded the chance to immerse myself into Syrah and explore its many incarnations in Chile's diverse terroir.

Aconcagua Valley
A short distance north from the capital city of Santiago lies the Aconcagua Valley with 1098 hectares of grapes planted mostly to red varieties including 94 hectares of Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Aconcagua making up nearly half of the total plantings (475) but a few producers are experimenting with Syrah creating pleasant, juicy and reasonably complex examples.

Viña Errázuriz 2009 Max Reserva Syrah - $19.99
Licorice, cherry liqueur aromas stand out above classic red fruit and spice layers. A more straight-forward palate follows with intense black cherry, round spice and balsamic flavours.
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Viña Arboleda 2009 Syrah - $21.99
You'll find pronounced aromatics on the nose with both fruit and savoury flavours on the palate. Violets and rose petal aromas are followed by concentrated raspberry, coffee grinds, smoke, mineral and black pepper notes.
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Limari Valley
The Limari Valley, Chile's second most northern wine growing region, sees less than 4 inches of rainfall on average per year. The intriguing terroir experiences a Carneros-like morning fog effect from the Pacific Ocean which burns off in the afternoon and exposes the vines to the intense sunlight into the evening. Syrah makes up less than 10% of the plantings in the region at 112 hectares. Expect mineral rich Syrah reminiscent of Saint Joseph.

Viña Tamaya 2010 Reserve Syrah - $19
Inspired by Northern Rhone vinification techniques, this Syrah is co-fermented with 5% Viognier and aged in French oak for 9-12 months creating an enticing Syrah with good minerality and aromatic elements.
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Elqui Valley
Nestled at the southern end of the Atacama desert, the vines of the Elqui Valley live a harsh life. Extreme sunlight is tempered by high altitude vineyards (some of the highest on Earth) where the term "cool-climate" is used freely. Syrah plantings make up only 29 of the 508 hectares of the region, but the variety is generating a lot of buzz.

Geo Wines 2009 Chono Syrah Reserva - $18
Originating from Chile's driest wine region, this savoury, terroir expressing Syrah offers a gorgeous palate of oak spice, minerals, smoked meats, leather and dark, brooding fruit.
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De Martino 2008 Alto Los Toros Syrah - $45
At 1600m above sea level, the Alto Los Toros vineyard is one of the highest altitude plantings in the world. The result is an excellent, dense, cool-climate Syrah with concentrated licorice, vanilla and red fruit flavours and loads of spicy, mineral notes.
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Colchagua Valley
One of Chile's largest and most diverse wine regions with over 23,000 hectares under vine, the Colchagua Valley is home to many of the country's best known brands like Cono Sur and Montes. Look for vineyard information when available with Alpalta and Ninquén being two of the best for Syrah.

Viña MontGras 2009 Antu Syrah - $21.99
Produced from fruit grown in the Ninquén Mountain Vineyard, Chile's first high altitude vineyard. Well balanced with good complexity and concentration for the price. Has the tannins and acid to age well, should you care to wait.
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Viña Ventisquero 2007 Pangea Syrah - $59.99
A full bodied wine that although offers plenty of classic Syrah red fruit notes, tends to be memorable for its layers of savoury and robust characters like smoked meats and white pepper.
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Viña Montes 2007 Montes Folly - $86.99
Produced from 17-18 year old vines from the Alpalta vineyard that are really producing some amazing fruit. Remains the champion of all South American Syrah and the wine to gauge against.
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 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2012

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