[PHOTO Purchased: credit harvepino, all rights reserved.]
Let’s begin with hemispheres…
I easily relate to the coastal, parallel wine regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Never having been to the Southern Hemisphere means a lot of research learning on my part, so here we go.
Northern Hemisphere: Where I live in Northern California, in the Sonoma and Napa Valley areas, they can’t even be compared to the southern hemisphere’s terroir. To begin with, their grape vines are in a state of being six months ahead of us, all of the time… April here (spring growth), to their October (autumn harvest). As a result, their vintage releases are always six months ahead of ours.
Altitudes ~ North and South
- NORTHERN HEMISPHERE COASTS
- Sonoma County: lowest elevation, -6.6 feet; highest elevation, 4,714.6 feet
- Napa Valley: Lowest elevation, 20 feet; highest elevation, 4,342 feet
- SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE COASTS
- West – Chile: lowest elevation, 0 feet; highest elevation, 22,615 feet
- East – Argentina: lowest elevation, -344 feet; highest elevation, 22,838 feet
While both hemispheres of winemaking start out at a low sea level, the escalation in heights clearly creates no comparisons; we’re talking wine grapes at much higher elevations, against still rising backdrops. I felt that fact, in Italy. Already being at 1,800 feet in Tuscany, with the Italian Alps as a northern backdrop, rising so many thousands of feet… the gravity of it. Mountainous regions literally and figuratively take one’s breath away, and now I’m thinking about a delicate grape hanging on a vine. “What does that do to grapes, anyway?” you might ask.
Air Currents at Elevations
Further, how the air cycles coming from the Pacific side makes for very deep, cold waters; the air flows are in an outward motion over the land to the mountains. Paralleling that are the waters off the Atlantic. The air flows outward and are more calm. You can see it the depths of the map. And, that’s he same for both hemispheres. These cool (sometimes cold) breezes and winds affect terroir.
Then we have the sunshine… This is an adaptation from Stonestreet Wines:
“High elevation mountain and hillside vineyards tend to receive more direct and concentrated sunlight – for every 1,000 feet gain in elevation, the level of UV rays increase by 10-12 percent – which forces the fruit to develop thicker skin, leading to greater color concentration and stronger tannins.”
Next, I turned to the Wines of Chile Website (great source for education), on viticultural diversity for Chile, since this is their project:
“Chile is a paradise for winemaking, due to its high temperatures in the summer and cold and rainy winters. Additionally, the Cordillera de los Andes [Andes Mountains] provides irrigation from melting snow and provides natural protection against pests or diseases.
“Our country has one of the finest terroirs in the world; with vines from the edge of the Atacama desert, to further south in the Biobío [River], generating a great diversity of soil types and climates, to produce a wide variety of wines.
“Chile is a paradise for winemaking, due to its high temperatures in the summer and cold and rainy winters. Additionally, the Cordillera de los Andes provides irrigation from melting snow and provides natural protection against pests or diseases.”
Chile’s Wines Being Offered
If you’re this curious about wine flavors and far away places, clearly South America should be worthy of your attention. The value is well pronounced, as a great benefit.
[PHOTO: Jo Diaz, all rights reserved]
Three Wines Each from Two Valleys
MAIPO VALLEY FIRST
[PHOTO: Zhu Zhu – Cascada de las Animas in Cajon del Maipo, Chile All rights reserved.]
- Vina Aquitania Lázuli ~ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 / $45
- Miguel Torres ~ Reserva Especial Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo 2018 / $20
- Echeverría ~ Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 / $25
NEXT COLCHAGUA VALLEY
[PHOTO: Zhu Zhu – Cascada de las Animas in Cajon del Maipo, Chile All rights reserved.] FROM PHOTOGRAPHER Zhu Zhu: “Panoramic view of Colchagua wineries and vineyards in the microclimate valley of Chile, with Colchigua valley and the Alvier River (Colchaguan) in the background…with vineyards and microclimate in Chile. It is a premier tourism destination in the world, and a part of the Merlot family industry.”
- Maquis ~ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 / $20
- Los Vascos Cromas ~ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 / $22 (A product of Château Lafite Rothchild)
- TerraNoble ~ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / $20
Our Tasting Panel
[PHOTO of the tasting, Jose Diaz: Left to right: Daisy Damskey, Jo Diaz, Kerry Damskey]
So, a side-by-side, tasting opportunity of six Chilean wines, was a real treat. Jose and I had called in our friends Kerry and Daisy Damskey, of Terroirs, Inc.
SIDEBAR: We began working with Kerry Damskey, when Charles Creek Winery became one of our clients. Kerry was the winemaker on that team. Tasting his wines, at the time, totally blew my socks off, and it wasn’t just my socks. When sending his wines to the major publications and wine competitions, they always returned with very high scores on each wine. Kerry has a true gift; he and Daisy were fascinated to try these wines. Kerry admitted that most of his experiences with South American wines was Mendoza. Thus, his pure curiosity and enthusiasm…
This global winemaker has made wine from Israel, broken ground in India, and Costa Rica, and is still on the move. His international palate is formidable and very much curious. We were all off on a Chilean adventure.
Stylistic Differences Between Maipo and Colchagua
These two regions are identified with some of Chile’s best Cabs. Six wines were included:
- Three brand from Maipo Valley ~ Range $20 to $45
- Three brands from Colchagua Valley ~ Range $20 to $22
PHOTO PURCHASED, fotovlad: Concha y Toro Vineyard, Maipo Valley
In the Maipo Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon’s style is more relaxed, of the two valleys; where as Colchagua’s Cabs are known to be more exacting. Both have a place in styles… One is a day at the beach, the other is a day at the opera. It’s a mood thing, that also accompanies the personalities of terroir regions. So… juicy or refined tannins.
Chilean Cabs: A Closer Look
Terroir and Cab: Differences and Similarities between Maipo and Colchagua
Cabernet Sauvignon is both the most widely planted red variety in Chile and the grape credited with putting Chile on the world stage. It accounts for around 40,200 hectares/99,336 acres planted to vine (just over 20 percent of all vineyard plantings in Chile), with vineyards extending from Atacama in the country’s far north to the Araucania region midway down the coast – a distance of roughly 1,500 km/933 miles as the crow flies. The productive core of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, however, is the Central Valley where three regions account for 97 percent of total planted surface area: O’Higgins (17,443 ha/43,103 acres), Maule (15,515 ha/38,338 acres) and the Metropolitan Region (5,992 ha/14,807 acres).
These large regions span the area west of the Andes and on to the Pacific Coast, meaning that they include all the different terroirs of Chile. But if we focus on valleys and DOs, we can begin to compare the specific terroirs.
Within the O’Higgins region, for example, the Colchagua Valley covers two-thirds of the Cabernet Sauvignon planted, while the Maipo Valley boasts a historic core of vineyards in the Metropolitan Region. Comparisons between these two iconic Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon regions require in-depth analyses of climate, soils and, ultimately, terroir management.
Maipo Andes & “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras)
Maipo is one of Chile’s most notable regions, encompassing some of the country’s oldest and best-known vineyards, its terroir formed by the eponymous river and the Andes Mountain range.
The Maipo river begins at the volcano (also named Maipo) and along with its tributaries has created an intricate network of valleys around Santiago de Chile at a height of 762 m (2,500 feet) above sea level, resulting in four alluvial terraces that define the region’s soils. The Puente Alto DO is a perfect example of these terraces.
Like all alluvial soils, variation is the rule, although the most prominent type is thick, polished gravel with sand and varying percentages of clay, depending on how close the vineyard is to the Maipo River. Colluvial soils are also regularly seen at the foot of the mountains where erosion from the slopes above creates loose, rocky soils.
Meanwhile, the altitude ensures greater solar radiation, together with more extreme peaks and troughs of temperature. Measured in degree days (the scale that records the number of hours when the temperature exceeds 10º C/50° F during the growing period), the Commune of Pirque enjoys around 1,100-1,200 DD a year. That places it in Zone 1 of the Winkler scale (up to 1,371 DD), making it one of the coolest wine-growing areas in the world, similar to Bordeaux.
Descend the mountain, to Melipilla for instance (183 m/600 feet above sea level), you move up into Winkler Zones II and III. The communes of the Maipo Andes are Pirque, Puente Alto and Buin, while those considered “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras) are Isla de Maipo, Talagante, Melipilla, Alhue and Maria Pinto, to name the most important areas for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Colchagua Andes & “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras)
Colchagua lies about 80 miles south of Santiago. A very important terroir for the modernization of the Chilean wine industry, it is crisscrossed by the Tinguinirica River which begins in a volcanic crater at the edge of the Andes and flows out into the central plain at a height of 610 m/2,000 feet. The valley has three neighboring areas such as Los Lingues – which is untouched by the river – and others through which it flows, such as San Fernando, Nancagua and Santa Cruz, where heights descend to around 110 m/360 feet on the coast of Marchigüe in the far south. As the river descends, the soils change from gravel-heavy alluvial terraces to areas created by meandering, slow-flowing waters rich in clay deposits. Exceptions are areas close to the Andes where the soils are colluvial and the granite-based hills of the Coastal Range.
Temperatures rise the lower you go. Apalta, located between Nancagua and Santa Cruz, for example, sees the highest temperatures: the figures for degree days were 1,971 and 1,782 in 2020 and 2019 respectively, placing it in Winkler Zone III one year and IV the next.
This patchwork of soils and higher temperatures results in a different profile for Cabernet Sauvignon than that found in Maipo, especially in the “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras) communes of Litueche, Santa Cruz, Peralillo, Palmilla, Nancagua, Marchigue and La Estrella, which account for four-fifths of total Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in the Colchagua Valley.
Comparison of Terroirs
These physical and human factors may define each of these two Cabernet Sauvignon terroirs, but what’s really important is how the variations are perceived in the nose and mouth. In the six wines listed below the differences are clearly appreciable, as are the subtle qualities imbued by each producer.
Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1) Vina Aquitania Lázuli ~ Lázuli Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 / SRP $40
A 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from old vines planted in Peñalolén, a commune that borders Santiago de Chile at a height of 700 m/2,300 feet in the Maipo Andes. In summer, the difference in day and night temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees, resulting in gradual ripening.
Soils are colluvial, created by erosion from the slopes of the Cerro de la Cruz Mountain (3,231 m/10,600 feet), beginning with a fine layer of limestone and clay before gaining texture with sharp-edged rocks low in organic material that do not retain water. When the irrigation program is well-judged, Cabernets from the area obtain a fruity expression, with hints of spice and a mildly concentrated palate, finely grained tannins, and good freshness.
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: With a silky, Bordeaux-style crafting, this wine is more expensive than the rest; and, it presented a different, more complex profile than the rest. Rich purple in color, it has a light berry flavor, initially; but, it developed into more complex flavors as it opened up. Very smooth tannins, with a bit of toast and natural sweetness on the finish.
2) Miguel Torres ~ Reserva Especial Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo 2018 / $20
A 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Andes from vines planted in 1992 on the edge of the Pirque DO, at the foot of the mountain at a height of 792 m/2,600 feet. Nights here are very cool and the thermal range between day and night is considerable. Soils are colluvial and were created over a prior layer of alluvial matter: sand-clay loam, with sharp-edged, very restrictive rock. In this cool, sunny climate, Cabernet Sauvignon delivers red fruit, subtle spice and a juicy expression with vibrant acidity at the back of the mouth along with very finely grained tannins
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: Miguel Torres is very alluring wine, with a rich, smooth dark chocolate palate, with cherry and plum flavors. It reminded me cotton candy, but without the sweet, if you can imagine that. Just very smooth It finishes with a touch of pepper and mint. A good tannic structure, so it will age well.
3) Echeverría ~ Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 / $25
85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Syrah, and 5 percent de Carménère from Chada, Paine, “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras) in Maipo. At a height of 1,330 m/4,365 feet above sea level, the region can be considered an area of transition from Maipo Alto to the vineyards of Colchagua, mainly due to the higher temperatures. Vineyards are located on shallow slopes and planted in alluvial loam soils rich in stones 0-50 cm/0-20 inches deep. These restrictive conditions deliver a ripe, balsamic nose in which dark fruit hovers over pepper and mild pyrazine aromas accompanied by muscular but easygoing tannins.
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: This one was a collective favorite. It just seemed to have it all, for all of us. I wrote, “It came out dancing.” I don’t know what that has to do with giving you flavors, but I do know that is was a lively wine, very smooth… we all agreed on that. Rich plums, strawberries… The one thing about these Chilean Cabs is that they aren’t as big and bold as California Cabs. It would pair really well with my home-made, cranberry sauce!
PERSONAL THOUGHT ~ These Chilean Cabs are perfect for a novice, who wants to try a Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time. Their have a lightness to them that isn’t over-powering, which a good entry for a red wine, most especially for a super palate. Anyone with one, will tell you it’s a curse, not a blessing. I have one.
Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignons
4) Marquis Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 / SRP $20
A 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon topped off with 6 percent Cabernet Franc, 3 percent Carmenere and 1 percent Petit Verdot, all from a vineyard in the Palmilla DO, a low-lying area of Colchagua where the Tinguinirica River merges with the Chimbarongo estuary. A clay-rich layer of soil sits atop a seam of gravel that, despite the higher temperatures of the area, results in a fresh, ripe red with a range of red and black fruit, voluminous tannins and a granulated texture from the clay soils.
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: This is a very rich Cabernet, but crafted in a silky, smooth way… so much so that I thought of a Pinot Noir. A hint of olive for me, very Euro-Centric… Definitely a medium bodied wine, that is gracefully supple. Chocolate and spice notes are present. This wine is very food friendly.
5) Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 / SRP $22
85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Syrah and 5 percent Carménère, this wine hails from the far west of the Colchagua Valley in the Peralillo DO. At a height of 140 m/460 feet and 40 km/25 miles from the sea, the Los Vascos vineyard sits on the gentle slopes of Coastal Range where soils are dominated by restrictive maicillo gravel – the meteorized granite prevalent in the Coastal Range. Sea breezes are mild and daytime temperatures high – the thermal range gets well into two-figures – resulting in a unique terroir: Cabernets here deliver red fruit with hints of balsamic, camphor and bay leaf notes, while the muscular, broad tannins sculpt a characterful palate.
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: Very French in style, perhaps due to its owners. Garnet red, it made me want to sip on its richness and find some food to pair with it… Very food friendly. Blackberry, dark chocolate, mint… all present and accounted for. See if you can also find a bit of orange zest. It would have been delicious with the orange cake I just made from scratch for my life partner.
6) TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / SRP $20
A 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Colchagua that combines two different terroirs in the valley: 70 percent of the grapes are from the Los Lingues DO in the Colchagua Andes; 30 percent hail from the “Between the Ranges” (Entre Cordilleras) Marchigüe DO. While the Los Lingues vineyard is planted in deep colluvial soils with high percentages of clay and stone, Marchigüe is alluvial, sandy and clay-rich. The former is warmer than the latter, where the Pacific breeze lowers the temperature. Built upon these two foundations, this Cabernet offers a profile of red fruit and spice with herbal notes. Refreshing in the mouth with a feisty but finely grained tannic structure.
OUR TASTING PANEL NOTES: It’s quite complex, with a touch of vanilla (from the oak barrels), its bouquet is so lovely, as are its flavors. Out last wine tasted, it was certainly not least on our hit parade — actually, one of our favorites, this wine is very satisfying with a strawberry and raspberry profile, a hint of black pepper spice, and a finish that lingered, knowing full well, we dreampt about revisiting it in a few more years.
If this experience taught me anything more than I had already experienced, it’s about how delicious Chilean wines are, and I’m ready for more! And, more to come, as I now have three Chilean Sauvignon Blancs to try and I’m already salivating.
Thank you to Wine Business Monthly on-line for aggregating this story.