The October Decanter is out and it's wall-to-wall, cover-to cover South America! Muy fabuloso!
Our big news is that we've one of the two 95-point/Outstanding Chilean Pinot Noirs. Equally key is that there are barely 250 bottles of this anywhere in the UK - we have access to half of them - so don't delay.
** A FEW MORE CASES NOW ON SALE! **
We've also a bundle more Highly Recommended Chilean Pinots on 92 and 93 points - including one wee gem at just £10.60 - plus a very good sweep of the Highly Recommendeds topping the Alternative Whites of South America panel, including an ever-consistent Argentine 94-pointer for a few pence over a tenner.
As you'd expect, there's much more detail below on the panel reviews and those wines.
The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine from this current Decanter appear on each product page.
To those two panel reviews, then:
Chilean Pinot Noir
There's a lot of truisms in the panel article, but none greater than, "If there's one thing that gets wine lovers hot under the collar, it's Pinot Noir", and, close to it, "As for the Holy Grail - well, that's great Pinot Noir at a bargain price".
We'll fully testify to that. When award winners, poll-toppers and highly-rateds are announced, we expect demand to go particularly-super-bananas if they are Rioja (=> 'run for cover'), New Zealand Sauvi Blanc (=> 'clear the beaches') and Pinot Noir under £25 (=> 'alert The Fleet').
But "great Pinot Noir"? Oh, Chilean Pinot can entirely do and be that ... but it seldom does or is. The trick for you and us lies in finding those hidden gems, so tests/reviews like this are particularly useful in navigating through that iffy Pinot mire.
A mire? Well, yes. Chile has, since its inception, largely (we stress that) majored in quantity over quality, bulk over boutique ... across almost every variety. As Decanter says, "Chile has long been the source of everyday Pinot - one of the few countries to consistently supply this niche".
It need not be a mire: Chile has quite superb, nay, truly perfect terroirs available for Pinot - it can lay claim to ideal soils (including superb limestone-clays à la Cote d'Or), (very) cooling ocean currents and winds, ideal rainfall regimes, a lack of disease... you name it, it's there. The cooler northern and southern valleys (respectively Limarí, Aconcagua, Casablanca, Leyda [north] and Malleco & Itata, [south]) - away from the heat of the Central Valley (more suited to Cab Sauv, Carmenere, Merlot) - have all that is needed to produce Pinot Noir that rivals the best of Central Otago, Sonoma/Carneros, Walker Bay ... and all but the very best of Burgundy.
<map from Decanter>
Even that latter statement may look different in 20 years. Which is to say that the Chilean Pinot producers continue to make huge strides in their quality. They just have quite a way to go, especally in terms of perception. Perception is definitely an issue: we have plenty of conversations with Pinot aficionados who will simply not consider Chile as worthwhile.
How to typify a Chilean Pinot? Much of the market - and the reputation in general - is one of lightness ... a lack of depth and seriousness. A minerality - sometimes far from subtle - is not uncommon from desert, rock and volcanic soils. Fruit ripeness is seldom a problem. Oak/barrique handling - where it occurs (much of the <£12 PN sees only steel) - can be too light (unnoticeable) or too heavy (often an overblown sense of charring) ... but this too is changing and well-balanced treatment is now more widespread as Burgundian and NZ expertise seeps up and down this daftly-long-and-thin nation.
<I now re-read the above and see that I've not painted the most alluring picture of Chilean Pinot. The key is to find the exceptions: those wines that rise above this common herd. There are plenty in the panel review, and the poll-topper is excellent. That's not pushy marketing: we'd not risk our credibility with you in coming reviews by over-applauding a wine. The topper surprised us. We'll get to that in just a moment; bear with us>.
Results: The panel tested 61 Chilean Pinots: two emerged as Outstanding (95+) (none, note as Exceptional (98+), rather bearing out that getting-there-but-not-there-yet message); another 22 emerged as Highly Recommended (90+). Those 24 top wines average a price of ~£18.50. No particular Chilean valley dominated the results, nor did any particular vintage (2014-18 were all on show).
"Get on with it!"? What, you mean, tell you about the poll-topper? Certainly.
The poll-topper we offer is Viña Tabalí's Talinay Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015. We've a lot more detail on this one, and that's all best viewed on the product page (click that link; there's also an excellent video there). It's a single-vineyard wine from their Talinay plot, just 12km inland from the chilly Pacific, in a micro-side-valley of the main Limarí valley. That plot has two key features:
Coupled with some very fine-know how and winemaking talent, the outcome is excellent. As the panel said, respectively (see full review below or on product page):
Of course, we had a good taste and check ourselves. We can't just leave these things to outsiders, you know.
We'd definitely expected something rather light and insubstantial (I write as a definite Pinotsceptic), perhaps quite one-dimensional and lacking in complexity. But this really surprised us: there is more density, depth, concentration, multi-layeredness and ... well ... ooomph than the usual, and by some margin. Let's not get carried way: this is Pinot Noir, still, and not a Cabernet. What it is, though, is more akin to a NZ (Otago, probably) or Californian PN in style. It's obviously not Corton, Chambertin or Musigny. But then, at £17.95 a bottle, you wouldn't expect that, would you?
It's good, and it justifies its billing. We heartily recommend it.
Before we move on, we should point out that we have some near-contenders in the same panel:
- The Viña Ventolera (Leyda valley) 2016 scores a solid 93 points ("ample and generous", "lovely energy on the palate, said the panel); and
- the 93-point Echeverria Gran Reserva (Casablanca valley) 2017 is a total steal at just £10.60 a bottle ("a polished wine, lovey Pinot typicity", "excellent definition and lift").
- ... plus 5 more above 90 points (see all wines at foot of page below).
Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2017
Alternative South American Whites
Strictly speaking, this panel is titled South American Whites: Beyond the Big Two - that is, anything that's not Chardonnay or Sauvi Blanc (you may recall a similar NZ panel last year).
So what is that? That's pretty much:
in the main.
There's also the odd Gewürz, Marsanne/Roussane and field blend, but they're very much the exception. Across the board, a key feature is the great value of these whites - most are £10-£15 - all with great concentration and flavour. None of the 89 wines tested made it to 95 points/Outstanding. Perhaps, given their pricing, that shouldn't entirely surprise.
So, what emerges well?
- The top contender, Highly Recommended on 94 points, is one we've offered for years and wins award after award: Amalaya's Torrontés-Riesling (2018) at just £10.30. 85% Torrontés, 15% Riesling, it has the full flowery, peachy, aromatic, full-bodied Torrontes thing going on, but with some zippy Riesling adding acidity and zing. <NB: I must declare that, despite its plaudits, this is not a wine I get on with - it represents something, in my view, of a diminution of both grape varieties to make that blend. Honestly - and I realise this is hardly powerful marketing - I'm not sure the Torrontés really benefits from the extra acidity and lemon/lime. But I'm very much a minority here in the face of such broader congratulation for this standout wine; I simply wanted to sound that personal note of caution>.
- There's a stack of other Torrontéses across the 32 Highly Recommendeds: from Andeluna (91 pts, £11.50), Colomé (91 pts, £11.70), El Esteco (90 points, £13.55) and Kaiken (90 pts, £10.75). 'Tis a great shame our favourite, perhaps the ne plus ultra of Torrontés, the wonderful Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés didn't go up for test.
- Our favourite of the panel? Tricky, but probably Viña Leyda's (single-vineyard) Neblina Riesling from Chile's Leyda Valley. The reviewed 2015 (92 points) was wonderful, with age development (kerosene/petrol/etc) starting to emerge. But it has all gone in the UK. The 2018, however, is fuly available and claims 90 points, and those couple of extra points (of difference from the 2015 vintage) will more than emerge as it ages. This is a highly concentrated Riesling - subtle it is not - and one for fans of high-octane wines.
- Don't miss the Uruguayan Albariños; ours from Garzón (91 points) is quite lovely. Think: Rías Baixas/Galicia but with more body/cream and overall flavour ... and with the acidity backed off (just) a touch.
- And the two Argentine Sémillons are fascinating (if, perhaps for some, an acquired taste); the value offering is Humberto Canale's (Rio Negro) at £14.70, the 2017 of which lands 90 points <this will not available for some months in the UK; we offer the excellent 2016>. The 'classy' offering, albeit at double the price: is the hugely-flavoursome Riccitelli (91 points; it has scored markedly better in other Decanter panels, and see below).
Beyond the panel reviews
- The Riccitelli Sémillon also pops up (scoring 95 - see what I mean above?) in an Old Vines feature, which also sees De Martino's old faithful, the Tinajas Muscat, score 96 <this is one very unusual wine; please see the caveats on the product page>. See also: some markedly esoteric wines from Garage Wine Co and Leonardo Erazo.
- Andrew Jefford takes a good look at 25 Premium Argentine Malbecs. After we overcame the outrage of not seeing a single contender from Catena in there (there should be at least a half dozen), we're pleased to see Colomé's Autentico, Altos las Hormigas's Gualtallary Malbec, Kaiken's (big cuddly) monster, the Mai and Trapiche's Finca Coletto in his selections. These are most definitely specimens for the Big Wine Fanatic.
- There's a feature on Brazil. Yes, Brazil. And wine, note, not coffee. Some of it is excellent. Miolo's Millésime Brut (91 pts) and Lote 43 red Bordeaux blend (91 pts) are well worth a look for the South American adventurer (Tintin and the Brazilian Cabernet-Merlot?).
- And Uruguayan Tannat. We're big fans here (and we find that most folk who try it become such, too). The luxury Garzón Single Vineyard is a huge (and complex) wine (92 points) but gets out-pointed (93 points) by the super-value (<£15) Altos de José Ignacio Reserva. Super wine, this.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition panel tasting of Chilean Pinot Noir (see blue link below).
Viña Echeverría is a family-run estate winery, owned and managed by the Echeverría family. Established in 1930, but with an agricultural heritage going back to the 1700s, Viña Echeverría is as much today, as always, driven by a shared passion for winemaking and an uncompromising search for excellence. Viña Echeverría combines nearly a century of viticulture and winemaking experience with a modern state-of-the-art winery, to produce a range of over 20 quality wines from nine different grape varieties. It has recently been awarded its Sustainable Winery status by Wines of Chile, as well as its ISO9000 certification.
The vineyard is located in the Casablanca Valley, a cool-climate coastal region close to the Pacific Ocean approximately 47 miles north of Santiago. The proximity to the sea results in a Mediterranean climate, with pronounced maritime influence. The cooling sea breezes from the cold Humboldt stream, tempers the heat of the warm, sunny days and creates cool foggy mornings, ideal for top quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The soils are clay and sandy soils, which provide good drainage. Careful pruning ensures the correct balance between canopy and fruit.
The 2017 harvest was characterised by high temperatures throughout the ripening period from véraison onwards and late rainfall during spring. The temperatures were warm and favourable during flowering. The warm average temperatures allowed for a high accumulation of sugars in the berries which resulted in earlier harvest than usual, by one to two weeks. The red wines achieved soft tannins, good colour and a great aromatic expression.
Cold pre-fermentation maceration took place at 5°C for four to five days, in order to extract colour and primary aromas. Fermentation lasted for 10 to 12 days at temperatures of 26° to 29°C in stainless steel tanks, with selected yeasts. Post fermentation maceration lasted for five days, then 100% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. 75% of the wine was aged in French oak barrels for six months, adding oak complexity to the final blend.
100% Pinot Noir.
This elegant Pinot Noir combines aromas of strawberries, black cherries and raspberries with hints of chocolate and mocha. The palate is round and soft, with refreshing acidity and balanced fruit. Works well with earthy flavours such as mushrooms and truffles, grilled meats - pheasant or a rack of lamb. Try with oily fish such as salmon and tuna.
ABV = 13.5%.
The 2018 vintage was awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition panel tasting of Alternative South American Whites (see blue link below).
The 2016 vintage was also awarded 95 points and a Platinum Best In Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards (www.decanter.com): see their August 2017 DWWA supplement (see blue link below).
Amalaya translates to ‘hope for a miracle’ in the indigenous language of the now extinct tribe, the Calchaquí. The winery is situated in Cafayate, Calchaquí Valley in Salta in the far north of Argentina at nearly 1,828 metres above sea level. It is a part of the Hess Family Estates and is run with the same dedication to quality, sustainability and social responsibility as the other Hess Estates. All of the Amalaya wines are fruit driven in style, with a finesse that unites them. These wines offer incredible value for their quality and truly reflect their ‘sense of place‘.
The Torrontes and Riesling grapes were grown on the Finca San Isidoro vineyards. These are located in the Cafayate Valley in the very heart of the Calchaqui Valley, distinguished for being the highest wine region in the world. The climate here is very dry, with just 150mm of rain in an average year and a huge thermal amplitude of around 20°C. The soils here are rocky, poor and sandy so the roots of the vines are forced to dig deep to find the vital nutrients and water they need, which in turn results in a huge concentration of flavour within the fruit.
The grapes went through a double selection process, firstly in the vineyard and then again on the sorting table at the winery. The grapes underwent cold maceration for four days, followed by a slow fermentation using selected yeasts, at low temperatures to retain the varietal fruit character. 80% of the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks with 20% aged in French oak for 10 months.
85% Torrontes, 15% Riesling.
Intense gold in colour, this wine has pronounced aromas of grapefruit and lemon peel. Delicate and silky on the palate with great freshness and crisp acidity on the distinctly mineral finish.
ABV = 13.0%.
The 2018 vintage was awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition panel tasting of Alternative South American Whites (see blue link below).
The 2015 vintage (long since sold out in the UK) was awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in that same panel (blue link below).
The 2015 vintage was awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their June 2019 tasting/article of/on Top 30 Chilean Wines Under £25 (see blue link below).
Few wineries encapsulate the development of coolclimate winemaking in Chile as well as pioneering Viña Leyda. The first producer to explore this coastal area, a rising star of New World winemaking, it took its name from the local railway station and later lent it to the entire DO of Leyda Valley. If Casablanca Valley represents Chile’s first tentative steps into cool-climate production, Leyda is a series of determined, confident strides: just 14km from the Pacific, the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah planted here express a crispness, minerality and fine-boned structure not found elsewhere in Chile’s viticultural paradise. Viña Leyda now has more than 200 hectares under vine, but the approach remains one of micromanagement, with detailed mapping of each vineyard and individual lot, and constant experimentation with clonal selection and viticultural techniques.
This 100% Riesling wine comes from vineyards located in the fairly-recently-discovered Leyda Valley, located 12 km from the Pacific Ocean. Its closeness to the sea makes it a unique spot for viticulture. Its cool conditions during spring and summer due to maritime influence and summer breezes makes it an extraordinary area for the development of white varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling.
These grapes were carefully transported to the winery in 400 kg bins and then, selected on a stainless steel sorting table, leaving only the best fruit. Then the clusters were pressed as whole bunches, in pneumatic press at low bars, separating the best quality juice. The juice was chilled down to 8º C and gravity clarified. The fermentation, carried out 100% in stainless steel tank, was at low temperatures (13-14°C, finishing at 16°C) for 18-20 days. After reaching dryness, the wine was left on its lees for 6 months to achieve roundness and improve the texture in the palate.
The pureness of this Riesling is shown in its floral, fruity and delightful flavours. They are elegant, mineral, expressive, with papaya, tangy, mandarin fruit and floral hints. It has a creamy texture on the palate, with sweet honey suckle, white fruit, crisp acidity and juicy-lingering ending.
ABV = 12.5%.
Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their October 2020 article South American Whites: A New Era (see blue link below).
The 2018 vintage was awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition panel tasting of Alternative South American Whites (see blue link below).
The 2017 vintage was awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2018 edition feature on Uruguay (see blue link below).
The 2016 vintage was awarded 95 points and a Platinum Best In Category (Best Central South American White) at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards (www.decanter.com): see their August 2017 DWWA supplement (see blue link below).
Bodega Garzón is a family owned winery in Maldonado on the Atlantic coast in southern Uruguay. They pioneered viticulture in this area over 10 years ago, and have since become the standard-bearer for premium wines from Uruguay. In November 2018, their pioneering status was recognised by Wine Enthusiast with the ‘New World Winery of the Year’ award. The vineyards at Bodega Garzón are a patchwork quilt of 1,150 individual plots of around 0.2 hectares in size, each plot carefully chosen for a specific variety according to its soil and microclimate. The winery is specially designed to operate as sustainably as possible, and is the first winery outside North America to pursue LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Built on natural terraces, the winery uses cutting-edge technology and operates using a gravity system to ensure quality and energy efficiency at every stage of production.
Located 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the estate has more than 1,000 small vineyard blocks covering hillside slopes, which benefit from varying microclimates, different levels of humidity and an intense canopy management. Well-draining granitic soils and cooling Atlantic breezes allow the grapes to ripen steadily. The vineyards are surrounded by lush forests, palm trees, rocky soils and granite boulders. This single vineyard Tannat comes from a site which is cooler than the other blocks on the estate, with steep slopes, thin soils and excellent drainage thanks to the predominance of ballast in the upper layers.
The 2019 vintage began with a cold winter. During spring there was abundant rainfall and warm temperatures, which resulted in homogenous budbreak and flowering. Disease threat posed by heavy December and January rainfall was minimised by cool Atlantic ocean breezes that swept through the vineyards. Low temperatures at the end of February and March ensured steady ripening and good levels of natural acidity in the grapes.
The hand-harvested grapes were pressed before being fermented in stainless-steel tanks at a cool 17ºC for two weeks. The wine then spent a further 3-6 months on lees for added complexity.
For full details of this unusual but superb wine, we would point you towards Garzon's own, excellent fiche technique/data sheet (click here).
Pale yellow with a green hue, this Albariño is intense on the nose with peach and citrus aromas. The freshness and minerality on the midpalate is superb, ably supported by a remarkable acidity which frames the juicy fruit on the crisp finish.
ABV = 13.5%.
** THIS WINE IS HELD IN NO OR LOW STOCK (SEE AMOUNT HELD BELOW) BUT MORE IS QUICKLY BROUGHT IN TO ORDER. ORDERS PLACED BY 9am EACH MONDAY WILL BE WITH US FOR DESPATCH ON THE THURSDAY. **
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their October 2020 article South American Whites: A New Era (see blue link below).
The 2017 vintage was awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition article on South American Old Vines (see blue link below)... and
... awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in that same edition's panel tasting of Alternative South American Whites (see blue link below).
The 2016 vintage was awarded 95 points and Outstanding status status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their July 2018 edition article on Argentinian whites (see blue link below)....
... and 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2017 edition article on South America's Top Ten Winemakers (see blue link below).
Matias Riccitelli is the son of renowned winemaker Jorge Riccitelli. Having worked at some of the most prestigious wineries in Argentina and several vintages around the world, Matias used his experience, knowledge and passion and set up his own winery in 2009. His vineyards cover 50 hectares located in three selected sites within the premium growing region of Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. This is a young and dynamic project in which Matias is seeking to express the full potential of Argentine terroir.
This Sémillon was sourced from forgotten vines that are over 50 years old. These old vineyards are located in Río Negro in Patagonia, at an altitude of 400 metres above sea level on the 39° latitude south. Sunlight exposure is more intense than northern areas, but at this latitude the nights are much colder. This daily diurnal temperature range is excellent for the production of quality grapes; the nightly cooling-off extends the ripening period, allowing the grapes to develop rich varietal characteristics while retaining balancing acidity.
The grapes were harvested at perfect maturity levels and then underwent a skin maceration of 12 hours at 10°C. Fermentation took place at temperatures of between 14 to16°C. Maturation lasted for eight months with 50% aged in French oak barrels and 50% in small concrete eggs.
It has all the seriousness, subtleness, elegance and nuances that old Sémillon is capable of. This is not explosive or showy, it's a little restrained. A Sémillon that is beautifully textured with great acidity and a long, moreish finish.
ABV = 12.5%.
Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 South American supplement article, Argentina: My Top 25.
The history of Trapiche begins in 1883, in a small vineyard called El Trapiche, in the district of Godoy Cruz, Mendoza, where the grapes for the first of their fine wines were grown. With more than 130 years of experience, Trapiche has certainly earned its place as a pioneering brand in the introduction of French vines, the production of varietal wines, the import of French oak barrels and the use of stainless steel tanks. True to its origins, today Trapiche continues to seek out and use the latest and best practices available. Led by Daniel Pi, Director of Winemaking, Trapiche's winemaking team permanently strives to improve winemaking practices by exchanging experience and knowledge with winemakers from other wine producing countries such as France, the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Hand harvesting is carried out and the grapes for this wine are transported back to the winery in 20 kg plastic cases. There is meticulous bunch selection before the grapes are destemmed. Only the best grapes are selected for inclusion. Fermentation takes place using only wild yeasts and maceration occurs in small concrete vats over 25 days, at 23-25ºC. Natural malolactic fermentation is allowed to occur.
The wine is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels.
Aromas of black cherries and forest berries such as blackberries and blueberries. This wine is full bodied with juicy black fruits, soft tannins and an elegant finish. This is a Malbec with a deep and intense red-violet colour. The aromas are of red fruits, plums, black cherries and forest berries such as blackberries and blueberries. It is fresh and full as it enters the mouth, with sweet, juicy, ample tannins and a very elegant finish.
ABV = 14.5%.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their October 2019 edition panel tasting of Uruguayan Tannat (see blue link below).
The 2018 vintage (not yet here) was awarded 89 points and Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 South American supplement article, Sustainable Uruguay.
Altos de Jose Ignacio is nestled in Uruguay’s Maldonado region, an oasis of magical beaches and small villages on the Atlantic coast. Next to the idyllic fishing town of Jose Ignacio, the vines are tempered by cooling ocean breezes, creating the perfect combination of countryside and ocean. This unique terroir and maritime climate is ideal for making premium wines with a rare freshness and purity.
A small, family-run business, Altos de Jose Ignacio had its first commercial harvest in 2015. In typical Uruguayan fashion, the wines are created without the addition of any chemicals. The characteristics of the terroir display beautifully throughout their range, a source of endless pride for winemaker German Bruzzone.
For this wine, see the blue link below for the fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers themselves.
(as can be seen from the data sheet, this wine is 'incredibly similar to' the more expensive Garzon Reserva Tannat...)
This wine is 100% Tannat.
A juicy, full-bodied wine. Rich purple in colour with very fresh aromas reminiscent of red and black fruits such as plums and raspberries, with a delicate spicy nose. In the mouth, it presents a strong personality. Its mature tannins and minerality transform it into a wine with great soil identity.
ABV = 14.5%.