ShelfLife Special Tasting: South America

Winemaker Brian Croser at the London South American workshop
Winemaker Brian Croser at the London South American workshop

Helen Coburn gets to grips with the latest hot offerings from Chile and Argentina



19 February 2014

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Australia is still number one in Ireland but Chile has been hot on its heels for quite some time. It has also continued its strong promotional efforts in Ireland over the past year. Recently the flagship Santa Rita brand sponsored a special workshop in London built around comparative tastings of South American wines alongside wines from France, the USA and Australia. As for Argentina, it is too often seen by the wine consumer as Chile’s plainer sister. These tastings show that it can offer serious quality and character at a range of price points.

During the workshop, Australian winemaker, Brian Croser, spoke on the genetics of classic grape varieties. Much of his current interest centres upon the cabernet franc which, he’s convinced, is about to become a lot more popular with wine drinkers, due mainly to increased plantings in Chile and Argentina.

Cabernet sauvignon is the result of a crossing between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, while merlot is a crossing of cabernet franc with Madeleine noir de Charentes. This means that cabernet franc is the daddy of most classic Bordeaux blends. It’s not just a blender though. In moderately warm situations it retains fresh berry, plum and cherry flavours, making it a tasty standalone variety. It also has good ability to hold onto its tannins even in warm situations – wherein lies much of its blending strength.

The comparative tastings showed that Chile and Argentina can hold their own with the classics of the world. The hottest competition came from a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and, among reds, from Italy. Not all the wines tasted are readily available in Ireland but, even if they’re not, it would still be interesting to set up one’s own small tasting with friends, contrasting a couple of South American cabernets with examples from France, Spain and Italy. Here’s the best of what we tasted at the workshop.

The whites

Nativa Terra Reserva 2013. Organic wine with decent varietal character and flavoursome finish.

Dona Paula Estate 2013. Slightly rustic with aromas of earthy green gooseberry. Tasty flavours of green fruit with well balanced acidity.

Santa Rita Floresta 2013. Slightly more tropical style with hints of apricot alongside the green.

Chateau de Tracy Pouilly Fume 2012. Pleasant, soft green fruits with faint yeasty notes. Not hugely concentrated which might make it a little expensive for its price.

Greywacke Marlborough New Zealand 2012. Refined nose of fresh gooseberries and apple. Spreads out nicely on the plate, with lots of flavour and excellent acid and alcohol balance. Long tasty finish. 

The reds

Santa Rita Medalla Real Merlot 2010. Smooth spice with a hint of mint on the nose. Evolving now, with a touch of dryness to the finish, and enjoyable, slightly brambly fruit flavours.

Ronan by Clinet Bordeaux 2010. Beguiling nose of smooth cherry. Easy going cherry and plum flavours, not especially lengthy, but harmonious and enjoyable.

Tenuta San Leonardo Vigneti delle Dolomiti Carmenere 2007. It may not be widely available in Ireland but northern Italian carmenere, indeed much northern Italian red, is worth checking out. This has tasty, refreshing redcurrant and berry flavours. For those who like their reds crisp.

Nativa Reserva Terra Carmenere 2010. A little old fashioned, with a touch of those hedgerow aromas which marked virtually all Chilean carmenere before the modern makers got at it. Enjoyable red fruit flavours, with a hint of greenness; flavours improved in the glass so get this one opened a little before you drink it.

Poggio al Tesoro Cabernet Franc Tuscany 2008. It was rather brave of the Chileans to kick off with this Italian which really shows what cabernet franc can do. Elegantly evolved, with leather and spice notes alongside some tasty primary fruits. Still with decent tannins, this is very enjoyable stuff.

Santa Rita Floresta Cabernet Franc 2012. From Chile’s Pumanque region, this is dark and rich, with lively spicy notes. Some might find the oak a bit intrusive but I found that leaving it for a while in the glass brought up lots of tasty, ripe fruit. Again, one to open up in advance.

Dona Paula Alluvia Cabernet Franc 2012. This scores on flavour but you do notice the alcohol. That won’t bother some drinkers and this would be a great companion for game.

Dona Paula Alluvia Malbec 2010. Smoothly evolving nose with subtle spice. Pleasing berry and plum flavours with a slightly dry finish.

Chateau Haut Monplaisir Cahors France 2011. Cahors is the classic AC for French malbec, often known here as cot. Interesting nose of peppery red fruit and tobacco, leading to an elegant palate of berry and cherry fruit. Lovely illustration of cool climate malbec.

Nativa Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Smooth, evolving red fruit nose. Warm red fruit flavours with decent length.

Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Attractive minty elements to nose. Warm, dark fuits on palate but with balanced alcohol and acidity. Long, fruity finish.

Lacoste Borie Pauillac Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux 2009. Elegant leatheriness to the nose, leading to a ripe palate with soft tannins and easy plum fruits.

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa USA 2010. Complex aromas of clean, rich soil. On palate, it’s rich and ripe but beautifully structured and balanced with fine cassis fruit which will evolve well. Classic Napa – pricey but certainly a treat.
Agents: Gleeson/C & C (Santa Rita, Nativa), Cabot (Borie Lacoste), O’Briens, Tesco (Dona Paula, Carmen), Febvre (Joseph Phelps, Ch. de Tracy), Liberty (Poggio al Tesoro, Nativa, Greywacke). Prices from €15.



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