Carmen is among the oldest wineries in Chile, but has one of the most dynamic young winemakers in Emily Faulconer. This is a classic Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that has benefited from a few years in bottle but will age and develop for a while yet. Serious, structured and intense, it has appealing notes of bramble, eucalyptus and blackcurrant leaf, sinewy, savoury tannins, deftly handled oak and impressive freshness and acidity for a hot vintage.
Chilean Chardonay is on a roll right now, especially when it’s from vineyards in the cooler areas of the country close to the Pacific or way down south, which is the case here. The brilliant Marcelo Retamal buys the grapes for this world-class white from Francisco Baettig’s increasingly famous vineyard in Malleco. There was a little rain during the growing season, so the wine has a little bit of “noble rot” (botrytis) character, which adds a drizzle of honeyed complexity to its chiselled, racy, well-balanced palate, exhibiting flavours of cashew nut, citrus and wet stones. The oak is very understated, which is the case with all the De Martino wines.
2018 is rightly regarded as one of the best Chilean red wine vintages of the last 30 years, so it’s no surprise that the latest release of Don Melchor is so special. Made from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, it’s a pure, refined expression of the Andes-cooled Puente Alto terroir. This is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – it’s 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot – and the wine is suitably nuanced and well balanced. Scented and floral, with some wild herb top notes, it’s an icon that marries energy with power and grip. The tannins are polished, the fruit intense, with cassis and red berry flavours complemented by fresh acidity and scented coffee bean oak.
Hub is named after jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and is my favourite in the Pedro Parra range. The 80-year-old vines here are at 300 metres and face north-west on very poor granitic soils, yielding a wine with more colour than the rest of the line up, wonderful, sappy vivacity and intensity, a spicy undertone and vibrant red cherry, blackberry and raspberry coulis flavours. Fresh, long and satisfying, it’s a Grand Cru expression of Itata Valley Cinsault.
Imaginador comes from four different sites in the coastal-influenced sub-region of Guarilihue and encapsulates everything that is most appealing about Itata Valley Cinsault. Spicy, fresh and stony, with classic granitic focus and tannins, it has a hint of Asian spices from partial whole cluster fermentation and a core of raspberry and summer pudding fruit sustained by acidity and zip.
Monk – a tribute to jazz pianist Thelonius Monk – is a superb varietal Cinsault from a 70-year-old vineyard at 300 metres in Guarilihue. Fermented with natural yeasts and one-third whole clusters, it’s a dense, slightly smoky red from granitic clay soils, showing impressive depth and richness, notes of gunflint, red plum and wild strawberry and a long, balanced finish. Chilean Cinsault at its best.
A Pencopolitano is a native of Pedro Parra’s native city of Concepción, where it is surprisingly difficult to find examples of the local wines in restaurants. (I know, I’ve tried.) This is a blend of Cinsault with 33% País and has more structure and acidity than the pure Cinsaults in which Parra specialises. Dry-farmed vineyards in Guarilihue and Portezuelo supply the grapes here, with 30% whole bunches adding some spice and structure to the raspberry, redcurrant and red plum flavours. The finish has some sinewy grip.
Trane, named after jazz legend John Coltrane, comes from a 70-year-old vineyard at 300 metres on shallow granite soils with silt and stones. Fermented with 30% whole bunches, it has medium colour, aromas of wild strawberry and Turkish Delight, juicy red berry fruit of raspberry and bramble, subtle reduction and classic Itata grip and understated intensity.
Pedro Parra is best known as a French-trained ‘terroir specialist’ who consults to many of the top wineries in South America, but he is increasingly turning his weathered hands to producing his own wines. This deliciously refined País comes from a 100-year-old vineyard on granite soils in Portezuelo and will definitely appeal to fans of Pinot Noir. Pale, playful and refreshing, it has pomegranate and raspberry fruit, a hint of savoury tannin and a long, tangy finish.
Rediscovered as recently as 1994 – people used to think it was Merlot in Chile – Carmenère is a controversial grape, often criticised for being a little too green and vegetal. But in the right spots – and Peumo is definitely one of them – it can make very individual wines with a sense of place. This is a fantastic value example from Concha y Toro, which marries Carmenère with 14% Cabernet Sauvignon for extra structure. Deftly wooded in a combination of French and American wood, it’s smooth, plush and well-balanced, with notes of blackberry, graphite and sweet spices and just the right amount of balancing acidity.