Wine Wankery in the Colchagua Valley, Chile

24 May

By Stuart Elliott

We had heard of Chilean wine but hadn’t tried many, so, as a treat for me we determined to answer the question of whether it is any good. We set off from Santiago in our rental car down the dreaded Panamericana after spending half the morning exercising and luxuriating in the hotel spa.20140524-143953-52793227.jpg

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Unfortunately this resulted in a late arrival in the Colchagua Valley, some 200 km south of Santiago, but hey it was my birthday, so the tour organiser (Sharon) cut me some slack and at 3:30pm we pulled into the Viu Menent winery and quizzically enquired whether they were still serving lunch. ‘No problemo Señor’, and we were promptly seated in one corner of a long white-washed room surrounded by thousands of bottles of red wine and overlooking horse paddocks and vines.

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Sharon negotiated her vegan dishes whilst I went in the opposite direction with raw steak tartar and grilled salmon (I think there were some vegetables too). I took a glass of the Rose Malbec with the tartar, which was refreshing but unremarkable, and a Viognier with the salmon. The Viognier was outstanding and every bit as good as my favourite Australian Viognier, which is to say it tastes somewhat like a blend of mainly lightly oaked Chardonnay and a dash of Sauvignon Blanc. Sharon was impressed with her Malbec and after lunch we went to the elegant tasting room and sampled a Sauvignon Blanc. We’re not fans of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc but this SB was much more subtle and less sharp. It was delightful.

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Our hostess, Leonor, at the very comfortable Posada Colchagua, complete with log fire in bedroom, directed us to the Etiqueta Negra for dinner.

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Pos

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Posada Colchagua

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We were unable to fully appreciate the excellent food produced by the owner chef, Mikhail Sampen, on account of being stuffed from our lunch, which we had only finished at 5 PM. These things are allowed on one’s birthday. Just as we were about to stagger out the chef brought me birthday cake, a large slice of a delectable cheesecake, as per his grandma’s recipe. The wine we had consumed previously was a cabernet sauvignon which was quite drinkable but contained too much residual tannin.

20140524-144829-53309832.jpgOn our drive home in the dark we were stopped by a road works traffic flow controller. He gesticulated to me to wind down my window and proceeded to say something rapidly in a heavy accent Sharon could not immediately grasp. After I replied in my best public school English that I was an ignorant foreigner and could he please let me pass, he thrust a handful of scrunched up toilet paper through the window together with further unintelligible instructions. It turned out that, no, he didn’t want me to blow my nose or clean my windscreen, he actually had a mate at the other end of the roadworks who had a toilet but no toilet paper, and could we kindly transport the scrunched up bog roll to his mate. No problemo señor!

His mate on the end of the walkie talkie looked mightily relieved when we pulled up and handed over the paper plus Sharon’s own supply of tissues.

Next morning we trotted off to Mont Gras winery for a tour and tasting. Being winter time and mid-week it was quiet and there was only one other couple on the tour, wine enthusiast Ivan and his lovely wife, Egle, from Brazil. It was the most interesting and personal tour I have ever taken. We spent more time in the vineyard than we did in the wine making area. Thanks to the ebullient Marcello we now know how to determine which variety is being grown in a particular vineyard just by looking at the vine leaves. We also learnt that all wine from the Colchagua region of Chile is organic, as it is free from pests; no pesticides or fertilisers used here thank you.

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The setting of the vineyard is perfect with the snow-capped Andes in the background. The tastings are done around a log fire in the reception area or in the courtyard of the lovely hacienda depending on the.season. We tried the Sauvignon Blanc, slightly wooded Chardonnay, Merlot, Carmenere and Shiraz. They even provided artfully prepared canapes designed to complement the wines.

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20140524-145629-53789826.jpgMy assessment was that the SB was too acidic, the Chardonnay however was rich and velvety and the reds had too much tannin for my taste. Sharon disagreed with me re the Shiraz. Interestingly Mont Gras believe their reds are at their best two years after bottling, which they think gives them an advantage over French wines. I am not so sure they have that quite right.

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Marcello in full flow.

20140524-145925-53965138.jpgOur limited experience of Chilean wine suggests the quality is variable but there are some excellent drops amongst the not quite so good (avoid Casillero de Diablo). I doubt Australia has anything to worry about just yet, but watch this space.

There are several other large scale internationally marketed brands from this part of Chile but sadly my tour organiser did not have the patience to visit more than the two. We do however agree that it is preferable to tackle only one vineyard thoroughly per day, plus a really good lunch and a siesta rather than fitting in as many wineries as you can. On this basis Colchagua is an excellent place to wine wank. Salud!

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3 Responses to “Wine Wankery in the Colchagua Valley, Chile”

  1. Debbie Terpstra May 25, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    Happy Birthday for the 23rd [ ?] Stuart. Sounds like you had a brilliant day! Don’t mind Chilean wines myself!

  2. Michelle Noble May 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    Belated happy birthday Sharon. May I say how you both look much more relaxed in a vineyard than on the back of a motorbike!!!!
    Bryan and I have been doing our own tour this last week….stage 2 of our 50th year cycle ride took us from Bras (near St Maximin de sainte Beaune) to Sete; a total of 265km in 3 days helped by a tail wind of 100km/hour. Now back to the mountains, gardening, cleaning and getting ready for guests….except our boiler has packed up and it’s pretty chilly at present. Awaiting the plumber (again!) tomorrow.
    Love to you both. M&B.xx

    • Sharon Tickle May 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

      That was quite a tail wind Michelle! Sounds a bit frightening to me. Well done to you both! Hope your plumbing’s sorted. Sxx

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