Chile Trip a Mixed Bag
When a close mate announced he was travelling to South America for Chilean Wine Week in Portillo for his 50th birthday, and extended an invitation to join him, it was like moths to a porch light – not just for me, but for 11 of us in total.
After all, what better way to expand our oenological horizons and celebrate a (significantly older) friend’s milestone birthday in the process? Having never set foot in the Andes Mountain Ranges but long harbouring a penchant for Chilean cabernet, malbec and carmenere, it was an opportunity that it would have been churlish in the extreme to refuse.
Though a cautionary word of warning – the road trip from the Chilean capital to the small ski town nestled in an alpine pass on the Argentinian border, is not one for the faint of heart or the feeble of tummy. There are literally hundreds of hairpin turns as the narrow and largely unbarricaded road winds its way towards the summit of Ojos de Agua. The birthday boy claimed it must have been a bad prawn (as opposed to the 17 cervezas and two bottles of malbec he consumed the night of our arrival), but only 10 minutes into the switchbacks, Michael had revisited his breakfast and the moment the van could be brought to a stop, performed peristaltic pyrotechnics on the unsuspecting wildflowers by the roadside.
After a few delays, our group made it to Portillo in time for the first of the week’s masterclasses by the brand ambassador for Perez Cruz Wines – a large producer from the Maipo Alto region in Chile. It’s a district located about 45km to the southeast of Santiago and is renowned for the Bordeaux varietals it produces. The Perez Cruz Riserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was a stunning wine, with white pepper characters appearing on the nose and cavorting with delicious red berries and savoury vanilla nuances through the middle. Despite the presence of well-developed tannins, there was none of the grippiness that is often seen in a cabernet. It was vibrant, lively and a serious contender for wine of the week.
Perez Cruz Grenache 2017
The Perez Cruz Grenache 2017 was talked up by our Chilean host but fizzled on my palate. It must be bad when it’s Saturday night and I’m not tempted to take a second sip. The nose was pungent if not funky and tainted the whole garnacha experience. I hope our hosts didn’t overhear a couple of the blokes in our group suggest that Maipo Alta winemakers might best stick to the Bordeaux varietals and leave the grenache to those with better-suited terroir to do it well.
They call it the “lost grape”, but it’s perhaps fortunate that camenere was rediscovered in Chile as it’s a style that will surely put the nation’s winemakers on the global vinicultural map. And in Portillo, the Perex Cruz example put in a best on ground performance to the appreciative group of budding oenologists. The depth of garnet colour in the glass was unmistakable and it was only with a dismissive swirl of the glass that a ruby hue could appear on the edges. Amongst our group, Rick “Ten Pin” Chapman thought the alluvial soils of the Maipo Alto region might be responsible for the youthful vitality of the fruit, while Nev “Pokie” Martens and John “Spreadeagle” Eastham were impressed by the ripe, sweet cherries on the front and the interwoven cranberry and dried current characters which layered through the well-balanced finale. While I loved the hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and briar that appeared on the conclusion, for me, it was the balance of French oak, mellow tannins and natural acidity that really put the polish on a world-class red.