Ventisquero’s new carmenere comes from a very, very specific location in Chile’s Colchagua valley, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.
THERE are so many things I won’t miss about the pandemic.
The face coverings, the social distancing, the way reporting deaths has been reduced to bland figures each night on the television news.
Yet one of the things I just might miss is the way in which wineries have become so creative in how they interact with audiences around the world.
This afternoon’s launch of Obliqua, a new single site carmenere from Chilean winery Ventisquero, went down the hi-tech route.
Standing in front of a giant screen in a studio in Chile, chief winemaker Felipe Tosso and head grape farmer Sergio Hormazabal were joined via Zoom by their brand ambassador, Janina Doyle, and a gaggle of British journalists.
A lot of effort had clearly gone into launching the bottle – but then a lot of effort had gone into creating the wine too.
The grapes used to make Obliqua come from “block 23”, a single plot of carmenere vines sheltered by an oak tree in the top corner of La Robleria vineyard within the Apalta section of the Colchagua valley, 200 kilometres south of the country’s capital, Santiago.
The tiny 1.5-hectare plot takes less than a day to harvest and has a distinct mix of soils that sets it apart from the wider vineyard, which was planted in 2000.
The site for the vineyard had been found for Ventisquero by Cristian Vial, the brother of the winery’s owner, Gonzalo Vial; Cristian died a few weeks ago, adding a poignancy to today’s launch.
High altitude with attitude
Prior to creating Obliqua, Hormazabal and Tosso had used the fruit as a component in Vertice, their blend of carmenere and syrah from La Robleria.
To set the scene, they began this afternoon’s online event with a tasting of the new 2019 Ventisquero Vertice (2018: £28, The Secret Cellar), which is on its way to the UK.
It delivered an impressve mix of blackberry, black cherry, warm woodsmoke, raspberry, and fresher raspberry leaf on the nose, with a floral violet lift emerging after the wine sat in the glass for a while.
More red fruits came to the fore on the palate, where they were joined by sweet vanilla.
Vertice is remarkably light on its feet for a wine that tips the scales at 14% alcohol by volume (ABV), thanks in part to the balance created by the fresh acidity from grapes grown at a height of between 600 and 700 metres above sea level.
That same freshness was apparent in the two vintages of Obliqua on show – the maiden 2017 bottling and a sneak peak at the 2018 that’s already going on sale in Chile.
Comparing the two vintages was fascinating – Tosso had compared the style of carmenere from La Robleria to cabernets franc and sauvignon from Bordeaux and the 2017 Ventisquero Obliqua Carmenere (£38.50, Sandhams Wine) definitely featured cabernet franc-like aromas of pencil lead and wet leaves alongside the raspberry on the nose.
Fresh acidity was balanced by concentrated red fruit on the palate, again with a lightness of body for a 14% ABV wine.
While 2017’s warmth brought out red fruit aromas and flavours, 2018’s cooler conditions produced more blackcurrant on the nose and palate, along with more of carmenere’s characteristic chocolate notes.
Unsurprisingly, the tannins were still a little unsettled in the younger wine, and the 14% alcohol felt warmer and more apparent, but give it time and I foresee it will knit together nicely.
Heavy bottles distracting from environmental credentials
Hormazabal likened the high-definition cameras in the studio to the high-definition wine, zooming in on one very specific site.
Asked by one participant about the lack of new oak flavours in the wine, Tosso added that – while he and Hormazabal were wearing make-up in the studio to stop their skin from shining under the lights and to cover up their wrinkles – the wine didn’t need new oak’s vanilla flavours as make-up because of its concentrated fruit flavours.
I asked if Tosso was worried about the effect on the quality of Vertice now that its top carmenere fruit would be going into Obliqua.
He replied that they had planned ahead and planted the nearby “block 26” at a similar altitude with more carmenere and syrah.
In fact, the company has planted around 20 hectares of vines in the past few years, all dry-farmed to conserve precious water.
The only sting in the tail is Ventisquero’s continued use of heavy bottles for its high-end wines, as I pointed out last year.
While Tosso was honest and admitted the bottles were not sustainable environmentally, it’s clear the winery is targetting American and Chinese consumers, who equate weight with quality.
It’s a shame, because the obsession with heavy bottles is drowning out all the company’s praise-worthy steps, including its conversion to organic farming and its wider environmental work, which led to it becoming the first business in Chile to receive sustainablity certificates for both its vineyards and winery.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain