Finding the perfect plot for pinot in Chile

Peter Ranscombe ponders premium pinots from Chile during an online wine tasting with Viña Ventisquero’s Alejandro Galaz.

ONE of the – very few – good points about lockdown for me has been rediscovering my passion for pinot noir.

Although grenache may have turned my head, pinot will always be my first red wine love.

Lockdown highlights have included Jane Eyre’s Cotes de Nuits and Great Grog’s Santa Alba Reserve from the Maule Valley in Chile.

Few other grapes can capture the conditions in a vineyard quite like pinot; it seems to have a magical ability to express the essence of its location.

And I suspect it’s that chameleon-like quality that keeps winemakers coming back to the grape again and again.

It’s known as “the heartbreak grape” because it’s so finickety and definitely has a Goldilocks complex; conditions can’t be too hot, can’t be too cold, can’t be too windy, can’t be too… the list goes on.

Yet, despite the risk of breakage, it’s a grape that’s close to Alejandro Galaz’s heart.

Viña Ventisquero’s pinot noir specialist grew up in Chile’s countryside and so feels an affinity with cooler climate wines.

He also learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen, and so appreciates how cool climate concoctions have close connections to food and wine matching.

He’s a firm believer in Chile’s potential for producing premium pinot and he presented a number of examples during this afternoon’s online tasting to prove his point.

Pinot party

From a site in the Casablanca Valley, about 25 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, came the 2017 Viña Ventisquero Herú Pinot Noir (£23.99, Soho Wines), which was made from grapes grown on granite soils.

It had all those classic pinot aromas, ranging from wood smoke through roast meat to warm fur, like a cat purring beside an open fire.

On the palate, it had a great savoury edge adding to its complexity, with raspberry, red plum and cranberry alongside an also salty smoked meat tang, with blackcurrants bouncing among the spicy cloves on the finish.

The only downside to the Herú was its unforgivably-heavy bottle, around twice the weight of the brand’s standard vessels; a surprise when the winery prides itself on its environmental responsibility.

Head 60 kilometres south to another granite site – this time in the Leyda Valley – to find the 2018 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir (£12.99, Frontier Fine Wines), hailing from the catchy-titled “terrace number four”, which was a lighter shade in the glass and displayed some of the smells with which I more readily associate Chilean pinot, namely damp earth alongside the wood smoke and red cherry.

Yet there was nothing green about the palate – it balanced meatiness with red plum, spun sugar and crisp acidity.

Move a kilometre closer to the coast to discover “terrace number two” with its alluvial soils, which produced the 2018 Viña Ventisquero Grey Pinot Noir (£16.99, Flagship Wines), with its fuller body and riper fruit flavours.

It was a darker shade and darker in flavour too, with more blackcurrant, raspberry jam and an inkiness to its body.

While pinot may run the risk of breaking Galaz’s heart one day, the wines he produces are definitely worth the risk.

To read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine reviews, visit his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.