A Conversation with Sergio Hormazábal

Traveling in Chile we were able to share lunch with the President of the Chilean Association of Winemakers, Asociación de Ingenieros Agrónomos Enólogos de Chile, and winemaker for Viña Ventisquero, Sergio Hormazábal. Working for Viña Ventisquero, Hormazábal is responsible specifically for their Root: 1 brand. Hormazábal advocates for the quality of Chilean wine, noting that the goal rests in encouraging consumer desire as quality is there and continues to grow. We asked him to express his views on the idea of making wines for the consumer. Following are some of the thoughts Hormazábal had to share.

Sergio Hormazabal

Sergio Hormazabal, president, Asociación de Ingenieros Agrónomos Enólogos de Chile, and winemaker, Viña Ventisquero, climbing the steep slopes of Apalta in the back of a truck

“People talk about making the wine the consumer wants. To me talking about the consumer is like trying to capture the rainbow. Who are you talking about? If you want to talk about the consumer, show me faces and names.

“People like to look at statistics to predict the future. This is always a mistake. If you look at statistics you are always looking in the mirror to the past, to what is behind you.

“How to predict what will sell? What is the future? It is very complicated but I think the only way is not to look at the numbers but instead to be in places and talk with people. You do not experience the future through the numbers but by being in a place, by talking to people, by looking at the street to see what’s there. It is not scientific. It is a feeling. But you need time in the street, in a place to catch a hint of what is to come.

“We talk as if people know already what they want. People do not always know what they want. Instead, give them a taste of something. They like it? A moment before they had not had it. They did not know they would like it.”

Thank you to Sergio Hormazábal.

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Visiting Leyda on a Freezing Fog Day

We’d been warm earlier that same afternoon just 45 minutes drive inland in Casablanca but the coast surrounded us with afternoon fog. Arriving in the first vineyards planted in Leyda Valley, we were welcomed with intense cold and humidity, results of the Humboldt Current that stretches along the Chilean coast bringing cold up from Antarctica. Winegrowing is new to the region. The oldest vines less than 15 years old, and considered one of the important recent innovations of the country’s quality wine.


Prior to 1998, no vines grew in the Leyda Valley, 80 minutes drive Northwest from Santiago. A small village surrounded by pasture land rested in the region that had once been a rest stop on a vacationers’ train ride. In 1998, the Viña Leyda team identified the area as home for potential cool climate viticulture and began extensive soil studies, followed by planting.


In 2001, the same team filed paperwork for a new designation, the Leyda Valley zone of San Antonio Valley. The Leyda DO was born within the coastal region of Aconcagua. Since, the sector has proven home to quality wine production unique to the country and other producers have joined Viña Leyda. Though the majority of vines through the area are still young, the quality of wines showing proves already pleasing while also promising, offering some of the finest cool climate viticulture in Chile. As vines age, quality should deepen. Leyda is an area to seek wines from now, while also keeping an eye on.


looking towards the indiscernible coast–on a clear day it’s visible

Viña Leyda has primarily established Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay through the region, with small plots of Riesling and Syrah also growing. What began as an 80 hectare project has expanded to 230 hectares today. The plantings stand at 180 m/590 ft in elevation, receiving cool night temperatures, heavy morning fog, and afternoon ocean breezes.


Water concerns in growing regions are a common theme in Chile. To establish the Leyda project, petitions were filed to divert water from the Maipo River through an 8 kilometer pipeline. In bringing water for the vineyards, running water was also established for the nearby village of Leyda for the first time. The Viña Leyda team is in the process of working with the village on further development projects.


Winemaker Viviana Navarrete explains that each small block of their 230 hectares are vinified separately. The commitment of the overall project is to learn a new region thoroughly, and in so doing generate the finest quality the place has to offer. Towards those ends, ferments are done in small lots tracked to vineyard sections. Such information is returned too to future vineyard planning. All vineyard work is hand done.


Vineyard manager, Tomas Rivera, brought us far into the vineyard to showcase one of the regions gifts–the soil. As he explained, the team sees their Leyda site as offering three terroirs in one — the site is very close to the ocean, it contains a predominance of alluvial soils, and incorporates lots of rocks and stones. With the proximity to the ocean frost does not impact the area. With the intense fog, ripening occurs slowly allowing integration of characteristics in the fruit.

Looking into the hole, Tomas shows us three levels of soil — in the top 20 cm/7.8 in, the ground is predominately sandy loam; the mid-zone holds more rocks while also more clay and decomposed fertile soil; below 80 cm/31.5 in granitic soils, alluvial rocks appear. Limestone also bands through portions of the vineyard. The granite offers great tension to the core of the wine, the limestone intensifying length. The clay in the mid-zone means even during long periods without rain, roots are able to absorb water.

The wines of Viña Leyda, across a range of styles, share a stimulating mineral focus, with almost sinewy structure and vibrant flavors. The Pinots are nice quality, and enjoyable, but my favorite rested in the single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs, which show a complexity and interest rarely discussed in what can be an under appreciated grape.

More on the wines of Viña Leyda in a future post.


Thank you to Viviana Navarrete, Leandro Remedi, and Tomas Rivera.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

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Listening to Alfredo Bartholomaus

Alfredo Bartholomaus

Alfredo Bartholomaus, in Santiago’s Mercado Central

On our recent trip to Chile and Argentina, Alfredo Bartholomaus served as a guide and translator. His work bringing South American wines into the United States helped establish what was then a non-existent category of wine, and bring recognition to what would become not only value, but also quality wine in Chile and Argentina. Thanks to such work, Robert Parker awarded Bartholomaus “Wine Personality of the Year” in 2005, naming him “the premier importer and promoter of South American wine.”

His company, Billington Imports served as one of the primary vehicles for bringing South American wine into the United States, and launched such well respected labels as Catena Zapata into a new North American market.

Bartholomaus originates on a family farm in Southern Chile, at a time when interactions between Chile and its neighbor Argentina were minimal. His work, then, helping to establish not only Chilean, but also Argentine wine in the United States is significant.

Elena Catena, of Catena Zapata, described trusting Bartholomaus with their brand in the US market as a risk that paid off. As Elena explains it, asking a Chilean to showcase Argentine wine was unheard of at the time. However, she tells us, Nicolas Catena knew Bartholomaus was the best choice.

Throughout Argentina people greeted Bartholomaus with thanks, explaining to our group he had been their mentor. In working with brands in South America, Bartholomaus also worked to help them better understand the United States.

Operating as ambassador for South American wine in North America, however, placed Bartholomaus as a mentor for people in the US wine industry as well, with him serving as bridge to understanding wines from a then-new region to the global market.

After the closure of Billington, Bartholomaus moved with portions of his portfolio to WineBow, where he has continued to serve as a Brand Ambassador for South American wines.

At the end of this year, Bartholomaus retires. He intends to split time between his home on the coast in Northern Chile, and his home in Virginia near one of his two sons, and grandchildren.

The recent trip to South America was planned partially as a special finale for Bartholomaus. It was an honor to be selected as one of people to participate. Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, and David Greenberg for including me.

Asking Bartholomaus to share his story, following is some of what he had to say.

Alfredo Bartholomaus with Viviana Navarrete, Leyda Wine

on the coast of Chile, in the Leyda region, Alfredo Bartholomaus speaking with Leyda winemaker, Viviana Navarrete

“I knew at one time I wanted to leave Chile. I was curious. But I knew that I had to finish high school. So, I befriended the Chilotes [people in Southern Chile on the Chiloe Peninsula]. They would fish with a boat through the inside passage. That way I learned more about other people. But I wanted to learn more. So I started hitchhiking all over Chile. I was very young. In high school.

“I wanted to leave Chile, but I was one of five children, and knew my parents would not afford to send me to school, or away. I started hitchhiking when I was young to get myself used to it. Then one day I started hitchhiking North, and that’s how I got to the United States. It took six months.

“That was 50 years ago, 1 or 2 months before the march of Martin Luther King, Jr. If someday he would only know we would have a black president.

“My original plan was to travel the world for five years. But since I couldn’t hitchhike to Europe, I started washing dishes when I reached the United States, in DC. By the time I had enough money to go, I realized the incredible opportunities available in the States and decided to stay.

“For a while I was a taxi driver in DC. I was the only one that would pick up Black people and Hispanic people. There was a lot of prejudice. This was almost 50 years ago. But you must remember I didn’t know I was white until I got to the United States. It is different here [in Chile].

“I had a teacher of literature in high school who told us we should read because when someone has written a book it has taken them most of their life to write it. So, if you read a book, you will know almost as much as they do. I read as much as I can.

“When I got to the United States, I worked to raise money to go to Europe and hitchhike there. But I read Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund and had to ask myself who do I want to be? I realized I didn’t want to turn into Goldmund, looking in the mirror to ask, what have I done with my life?

“I had a girlfriend in Chile when I left, so after two years I had raised money and I came back [to Chile and brought her back to the States], and she is the mother of my children.

“Then I worked in hotels for a while, and in 1978 started my first of several businesses. Eventually I started selling wine from here person to person out of the trunk of my car. And, as Paul Harvey say, now you know the rest of the story.”

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus.

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Carmenere Wine Characteristics

Carmenere Grape Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

The History of a Variety

Though originating as part of the Cabernet family in Bordeaux, France, Carmenere barely grows today in that region. After phylloxera decimated vineyards through Europe, a changing of the guard occurred with varieties taking ready home to grafted vines stepping to the fore. Carmenere was one of the hardest hit grape types when phylloxera landed in Europe, leading people to believe the variety had become extinct.

Enter Chile.

Prior to the phylloxera epidemic, cuttings were taken from top vineyards in Europe to establish wine in the immigrant settlements of South America. Among them was included a softer tannin, medium bodied crimson juiced grape treated as Merlot in the vineyards for its shared characteristics in the glass.

One hundred years after import to Chile, Carmenere was discovered interplanted to Merlot vineyards. Chile, then, became one of the few places on earth the grape had survived. Through the research on quality done by a few producers from the 1990s forward, Carmenere has become a flagship grape of Chile.

Today small plantings of Carmenere have also been discovered in Northeastern Italy, where it snuck in as misidentified Cabernet Franc thanks to their shared vegetal-herbal tendencies. Though not common in Italy, Carmenere has begun in small quantities to be labeled under its own name. Among the few regions to intentionally plant Carmenere from the beginning, Washington, and California also house the variety.

Vineyard Character of the Vine

On vine, Carmenere ripens at least one month later than Merlot, and gives a characteristic copper colored burst to its buds, plus copper striping on the shoots.

The grapes also differ in Carmenere’s tendency to produce distinctive vegetal characteristics depending on crop management and vintage duration. In hotter shorter vintages where clusters ripen faster, the fruit is more likely to show bell and hot pepper notes. Thanks to the varieties later ripening tendencies, crop management proves crucial to flavor development of the grape.

The larger the crop, the harder the vine has to work to ripen its fruit. The less ripe the grape, the more vegetal its profile. Thus, intentional crop size decisions can help determine the fruit to pepper notes in the final wine. How this balance is struck depends on producer, as some prefer a touch of pepper as part of the fruit’s character, while others wish to highlight the fruit elements.

Allowing for crop size decisions, Carmenere can do well in a range of climate conditions showing a greater structural focus with long juiciness when grown in cooler climates, and more fruit expression when grown warmer.

Thanks to the softer tannin of the grape, canopy management is less essential than on a variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, where some sun exposure helps tannin to soften to the benefit of the final wine.

Wine Characteristics of Carmenere

Once brought to glass, the crop conditions of the fruit heavily influence the fruit and spice components of the wine. Warmer temperatures encourage more apparent fruit notes with a mix of dark berries and pert red fruit being typical. As the climate of the vineyard cools, the juiciness of the wine tends to increase, with a greater overall focus on structure and leanness brought to the wine. To take advantages of these differing characteristics, many producers blend fruit from multiple vineyard sites, offering structure and acid from cool spots to the fruit of warmer locations.

Carmenere’s fruit readily carries its own spice elements too, however, with vegetal aspects being influenced by crop conditions, as already mentioned, but red spice, smoke, and earth readily coming with the crop. The wine can also easily deepen into tobacco, cocoa, and leather depending on the handling of the fruit in the winery.

More on specific examples of Carmenere in future posts, and also in the previous post on Root: 1 wine.

Pairing Food with Carmenere

I’ve become obsessed with a Chilean dish, Pastel de Choclo, that the wine pairs beautifully with. It’s a corn and meat pie that would serve as the perfect means to talk me into almost anything. While you argue your case I’ll happily nod again and again trying to listen while actually losing myself in deep-deep choclo love. (Potato will always hold the deepest place in my heart (and gullet–I could accidentally die eating unbridled potato) but choclo comes next. Love me anyway, dear corn?)

Carmenere is classic paired with lamb, and does well with smokey notes of grilled lamb.

I can also imagine Carmenere’s spice and cocoa combo doing well with molé, though I haven’t gotten to try this yet.


Thank you to Sergio Hormazabal.

Thank you to Francisco Matte, Gonzalo Badilla, Juan Carlos Castro.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

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Visiting the Casablanca Vineyards of Terra Noble

The region of Casablanca, Chile hosts the variables for quality cool climate viticulture, with Sauvignon Blanc in the region particularly celebrated. The area also grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and small plantings of Riesling, and Pinot Blanc.


The water situation of Casablanca limits vineyard growth through the area. As it was explained to us, purchasing land is not difficult, but getting water to service it is. Without its own river, Casablanca must rely on water brought in and stored in reservoir, then partitioned between producers. Casablanca also sits removed enough from the Andes to not benefit from snow melt. In any particular year, the area tends towards less than 230 mm rainfall, occurring entirely in Autumn and Winter. With the growth of Santiago, a little more than an hour south, water has become an even scarcer commodity.



Last month’s frost devastated the region with all vineyards affected. Frost burns exposed vine shoots, so that any early harvesting plants are more likely to be impacted than others. To address such concern, producers prune Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to encourage later bud break. However, September’s frost occurred late enough for the region’s Chardonnay and Pinot to be impacted. Sauvignon Blanc in the area budded after the frost and so appears okay, however, plants are a month behind their normal growth cycle. This means frost could become a concern again towards the end of the season if maturity comes slowly.


Traditionally frost impacts lower areas with cold air pooling in the bottom of ground swales. During these times vineyard managers can turn on large fans that mix warmer air from above with the cool ground coverage, or can utilize a water misting system that freezes a coating over the plant effectively sealing the inner plant from harm. The recent frost was devastating for two reasons. Firstly, the cold air bank was over 22 m/72 ft high, surpassing the height of the fans so that mixing air amounted to cold with cold. Secondly, the frost cycle lasted more than a week ensuring that those relying on the misting system ran out of water before the end of the cold.


That said, producers in Casablanca are hoping for quality fruit on the vines still able to produce. The region offers a unique dry granulated earth composite of granite and clay with red top soils banded through. The effect is lower vigor as well as a dusty mineral finish on the wines, especially pretty on Pinot Noir.


Terra Noble grows their cool climate vines in the coldest portion of Casablanca, Algarrobo. They also grow wine to the south in Colchagua Valley, with a unique Carmenere terroir project (more on that in a future post). Casablanca suits their cool climate varieties as the valley opens to morning fog, followed by midday shine, and an afternoon wind that drops temperatures quickly. The combination of daily light affect with the cooling climate lends a sinewy structure to the vibrant flavor of the wines. (More on the wines of Terra Noble in a future post.)



To read Grape Friend’s write up on the Terra Noble visit:

Thank you to Francisco Matte, Gonzalo Badilla, Juan Carlos Castro, and Oscar (my apologies for not having your last name).

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

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Chile’s Candidates

It turns out Dave Grohl and Lidia Bastianich have joined forces in Chile to run for Senator, and President respectively.

Strangely, they use different names in Chile. Lidia Bastianich sautes as Michelle Bachelet for President, while Dave Grohl croons as Senador Juan Pablo Letelier.

I do wish we could have snapped a photo of their side-by-side political posters while driving to Colchagua Valley. They really showed their both-American selves in those. In the meantimes these snapshots will have to do to prove the point.


Letelier y Bachelet

from L: Michelle Bachelet and Juan Pablo Letelier


Now, a close up of Dave Grohl in both his incarnations:

Dave Grohl

And, Lidia Bastianich in both of hers:

Lidia Bastianich

Good luck to both of them in their campaigns!

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Traveling Chile

This trip through Chile’s wine countries has taught me something valuable. I could have learned it years ago from the melodic stylings of the early-90s rock band Extreme, but I was too young at the time to really *get* the notion.

Here is the simplest version of the point. Hopefully it is obvious once said. Whether you love a wine doesn’t show from saying again and again, you love a wine. It shows in whether or not you want to drink it. To put it another way, if a friend comes over for dinner with a bottle of wine, is it one you open right away?

(Full disclosure (and Kelly forgive me for confessing this publicly): having Kelly Magyarics bust out of no where with acapella stylings of Extreme lyrics at the end of a late night in Argentina forever changed my view of this song–it actually makes me tear up now in a way it never did when I still thought it was merely a romantic ballad.)

Root: 1 Wines

Root: 1 offers a small portfolio of varietally focused value wines that give three of the things I want in drinking wine: wonderful juiciness, clean fruit presentation, and good balance. They also give savory complexity, concentrated while light flavors….

The trick behind Root: 1 though is giving these characteristics at extreme value, without the Yellow Tail headache the next morning. Root: 1 retails around $12 in the United States. I enjoyed drinking each of these four wines and was blown away most especially by the quality of the Pinot Noir offered at such a low price.

On our trip through Chile we were able to spend time tasting with and interviewing Root: 1’s winemaker, Sergio Hormázabal.

Root: 1 Wines portfolioclick on image to enlarge

“The responsibility of Root: 1 for each bottle, each glass, is to express the soul and personality of the variety without any fireworks.” -Sergio Hormazábal

The Environment of Root: 1

The Root: 1 plantings occur in two major wine regions of the country. The Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grow North of Santiago in the cool climate area of Casablanca (more on the region in a future post), giving fruit tight focus, savory flavor, and a finish into tomorrow. Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon grow a few hours south of Santiago in the steep slope niche of the Colchagua Valley called Apalta.

Chile, as a country, has celebrated an absence of phylloxera to this day. Original cuttings were brought to the region prior to the phylloxera outbreak that devastated Europe, rooting many of its current day vines back in direct lineage to those earlier expressions of a variety. Additionally, today the country continues to plant primarily on own-root. Some wineries, however, plant portions grafted alongside ungrafted in order to track the quality differences.

The advantages of growing own-root varieties occurs in the direct route of transmission from soil to fruit for water, and nutrients. Without the thickening affect of grafting within the veins of the vine, fluids move more directly. According to Hormazábal, based on tracking the results from grafted versus ungrafted vines, “grafted vines always change the balance of the wine. Any planting done with grafting in Chile is to experiment and try changing the balance.”

One of advantages of having the technology to graft vines rests in being able to intentionally adapt a vineyard to its environment. Roots can be found to increase or decrease vigor and water usage, and to modify the relationship to soil, as examples.

The Winemaking and Growing of Root: 1

Asking Hormazábal to discuss his views on the growth of Chilean wine, he offers an example from his ideas of quality Pinot Noir. “One of the main problems at the beginning as a winemaker, or a country’s wine industry is to try and make a wine, a varietal wine, like another grape. To try and make a Pinot like a Cabernet.” Quality expression of the two grapes are not made in the same fashion. Hormazábal explains, “You must taste a lot of Pinot Noir” to understand how to make it.

Hormazábal, then, recommends the value of tasting a range of wines from all over the world. The tasting experience is like a winemaking class for the winemaker honing recognition of how best to express ones own fruit. “You need to be very careful with use of wood in Pinot Noir. We want to show the clean fruit side of Pinot Noir with a touch of spice.”

Tasting wines from around the world, however, also gives insight on where best to grow. Different varieties have different needs. Where some grape types give their best in impoverished conditions, according to Hormazábal, Carmenere acts differently. “Carmenere needs the deepest soils with more fertility and water retention versus Syrah, which can grow in shallow, very rocky soils.”

Within Chile, Carmenere holds a unique position. In one sense the grape stands as the Flagship of the country. Chile is the one place globally where the variety remains in any real quantity. At the same time, Cabernet Sauvignon arises as the country’s most important and widely planted variety, followed closely by Sauvignon Blanc. Both grapes do well in Chile, and sell well internationally too.

Carmenere, as a variety (more specifically on the character Carmenere in a future post), readily tends towards herbal, green, bell pepper and hot pepper expression. Such flavor components, however, are seen as unpopular for some consumers. Within the country, then, there is debate on whether or not allowing for or eradicating such personality is the best expression of the grape. That is, do the herbal-pepper notes occur as a fault of grape growing then shown through the wine, or as part of the fruit’s personality?

The Root: 1 expression of Carmenere is meant to showcase the best-at-value of the grape within the unique environs of the Colchagua Valley. It carries fresh dark and red fruit notes danced through with light jalapeno lift on the nose, and red bell pepper breadth on the palate.

We ask Hormazábal about the pepper accents on his Carmenere. He responds, “The spice is the soul of Carmenere. A Carmenere without it has no interest.”


post update: MW Mary Gorman-McAdams was a fellow write also on my recent trip to Chile. To read her write-up of the Root: 1 wines head on over to The Kitchn here:


Thank you to Sergio Hormazábal.

To see photos of the incredible sub-zone of Apalta in the Colchagua Valley in which Hormazábal grows the Carmenere and Cabernet:

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

WIth love to Marilyn, David, Kelly, Mary, Mary, Alyssa, and Alfredo. Miss you.


Extreme continues to make new music. According to their website, band member Pat Badger is currently recording a solo album in which he sings lead vocals for the first time. To read and hear more:

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Riding the Mountains of Apalta in a WWII Mercedes

Our second day in Chile, we drove a few hours south of Santiago to the Colchagua Valley in order to tour the steep sloped sub-region of Apalta (160 km/99 mi). The area is largely protected forests, with a limit of only 6 wineries allowed to grow up the hillsides. No further vineyard development is allowed.

The tour through Apalta included a couple hours on mountain roads in the back of a WWII-era Mercedes truck. The region stands along a transverse range, mountains that reach East-West between Chile’s coastal and Andes mountains. The Apalta Valley, then, grows in an elevated mid-zone that carries the diurnal shift of an Andes influence, with the cooling winds of the ocean reach.

WWII era Mercedes Truck

Apalta’s climate suits red wine grapes, with few whites planted in the area. The zone hosts various clay loams, differing in color by mineral content. These producers in Chile tend to develop their plantings based on extensive soil studies, with varieties matching mineral and water demands. The red soils in Apalta include a wealth of iron over granite. Yellow soils are higher in silica. The brown soils include more organic materials.

Climbing the slopes of Apalta

Vina Vintisquero began making wine in 2000. Apalta hosts the winery’s premium wines.

Sergio Hormazábal,

Sergio Hormazabal, one of the winemakers of Vina Ventisquero, in charge of the wineries red wine making, as well as its Root: 1 brand, guided our trip.

Alyssa Vitrano

Alyssa Vitrano looking out as we climb the Valley

Looking into the Apalta Valley

looking up the Valley after the first climb

Cabernet on a steep slope of Apalta

terraced Cabernet Sauvignon plantings

Apalta Valley

Apalta Valley

looking down Valley from the highest point of the vineyards

Apalta Valley

Sergio explaining vine development in Apalta

Sergio Hormazabal explaining structural development of the vine

Apalta Valley

Carmenere in Apalta Valley

Carmenere’s young leaves show copper, and the shoots copper and green vertical stripes, two of the vines definitive characteristics.

After our vineyard slope tour we ventured to the top of the Cabernet Sauvignon terraced vineyard to taste through the Vina Ventisquero portfolio.

Sergio preparing us for a Vina Ventisquero tasting

Sergio Hormazabal preparing us for the tasting. We tasted through multiple tiers and vintages of Vina Ventisquero wines.

Some of Vina Ventisquero wines, Root 1, crazy good value

Vina Ventisquero includes a value focused wine of four varietals, the Root: 1 collection. The quality for price here blows all kinds of stuff out of the water–juicy, clean fruit, varietal expression throughout, with a classic (sinewy+juicy flavorful) Chilean expression–more on that to come.


Thank you to Sergio Hormazabal.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, and David Greenberg.

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Arriving in Chile

Our first day in Chile includes time in Santiago. The first stop the Mercado Centrale for a walk through the seafood market. The Chilean coast, 6435 km/3999 mi, hugs the Humboldt current bringing cold waters North from Antarctica. The result is a wealth of fresh meat seafood celebrated for its high quality.

The Mercado Centrale  Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market

Mercado Centrale fish market


Lunch at La Joya del Pacifico

After walking through the market we sat down in the center for lunch with the jewel of the Pacific, La Joya del Pacifico, seafood and Pisco Sours. The Mercado Centrale building stands at 147 years old.

Mercado Centrale fish market

Alfredo Bartholomaus

Our guide for the trip, Alfredo Bartholomaus, originates in Southern Chile. He has been in wine for over 35 years and was once named by Robert Parker as “the premier importer of South American wines.”

San Cristobal Hill

A park on the edge of Santiago includes San Cristobal Hill. The top hosts the Virgin Mary, a weekly Sunday pilgrimage hike for locals. The slopes below the Virgin include cremorial burial chambers, and prayer sanctuaries. At the base of the Virgin is a small chapel where mass is held once a month. Turning back out from Mary showcases views of the city.

Approaching the Virgin

A memorial for San Cristobal

Jesus and Mother Mary

Mother Mary

Inside the Prayer Chapel


The tallest tower in South America, Santiago


Thank you to Alfred Bartholomaus. Thank you to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

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Wines of Chile ‘Terroir Master Class’ Tasting

To help bring awareness to the differing regions of Chile, and the unique expression of wines from these regions, Wines of Chile organized a tasting bringing together wines of 4 different grapes, 3 expressions each for a total of 12 wines.

Chile offers a unique environment for growing wine for multiple reasons. Most distinctive among them is the phylloxera free environment offered by the desert to the north, the mountains to the east, and the water everywhere else. Chile is essentially land locked so that the louse cannot sneak into the country via wind, animals, or other natural vectors, and the government keeps agricultural supplies in strict quarantine to protect the vines from human error. Grapes, then, are grown on their own rootstock throughout the country.

As described by the winemakers hosting our experience through the tasting, Chilean wine is about drinking the wine now “because you will be happy” but with the understanding that the wines have the ability to age as well.

I was pleasantly surprised by the focus on value in many of these wines. Following are descriptions for the twelve wines.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile has done well at catching attention in recent years for offering a lean, clean focus with a wealth of fruit. I have to confess these whites are not my style. However, these wines are also a recognizably popular style, offering consistent quality, and are generally an expression of value.

Vina Casablanca Nimbus Single VIneyard 2012, Casablanca Valley $13. This is a delicate wine with an elegant focus, bringing out the character of lily and nasturtium with citrus blossom and zest. There is a lightly salty texture on a soft palate. This is a value wine. The Nimbus was made with a slow fermentation, and kept on lees for a creamier texture.

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard 2011, Lyeda Valley $19. There is a creamy nose and palate here showing cooked asparagus, white grapefruit citrus, with light tomato leaf on the palate alongside white grapefruit, white pepper corn, and light evergreen. This is a clean, crisp wine with a long finish and a generally vibrant palate. The 1865 Vineyard offers limestone, and good proximity to the coast.

Casa Silva Cool Coast 2011 Colchagua Valley $25. The Casa Silva vineyard rises at 1300 feet elevation directly above the ocean. The wine carries a tomato leaf nose with creamy back note, light lily and light mango. The palate is vibrant, with a strong green leaf and green onion aspect carrying through to the finish. The flavors showing here include citrus blossom, light pepper, and pink grapefruit.

Pinot Noir

PInot Noir has developed as a more recent interest in Chile, with plantings beginning in the 1980s in newly established cooler climate areas of Casablanca, San Antonio and Bio Bio.

* Emiliana Novas 2010, Casablanca Valley $19. The Emiliana Novas Pinot was one of the stand outs of the overall tasting–the value on this wine is impressive. The overall presentation offered here are like an archaeological dig of texture and flavors. You get a lot for $19. The nose is vibrant with rhubarb, light strawberry-raspberry without being sweet, and touches of smoke. The palate offers red berry and rhubarb, smoke and cracked pepper. There is a cohesive structure with vibrant acidity and medium smooth tannin, and a generally clean presentation.

Cono Sur 2009, Casablanca Valley $32. The nose of this Pinot is earthy, with smoke, a mix of red and dark berries, and light cracked pepper. The palate carries the textural, light tar influence of lees, with vibrant red fruit acidity, smoke, and dark earth rich soil. You get here a long smoke finish, up acidity, and medium tannin.

Morandé Gran Reserva 2009, Casablanca Valley $18. More than the other two Pinots, this one wants to be opened and given time with air to allow the flavors to settle and come together. Without that time it presents as disjointed. There is a sense of sea water, red fruit, smoke, and both red and dark berry here on a textural palate. Give this wine some time to enjoy it properly.


Carménère has captured a unique role in Chile thanks to its accidental history. Planted extensively through the country under the guise of Merlot, Carménère took a foothold in the South American state while being actively ignored in its home country of Bordeaux. Prior to its true origins being discovered, the Merlot of Chile became known as offering a unique presentation in comparison to the Merlot of elsewhere. To investigate the phenomenon, a vine scientist was brought in to study the unique Chilean Merlot clone. Unique clone indeed! It turned out more than half of the Merlot harvested from Chile was actually Carménère! While it had seemed to go extinct in Europe it was going strong in South America.

Interestingly, Carménère takes a similar story in Italy where it had been planted in the North as what was believed to be Cabernet Franc. It is now understood that most of what has been taken to be Cabernet Franc in areas like Friuli-Venezia Guilia and Veneto is actually Carménère.

With its unique presence in Chile attention has turned to developing the overall quality of the fruit in the region. The grape demands extended hang time plus warm climate to ripen optimally, and likes clay for growing in.

Many consider the bell pepper elements common to the grape undesirable. In too strong measure it can overwhelm other aspects of the wine. However, in good balance with earthier elements and some fruit, I find it pleasant and a nice up note to lift the wine. The three expressions we tasted from Chile were good examples of how interesting wines of the grape can be.

We were able to ask the winemakers how well they expect their Carménère wines to age. They consistently said that on a good vintage and a quality wine, Carménère would readily age 10 years, but could be expected to do well longer. They also expressed that their favorite pairing for the variety is spicy curry or Mexican food.

Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha 2010, Cachpoal Valley $22. WIth 100% Carménère in this wine, it carries the most fruit focus of the three. The nose starts with the characteristic bell pepper element and opens into bacon fat, cassis, red berry, and light cracked pepper. On the palate there is a fresh water element layered into an ultra rich, slightly heavy palate. This wine wants to be decanted and given time to open up and unfold. There is a nice texture and movement in this wine opening into cooked down fruit, and hints of cocoa.

Carmen Gran Reserva 2010 Apalta-Colchagua Valley $15, 5% Carignan. Again, this wine wants to be decanted and let rest to open up. The initial breath gives distinct green pepper with light sulfur elements and a strong palate with intense flavor. The wine opens into light camphor and squid ink with distinct red fruit, pepper with spice, and a bread finish. This is a young, still tight wine. With air it opens up into a lot of richness and the acidity to carry it through–the Carignan helps provide some of this.

* Koyale Royale 2009, Colchagua Valley $26, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec. The most distinctive elements show on this wine. There is a lot of layering, and pleasant focus offered through this wine and it drinks beautifully into the second and third day. The green pepper element on the nose presents as refreshing, alongside a lightly bready character. The palate is intense with bacon fat, cassis, light clove, light bread, dark fruit and smoke. There is a distinctive textural finish here, and grippy tannin that is also pleasant. This was one of the stand outs in the tasting for its overall quality.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Though Chile has become associated with Carmenere, it is actually the success of Cabernet Sauvignon that brought attention to the red wines of the country. Cabernet Sauvignon helped show other areas of the world that Chile could produce quality red wines, thus bringing further interest in the rest of the wine industry of the area as well.

* Maquis 2010, Colchagua Valley $19. The value on this wine is utterly impressive. This wine offers a lot of sophistication for the cost. You get pencil lead, light green pepper, chocolate, and green leaf raspberry with a meaty, rich palate, and a medium long tang finish. It is still a young wine with a tight presentation, give it some open time if you choose to drink it now. This wine was one of the stand outs in the tasting for its value.

Ventisquero Grey 2009, Maipo Valley, $29, 6% Petite Verdot. The nose here carries dust and deep red and purple fruit, leading into a vibrant, gripping, and stimulating juicy mouth. The flavors bring a mix of dust, red and purple fruit, green leaf, and graphite, with a spice and light tar medium-long finish. Let this wine have some age or some air.

Los Vascos Le Dix 2009, Colchagua Valley, $65, 10% Carménère, 5% Syrah. This wine wants age and air. Decant it and let it open if you choose to have it now. A fresh green pepper, and light cassis nose moves into a strong palate of spice, dark fruit, cassis, cocoa and tobacco with both a juicy and grippy body. The tannins here are smoothed, giving the roundest and smoothest presentation of the three Cabernets. The Le Dix comes from over 80 year old vines. It would be a perfect pairing for a grilled rib eye steak.


To read more about the wine regions of Chile check out this map and click chart from The Wines of Chile:

Thank you to the Wines of Chile for including me in this tasting. Thank you to the Fred Dexheimer and the winemakers for discussing the wines with us. What a treat!

Thank you to Amber, and Morgan for their work facilitating the event.

Thank you to Lori Tieszen and to Emily Denton for extending the invitation to me.

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