Extremes of Chile: the Bío Bío
and Elqui Valleys
Presented by Wines of Chile with Cono Sur’s Adolfo Hurtado and Viña Falernia’s Giorgio Flessati
23rd May 2007
Chile has more than 112,000 hectares of vineyards. The traditional home of Chilean winemaking is the Central Valley, but the search for new terroir has taken winemakers to other areas: up into the foothills of the Andes, west towards the Pacific, north to the semi-arid mountain regions and south to the cooler climate regions. This seminar looked at wines from two extremes: the Elqui Valley, Chile’s northernmost wine region at a latitude of around 30° south; and then down to the Bío Bío Valley at around 38° south – it is more than 1000km from Elqui to Bío Bío.
Bío Bío has around 14,000 hectares of vineyards, around 12% of Chile’s total. The most commonly planted white grape is the moscato Alexandria, with over 5700 hectares, followed by chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling and gewurztraminer. Reds are represented mainly by pais with plantings of over 5700 ha. Bío Bío receives around 1100 mm of rain a year and in general the vineyards are picked around thirty days later than the Central Valley (hence the dominance of white varieties). Adolfo Hurtado explained that the Spanish never went south of the Bío Bío river, and the local population are mainly native Americans.
The Elqui Valley is much smaller, accounting for only 2% of Chile’s vineyards. It lies between the Andes, the Atacama desert (the world’s driest desert) and the Pacific, and receives a mere 80 mm of rainfall on average each year. Apparently even cacti are difficult to grow without irrigation: Viña Falernia uses drip irrigation in its vineyards, fed by reservoirs created by damming rivers flowing down from the Andes. It is a geologically very complex zone. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the vineyards at higher altitudes are warmer and are picked before those at lower altitudes, as the valley bottoms are cooled by the Humboldt Current and sea breezes.
Apparently fruit growing is very important in Chile. The fruit picking season, however, is earlier than the grapes for wine, so there is no competition for a labour force. Viña Falernia are putting a lot of emphasis on the development and training of local people from the Elqui Valley to help retention and engagement with the wine industry.
Bío Bío Valley
2006 Riesling Reserva, Cono Sur, 13.2%
From vineyards planted in 1986, this is fermented in stainless steel. It has a smoky pear drops nose, though some more concentrated spirity notes blow off. A decent palate, with a good riesling character in the mouth and lots of acidity on the finish. Good/Very Good. 85/100
2006 Gewürztraminer Reserva, Cono Sur, 13.6%
The vines were planted in the 1990s. It has a rich, full lychee and tropical fruit with quite a creamy feel. Fresh and clean on the palate, this is a very nice, clean gewurz, expressing the grape very well. There’s nice acidity (all natural, we were told – the vines are mainly planted on red clay soils which apparently help maintain acidity.) Very Good Indeed. 90/100
2006 Pinot Noir Reserva, Cono Sur,
From vines planted in 1991, this is fermented in stainless steel, and then undergoes malolactic fermentation in medium toast French oak barrels. It has a lovely, pure cherry-raspberry nose: there’s no particular complexity, but it is very attractive. A nice, attractive palate with very good balance. Good fruit characters and a nice acidity, again all natural. Some gently chewy tannins are evident after. Very Good. 88/100
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Alta Tierra, 14%
A somewhat coarse, warm climate sauvignon blanc nose, redolent of cooked beans and peas and cat’s pee. A nice, attractive open palate that’s quite round, rich and opulent. Some sauvignon blanc flavours come along later. There’s a big acidic tingle on the tip of the tongue after. A rather unusual sauvignon. Very Good. 87/100
2004 Syrah Reserva, Viña Falernia
There are ripe, attractive black fruit on the nose, which is fairly simple. There’s open, fresh syrah fruit on the palate. Good structure, with tannins from the grape, rather than from wood. Good. 84/100
2005 Carmenère Reserva, Viña Falernia, 15%
This is 100% carmenère from high altitude vineyards. It is made in a sort of Amarone style, though the grapes are left on the vines to desiccate for two months beyond the normal picking time. It has a very rich, full nose with some very fresh red fruits, some chocolate and even a touch of honey, though it’s not noticeably raisiny. Lovely palate: it carries its alcohol (in excess of 15%) very well indeed. It has a very interesting character in the mouth, with fruit, structure and a lovely balance. An impressive wine. Very Good Indeed. 92/100
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Last updated: 9 January 2008