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Chilean Pinot Noir

Chile is located on the western coast of South America and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the East. The climate in Chile’s wine-growing regions is similar to that of California’s Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Production is roughly 25% of Argentina’s, and Chile is best known for blended reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, Peitit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) and single-varietal wines of Carménére, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay. About 75% of Chile’s wine output is exported, primarily to the United States and United Kingdom which eagerly snap up Chile’s value-priced wines.

For several years, Chile has been a source of low-priced Pinot Noirs, but recently there are a few producers in Casablanca, Calchagua and San Antonio Valleys that are making first-rate Pinot Noirs. Chile has followed the historical progression of California in that early on Pinot Noir was planted in the wrong places (such as the Casablanca Valley floor), over cropped, and vinified like Cabernet Sauvignon. Vintners are now discovering the best cool climate sites and planting the proper clones. Since 1999, Chileans have been reducing yields and focusing on small production, quality-driven Pinot Noirs. The amount of Pinot Noir vineyard acreage in Colchagua nearly tripled between 1997 and 2004.

Cono Sur is a prominent winery in the Colchagua Valley, which is close to the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1993, and owned by Guilisati and Larrain, its name comes from the geographic nickname of the cone-shaped tip of South America (cono - cone and sur - south). The foggy and cool microclimate and stone-clay well-drained soils are paradise for Pinot Noir. The first Pinot Noir vines were planted back in 1968 and today Cono Sur is the largest producer of Pinot Noir in South America, and possibly even the world (230,000 cases for 2007).

Adolfo Hurtado has been the winemaker at Cono Sur from the beginning. His resume includes work at Domaine Jacques Prieur in Burgundy so he is well-suited to head the Pinot Noir program at this winery. Grapes are sourced not only from plantings in Colchagua Valley, but also San Antonio and Casablanca. Three Pinot Noirs are primarily exported: Southern Cone is from the Colchagua and Central Valleys that is very reasonably priced, Vision is a step up in quality and price, and the higher-end Pinot Noir is the Limited 20 Barrels ($25). Cono Sur’s top Pinot Noir is Ocio.

2005 Cono Sur Southern Cone Central Valley Pinot Noir Chile

14.0% alc., $8. · A light-bodied un-oaked wine with fruity aromatics highlighted by smoke. Nice and sweet dark cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit on the palate with frisky acidity. Phenolic bitterness dominates the finish.

2005 Cono Sur Vision Colchagua Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $12. · This Pinot Noir is sourced from 78-year-old vines. Plenty of air time is required to smooth this wine out. It is light and soft with some attractive spiced cherry flavors and plenty of earthiness. There is prominent oak from start to finish and a lively acid spine. The plentiful funk in the nose and finish might appeal to Burgundy lovers who admire kinky wines.

Other Chilean Pinot Noirs to seek out:

Matetic Vineyards The Matetic Family has owned this winery located in the San Antonio Valley since 2001. The labels read EQ for Equilibrium, not Matetic Vineyards. Winemaker Rodrigo Soto was trained in New Zealand and California. Consulting winemaker Ken Bernards, who has produced Pinot Noir for many years under the Ancien label, was involved in the development of the Pinot Noir program here.

Kingston Family Vineyards Courtney Kingston has turned a portion of her family’s Chilean cattle ranch in Casablanca Valley into a vineyard and focuses on Pinot Noir and Syrah. Byron Kosuge, formerly of Saintsbury and now making wines under his own B. Kosuge label, is the consulting winemaker and a partner in the project. Kingston has 77 acres of Pinot Noir planted and a new winery on site. This is one of Chile’s few gargiste wineries and plans are to keep production in the 500 case range and sell off the remaining grapes from the vineyard. Two Pinot Noirs are produced: Alazan ($28) and Tobiano ($18), names inspired by favorite horses of the past.

Viña La Misión This winery is located on the site of an 18th century French mission station on the banks of the Rio Clarillo in the Maipo Valley. Vineyards are at various sites in the higher Maipo Valley and the Curicó Valley. William Fèvre, of Chablis fame, is closely involved with winemaking here.

Piedra Feliz Pinot Noir is produced from fruit grown in the Casablanca Valley.

Valdivieso Chile’s first producer of sparkling wine. This winery began cultivating Pinot Noir 120 years ago, when its Champagne-loving founder enlisted French expertise to create a sparkling wine. Valdivieso remains Chile’s sparkling wine power player. In 1950 the Mitjans group purchased Valdivieso and expanded sparkling and still-wine production in the Maipo and Aconcagua Valleys.

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