Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Veramonte, Chile, and Agustin Huneeus

Friday evening we tasted the 2013 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc from Veramonte of Casablanca Valley, Chile.  We also tasted the Ritual Pinot Noir but consumer interest centered on the Sauvignon Blanc which, in fairness, was higher priced and should have been better than the Pinot.  While this role reversal of inauspicious Sauvignon Blanc actually being superior to the vaunted Pinot Noir looks funny on paper, it actually proved on the palate that Veramonte got it right when they valued the white wine higher than the red.

When the Veramonte distributor initially presented the Ritual wines to us, they were presented as "Paul Hobbs" wines; Mr. Hobbs being one of that elite class of winemakers that traverses the globe seemingly on retainer with wineries everywhere.  What was omitted in the presentation was the name, Agustin Huneeus, surely an equal to Hobbs historically and now the patron owner of Veramonte.  We blogged about Mr. Huneeus back on the 31st of January 2013, recounting in that post his top shelf resume of winery accomplishments.

Just one touchstone of that resume showed how Mr. Huneeus took a very mediocre, under-performing Franciscan Vineyards in the mid-eighties and seemingly overnight transformed it into a prestigious producer of fine wines.  Then in 1996 from that Franciscan Estates platform, he launched Veramonte back in his native Chile.  Since selling Franciscan in 2004, Huneeus has concentrated on the expansive Veramonte line and his two Napa elites, Quintessa and Faust.  Lest we forget, Huneeus got his start with Concha y Toro back in 1960!

When we think of the Chilean wine industry, we often give it short shrift, especially when comparing it with Argentina and its best-in-the-world Malbec.  But there's good reason to acknowledge Chilean wine quality too, when you consider they've been doing it since the 16th century, courtesy (as always) of the missionaries.   Within a century the popularity of those "sacramental" wines would have to be reigned in by Spain when shipments from Chile began to eat into the local wine industry profits.  Then a hundred years after that, French varietals (like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) made their debut in Chile and it's those wines that have currently reinstated Chile as a wine exporting powerhouse.

I would say the rest is history except for a couple of serious 20th century snags, one being the macro-economic doldrums caused by World War II but the other being the political upheaval and resultant dictatorship that was very much self-inflicted.  It wasn't until 1990 when democracy was restored that the wine industry again was able to spread its wings.

Please join us this Friday when David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with a tasting of Spanish and California wines.  There are no better wine values currently than what Spain produces and California, of course, has its thumb on the pulse of the American palate, so this one should be quite good.  Please join us.

...and please become a follower of the blog too!  

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