Let's cut to the chase. We all know how good Chile's everyday wines are. You name it, whatever grape variety you like, they are all more than decent as everyday fare.
But what's better than the everyday stuff from Chile? Well, Carmenere for sure. But we're a pinot guy. And we're downright snobbish about it. Good pinot is fine, thank you very much, but great pinot is truly exceptional; that is, if you concede that ninety percent of pinots on the market are disappointing, which is why when you get a good one, it's memorable. How's that for circular logic in a run-on sentence!
So we started this post thinking, if everyday Chilean pinot is as good as it is, just how good could the superior stuff be? And why haven't we tasted any of the super-duper stuff that we assume is out there? Are the locals holding it back for themselves?
In fact we have tasted higher tiered pinots from Chile in the past and they haven't been anything to write home about. Pinot Noir was a latecomer to the Chilean wine scene and it is very much a work in progress. The changes that are now happening there reflect the difference between Chile and say, California, which seems content to supplement ordinary pinot juice with a goodly dollop of Syrah and then marketing it as superior.
What Chile is in the process of doing is reassessing clonal varieties of Pinot Noir, searching out cooler microclimates and reducing yields, all in an effort to drive quality up.
If you look at the Chilean wine map there is no set pinot appellation. it's not like Oregon. Pinot is everywhere up and down that ribbon of a country and that actually explains a great deal. Chile is bordered on the left by the Pacific Ocean and the right by the Andes. That framework serves to moderate vineyard temperatures greatly. Now all they need to do is fine tune things a bit.
(Having the right volcanic soils doesn't hurt either.)
Yesterday we ordered the Vina Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir. It was on a short list of high quality pinots. Vina Leyda is located in the Leyda Valley, a sub-district of the San Antonio appellation fifty miles to the west of capitol city Santiago. The Leyda Valley is formed by the Acongagua River which extends from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. During the day the vineyards are cooled by the ocean breezes while at night the cold water from the Andes does likewise.
Vina Leyda markets a lower tier Pinot that also gets high marks from the critics. What separates the Lot 21 from the regular pinot is the human element. Not only are the grapes hand-harvested (not a minor task in itself) but then those grapes are de-stemmed and further pared down bunch by bunch on the winery sorting table.
Sixty percent of the berries get a soft crush, the rest are fermented as whole berries after a six day maceration. During the seven day fermentation the mass is punched down 3-4 times a day. The wine is then aged ten months in French oak with malolactic fermentation before its release.
We can hardly wait to taste this one.