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Chilean Cabernet shows off ‘unique’ character

Chile showed itself as offering one of the most nationally distinctive expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon at a blind tasting of top examples from around the world.

The panel: (l-r) Brian Croser, Peter McCombie MW, Cecilia Torres and Sebastián Labbé

Organised by Santa Rita Estates at Claridges Hotel in London, the trade and press event was led by Peter McCombie MW, who was aided by Australian winemaker and Santa Rita consultant Brian Croser, Santa Rita Casa Real head winemaker Cecilia Torres and Carmen head winemaker Sebastián Labbé.

Alongside four Chilean wines – Seña 2008, Carmen Gold Reserve 2010, Santa Rita Casa Real 2008 and Santa Rita Casa Real 2010 – eight other examples of Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines from five different countries were mixed into the two tasting flights.

This selection featured: Château Pontet Canet 2008 from Pauillac, Te Mata Coleraine 2009 from Hawke’s Bay, Jordan 2008 from Stellenbosch, Petaluma 2008 from Coonawarra, Sassicaia 2009 from Tuscany, Cullen “Diana Madeline” 2009 from Margaret River, Domaine de Chevalier 2009 from Pessac-Léognan and Ridge Montebello 2009 from Santa Cruz.

This regional diversity was matched by the variety of prices in the line up. Although not discussed as part of this event, the Jordan retails in the UK for just over £10 a bottle, while the Sassicaia and Ridge Monte Bello both sell for over £80.

Despite this large difference, there was remarkably little correlation between the wines that received the most positive feedback – although opinions within the room were often sharply divided – and the most expensive bottles.

Although the hand of the winemaker was often a significant and obvious contributor to the wines on show, particularly in the use of oak, the focus of Croser’s introductory comment concerned itself largely with terroir comparison.

Despite the geographic spread within the line-up, Croser highlighted these wines’ common link of come from grapes grown on free draining, moderate-to-low fertility, often stoney soils.

However, describing climate as “the most important element of terroir”, he noted the significant disparity in the represented regions’ growing degree days. At the extremes, Stellenbosch and Hawke’s Bay record a difference of over 600°C days, equivalent to a 3°C higher daily temperature in the South African region.

Croser also pointed to the “very under-estimated” impact of diurnal ranges on a wine, with the tendency towards a smaller range in maritime climates. He summarised the character of Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced in areas with a large diurnal range as tending to show a “more briary, intense character, perhaps not as complex.”

These generalisations were confirmed in the character of several of the wines on show, but it was the Chilean wines that were identified from the line up with the most notable confidence.

For Croser, Chilean wine “has always impressed me as being very unique and different.” Pointing to “the lovely sweet middle and very exotic characters that sometimes go over the top,” he added: “the tannins are different and you always know you are facing something very deep and concentrated.”

Following on from its inaugural workshop last year, Santa Rita is hosting a South American Wine Workshop in London tomorrow, which will be reported on by the drinks business.

Featuring presentations by Croser, as well as Peter Richards MW, Tim Atkin MW and Chilean wine writer Patricio Tapia, sessions will examine the market relevance of sustainability, coastal climate wines and innovation in Chile and the influence of terroir in Argentina.

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