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Syrah the ‘bright star’ of Chile

Max Weinlaub, chief winemaker of Viña Maipo, has hailed Syrah as the “bright star” of Chile with its ability to cater to all tastes across all price points.

Max Weinlaub, chief winemaker of Vina Maipo

Over lunch highlighting Vina Maipo’s Syrah collection, Max Weinlaub spoke of the winery’s strategy to promote the different “tiers” of Syrah and the evolution of the grape in Chile which has only been grown for the last 20 years.

“It’s still relatively new and we are still finding out its unique characteristics and how it responds to different growing conditions,” he said.

“We want to show off the typicity of the grape, as opposed to using too much oak or intervention but it’s learning to strike the right note between letting the Syrah just be itself and countering the wildly different styles which come from Chile’s diverse regions and subregions.”

Vina Maipo’s Gran Devocion 2014 is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah from Maule Valley which often produces “wild and undrinkable wines”, especially if they are drunk without any oak ageing.

Hailing from the south of Maule where the climate is humid and with a large temperature range, the Grand Devocion spends 14 months in second use French oak which mitigates against the high tannins and acidity.

“It’s our pursuit of elegance,” said Weinlaub. “It’s approachable when young but well structured. The use of oak has given it balance and the Cabernet/Syrah percentages are the magic numbers as far as this wine is concerned. The Syrah needs Cabernet to bring out the fruit expression.”

Weinlaub then referred to Vina Maipo’s limited edition Syrah 2012 as the winery’s “flagship”, and the winery’s first icon wine.

“The soil is in close proximity to the Maipo River and on the lower terraces of the Maipo Valley. There’s good permeability and low fertility, leading to powerful wines which need a certain amount of oak treatment.” The 2012 which is 86% Syrah and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, spends three years in Burgundian oak and is limited to only 500 cases.

“Every year, I want to use less oak,” said Weinlaub. “We have to strike the balance between structure, acidity and power and less alcohol.”

Vina Maipo’s Alto Tajamar is the product of Vina Maipo’s best blocks of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes handpicked from three different soils in the Vina Maipo vineyard in Maipo Valley. Its location benefits from cooling winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean in the morning and then down from the Andes in the afternoon as well as the moderating influence from the Maipo River.

With its blend of 92% Syrah and 8% Cabernet, Weinlaub tenderly referred to Alto Tajamar as the “best of our Syrah and the best of Cabernet.

“Syrah is the bright star of Chile. It’s able to cater to all levels and styles from the light, fruitier styles to the powerful, complex expressions you might expect from the Northern Rhone.”

Vina Maipo’s Syrah wines are already popular in Japan, one of the most established markets in Asia, but Weinlaub said he needs “20 more years” before making the same indent in China.

“The China marketplace is too fragmented with too many Chilean players at the moment. We start off little by little with some of the more straightforward styles and then progress from there. Growing a brand takes time and we’re in no rush. We’re comfortable where we are.”




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