Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oveja Negra, VIA wines, Valle del Maule, Chile

The focus around Vancouver as of late has undoubtedly been Chile, at least when it comes to wine. Our recent Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (http://www.playhousewinefest.com/) was a raging success, as always, and Wines of Chile ( http://www.winesofchile.org/) has been helping to create memorable experiences throughout BC and the rest of North America.

   As many of you know, I have not been immune to the almost frenzied pull of Chilean red wines, and find the quality vs price to been some of the finest value in the world. Long gone are the days when saying "Chilean wine" was a subtle code for "table wine". These days Chilean wines are on some of the most prestigious winelists to be found, and sommeliers and wine merchants alike are clamouring for more, more, more!

   Which brings me to Ojeva Negra, the black sheep, http://www.viawines.com/. Perhaps I had a natural inclination to be fond towards the wines just because they are Chilean, or because my wife's maiden name means sheep in Italian. Perhaps that explains why I was open-minded towards wines that came in at well under $20 a bottle in BC (which has the second highest liquor tax in the world) and in general here - wines under $20 are often over-cropped, diluted and poorly balanced. Perhaps that explains my willingness to try the wines, but only the quality they deliver explains why I'm writing about the wines.
   VIA wines is a newcomer to Chile, having only been started in the late 1990's with two partners: a British wine merchant and a Chilean family with strong traditions in wines and spirits. They came along just at the time when Chile was truly making a place for itself among the great wines of the world, and had faith that they too could create brilliance in the most unique of places.

   Perhaps it is the first part of their company's mission statement that is the most telling "to craft innovative wines of the highest quality, in harmony with Nature...". Out of all of those words, perhaps the word "craft" is the most telling. Many writers will talk about the winemakers they meet, but rarely do we use the word "craftsman" (or woman) to describe that person. The truth is that even in the wine industry, there are a great many people who are just "doing their job" rather then "living their passion".

   Thankfully, the bold young team at VIA seem to have no end to their passion; passion for great wine, passion for working with their land in a respectful manner, passion for reducing their carbon-footprint in every aspect of their business, and passion for getting you the best wine for the best price. Admirable ambitions, but let's see how they measure up in the glass.

2011 Oveja Negra Sauvignon Blanc - Carmenere
$12 SPEC (BC)     88 points

blend:     85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Carmenere
vines:     10+ years, single vineyard, with excessive yield of 12 tons/HA
soil:    fine textured alluvial with loam and loamy-clay, altitude 500 feet
vinification:   all stainless steel, with earth filtering
  • visual:   clear; ultra pale core with light gold and watery rim
  • nose:   clean; moderately intense and youthful; ripe stonefruits such as apricots and peaches, blossoming summer floral notes... very inviting
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (lemonbalm) acids, light body, moderate ABV (13%), moderately intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose with more emphasis coming from citrus notes of lemon zest and yellow grapefruit, rich undercurrant of minerality. Very good balance and structure, medium length
  • conclusion:   a crowd pleaser; for the price anyone who can get their hands on this will enjoy an overabundance of value for money. That being said I would love to try this wine when the vines mature a bit more and they reduce the yield
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   vibrant acidity wants for a bit of fat, and I would use seafood... consider a sushi experience with sea urchin or, for the less daring, try it with your butter poached crab or grilled prawns and watch it sing!

2010 Oveja Negra Cabernet Franc - Carmenere
$12 (SPEC) (BC)    89 points

blend:   72% Cabernet Franc, 28% Carmenere
vines:    10 years old, harvested at 8-10 tons per HA
soil:   same as above, single vineyard
vinification:   25% of the blend was 8-10 months in oak, also earth filtered
  • visual:   clear; moderate ruby core with light cherry rim (little bricking)
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing aromas; baked earth, rich red currants, strawberry compote, background of old cigarbox, light dark floral tones
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (young raspberry and currant) acids, moderate+ (slightly grippy) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV (13.5%), moderate+ intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with the bright young red berry flavors running rampant, undercurrants of floral notes. Very good balance, a structure approaching excellence, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   the only thing holding this wine back is the youth of the vines. It shows a great deal of craftsmanship, especially for the price, and is still very young. Drinks well 2014-2018 and beyond
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   seared venison flank steak with blueberry and peppercorn compote on steamed spaghetti squash and roast wild mushrooms.... the venison will cosy up to the rich berry notes in the wines, the peppercorn with play of the almost-sweet and supple Carmenere, the spaghetti squash for a palate cleanser and the wild mushrooms will coax the earthy notes up front and show more depth in the wine

2009 Oveja Negra Carignan
$17 (SPEC) (BC)     91 points

blend:   87% Carignan, 9% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot
vines:    40 years+ from the western side of the Valle del Maule, yield of 7-9 tons/HA
soil:    marginal granitic slopes with low moisture
vinification:   100% malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels for 12 months

  • visual:   clear;  medium+ plum core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:    clean; rich bouquet of plums, berry compote, light peppercorn spice, dark florals such as irises
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ to fully intense (red  currant) acids, medium+ (rich and chewy) tannins, moderate+ boy, moderate ABV (13.5%), moderate+ intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with richness, fluidity and nuance. Excellent balance and structure with medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   the winemaker is finally shining by allowing his vines to express themselves. This wine is a joy to savor, and savor it I am... enjoy now (with one hour decant) 2012-2017 and possibly beyond
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   an easy one, just buy the best cut of beef you can, season it with salt and pepper, and have some potatoes and veggies for garnish.... a truly versatile wine it would also be brilliant  with a charcuterie platter; some dry aged sausage, some hard cheese and fresh bread!

   And so at the end, I'm left re-reading my notes and finding that VIA wines is living up to it's guiding principles: "Identifying the varietals that match our estates' soil characteristics, finding a balance variety and soil that express the typicity of each one". Expressing "typicity".... that just means expressing location, or terroir  as some might call it... it reminds me of what one winemaker told me. He said his job wasn't to make wine, it was to allow the wine to make itself.

   Bravo VIA, my expectations are now set on high for next years release!

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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