Wine of the Week: Chilly outside requires Chilean inside

The 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards were recently handed out in D.C. Here are the winners.

WASHINGTON — As the saying goes, there is a first time for everything. It was just my luck that I was included for the first time in the annual Chilean wine awards, held in D.C.

I was a guest earlier this week at the residence of Chilean Ambassador ‎Juan Valdés, who hosted the 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards (AWOCA), presented by Wines of Chile.

Over 300 wines were submitted back in September, where, over a two-day period, 27 industry experts from both hemispheres met in San Francisco to taste and judge the wines in a blind tasting, awarding a total of 82 gold medals.

However, it was the top 13 winners in specific categories that were announced, and subsequently sampled, during the ceremony: sparkling, sauvignon blanc, other white, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, carignan, carménère, other red, red blend, cabernet sauvignon under $20, cabernet sauvignon $20–$50 and cabernet sauvignon over $50.

The diversity of wines in each category is an acknowledgement of the amazing wine revolution taking place in Chile, where winemakers can craft a wide variety of varietals, thanks to the diverse wine growing regions located throughout the country.

Mario Pablo Silva, president of Wines of Chile, explained that the ceremony is traditionally held in Santiago, but recently, AWOCA has traveled around the world, including Shanghai and São Paulo. Silva was especially excited about bringing the ceremony to D.C., he said, because: “Washington, D.C., is an important city for us. It is not just the capital of the United States, but it has a large community of wine drinkers who appreciate both New World and Old World wines. The wines of Chile are a unique combination of both.”

Also in attendance was the AWOCA judge liaison Evan Goldstein, master sommelier and president and chief education officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions. He explained that the judging criteria was indeed thorough and demanding and was conducted by master sommeliers, masters of wine, industry experts and wine journalists who are familiar with South American wines.

Bordered by over 2,500 miles of Pacific coastline to the west and the Andes Mountains — creating a natural border with Argentina — to the east, Chile is a very narrow country with a very rich history of winemaking.

Winemaking began in earnest in the mid-16th century after European missionaries introduced grapevines to the region in order to supply wine for religious ceremonies. In the latter part of the 18th century, wine exports from Chile increased dramatically following the introduction of traditional European varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and chardonnay. The foreign vines adapted quickly to the climate and soils of Chile, particularly in the Mapio and Casablanca Valleys.

Today, the focus of Chilean winemakers has shifted from making mass-produced wines for domestic consumption to crafting high-quality wines for export. Many of these wines offer a substantially better value than some of their European counterparts.

I would suggest that as the weather cools down, heat up your evenings with some of the winners from each of the categories.

The winners of the 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards are:

Best Sparkling: Non-vintage Viña Undurraga, Undurraga Rosé Royal from the Leyda Valley, just to the west of the coastal mountain range, 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This sparkler displays flavors of strawberry and wild cherry fruit, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. It is balanced with dry, crisp acidity and complemented with a creamy texture and long finish. $17

Best Sauvignon Blanc: 2017 Viña Haras de Pirque, Albaclara Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley and Maipo Valley. The Leyda Valley is located close to the Pacific Ocean, where the grapes grow in a climate blessed by warm days and cool evenings and are blended with grapes from the Maipo Valley to give the wine both ripeness and freshness. Refreshing flavors of grapefruit, lemon/lime and grassy notes come together on a crisp, bracing finish. $12

Best Pinot Noir: 2016 San Pedro 1865 Selected Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Elqui Valley. The vineyard benefits from fresh winds and morning cloud cover, given its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The granitic alluvial soils and deep sandy clay offer ideal soil for growing pinot noir grapes. Between 10 and 30 percent of the grapes are whole-cluster fermented, which gives complex aromas and a distinctive palate to the wine. The wine spent eight months aging in egg-shaped concrete foudres and oak barrels. The result is a pinot noir that displays red fruit and dark cherry characters, both in the nose and on the palate. Wild cherry and juicy raspberry flavors intermingle with hints of spice and minerals on the pretty finish. $18

Best Cabernet Sauvignon under $20: 2016 Viña Requingua Puerto Viejo Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the Curico Valley. Planted in 2000, this vineyard site has deep, rocky soil with clay loam texture. The wine is aged 85 percent on its lees for six-months with French oak and micro-oxygenation; the remaining 15 percent is aged for eight months in French and American oak barrels. The full flavors of black cherry fruit, ripe plums and jammy blackberries are wonderfully in balance with the sweet tannins. The smooth finish features prominent notes of dark chocolate and black licorice. $10

Best Other Red: 2013 Viña Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc from the Curico Valley. This wine is produced using grapes from 50-year-old vines planted in a small valley nestled into the coastal mountain range. The deep, sandy loam soils and minimal irrigation techniques stress the vines, which result in concentrated flavors with balance and depth. The wine displays an aromatic nose featuring scents of blueberry and black pepper that lead to flavors of dark cherry, black plum and blueberry that glide over the palate. Notes of black licorice and spice fill in the back of the palate on the lovely finish. $25

The rest of the best:

  • Best Other White: 2015 Viña Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Late Harvest Riesling ($20)
  • Best Chardonnay: 2016 Luis Felipe Edwards Marea Valle de Leyda Chardonnay ($25)
  • Best Syrah; 2015 Best in Show: Viña Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah ($25)
  • Best Carignan/Secano: 2012 Luis Felipe Edwards, LFE100 CIEN Carignan ($32)
  • Best Carménère $25 and Over: 2015 San José de Apalta Carménère Blue Label ($40)
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon $20–$50: 2014 Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon Over $50; 2014 Best in Show: SANTA EMA Catalina ($50)
  • Best Red Blend: 2011 Viña Cousiño Macul Lota ($80)

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