July 2015 Wine & Cheese Club: Wines near Valparaiso (Chile)

South America has some of the wettest lands, as well as the driest. From the lush Amazon basin to the peaks of the Andes, there is just about every terrain and climate imaginable- and somewhere between these extremes lies absolutely perfect weather and terrain to grow world-class grapes.

South American wines were first noticed here in the U.S. for the incredible low-cost values that could be found, particularly in Malbec, the workhorse grape of the continent.  But much like Australia and South Africa, their wine making history is much older than the U.S., and we are now noticing the fine wines they also produce. Here’s one example of how South America is coming into its own: its wines will be exclusively featured in the V.I.P. tent at this month’s Valparaiso Wine Festival. Move over France, Italy, and Napa Valley!

All of the wines featured this month are grown within about 250 miles of Valparaiso, Chile. For our members that only receive red wines, your selections are from the Western part of Mendoza, Argentina- just a short distance over the border. White wine members will receive a selection from the Maule Valley, just to the South of Valparaiso.

La Madrid Cabernet Franc 2013, Agrelo, Argentina
Cabernet Franc can vary widely in style and taste. Perhaps it’s because it is more prone to mutation than other varietals, and also because it grows in a wider variety of soil types than most other grapes.  It also is more “yield sensitive,” meaning that it takes on distinct differences depending upon how densely the crop is grown. These are factors that affect all wine grapes, but Cab Franc will endure a broader range than most other grapes.

It can be light and fruity, or (less commonly) it can be dark and oily and mysterious.   For those of you who received two red wines in June, there are distinct differences between this Cab Franc and last month’s. As opposed to the lighter style of this wine, the selection from Steele showed more dark fruit, plum, and vanilla tones.  This Cab Franc is not as fruit forward. It’s light and elegant, but with a nice note of grilling char.

An interesting side note: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were crossed, and the resulting hybrid became Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hector Durigutti is a winemaker who we have featured on our shelves under his namesake label.  His approach to this wine is similar to his others: unfined, unfiltered, with natural fermentation from native yeasts. In other words, he tries to have a minimal hand in the winemaking process. Agrelo, the sub-region of Mendoza where this wine is grown, is directly East of Valparaiso, Chile.

Cheese Pairing: Alpha Tolman from Jasper Hills
This raw cow’s milk cheese is made using the traditional Alpine methods of cooking and pressing the curds during cheese making to achieve a tight, elastic texture and robust, complex flavors, much like Gruyere.  The wheels are washed with brine to infuse them with a funky edge. Named after a philanthropic dairy farmer in Greensboro, Alpha Tolman is Jasper Hill’s  ode to their community. Young wheels have milky, fruit and nut flavors and a smooth mouth feel. Mature wheels are more bold and meaty with amplified butter and caramelized onion flavors carried by a rich and crystalline texture.

Alberti 154 Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina
Despite Malbec’s popularity in the recent past, we have to admit that it is not usually a wine that resonates with us. Unlike Cabernet Franc, for example, Malbec tends to have a pretty consistent profile, one that’s very serviceable but a bit unremarkable. Gertrude Stein could just as well have written “A Malbec is a Malbec is a Malbec.” In fact, the working title for this month’s Wine Club theme was going to be “South America: Beyond Malbec.”

But then we tasted this particular wine two weeks ago. It’s a Malbec that has some personality- a bit of earthy funk that really made it stand out in a “Malbec shootout” we recently performed.  A lot of descriptors were tossed around during the tasting- “earthy,” “confident,” “focused,” and “deep” were all used, and we pulled some smoke, vanilla, and spices from it as well.  It is round and fruity, as Malbec tends to be, but with some Old World earth and nice acidity that gives you something to ponder.

Cheese Pairing: Zerto Reggianito, Argentina
Argentina has maintained the European heritage of its immigrants, as this Argentine parmesan shows.   This “little Reggiano” comes in 15 pound wheels, as opposed to the 85 pound wheels of its Italian brother. It is also aged for about 6 months, producing a younger, less crumbly parmesan. As with any good hard cheese/red wine pairing, the cheese softens the tannins of the wine. The fruitiness of the wine is enhances as the more savory components of each meld together.

Oveja Negra Sauvignon Blanc/Carmenére 2012
90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Carmenére

From the Maule valley, 15 miles from the Andes Mountains, about 200 miles to the South of Valparaiso, Chile (and 5,254 miles from our Valparaiso).  It is the largest and one of the oldest wine producing regions in Chile.

The addition of Carmenére–typically a red wine– is distinctive in this white blend.  To make this wine, the Sauvignon Blanc was aged “sur-lie” for 2 months, meaning that the wine aged on its sediment (such as dead yeast cells and small grape particles), so that it gains an added complexity and a fuller texture.  The Carmenére, was pressed off the skins and fermented separately before it was added to the blend.  (Bonus fact for those that might not know: There’s another well-known white wine that uses red grapes- Champagne is often a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.)

Sauvignon Blanc definitely defines the profile of this wine, but there are a few little twists that make it stand out from a very crowded group.  In addition to its typical (and delicious) citrus components, we get some green apple and green grapes. (Did you ever notice that “grapes” is rarely a word used to describe wine flavors…)  The Carmenére adds some light herbal notes in the background, like a wisp of cologne from someone who just left the room.

Cheese Pairing: Capriko
A wine with a distinctive blend deserves a cheese with a distinctive blend. The Capriko is a blend of goat’s milk and cow’s milk. Recall the optical illusion that appears to be a vase or two faces in profile, and you have an analogy for this cheese.  It can taste like a tangy goat cheese with a rich, rounding note of savory cow’s milk; or a satisfying cow’s milk cheddar with a fresh bright splash of goat’s milk.  Either way, this play between the two qualities mirrors the way the Carmenere sets off the Sauvignon blanc.

Med assistants heals-assistants.com