Wines of Chile’s Annual Awards is a much-anticipated event and the national industry’s most important wine competition of the year. The 6th Annual Awards, held in January 2009, featured a panel of US judges and produced 40 Gold Medals, 96 Silver, and 141 Bronze.
Each year following its Annual Awards, Wines of Chile holds a workshop dedicated to a Sensorial Analysis Workshop that allows winemakers to taste the gold medal winners across the board, gain a sense of what the judges from that market are looking for, ask questions, and share technical information among themselves.
This year’s workshop was held on July 7 in the Colchagua Valley-somewhat of a geographical mid-point for the winemakers who came from Chile’s diverse regions. Thirty of the winning wines were presented by their winemakers with technical information and data sheets that included the judges’ comments.
Wines were presented from nearly every one of Chile’s wine regions, from Elqui in the north to Bío Bío in the south. As the group tasted its way through the 30 wines (1 Sauvignon Blanc, 1 Chardonnay, 2 Pinot Noir, 1 Merlot, 6 Carmenere, 3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 Malbec, 1 Carignan, 4 Syrah, 7 Blends, and 1 Late Harvest), it became clear that, other than quality, there was no definitive element they had in common. The wines were made in different styles-some fresh, young, bright, and juicy, while others were full, deep, lush, and complex-and the take-away nugget was that the American market appreciates the diversity of styles that Chile has to offer.
The event also provided the opportunity for the winemakers to discuss the technical aspects such as organic viticulture, harvest dates, oak treatment, working with natural yeasts, controlling alcohol levels, soil types and heat summations in the different regions, and the challenges of finding the balance between what the winemaker wants and the commercial department needs.
Broad questions were posed for future thought, particularly with respect to the varieties produced in Chile. While Cabernet Sauvignon remains king and Carmenere has become the country’s signature grape, the group also discussed the very high quality of Chilean Malbec and the growing trend in recovering long-overlooked varieties such as Carignan and working with old-vine, dry-farmed field blends.
The winemakers agreed that this opportunity to taste and discuss this many award-winning wines side-by-side with their peers in a technical setting is very important and allows them to gain some insight into what the American judges-as representatives of the US market-most appreciate. Once again, no single definitive line was apparent, but rather it emphasized the great diversity of Chilean wine and that the country is producing top quality wines in a broad range of styles.