Wines of Chile has a tradition of kicking off each new year with its Annual Wines of Chile Awards in which renowned judges are invited from one of the country’s major export markets to taste and rate a wide assortment of our wines. The winners are announced in a gala event just before the Chilean wine industry rolls up its sleeves and prepares for the upcoming harvest (which you all should know runs roughly from February through May or even June in the southern hemisphere). Once the grapes are all in, the yeasts have stopped bubbling, the new wines are racked and safely aging in tanks or barrels, and the winemakers are now sleeping through the night once again, it is time for part 2 of the AWoCA tradition: the Sensorial Analysis Workshop.
Each July, Wines of Chile invites its members to taste the award winning wines and encourages the winemakers to discuss the results and processes among themselves. In the past, all of the gold medal wines were presented, but given the whopping number of golds this year–52!–the format was changed to include just the 12 trophy winners…but with a twist.
This year’s session began with a presentation by Gerard Casaubon, the Manager of the Catholic University’s Centro de Aromas y Sabores. Gerard is well-known among the members of the Chilean wine community, and his innate ability to make the science of smell and taste lively and entertaining is as appreciated as it is admired. He explained the relationship between families of chemical compounds and the aromas they evoke and then showed how those smells are perceived in wine.
This concept in itself was not new to the attendees–the Chilean industry has a strong working relationship with the Centro de Aromas and other scientific entities–but what was of particular interest were the results of the chemical analyses for each trophy winner. These star-shaped graphs indicate the aroma profiles of the different wines… in other words, scientific confirmation that the cat pee you think you smell in that Sauvignon Blanc or that hint of new leather in a big red blend really is there!
The uses for this type of analysis are many. One obvious use is as an excellent tool for training tasters because it standardizes the identification of descriptors (was that strawberry or raspberry? Pear or green apple?).
It is also helpful in identifying taste preferences for certain groups. One of the key reasons Wines of Chile invites judges from a single country is to learn more about what appeals to consumers in that market, and this sensorial analysis is a supplementary scientific tool to complement the subjective, qualitative results returned by the tasting panel. If the Canadian judges are representative of the preferences of Canadian consumers, analyzing the composition of the wines they considered best provides an indicator of the style of wines that are most likely to be successful in that market.
Reviewing the technical sheets of the wines tasted is another, more conventional method of analyzing the judges’ tastes. For example, of the 12 wines tasted (4 whites and 8 reds), the lowest alcohol level was 13.5% (which is standard for Chile), but 8 of the wines topped 14%. They also showed a preference for wines that were slightly sweet. The lowest residual sugar level was 1.94 gr/lt (2 g/l is considered dry), and the highest was 6.8 gr/l in a white and 3.8 gr/l in a red). The common thread was that although alcohol and sugar levels were somewhat higher than winewriters keep saying they prefer, all of these wines have fresh, bright acidity, which provides balance in each case.
During the tasting itself, each wine was presented by its respective winemaker and often sparked rather lively discussion on such topics as ideal harvest dates to balance phenolic ripeness while preserving acidity in the fruit, managing tannins and pyracines in potentially rustic varieties, the differences in this year’s colder-than-usual vintage, the true age of some of Chile’s old vine vineyards, and just exactly what we understand by typicity in Carmenere (no conclusion on that yet!).
While scientific methodology can provide a great deal of information about the aromatic and flavor profiles of a given wine (or other product), as well as its levels of acidity, sweetness, and astringency, it cannot, however, identify the degree of pleasure it may produce. Wine appreciation is clearly subjective, and what appeals to one may not to another. Below you will find the list of trophy winners and the key descriptors identified in the analysis, along with some of the comments evoked by the audience.
Best Sauvignon Blanc & Best Value White:
Viña Bravado Marina García Schwaderer 2009, Casablanca Valley
Predominant Notes: grapefruit, exotic fruits, tropical fruits with a bit of asparagus and green bean.
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca Valley
Predominant Notes: almond, oak, honey, tobacco with a bit of vanilla and spice.
Best Other White:
Cono Sur Vision Viognier 2009, Colchagua Valley
Predominant Notes: citrus and floral predominate over the typical apricot and peach (the winemaker explained that they specifically harvest early for more citrus character) along with tobacco and sweet spice.
Best White Blend:
Estampa Reserve Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier 2009, Casablanca Valley
Predominant Notes: this 3-varietal blend has a complex combination of bell pepper, grapefruit and exotic fruits, peach, tobacco, green onion, and a hint of cat pee.
Best Pinot Noir:
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2008, Casablanca Valley
Predominant Notes: abundant red berries, plus blackberry, strawberry jam, and prune, with a bit of toast and coffee.
Ventisquero Grey Merlot 2007, Colchagua Valley
Predominant Notes: red berries, blackberry, and prune with a touch of vanilla.
Casa Rivas Gran Reserva Carmenere 2007, Maipo Valley
Predominant Notes: blackberry, prune, oak, vanilla, coffee, and chocolate. Although the chart did not show high amounts of menthol (or eucalyptus), discussion ensued about the level perceived, confirming once again that this is a descriptor that provokes a high degree of personal opinion.
Best Syrah & Best in Show
San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Cachapoal 2007, Cachapoal Valley
Predominant Notes: Coffee and toast (clearly from the oak) as well as a strong meaty component, typical of the Syrah, along with blackberry, prune, tobacco, and a bit of raspberry.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon:
Echeverría Founders Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Maipo Valley
Predominant Notes: leather, prune, blackberry, green bean, and sweet spice.
Best Other Red:
Odfjell Vineyards Orzada Carignan 2006, Maule Valley
Predominant Notes: Prune, oak, toast, coffee and a touch of sweet spice.
Best Red Blend:
O. Fournier Centauri Blend 2008, Maule Valley
Predominant Notes: prune, oak, toast, leather, sweet spice, and raspberry.
Best Value Red:
Via Wines Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Franc Carmenere 2008, Maule Valley
Predominant Notes: components from each variety in this blend are clearly observed: fresh-cut grass and cooked vegetables on one side, blackberry, prune, and toast on the other.