Every opportunity I get to speak to a winemaker or visit a winery, I don’t hesitate to make the time.
There is always some new piece of knowledge or interesting observation that expands my appreciation of the wines I enjoy.
This week, it was a one-hour tasting session with Fernando Pavon of Emiliana from Chile. Emiliana was founded in 1987 with the philosophy of producing high quality wines with an authentic expression of terroir.
The company produces wines from an array of Chilean regions from north to south, and all of the vineyard and winery practices are organic and bio-dynamic.
Fernando explained that organic principles in the vineyard are much easier to follow than in the winery.
In the vineyard you are working with the environment to produce the best possible grapes. As an example, Fernando explained that the use of artificial fertilizers made all soils more or less equal, so there was little to differentiate grapes from one locale to another.
It therefore becomes impossible to produce wines with that much sought after terroir. Intervening less leads to better results.
In the winery you have to avoid a lot of the simple solutions that make the production of wine easier and perhaps more controlled, but may also reduce or even remove the unique characteristics of your wine.
For Emiliana, it means working with the several strains of natural yeast found in the vineyard, rather than choosing a commercial yeast to yield particular flavours in the wine.
Working with natural yeasts is riskier and less controlled, and great care has to be taken to produce an acceptable wine.
The Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2013 (NLC $16.59) is a wine which does seem to have that sense of terroir.
The aroma is clearly Sauvignon Blanc, but is not a copy of something you might find in New Zealand, or California or France.
This wine is produced from grapes of the San Antonio region, which is coastal, and much cooler and subject to more fogs than more familiar regions of Chile.
Fernando feels that wines from this region include banana pepper notes in their aromas, and I imagined I could identify that smell, as well as lime citrus and tropical flowers. Juicy acidity and a degree of texture made this a delicious sip. Score: 15/Very Good.
The Novas Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2011 (NLC $17.58) is meant to feature the Carmenere grape, with a little cab to add structure and richness. Carmenere is a grape that originated in Bordeaux and came along with the other major varieties of that region to Chile in the 1800s. Over time, Carmenere was forgotten and everyone assumed it was Merlot.
In the 1990s, the varietal was rediscovered, and growers learned that a lot of their Merlot was actually Carmenere. To some extent, the variety has become a signature grape of Chile.
For many years after, farmers treated the grape just like Merlot, which is one of the earliest red varieties to be harvested.
Most people associated wild or green flavours with Carmenere wines, which wasn’t to everyone’s taste.
It is only recently, Fernando explained, that farmers have realized that this grape requires a long maturation time, and it should be the last variety to be harvested. No wonder the wines had green flavours!
The true character of Chilean Carmenere is starting to become available now.
To Fernando the grape is three varieties in one: the sweet fruit nose says Syrah, the fruity lushness in the mouth speaks Merlot, and the density suggests Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Novas was deep red (perhaps carmine) with an aroma which combined black fruit, garden herbs, and tea.
It was smooth and full-bodied deserving a score of 15.5/Very Good.
We also tasted the Signos de Origen (single estate vineyard) wine Los Morros Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (NLC $23.59).
This wine was purple-black in colour with aromas of black fruit, cassis, thyme and vanilla.
It delivered a beautiful explosion of fruit with smooth tannins which will get more silky with a little age. Score 16/Very Good.
The top end wine of Emiliana is based on a blend of Syrah and Carmenere with other smaller contributions and is called Coyam.
We tasted the 2010 (NLC $36.98) which had earned a Robert Parker Wine Advocate score of 91. This wine was purple-red in colour with a complex bouquet of many elements including: dark fruit, dry herbs, cinnamon, cedar box and tobacco leaf.
It was lively in the mouth, with rounder tannins than the previous cab. Score 17/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member
of the Opimian Society. Email him