Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

A while ago I was having a phone conversation with a winemaker. I remarked on a Chardonnay (made by said winemaker) I enjoyed with a listed ABV of 14.5%*. The dialog about wine alcohol levels went something like this:

Me: “I really dug that Chard, was surprised it was so good with the alcohol that high. I must confess, I normally won’t buy a white wine over 14% alcohol [ed note: ghost of IPOB]. I’ll look at the label and then put it back on the shelf if it’s that high.”

Winemaker: “That’s a terrible way to select wine.”

Me: “I’m a monster.”

[awkward silence…aaaaaand scene]

But at a recent wine dinner, one I was invited to by Calhoun & Company, I was fairly shocked by a wine. The winemaker was present, which gave me another opportunity to force another uncomfortable moment. But this time, in person!

Let me tell you about the wine.

It’s October, time for some spooky vines at Chile’s Odfjell Vineyards / Photo via winery

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2017 (Valle del Maule, Chile) $23

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in WineI was sitting at Butter (where the butter is excellent) with Odfjell Vineyards winemaker Arnaud Hereu. We enjoyed a beer before digging into the Chilean wines of Odfjell. The first wine up was this very cool (and served chilled) old vine Carignan made with organic grapes. It’s an all-stainless steel wine, no oak. The vines are up to 80 years old.

So this Carignan ticks off many of the boxes I love:

  • Under-appreciated grape
  • Unoaked red
  • Served chilled
  • Organic grapes

I was drinking this all like, “Damn, this is good. What a great lunch wine, dinner wine, food wine, wine wine.” Light on its feet but with some oomph. I also really dug the label.

Then I flipped the script or, rather, the bottle to peep the back label. There I spied the wine alcohol level: 15%. Dang! That’s like hotter than the sun. That’s a big burly level of booze! I should be appalled!**

Whatever. It was a really delicious wine.

And that’s One To Grow On. The More You Know. [Cue 80s PSA.]

More on the wines of Odfjell Vineyards.

I’d also like to give a shout-out two a duo of wines form the Armador Tier, the Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. For $15 each, a hell of a deal.

Let me back up about this winery. Here’s the story of its founding:

Over 25 years ago, the pioneering Norwegian Armador, (ship owner) Dan Odfjell discovered and felt in love with a small corner of the famous Maipo Valley, Chile. Born of rain in Bergen, Norway, he could not resist the attraction of the austral sun in this Virgilian setting.

(Sidebar: Whoever wrote this, I love that last sentence. Jealous!)

The wines have a very nautical theme. In Spanish, Orzada means “sailing against the wind” and Armador is the name for shipowner.

Anyway, check out these three bottles and try not to be a judgmental monster like me when it comes to wine alcohol levels. I realize I am an aberration. Most people buying a bottle of wine are looking for a:

  • familiar label
  • label with some sizzle
  • deal or wine within a price range
  • good food/event/activity pairing
  • recommendation from email, website, social media, shelf talker, or (gasp!) human

They are not scrutinizing every detail on front and back label, which you can probably only do in person. Would be interesting to see winery websites with both front/back label shots. But I guess that’s what the tech sheet is for. Of course, staring at a technical PDF is beyond boring for most sane people. It’s not fun nor does it “demystify” wine.

Wait, one more thing about Odjfell! I am so easily distracted.

They  breed Norwegian Fjord horses at the winery. Even though I am very afraid of these animals, how cute is this trio?

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

Frolicking horses / photo via winery

*I realize there is some legal fudging you can do on the listed ABV so wine alcohol levels may be higher or lower than what is stated on the label. 


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Chilean Wine Podcast

My recent conversation with Rodrigo Soto got me thinking about Chile. So it was quite serendipitous that not long after I wrote about it, I got to speak with Michael (“Schach”) Schachner. He reviews the wines of Chile for The Thuse and we had a lively discussion about the state of the country’s wine industry and what’s exciting/unexpected. It’s all on the latest episode of What We’re Tasting, a dang Chilean wine podcast!

The cellars at Undurraga, one of the wineries discussed on the show / Photo from winery website

Get to know Sryah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Also a reference to legendary punk band Suicidal Tendencies is dropped during a Carménère conversation.

But that’s not the only “C” red grape discussed. Look out for Cinsault and Carignan.

Finally, white wines get some love. From “chill it and kill it” Sauvignon Blanc to the greatly improving quality of Chardonnay, red’s not the only game in town/country.

So May Grapes That Start With “C” 

Chilean Wine Podcast


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Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo Soto

I met Rodrigo Soto back in 2012 when I was visiting the Veramonte winery in Chile. (Sidebar: they have a really cool antique corkscrew collection there.) He’s been at the forefront of converting vineyards to organic farming for the Ritual, Neyen, Primus, and Veramonte labels.

Vineyards at Veramonte / photo courtesy the winery

Recently I had a chance to reconnect with him for an informal chat over some coffee. (We met at 8:30am, not prime wine time.) Before he caught a train to go up to Westchester (which gave me unpleasant commuting flashbacks), he left me with a couple bottles to take home.

Two of the topics covered I’d like to address here. One is the question of price and the other is regionality. And this first bottle points to both.

Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay Casablanca Valley 2016 ($50)

Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo SotoOne of the issues facing the wines of Chile is most people hear “Chilean wine” and only think “value.” Or the dreaded “cheap.” There is no denying that Chile has very high-quality wines at excellent prices. I’ve been a huge fan of its Sauvignon Blanc (and more) for that reason.

While there are some iconic (red) wines that command high prices, like Santa Rita Casa Real, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, it’s more of a slog for white wines. How do you get people to consider Chile a source for wines that cost $20, $30 and higher? If I gave you $50 and said get any wine you want, would Chile cross your mind?

Consider a wine like the Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay. It’s fermented in big ol’ oak barrels but only 18% of them are new. So you get more texture and less oakiness. (Some of the wine is also fermented in concrete eggs, which I’d call hip but they are getting so popular I don’t even know if that’s accurate anymore. Ok, they are still cool.) It’s rich, it’s elegant, it pleases.

The other issue Rodrigo Soto and I discussed is regionality. Everyone knows Chile makes wine, but how many people drill down into its distinct regions? This wine is from the Casablanca Valley and it’s one of many regions of Chilean wine worth exploring. (If you go here and click on the “See Chilean Valleys” tab you get an idea of how far these regions stretch up and down the country.)

Veramonte Pinot Noir 2016 ($11)

Though I’m steering you to think of Chile beyond budget wines, I have to toot its horn for very good Pinot Noir at outstanding prices. In my wine shop I’d have at least a three-case stack of the Veramonte Pinot Noir, with the top box meeting my exacting specifications for how you cut a case of wine with a box knife. Now I’m having flashbacks to sales reps and merchandisers with sloppy cardboard case cutting techniques. (Shudder.)

I always consider finding good Pinot Noir under $15 to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. (Sidebar: I recently saw the 1981 movie “Excalibur” for the first time in decades. The cast is spectacular: Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. It’s very weird, moody, and dark. Highly recommend.)

So the Veramonte Pinot Noir (screwcap closure, BTW) has a little bit of oomph. It’s not a light, delicate wine but more medium-bodied. Nice to note it’s 100% Pinot Noir. A lot of cheap Pinot has just enough Pinot Noir to be labeled as such, usually pumped-up with Syrah or whatever other grapes are lying around.

In conclusion: Chile is worth your premium dollars and is a multi-faceted country when it comes to regional wine nuances. You don’t have to spend $50 to experience this but if your ceiling for Chilean wine is, say, $15 and under, don’t hesitate to get into that $25+ range. Thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time and a thought-provoking conversation. It’s definitely the most consideration I’ve given wine at 8:30 in the morning, and possibly later in the day, too.

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Fire Water and Punch

Pisco is at its simplest Brandy from Latin America.  Pisco is Aguardiente, the word comes from the Latin “Agua” for “water” and “Ardiente” meaning “fiery” – Fire Water.  Simliar to Brandy, which is short for Brandywine, from the Dutch expression for “burnt wine” or distilled wine.

Most nations in Latin America claim proprietorship of Pisco and that has lead too many arguments, from the halls of academia to the tables of tabernia. Peru claims the beverage got it’s name from the Peruvian town of Pisco. Chilean linguist Rodolfo Lenz said that the word pisco was used all along the Pacific coast of the Americas from Arauco to Guatemala, and that the word would be of Quechua origin meaning “bird”. Most convincing (to me) is Chilean linguist Mario Ferreccio Podesta’s theory, that the etymology to which pisco was originally a word for a mud container, much like amphora.

The Spaniards introduced distillation almost as soon as they arrived.  In the Viceroyalty of New Spain vineyards were introduced by missionaries wherever they could get Vitis Vinerfera to grow. and the late 1500’s there were vineyards producing wine commercially from modern day growing regions like Chile in the south to California in the North . So significant and threatening to the Spanish mercantilist that in 1595 the Spanish Crown banned the establishment of new vineyards in the Americas to protect the exports of its native wine industry.

By the 17th century Pisco was being exported including back to Spain and Portugal for fortification of wines. Bu the 18th century Pisco represented almost 90% of the grape beverage produced. During the California Gold Rush Pisco became a hit in San Francisco.

Pisco is made in an alembic Pot Still, just like Spanish Brandy or Cognac. It is distilled to between 60 and 80 proof with some Gran Pisco coming in at 86 proof or more. There are eight approved grape varietals, Muscat is by far the most popular grape because of its aromatics followed by Torontel and Pedro Ximenex. Pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels of “glass, stainless steel or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties”.

Peruvian Pisco must be made in the country’s five official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) departments—Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna (only in the valleys of Locumba Locumba, Sama and Caplina). Chilean Pisco must be made in the country’s two official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) regions—Atacama and Coquimbo. The right to use an appellation of origin for pisco is hotly contested between Peru and Chile. Peru claims the exclusive right to use the term “pisco” only for products from Peru. Chile, regards the term “pisco” as generic, and it argues the spirit is simply a type of alcoholic beverage made from grapes.

Fire Water and PunchPisco Punch was made famous by Duncan Nicol at the Bank Exchange Saloon in San Francisco. Nicol was the last owner of the Bank Exchange when it closed its doors permanently in 1919 because of the Volstead Act.

Duncan Nicol invented a pisco punch recipe using: pisco brandy, pineapple, lime juice, sugar, gum arabic and distilled water.

Simple Pisco Punch

Fire Water and Punch

2 ounces pisco

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

2 ounce pineapple Juice

1 ounce simple syrup

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 15 seconds. Double strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

One bank Exchange regular said, “It tastes like lemonade but comes back with the kick of a roped steer.” Others said “it makes a gnat fight an elephant.” Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine wrote in 1937: “In the old days in San Francisco there was a famous drink called Pisco Punch, made from Pisco, a Peruvian brandy… pisco punch used to taste like lemonade but had a kick like vodka, or worse.”

Pisco found many fans during its heyday. In Rudyard Kipling’s 1889 epic From Sea to Sea, he immortalized Pisco Punch as being “compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.”

Pisco has found fans in a new generation of Mixologist and imbibers. The clean nature of the bandy makes a nice base for cocktails. Here is a modern update on Punch from me.

Lenny’s Pisco Parlor Punch

3 ounce Barsol Pisco

1 ounce Lime Juice

½ ounce Lemon Juice

1 ounce Small Hands Pineapple Gum Syrup

½ ounce Velvet Falernum

Fire Water and Punch

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry or pineapple or both.

Velvet Falernum is a longtime staple item of resorts and bars in Barbados, and today for its use in Tropical, Tiki and Caribbean drinks such as the Rum Swizzle, Mai Tai and Zombie. Made from an infusion of spices and lime juice into sugar cane syrup and Barbados Rum.

Small Hands Gum Syrup is about as close as you can get to Duncan’s original.

Bodega San Isidro dates back to the 1800’s. However, the most remote documents retrieved from the local town archives date back to 1919. In 2005 Bodega San Isidro became the top exporter of Pisco of Peru, being the first company ever to export one solid 20’ container of Pisco in Peru’s history. BarSol specializes in piscos produced with Quebranta, Italia and Torontel Grapes. They are produced in both styles, a) straight pisco and b) Mosto Verde Pisco. An “Acholado” pisco is also made, from a blend of piscos from the 3 single grape varietals.

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Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

Dynasty noun – a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field.

The Lurton Family can trace its winemaking roots in Bordeaux back to the 17th century. But it was the marriage of Denise Recapet to Francois Lurton in 1923 that the story of this family dynasty begins. Denise and François Lurton had four children, André was born in 1924, Lucien in 1925, Simone in 1929 and Dominique in 1932.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

André, married to Elizabeth Garros, received the family home, Château Bonnet. In 40 years he amassed property totaling 600 hectares situated primarily in Entre-deux-Mers and the Pessac-Léognan appellation, of which he was one of the founders in 1987. Today, the fourth and fifth generations of Lurton’s control 27 Bordeaux châteaux. Everything from Bordeaux’s largest producer, Chateau Bonnet which is run by patriarch Andre Lurton to 2nd growth Margaux property Chateau Brane Cantenac to Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololToday the family has wine interests on most continents and almost all major wine growing regions. In their turn, Andre’s sons, François and Jacques, acquired wine estates in Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and the Languedoc.


“If I were a vine, I would choose to be planted in Chile.” François Lurton

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololFrançois and Jacques Lurton found this “dream land” whilst working as consultants for the San Pedro vineyards. The first bottles of Araucano, the name of the last of Chile’s indigenous people, was first released in 1997. In 2000, François bought 200 hectares of land in the valley of Colchagua. The valley around the town of Lolol, had that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, that combination of high altitude clay-limestone soils, radical diurnal temperature change and the cooling influence of the morning fog.


Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

The estate is located in a high valley that runs from East to West, which funnels cold air from the Pacific Ocean. The large temperature differences between the sea and the land causes a white fog “Humo Blanco” to develop, which can be seen most mornings just above the estate vineyards. Hot, dry days and foggy, cool nights, textbook perfect conditions for growing great wine.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

The Lurton family bring literally centuries of winemaking knowledge to bear on this project. But, Francois is a forward thinking man with a vision. Francois Lurton employs 10 full time enologist that work across France, Argentina, Spain and Chile. 2012 the Araucano wines obtained organic certification. In 2013, Hacienda Araucano obtained biodynamic certification (Demeter). The winery is also 100% solar powered.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

Lolol is one of the new coastal appellations in Chile. This wine represents the essence of the cool climate of Lolol. It is made up of the best plots of four grape varieties that excel in the valley: Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. This blend was put together by Francois himself. The grapes are handpicked, double sorted and then left for a lengthy cold soak to gently extract the fruity aromas and smooth tannins. Once fermented separately the different grape varieties are blended together and are aged in French oak for 18 months. A true Chilean wine with a French touch.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololClos de Lolol Red Wine 2013 (Chile) $14.99 / Save $10

“Woodsy, spicy aromas of herbal plum and berry come with a light coating of chocolate. A round, rubbery palate is tight in the long run. Saturated plum and blackberry flavors are oaky in front of an extracted finish that runs long and doesn’t hold back. Drink through 2022.” 91 pts Wine Enthusiast

92 James Suckling, 91 pts Wine Advocate

“There’s never been a better time to buy Chilean wine.” James Suckling, “Indeed, hundreds of outstanding quality wines are entering the market. It doesn’t hurt that the current vintages available, especially for reds, are fantastic – mostly 2013, 2014, and 2015.”

@Chef_LennyChildren of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

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Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

I know we look serious, but much fun was actually had by all

Earlier this week, I took part in an online masterclass/virtual-round-table of sorts with Wines of Chile and Snooth, tasting through a selection of Chilean Carménère reds (some of which you can purchase via a pretty good deal right now), with a group of capable and affable fellow wine-media-types (including @WineDineWanda, @enobytes, @talkavino, and @KellyMitchell).

If you’re kind of scratching your head on the uncharacteristically quick turnaround time in recapitulating the experience here on 1WD, it’s because the whole online-video-Carménère thing is nostalgic for me, as it was one of the first such tastings that I ever did under the 1WD umbrella (back when the writing here could charitably be described as fledgling…).

While almost unlikely to become a crowd favorite based on availability alone, Carignan is probably the empirically best Chilean red fine wine grape, or at least the one with the most depth, intrigue, and soul.

Having said that, the much more ubiquitous Carménère from Chile is still an incredible bargain, and arguably has never been better (or easier to enjoy even at modest price points). In Carménère, Chile is leveraging its ever-increasing winemaking knowledge levels to the full, combining modern know-how with more hand-crafted approaches; the results in some cases are single vineyard wines from older vines that provide an intellectually captivating experience at prices that still kind of defy credulity. At least, that’s how I’m increasingly seeing that landscape, particularly based on what we tasted during our video meetup…

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2016 Viña Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $15)

I’ve had a lot of fun visiting this quintessentially Chilean spot before, with my main takeaway having been that they like to present Carménère in its more unadulterated, unapologetic forms. “Don’t like green herb notes? F–k you, drink me. Don’t like reeeeeeally dark fruits? F–k you, drink me.” You get the idea. This wine is a perennially excellent introduction to the main pillars of Chilean Carm: dark fruit flavors, strong minty notes, and plenty of tobacco and spice aromas that are delivered from the grape and not from wood.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Carménère (Maipo Valley, $22)

The Single Block Grey series is another consistent offering, and in this case, comes from relatively atypical sandy-clay soils of the Trinidad Vineyard. The Grey is similar to Casa Silva’s Cuvee, in that you get full-on Carm, but with more oak aging (a third of it in new French barrels). It’s dark, minty, intense, and evolves on the palate with stewed black fruits, pepper notes, and a meaty, chewy texture.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Viña Requingua Toro De Piedra Grand Reserve Carménère (Maule Valley, $15)

This is Carménère in one of its most supple, gulpable forms. The fruit is characteristically dark and smoky, the wood tones are sweet and caramelized (thanks to some time in American oak barrels), and the whole package exudes an easy, sultry sexiness that makes it hard to stop drinking (you’ll probably pay for that later).


Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2012 Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carménère (Valle de Peumo, $24)

Interestingly, this is one of those instances where Chile’s long, thin geography is less important than its West/East climatic influences; Peumo, in Cachapoal, is relatively warm and dry, being buffeted from ocean influence by coastal mountains. Now, longtime 1WD readers already know that Valdivieso is full of interesting (and high quality) surprises, and this Carm is no exception to that streak: think earthy, spicy, herbal, and silky, a red that is jsut fine with strutting its stuff.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Siegel Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $29)

Those who want a more contemplative Carm would do well to give this Los Lingues vineyard red a long look. With only eight months of oak aging, it’s far from being integrated, and it’s going to need some time to ensure that some bottle aging will meld all that woodiness with the dark black cherry fruitiness. BUT… if it does, then you’ll have a textural palate that matches the intriguing nose of this thing. Dark and green herb notes abound, and they are not shy.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta (Colchagua Valley, $35)

Another example of the cooling ocean influence being tempered by the coastal range, this Carm and Cabernet Sauvignon blend is complex, supple, and mouth-watering achievement. What’s interesting is how the addition of 45% Cab doesn’t mute the essential Carménère-ness of this wine; the textbook herbal spices and deep, dark cherry fruits are right there, with the Cab supplying tannic scaffolding and additional, tarter fruitiness.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Viña Carmen Gran Reserva Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $15)

I am still trying to figure out how they managed this. Technically, there’s 7% Carignan and 3% Petite Verdot in this Apalta-area blend, from the “Los Peñascos” Vineyard in the foothills, one of the regions highest elevation zones. It’s all hand-tended, French oak aged for ten months, then given another two months in bottle. I just don’t understand how they can pull this off for under twenty bucks per bottle. This is vibrant, structured, herbal, spicy, fruity, and just impeccably balanced stuff. You won’t notice the 2+ grams of RS, unless you’re really, really looking for them (in which case, please just get a life already).


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Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)

The modest country stylings at Vina von Siebenthal in Panquehue

Chile’s wine business is dominated by producers that could charitably be described as “corporate.” Its movements are almost exclusively set by a small number of very, very large production houses.

In that environment, 30 hectares of vineyards – which comprises the entire holdings of Viña von Siebenthal – is basically a rounding error.

I was first exposed to the benevolently pernicious undercurrent of Chile’s micro-production wine brands (and to von Siebenthal itself) when I first visited the country in 2011, and was able to spend some time tasting the wares the independent vintners of MOVI. So I was piqued (and thirsty) when I saw that von Siebenthal was on the list of producers I was to visit for my return media jaunt to Chile late last year.

The brand began as a passion project of its eponymous Swiss founder, über-wine-consumer Mauro von Siebenthal, who at the age of forty decided to retire from his “adult” carrier (in law) and give the wine business a go (hey, this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). In 1998, he planted ten hectares in Panquehue in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley, building a modest winery building (which is easy to miss, as it looks exactly like a number of Chilean country houses in the area) two years later.

Mauro von Siebenthal has described his winemaking philosophy (assisted by Doña Paula and  Santa Rita alumnus Stefano Gandolini) in similarly modest terms, as “interpreting each meter of land.” I loved that description, because it both betrays Swiss cultural fastidious while promising the potential for uniqueness across the portfolio. Fortunately, that’s precisely what you find – precision and uniqueness – when you taste through his wines…

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)2011 Von Siebenthal Tatay de Cristobal Carmenère (Valle de Aconcagua, $200)

Named after a combination of Christopher Columbus and the Mapudungun word for “ancestor,” there’s ten percent Petit Verdot in this icon-level red, picked from the best 1.5 hectares of their Carm. vineyards (as described by von Siebenthal, “the fruit started talking itself”). It spends two years in new French oak, and it can best be described as intense.

Inky to behold, you get dark-as-a-moonless-prairie-night ripe fruits, flowers, tobacco, coffee, leather, and licorice, along with a dusty minerality. The mouthfeel is silky almost to a fault – almost. The fruit is dense in layers of flavor, and the structure is formidable, interwoven expertly throughout. Lay it down. Trust me on this. Lay. It. Down.


Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)2013 Von Siebenthal Viognier Riomistico (Panquehue, $25)

After getting tired of being asked when he would finally produce a white wine, von Siebenthal purchased a plot of land in a windy area near the Errazuriz in 2010, at a windy spot where the Aconcagua river influence helps to mitigate the temperatures. He decided to try Viognier there, and the result is both viscous and elegant. It’s heady aromatically (as most Viognier ought to be), and there’s not doubting that the fruit is ripe – mostly tropical, broad, and assertive. However, they’re onto something with that ocean wind; there’s pithy bite underscoring this wine that brings a lovely sense of harmony and balance to the whole package.


Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)2012 Von Siebenthal Parcela #7 Reserva (Panquehue, $25)

This is one of the brand’s better-known labels (and their highest production at around 100,000 bottles), a blend of Cabernet Suavignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc (yeah!), usually seeing about 12 months aging in second and third use French oak. They like to think of this as the Tuesday night wine of their lineup, and it hits the mark with a little bit of over-delivery. Think red plum and red currant fruits, bay leaf, plums, sweet tannins, dried herbs, and an overall sense of juicy freshness. It’s tasty, a bit short, but pure and unadulterated in presentation.


Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)2010 Von Siebenthal Montelìg (Valle de Aconcagua, $NA)

A Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Petit Verdot blend named after mountains and light, I found this vintage to still feel young despite its age. Full of red and black currant fruits, plums, spices, graphite, chocolate, perfume, and herbs, there’s no doubting its power on the palate. But there’s also no doubting its focus and freshness of texture, either. It’s an intelligent, serious, contemplative red.

Little Place, Big Dreams (Vina von Sieventhal Recent Releases)2009 Von Siebenthal Toknar (Valle de Aconcagua, $65)

From the above, you’ve probably ascertained von Siebenthal’s love affair with Petit Verdot, and so it seems that a 100% varietal PV was inevitable; well, here it ’tis. Meaning “stone” in the Aymara Andes language, the vines were planted on rocky soil in 1998. This red spends three years in the bottle to calm it down before release. The `09 is showing great; violets, perfume, brambly blackberry fruit, dried herbs, and a broad, dead-sexy mouthfeel. Interestingly, after coming on strong and big, this PV takes a very serious turn in the mouth, expressing itself in a long, harmonious exit.


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