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A Look at Chile Through the Wines of Vina Koyle

vina koyle wineryWe recently took an in-depth look at the wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina and Valentin Bianchi (you can read about that by clicking here). That prompted us to look for a producer in the other major wine making country in South America: Chile.  Chile and Argentina share a long border formed from the Andes Mountains, and Mendoza is actually very close to the major wine growing south america map.gifregions of its neighbor. That is as the crow flies. The snow capped peaks of the Andes are a formidable barrier. Let’s look a little closer at this land and its vineyards, and especially the wines of Vina Koyle.

For more details, a wealth of information on the wines of Chile can be found at http://www.winesofchile.org/.

Chile – a Unique Agricultural Island

Chile has geographic barriers that are unique in the world. It includes the Atacama desert in the North, the Andes mountains to the East, the ice fields of Patagonia in the South and the Pacific Ocean to the West. These natural borders make it an agricultural island, with clear barriers to the outside world on all sides. Phylloxera, the root louse which destroyed vineyards worldwide in the 1800s, never found its way here.

The waters of the Pacific run cold, and when the cold hits the land it covers low areas with a thick and cool fog every morning which lifts by midday to permit the sunlight to come through. As a result, grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish because these conditions cool the climate. If you think about some of the great wine regions of the world the morning fog is frequently a component of their greatness.  The fog rolls in off San Pablo bay in Napa, rises off the Po River in Piemonte and seeps into the vineyards of Sauternes from the Garonne. There is great potential here.

Ideal conditions for wine grapes

Central Region Map

Copyright – The Society of Wine Educators

A vast diversity of terrains result in an excellent variety of wines, and Chile provides that diversity.

The majority of the vineyards stretch between Elqui Valley in the North, down to Malleco in the South, and from the folds of the Andes in the East to the coastal hillsides of the Pacific in the West, although new viticulture zones are constantly being discovered and explored.

Despite the North-South orientation, the wine regions in Chile show a greater diversity from East to West, according to their proximity to the Andes or the Ocean. Red wines grapes have grown for a long time in the eastern pre-Andean sectors where the bright sun during the day, and the cool mountain breeze at night help to create a wide diurnal range of temperatures.

Our vineyard for this article is located in the Central Rapel Valley region, and more specifically the Colchagua Valley.

 

Vina Koyle

For six generations, starting in 1885 with Francisco Undurraga Vicuna, the Undurraga family has been growing grapes and making fine wines in Chile. In 1903, they were the first to export wines to the United States and, by the 1980s (when Chilean wine was finding great success in the US and around the world), Undurraga had become one of the largest and most famous names in the Chilean wine business.

In 2006, the family sold the winery, vineyards and the brand. This led Alfonso Undurraga Mackenna, a great-nephew of the Koyle_Cristobal_Max_Alfonsoaforementioned Francisco, to pursue a lifelong dream of finding superior terroir from which he and his three sons could create hand-crafted, small production wines that show how exceptional Chilean wines can be.

Together with sons, Alfonso, Max and viticulturist/winemaker Cristobal, Alfonso settled on 2,718 acres in the Los Lingues zone of Alto Colchagua (DO Colchagua Valley), in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The soil is clay-loam, with gravel and angular stones, allowing ample drainage and the microclimate is a combination of Mediterranean and pre-mountain range, influenced by constant fresh winds. It is the optimum terroir for the making of high quality red wines.

According to Cristobal Undurraga, winemaker for the Estate, “When we chose our Los Lingues vineyards, we were looking for a terroir that gives us concentration, finesse and freshness in our wines. We thought the cooler areas of the Colchagua Valley would be ideal and we finally found what we were looking for in the foothills of the Andes. The complex soil, with clay, angular stones and granite, allows for different composition and altitude for the seven varietals we have planted there.”

vineyards and mountains 3The first two wines under the Koyle label were a Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah, both blended with a small percentage of Carmenere, the signature red grape of Chile. A varietal Carmenere soon followed, blended this time with Petite Verdot and Malbec that Cristobal planted a few years ago.

The grapes for all Koyle wines are grown under biodynamic and organic principles.   They are hand-selected and vinified with the utmost care and attention to freshness and refinement, with the Gran Reservas aged approximately twelve months in French oak barrels. A second, super-premium line is called Royale and it also features a Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah, but the grapes for these wines come from the oldest vines – smaller parcels that yield only one bottle per plant – and are aged for eighteen months or more in French oak. “Our winemaking philosophy is to focus on the making of high quality wines, taking the best out of each terroir and using the most natural and traditional techniques culled from my experience working in vineyards all over the world,” Cristobal explains, “and blending that with our family’s experiences here in Chile.”

koyle flowerKoyle is a Chilean Indian name of the beautiful purple native plant that grows next to oak forests and blossoms with a much-demanded fruit. An endangered species, it can be found in the Koyle mountain vineyards.

In 2009, Koyle unveiled its flagship red blend called AUMA (meaning “heart”).  It is a blend of the best parcels of the five primary red grapes from the vineyards – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, Malbec and Petite Verdot – with each grape aged separately for 24 months in French oak and then blended in a “concrete egg” tank, resting there for another 9 months before bottling and release.

Cristobal is also using these concrete eggs, as well as barrels and stainless steel tanks, to vinify two new wines he debuted in 2014, calling them Koyle Costa Sauvingon Blanc and Koyle Costa Pinot Noir.   “Costa” underscores the vineyards Koyle has bought near the sea in Paredones, which is part of the new Colchauga Coast appellation, from which the grapes for these wines come.  The family bought, renovated and updated, with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment, an old winery near their vineyards, officially unveiling it in April 2015.  The2015 vintage was the first to be made at this historic winery.

The Wines

We’re lucky, and a bit spoiled, to have eight wines from Vina Koyle to review. The wines are courtesy of Quintessential Wines, who imports Vina Koyle into the U.S.  They also supplied the background information on the winery.  You can read more about Quintessential’s portfolio at their website: http://www.quintessentialwines.com/index.cfm.

IMG_1970

2012 Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc – the vineyards for this wine are only nine kilometers from the Pacific ocean, in the IMG_1976Paredones region. With three different exposures, to the north, south and a flat area as well, the grapes are harvested in three different lots on different days. Each lot is also treated differently, one in stainless, one in concrete eggs and another in Burgundy barrels. The lots spend 10 months on the lees. Our opinion:

The wine is light straw colored with a somewhat restrained nose.  Clear minerality is evident, and the wine is bone dry, crisp and clean.  On the palate there is melon and some peach flavors, with a stony underpinning and some herbal notes.  This is a wine that screams for some seafood, especially a dozen oysters on the half shell, as it seems all great Sauvignon Blancs do.  Very well made and not your everyday Sauvignon Blanc.  $23.99

2012 Koyle Costa Pinot Noir – also from the Paredones regon, and the same vineyard areas as the Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Noir IMG_1977grapes see both the North and South exposures. Treated in two different lots, and harvested on different days, the grapes are vinified in a mixture of concrete eggs and burgundy barrels. Aging lasts twelve months. What we discovered:

The wine is a dark red, more garnet than ruby. Initially there was some funk on the nose, and a very earthy profile. The palate had fruit and there is a brisk acid component to the wine. We pumped the bottle and let it sit, coming back the next day. Now the funk had receded into a loamy aroma, and dark fruits took over. The oak treatment was noticeable and nice. Spice, especially black pepper, and black cherry seemed to rule. It is a very Burgundian style, and way better after it has a chance to open. This wine should be decanted for an hour now, and should last for a few years in the cellar. $34.99

2011 Koyle Reserve Syrah – from selected lots in the Colchagua Valley, the grapes for this wine are hand picked at optimum IMG_1972ripeness. Hand sorting further down selects the fruit. Five days of cold maceration accentuated color and flavor extraction. After fermentation a warm maceration is also used. Twelve months in French oak is followed with a single filtration before bottling. 93% Syrah and 7% Malbec. What did we find?

The wine is a very dark reddish purple. Dark fruits predominate on the nose, with blackberry and plum. Some savory notes are obvious, and there was a touch of tobacco. On the palate the wine is rich, full bodied and rather luxurious. It is a significant red in body and texture. The tannins are smooth, as is the whole experience. If you like big reds you will like this. After two days in the bottle the flavor profile went more toward the heavy, savory, grilled meat character of Syrah. We preferred it right out of the bottle. We would not decant this before serving, and liked it very much. Excellent value wine at $16.99.

2012 Koyle Gran Reserva Carmenere – Carmenere is a signature grape of Chile. Once much of the Carmenere was thought to be IMG_1973Merlot, until genetic testing proved otherwise. It can make a great wine on its own. The vineyards which provide the fruit for the Gran Reserva are carefully managed, and the grapes are hand picked, carefully sorted and then sent to stainless tanks for a five day cold maceration. After fermentation a warm soak is conducted. Twelve months in French oak is followed with a single filtration stage and bottling. 86.5% Carmenere, 8% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2.5% Petite Verdot. Our impressions:

Very dark purple, with a really rich color. The nose is dark fruit, plum, savory, meaty notes and herbs. It presents as a very substantial wine. On the palate the wine is full bodied, with glorious fruit that lasts through a very long finish. This warms you all the way down your throat. It’s a great winter wine, and is absolutely made to go with red meat. Of course you can sip it all by itself as well.  This was even better the second day, so you can either go right out of the bottle or decant for half an hour. Another great value at $16.99.

2012 Koyle Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon – the grapes for this wine come from the Los Lingues Estate, which is IMG_1974biodynamically managed with stringent water controls.  Hand picked and hand sorted, the best clusters see very similar treatment to the other reds, with a five day cold soak and a warm maceration after fermentation. Again, a twelve month aging in French oak finishes the wine. This is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petite Verdot. What did we think?

The wine is a vivid reddish purple with long legs. On the nose currant and blackberry present, with strong herbal notes and some oak. It’s quite rich on the palate, the fruit is beautiful and the wine is perfectly balanced. Fine tannins and good acid complete the picture. This is really well integrated and seamless. Very, very good wine and great value at $16.99.

2011 Koyle Royale Carmenere – we step up to the Royale series, and these grapes also come from the Los Lingues Estate. IMG_1979Biodynamically farmed in granitic, rocky soils the vines are given almost no irrigation and struggle. Finished yields are less than one bottle per vine. The grapes are hand picked and very carefully sorted, followed by a fermentation in small tanks to maximize extraction. Eighteen months of aging in French oak. No filtration here. Our opinion:

This is very dark purple and carries a nose of dark fruits, herbs and spice. Another very rich, full bodied wine. We got a little tar on the nose as well. Right out of the bottle there was a bit of that earthy, almost dirt taste I frequently get from Malbec, and I might have guessed Malbec at a blind tasting. This is a wine that needs to breath and open, as after sitting for half an hour that dirt finish melted away and you are left with a smooth and luscious wine with great fruit. Decant before serving, at least a half hour. Another big, quality red and a good value at $25.99.

2011 Koyle Royale Cabernet Sauvignon – the grapes here again come from high density vines in Los Lingues, resulting in about one bottle per plant.  Roots go deep as almost no irrigation is used.  Hand picked, the grapes are hand sorted and fermentation takes place in small tanks.  Eighteen months in French oak finishes the wine.  No filtration.

Very dark purple red, this initially had a very earthy nose with some dark fruit and IMG_1980cedar wood. Medium+ in body it was a bit disappointing as it headed toward the finish. The wine seemed a bit closed down, so we let it sit overnight after pumping the bottle. This turned out to be exactly the right thing to do as the wine was pretty amazing the next day. Now there was dark fruit, wood, leather and herbal notes. There was some minerality. A streak of Cherry Twizzler ran through the flavor profile. It was full bodied and outstanding. Now it drank like a good Left Bank Bordeaux. A great value at $26.99. Decant an hour before serving this.

2010 Koyle Auma – this is the second vintage of the Auma, their flagship wine. Only 692 cases were produced. It’s 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenere, 18% Malbec, 13% Syrah and 7% Petite Verdot, so a bit of everything in here. All the fruit is from high density vines in the Los Lingues Vineyard. Small tanks were used for fermentation, and the separate lots spend 24 months in French oak. After blending the wine sees another 9 months of aging in concrete eggs. No filtration is used. This wine is expensive, IMG_1981but it sees three years of attention from the winery. Here are our thoughts:

We can start with “wow!”. This is a special wine. Dark in color and almost pure purple it has big legs and a big nose of dark fruits, pepper and tobacco. At first I got a hint of vanilla but that blew off quickly. Plum, blackberry and cherry are there, and the cherry really comes though on the palate. It’s medium+ in body and has that wonderful purity of fruit that the great wines have. The spicy finish creates a great contrast. The tannins are fine and integrated, and the wine is very approachable now, although it will certainly last in the cellar for a while. The finish is truly amazing, and it goes on and on. I timed it at four minutes and it was still going, then I gave up and took another sip. Cheri suggested not having this with food, as it is simply too good not to enjoy by itself. Very word class wine. It’s pricey at $99.99. When you get to prices like this value is a bit different. You expect a great wine.  This is a great wine.

We have never spent $100 retail on a wine, although we have come close once. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times we have spent $70, and still have a few fingers left over. We have been fortunate to have tried many $100+ wines at wine events and tastings, and sometimes you get a “wow!” and sometimes you don’t. If you’re spending this kind of money you want to be blown away. We can confidently say that if you splurge for the Auma you will feel like you opened a $100 bottle of wine. It is that good.

What’s really special is that the rest of the wines we reviewed here are all far less in price, and represent great value options. The extra warm maceration that Vina Koyle uses on the big reds really leads to a fully extracted wine, and these are built for people who like that style. We do like that style, and were extremely impressed with the range of wines we sampled. The Reserva, Gran Reserva and Royale wines are excellent for the price. You should try them. The Auma is spectacular.  The Costa Sauvignon Blanc is also pretty special.

Our thanks to the great people at Quintessential Wines for the opportunity to review Vina Koyle. There are so many wine regions and wine producers doing great things. Finding a new one is always an enjoyable experience.

A votre santé!

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