I met today with John Duval and Felipe Tosso, a pair of winemakers from different regions who are now working together.
Duval, 56, is an Aussie, and he was the longtime winemaker at Penfolds (from 1974 to 2002) before starting his own small eponymous label.
“I’ve only had one job interview my entire life,” he quips.
Duval has been longtime friends with Aurelio Montes of Chile’s Viña Montes, and he has been poking around in Chile himself for a few years.
So Duval finally teamed up with Tosso, 37, a Chilean who spent seven vintages honing his skills at Concha y Toro before joining Viña Ventisquero for the 2001 vintage.
The two are producing a Chilean Syrah called Pangea, which will be sourced from Ventisquero’s vineyards in Apalta, one of Chile’s best vineyard areas (responsible for Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta and Viña Montes’ Alpha M).
“As soon as I saw Apalta I said, ‘Hello, this is something different’,” says Duval.
Ventisquero has 70 hectares of vines planted on steep slopes, with clay-based soils that have differing amounts of granite and stones as you move up the hillside.
I tasted barrel samples of two different blocks from the 2006 vintage: the lower block has clay and granite soils, the higher block a stonier composition. They’re both ripe and polished; while the lower block shows darker fruit and more bass notes, the stonier block produces a brighter minerality.
The blocks are vinified separately in tank, then moved to barrel (all fine-grain, medium-toast French oak, half of which is new) for 18 months of aging. The final blend (I tasted an unreleased sample of the finished ’05) is a ripe, showy wine with a silky structure, lots of black and blue fruit flavors and a mineral-filled finish. But it’s not at all like the powerful, fruit-driven Barossa Syrahs that Duval made his name with.
“We’re just trying to respect the terroir,” says Duval. “I’m not coming in here to make a Barossa style in Chile.”
Duval noted that he uses a cold soak more with the Chilean fruit to help bring up the color, something that he doesn’t need to do in Australia. “That’s what I mean about not just coming in with the same recipe [for winemaking],” he says.
Pangea will debut in the 2004 vintage: there are 800 cases of it, with plans to get to around 2,000 as the vineyard blocks mature. (An official review of the wine, based on a blind tasting, will be published in the near future.)
The wine isn’t cheap with an SRP of $50 a bottle, but the quality is there, and it shows the intriguing possibilities for Syrah in Chile. It also shows Chile’s terroir, which produces ripe fruit but not as much as California or Australia, along with minerality, though not as racy as a Rhône bottling. And I always appreciate when a winemaker (or in this case, winemakers) lets the vineyard do the talking.
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