Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.
It is not often that wine crosses my desk that possesses the holy trifecta: affordable, organic/biodynamic, and delicious. This was the case with the wines of Odfjell Vineyards of Chile. I wanted to speak to the winemaker and learn more about Odfjell and about making wine in Chile. Arnaud Hereu, chief oenologist/winemaker was kind enough to answer a few questions as I explored and tasted their wines.
Odfjell is a good example of sustainable viticulture and winemaking in Chile. When I asked Arnaud, why do you think that Chile is one of the leaders in the world for sustainability when it comes to viticulture and winemaking? He responded: Chile is a country that thinks of the future, a country always a step ahead. Chile is a country really connected to nature: the landscape, the fruit industry, even the mining industry in a way…they know that they have to keep their country in “good shape” for the next generation. Wine is an important aspect of agriculture, it is exposed outside of the country and I think it is important for us to show to the world that yes, we care about the future.
Odfjell was started by Dan Odfjell, a Norweigan shipping owner and avid traveler who was won over by a small corner of the famed Maipo Valley in Chile. Fast forward and today the business is lead by sons, Lawrence and Dan Jr. They now have 284 acres of vines in the Maipo, Lontué, and Maule Valleys and are 100% certified organic and biodynamic, producing 60,000 cases annually.
Lawrence, one of Dan’s sons, designed the gravity flow winery onsite. The system allows for extremely gentle handling of the grapes. The winery is situated on a hill above the vineyards. Carved into the slope, over 60% of the winery is underground. This subterranean environment naturally achieves low and stable temperatures for storage. The design incorporates a number of passive cooling strategies, such as: optimizing solar orientation and using 30cm thick concrete walls as thermal mass. Gravitational wineries ensure that during winemaking, pumping is reduced to an absolute minimum, thus avoiding unnecessary agitation of the wine. This gentle handling allows us to preserve all the subtle fruit characteristics from the vineyards for the final bottle.
On a (sort of) unrelated to wine note, they also breed Norweigan fjord horses on their estate. Dan brought them to Chile over two decades ago. These horses control weeds, provide better soil drainage, and transport grapes during harvest without compacting the soil. And they're cute!
I asked Arnaud: Is there something special that you feel you can do/accomplish at Odfjell versus at another winery? He replied: Odfjell is paradise for a winemaker. The owners are really open to try new things. They trust the winemaking team. The vision of the Odfjell family is long term.
And now, let’s explore the wines of Odfjell Vineyards. I am not including my personal notes as I had a bit of a stuffy nose upon tasting and my palate was not up to snuff. But I can say that I did enjoy what I tried and even shared these wines with friends who were all impressed, especially with the Armador Cabernet Sauvignon at $15. Try getting something of that quality from California for 15 bucks?!?!?
2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Winey Notes: Ruby color with hints of violets. Red fruit such as strawberries and plums, as well as licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla, chocolate, and mushroom.
2017 Odfjell Ordaza Carignan ($23)
Winery Notes: Ruby red in color with a hint of violet. Red fruit aromas of strawberries and plums appear on the nose along with licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing finish.
2013 Odfjell Aliara ($44)
Winery Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including hazelnuts, dates, and fried figs as well as floral notes (jasmine and roses). The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy; complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins.
Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.
My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free-flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!
When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine-producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.
With the diversity of wine-producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.
One grape that you can find in many wine-producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape-like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.
One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super-premium wine to come out of Chile.
Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.
We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon.
Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)
Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.
My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate, I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.
Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17
Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate, I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20
This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.