Gettin’ A little Chile in South Carolina

I have been away for a bit. Sorry ‘bout that. The SLA (State liquor Authority) hearing for the shop is coming quick so we have been working double overtime to get all the demographic research together for the judges. I hope they have had their coffee and decent commuter traffic that day so we can wow them with the hard work we have done. We just want to bring the geekiness of wine to the East Village with no pretense. Hopefully we can bring that across. Anyway, with all this business going on and my wife not-so-looking-forward to the beginning of the school year we needed a couple of days of R&R so we flew down to Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to visit family for a couple days. Some good food, good golf and -from Sam’s Club- some good wine and we were ready for autumn in New York.
When shopping for wine in a place like Sam’s Club one should focus on bottles not from California (unless the wine buyer caught the wine geek bug one day and ordered some boutique stuff that is quite good and in that case stock up before it is gone) but -in my experience- South American and certain Spanish and Italian wines of good quality. They can be found among the sea of sub-par California wines. Not many mind you but enough that can diversify a week’s worth of meals. When we were browsing the isles of wine last week at Sam’s I found some promising Chilean and Spanish wines and one well-known Italian. The one I want to talk about in this post is a Chilean.
Even if I don’t know the producer I always give low-priced South American wines a chance. For one they are low-priced which equals low risk and secondly they are usually quite good. And thirdly every wine has a story whether it is six dollars or six hundred dollars. After doing some research I found the wine history of Chile to be pretty interesting. The country is noted along with Mexico for being one of the first wine producing areas in the Americas. Just as in Mexico the Spanish came in and began to spread Catholic reform planting vines to be used for Eucharist wine and nothing more. The control of this was lost as native Indians looted the vineyards and began to grow and produce their own wine. One very cool fact is the country has never (or so I have read) suffered from the phylloxera dilemma. This is where it gets really crazy; a Frenchman by the name of Claudio Gay came to Chile and set up the Quinta Normal; a huge isolated nursery holding “exotic botanical specimens,” which included the vitis vinifera that already existed in the country (I think mostly in the central valley). Our boy Claudio did this before the onslaught of the scourges of phylloxera and another problem powdery mildew (a native American plant disease). So most of the vineyards I would imagine are made up of pre-phylloxera vines. Actually this isolation would later spur the Country’s wine industry along. While the mite was attacking Europe and giving The States a run for their money Chile was enjoying a rich quantity-driven wine era. But once the pest problem was “taken care of” the rest of the world caught up so to speak and Chile began to suffer because of political and economical woes.
In the late 1800’s after the country had gained it’s independence rich Chileans traveled the world and brought back with them vine cuttings of wines that are staples of the their wine industry today such as carmenere and cabernet sauvignon. But I don’t want to talk about either of these varietals because as usual I found something outside the norm for Chilean wines (At least I think it is). Fast forward to 1979; a man by the name of Miguel Torres from the Torres family in Spain came to Chile and fell in love with her soils and geography. This guy had some money and was looking to diversify with vineyards all over Spain as well as California’s Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. In Chile he has an interesting selection of wines ranging from the cabernet and carmenere to gewürztraminer and viognier. And the viognier is the one I would like to talk about. I don’t know much about viognier other than it is native to the Rhone area of France and became popular for a minute in the US and then dropped off a bit. Also, it is used in Australia to sometimes blend with Shiraz which I have tried one or two and if done right is very enjoyable. Jancis Robinson tells me that it is a cousin of nebbiolo and is related as well to freisa, a grape from piedmont that makes a bright naturally fizzy red wine. Pretty cool.
So, my parents had enlisted their son the wine geek to scour the shelves of Sam’s Club and let them know what to buy and what to avoid. I found a couple of Chileans one of which I will talk about in a later post from a producer called VEO and an Italian that I know quite well and may have to talk about because of the price to quality ratio. The other Chilean that I found while wandering the isles was a Miguel Torres wine for six bucks. The bottle looked really cool with storm clouds and lightening bolts cracking over the capsule and the label; the wine was a viognier named Tormenta (storm in Spanish). Normally with an overly ambitious label like this I would be wary but it wasn’t from California and it wasn’t over priced so I felt I was pretty safe. I showed my parents the wines I had chosen and then brought them around to take a look at the prices of some of these sub-par producers from Cali charging way more than the quality of the juice in the bottle is worth. I don’t need to name names here just think South Carolina, Sam’s Club and go from there and you’ll probably come up the same usual suspects I am eluding to. So I says to my ma’, I says, “You see this ocean of over priced wine that you just don’t like too much? This is the stuff to stay away from.” I held up the Tormenta and said, “this bottle is only six bucks and I bet you it will be better than any of the Cali mass production wines.”
We headed home with the South American wines and some snacks and began to cook dinner popping the Tormenta while we sliced, diced, basted, grilled and chilled. A little bit about the wine: It is a 2006 Miguel Torres Chilean viognier. There is no oak contact whatsoever and the grapes are organically grown. This is a great summer wine. We poured some tastes and the color was nice and pale. I am not sure if this is the norm with viognier or what but it was very pleasant. We swirled and coated and got down to business. The nose was fresh and floral with a bit of fennel I dare say. There was a lot happening on the nose but it was quite balanced. Not too much alcohol and not too much of one thing. The aromas knew their places and stayed there not trying to out do each other, which was nice. The wine had been chilled pretty well so the initial palate was a bit muted but you could still taste the balance to come. The acidity was quite racy and untamed but with all the floral power on the nose it was nice to see where this was going. As it came closer to room temperature the acidity settled a bit and helped keep all the flavors of ripe fruit and flowers and all the aromas in check creating a threshold that would not budge. And that is a good thing and probably a result of no oak. Stainless steel is a beautiful thing in a world of too much oak. Oak is great but it has a purpose and if that purpose is over used then we are forced to start coming up with acronyms like ABC (Anything But Chardonnay).
By the end of the bottle the wine achieved a nice depth. The floral aspect of this viognier was still in check and not too overwhelming but definitely prominent playing with a new flavor of peach or pear. This was made blatantly apparent when we popped a fresh bottle and went through the whole process again. After our palates were used to the room temperature flavors and aromas popping a new cold bottle accentuated the beginning of the evolution of this really nice and refreshing wine. Later after we had run out of the Chilean we were forced to pop on of the Cali mass production wines. I had one sip and decided I was done for the night. Not because of too much alcohol intake but after the Chileans this wine tasted almost exactly like cardboard. The look on my mom’s face was great. After a few bottles of this really interesting and floral and inviting South American wine the Cali was just down right sour and bitter and…well…undrinkable. We used it the next day for cooking. I feel like I had done some good. I showed my parents that just because you spend more than twenty bucks on a bottle of wine don’t mean it’s good. Especially the California wine one finds in a place like Sam’s Club. My mom wrote the wines down that we drank and will be getting them every time she has people over. This will hopefully spread some love for Chilean wines in the their community. I hope a little light was shed on the small town of Bluffton, South Carolina. Cheers.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Victoria on August 30, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Hi, We are here in New York as of yesterday and I was thinking that if opportunity comes we sould stop by your wine bar. What is the name of it and where is it located?

    Cheers, Victoria


  2. Posted by EVWG on August 31, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    AWESOME!! I will be at a wedding in Virginia and will be back on Sunday. Please please let me know if you will be around. If you are in the East Village Come by In Vino. Just hit up a google search or go on for directions. I hope to see youi guys. Cheers!



  3. Posted by Victoria on September 3, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Hi there, our last day here before we fly home tomorrow. This is our last chance to make it to your place and we are planning to try to make it at around 5-7 pm later today. Hope to see you there!

    Cheers, Victoria


  4. Posted by Victoria on September 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    It was great meeting you in person on our trip. Thank you so much for the awesome wine and cheese, great conversation, and for your hospitality. Would love to repay if you ever are in Sacramento… Thanks for the link as well, good info. And yes, let’s work on the internet/video blog concept…
    Cheers, Victoria


  5. Posted by Galil on October 18, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Well Doc – it looks like you hit a good one – Miguel Torres btw, is pretty important in his little area Spain. He does his fair share of low priced fair wines, but also has some hidden gems such as the Torres Pinot Noir – some of the only Pinot Noir grown in Spain I think. A bit pricier of course, but worth every penny. Think of it as a bit of Cali Pinot meets the old world earth and spice of Spain. Well worth checking out.


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