Earlier in 2012 I had the chance to attend the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival, North America’s largest wine festival set in Vancouver. This year’s feature country was Chile.
When I showed up I was expecting to see the same Sauvignon Blancs, Carmenere’s and Merlots from other tastings, but the unexpected pleasant surprise was exposure to Chile’s rising star—Syrah. At its best, Syrah can be one of the most enjoyable grapes when it’s done right. From Penfold’s Grange (Shiraz blend) to Guigal’s “La La’s” in Northern Rhone, the grape is up there with the other most desireable collectibles in the world.
On the other hand, when Syrah is at its not-best it can be a big, sappy fruit bomb that could clean engine parts or marinate meat.
In this case I discovered Chile is quietly going after the former. Ex-Penfold’s Grange winemaker, John Duval arrived in Chile in the early 2000’s where he promptly dug in and helped Chilean winemakers find ideal growing conditions for the Syrah grape (see his Pangea project from the Apalta Valley). They went inland and upward to find cooler growing regions with better soil types, and the results are starting to become apparent. In this case, Syrah grapes from the Limari valley in the northern Coquimbo Region provides a cooling sensation off the Pacific Ocean with Camanchaca fog that shields grapes from sunlight in the morning, but then burns off to allow sunlight in without cooking the grapes.
The result is an underpriced gem sitting at $20 retail give or take. For me, the Tamaya Winemaker’s Selection Syrah was the “wine of the event” in Vancouver and one of the best wines I’ve had in 2012. My guess is the winemaker is going for more of the Northern Rhone style of Syrah rather than the Australian style of Shiraz of last decade. Fresh, well appointed balanced aromas of dark fruits and minerals are melded with a restrained hand on the oak. It’s drinking now and has the acidity to mellow out in a few years, but it’s drinking so well now, why wait.
If you can find this, or any other Chilean Syrah of the “new generation” give it a try and please share your observations in the comments below.