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Learning from a Master: A Recap of Sebastian De Martino's Visit to Grand Cata

The De Martino Winery

The De Martino Winery

Sometimes, you meet someone with such a passion for what they do, how they do it, and whom they do it with and for, you simply shake your head and hope you can capture just an iota of that same passion in your own life. Thursday, February 8th, was one of those times for us.

Sebastian De Martino’s family has a long history of wine making. Sebastian and his brother, the 4th generation of the family in Chile, currently run the winery. Neither a small, nor gigantic, operation, they are one of the last remaining truly family-run winerys in Chile. This gives them the freedom - and responsibility, as Sebastian points out - to adhere to their core philosophy and values.

Sebastian considers his family’s work more as “vinegrowers” than “winemakers.” His wines pay homage to the past, while pushing the quality - and notoriety - of not only his, but all Chilean wines, to new heights. To him, wines must represent the place, not simply the materials used. In short, he strives to make only honest wines. And wow, does he succeed!

Sebastian and his brother own and run De Martino together

Sebastian and his brother own and run De Martino together

His great-grandfather left Italy during WWI to flee the turmoil there. He first arrived in the Americas in Philadelphia, making his way first West to California, then South to Chile. Sebastian’s heart is in both countries, but for generations now, his family is Chilean first.

Wine makers like Sebastian represent what really excites us about the future of Chilean wines. De Martino spearheads a movement in Chile to rediscover old techniques and apply them to modern wines. The results, as we learned during the class, and we hope you will see in the way we’ve described the wines below, are nothing less than stunning. We are proud to support producers like De Martino as they continue to prove to the world that Chile produces world class wine.

Gallardía Cinsault 2016

Region - Itata

Itata is a very old winegrowing area. It’s climate is similar to Northern Oregon. So similar, in fact, Oregon pines were planted here generations back, giving the landscape its distinctive “vines and pines” aesthetic.

Grape - Cinsault

Originally from France, Cinsault found its way to Itata in the 1930s. Think pinot noir with a bit more heft and tannin, and a darker fruit profile.

Viticulture - Dry farming and horse plow

Part of rediscovering the past means eschewing modern equipment for (literal) horsepower. This is both necessary - the vines grow on hillsides too steep for tractors - and a conscious effort to learn from the past. “Dry farming,” by the way, means that they do not use irrigation.

The Wine - Easy to drink while having a conversation about life

The wine has a sensual, translucent light purple color. It greets you with elegant, even timid, aromas of rose and violet petals, plum, dark cherry, and a touch of fresh garden herbs. On the palate, the wine has “a lot of lift,” in Sebastian’s words, meaning it’s incredibly fresh. Slight tannins give the wine extra energy and grip that underpin the flavors of black cherry, rose petal and minerals very well. The bright finish lasts for a few moments, with an unexpected tinge of tart strawberry, but doesn’t linger too long.

China the horse plowing between vines

China the horse plowing between vines

Legado Reserva 2014

Region - Maipo Valley

Further North, and therefore warmer, than the Itata, Maipo is at the heart of modern Chilean winemaking. Often referred to as “the Bordeaux of South America,” many grapes grow well here. Beyond its warm, yet temperate, climate, the soil in Maipo makes it a special winegrowing region. Alluvial (gravel and medium sized rocks) soils prevail. This soil type allows the roots to snake easily outward and downward to find the water and nutrients they need, and when it does rain, this loose soil allows for quick drainage. This leads to grapes that ripen well, but maintain the ever important balance between sugar and acid.

Grape - Carménère

“The forgotten grape,” as it is sometimes called, carménère was thought to have gone extinct after the phylloxera epidemic hit Bordeaux, and the rest of Europe, in the 19th century. Technically a tiny louse, phylloxera feasts on the rootstock of a grape vine. Chile, however, has never experienced phylloxera. Though many theories exist as to why, Sebastian believes it has something to do with the proliferation of volcanic soils throughout the country.

For generations, Chileans have grown carménère, believing it to be an odd clone of merlot with a tighter texture and spicy note. By the 1990s, though, many winemakers had come to the conclusion that they had to have a separate grape on their hands. As Sebastian puts it, how can your neighbor, who has very similar soil, landscape and weather, create such a different wine every year? It must be a different grape. As it turns out, carménère had made its way to the New World and had found a home, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. Since then, Chilean clippings have moved throughout the winemaking world, as vintners try to unwrap the mysteries of this late ripening, crimson leaved grapevine.

Winemaking - 20 year old vines, wild yeast fermentation, aged in gigantic, old oak barrels

Since winemakers have only had about 20 years to experiment with, and learn about, carménère, they don’t know everything about it. But a few things have become clear. The soil really, really matters, as does the climate. It needs gravel soil and a relatively consistent, not-too-hot-nor-too-cold climate. It ripens late, which means any inclement weather, or too much heat at the end of the season, really affect the resulting wine. And lastly, old vines are key. It takes at least 10 years for a carménère vine to start putting out worthwhile wine. Luckily, as we'll see, the result is well worth the wait.

The Wine - Rosemary roasted chicken, anyone?

When you hold the glass at an angle, you can just barely see through the wine. The color is a deep, pure red. The nose gives you the classic carménère note of fresh jalepeño. Often described as “green pepper,” “jalepeño” gets much closer to describing this nuanced aroma and flavor. Alongside this note run aromas of forest floor, dried herbs, roasted meat, charcoal, raspberry and dark chocolate.

On the palate, we have the definition of a “medium bodied” wine. For anyone confused as to what this term means, try this wine. Though noticeable, tannins don’t play much of a role here, but acidity does. This, combined with its overwhelmingly savory profile, make this a pretty easy wine to pair with. Just avoid very light, and very heavy, foods, and anything even remotely sweet.

The flavor profile partially mirrors the nose, though the fruit tone transforms to cherry. Also add in a hint of iron. On the finish, the tannins show up in force, and you really notice the charred meat flavor.

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Vigno by De Martino 2014

Region - Maule Valley

“Vigno” is not simply a wine, but an embodiment of philosophy. It is Chile’s first official AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), meaning it represents the first time Chilean winegrowers have come together to preserve and protect a region and its historical practices.

Winemakers that wish to use the Vigno name must source their grapes from only 3 towns in the Maule Valley, the blend must include at least 85% Carignan. The vines need to be old and dry farmed.

Grapes - Carignan

Originally from Catalonia, Spain, carignan is a key grape in Priorat (Spain), Languedoc and Rhone (France) blends. It’s characterized by a smokey note, as well as a pronounced spice profile and wild berry fruit tones.

Viticulture and Wine making  

Grapes are dry farmed, the soil tilled by horse-drawn plow, and yields are low due to old vines. The wine is aged 2 years in huge, old oak casks.

The Wine - Do we have to say more than “wow!”

From here on out, all the wines are showstoppers. This one, however, reaches a level of finesse, elegance, complexity and freshness that you rarely find outside of Premier or Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s that good.

Red with a slightly purple tinge, especially around the rim, you can see right through this wine. This is important, because it signals that the point here is not extreme extraction. Instead, we have a wine that lets the grapes do their thing. And these are world-class grapes.

The nose offers wafts of paprika, cloves, dark wild berries, dried fig, dates, tarragon and creme fraiche. The wine has a body between light and medium, with astounding acidity and tingly tannins. Flavors of grapefruit pith, lime zest and tart cherry give way to minerals, peppercorn, and dried flowers on the finish.

Seriously...wow.

Those things are huge! Giant oak barrels in the winery

Those things are huge! Giant oak barrels in the winery

Las Cruces 2015

Region - Cachapoal Valley

Grapes - A field blend of old vine Malbec (75%) and Carménère (25%)

The Wine - A fresher, more floral take on Malbec

The theme across the board for these wines is elegance and tact. Juxtapose this against a huge Mendoza Malbec and you’ll see exactly what we mean. While juicier and fruitier than any wine so far, the fruit profile of this wine plays no more than a supporting role. Much like the Vigno, this wine emphasises balance and freshness.

This wine reshuffles Malbec’s trademark characteristics and puts them into context. The aromas of violets, for instance, practically pounce on your nose, while the dark fruit profile slinks in the background. On the palate, the fruit jumps forward a bit, as notes of blueberry, plum and blackberry have their moment to shine. Throw in a bit of pepper spice and herbal tones from the carménère, as well as the espresso and potting soil notes characteristic of malbec, and you have a masterpiece.

Limávida 2013

Region - Maule Valley

Grape - Old vine Malbec

Viticulture - Minimal intervention

Horse plowed, technically a field blend, because the vineyard is planted with 85% malbec, and myriad other varietals. This vineyard was planted in 1945!

Here we can apply Sebastian’s money line of the night: “Sometimes you can put your hands too far into the wines.” As he tells it, they used to separate out each variety from each other, vinify each separately, then reblend. Once they went back to simply harvesting and crushing everything together, the wines got much better.

The Wine - The Elder Statesman

This wine has, by far, the funkiest, wildest, most fun aromas of the reds (emphasis intented; you'll see why with the next wine) - a fact attributable, at least in part, to its age. Think saffron buttered popcorn, then throw in some dried thyme, cumin and celery seed. Lurking beneath these aromas are violets and spring water. This is one of those wines that you absent-mindedly sniff, then put down, then sniff again, then again...each time forgetting to take a sip!

But when you do, you won’t be disappointed. This is the juiciest of the bunch, with the most emphasis on fruit. If you’ve never had a marian berry, you’ll know what they taste like after trying this wine. The wine also has a pleasant tone reminiscent of portobello mushroom trudging along in the background.

On the finish, you get slate, herbs, the most tannic grip so far, eucalyptus, and a hint of espresso. 

Grapes in an amphora. No, these are not the same grapes in the Viejas Tinajas Muscat! (We know, cause they're red!)

Grapes in an amphora. No, these are not the same grapes in the Viejas Tinajas Muscat! (We know, cause they're red!)

Viejas Tinajas 2016

Region - Itata Valley

Grape - Muscat

Winemaking - Skin contact and amphora aging

Returning to the theme of rediscovering the past, De Martino took a page from waaaay back. When the Spanish first started making wine in Chile, they used amphorae, or large clay pots, to ferment, age and store their wine. So, that's exactly what De Martino did here. They crushed the grapes, let them sit with the skins in giant amphorae for 8 months, then removed said skins and put the wine back into amphorae.

The Wine - Whoa! Huh? That’s a thing? I’m glad that’s a thing!

In Sebastian’s words, what we have here is a white wine with the structure and complexity of a red. With most white wine, the grapes get pressed, then the wine maker catches the juice as it runs off. In other words, the grape skins, seeds and stems spend no time mingling with the juice. Not the case here.

Skins, seeds and stems contain the majority of the tannin in a grape, and they also house the most flavors. This is true of white and red grapes.

The result takes some getting used to. If you’ve never had a skin contact white before, this wine might seem jarring. But if you have, and you already like them, or are willing to acquire the taste for them, you must not miss this wine!

On the nose you’ll find hints of cottage cheese, peach, a sharpness akin to cheddar cheese, and tangerine. On the palate, expect grapefruit pith, almonds, butter, nutmeg, pear, peach, a touch of mango, and blast of acidity. The wine then finishes with (gasp) tannic grip, minerals and mint.

Conclusion

There you have it! Thank you to all who made it this far! We know it's a lot of info. We are so lucky, and proud, to have Sebastian to our store. The class was truly a chance to witness a master unwrap his masterpieces.  

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Wine Club: Let's Start 2018 with Some Tannat!

If you wanted to tell the recent history of South American wine as briefly and succinctly as possible, you would focus on three red grapes: Malbec in Argentina, Carménère in Chile, and Tannat in Uruguay, all of French origin. The first two have already become ubiquitous, internationally acclaimed, and on the radar of even the newest wine drinkers.

 

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We can say, with full confidence, that it is only a matter of time before Tannat, specifically from Uruguay, will have the same level of prestige and availability as its (currently) more famous friends.

But we’re going to throw you a little curve-ball. Instead of choosing tannat from Uruguay for our wine club this month, we are going to treat it the same way we did Malbec in June. Those of you who were members at the time will remember that we chose esoteric expressions from France and Chile that month. We’re doing this because, to our minds, Uruguayan tannat has already arrived. It’s now time to give you some context through different expressions: one from its native France, one from Uruguay’s neighbor, Argentina.

Clos Fardet, Tannat Madíran AOP, France, 2013

This 100% tannat hails from not just the appellation of Madíran, but the town itself. Madíran sits squarely on the French side of the Basque country. Tannat makes up nearly all of the red grapes in the region.

With this wine, you can see how the grape got its name. “Tannat” means “tannic,” but it would be a mistake to think it simply refers to the amount of tannins. Instead, it refers to the quality of the tannins. Wines made from tannat posses a velvety texture, often accompanied by a very fine dustiness (the case here). While fruit, floral, spice and herbal tones are all present, the tannins steal the show.

In part because of these tannins, the best word to describe this wine is “rustic.” Enjoy with a hearty beef, vegetable and mushroom stew.

Chañarmuyo Reserva, Chamas Honnorat Tannat, La Rioja, Argentina, 2016

This tannat comes from La Rioja, a lesser known, high altitude region further north than Mendoza. Being closer to the equator, but also closer to the sun, the grapes ripen differently than they would in Mendoza. This leads to a bit more acidity and herbal tones.

Like the Clos Fardet, this Reserva uses only tannat. From there, however, the difference in climate, soil, altitude and winemaking philosophy is stark. In fact, these two wines together explain the difference between Old World and New World wines perfectly.

The rustic/dusty quality of the Clos Fardet gives way to an intensely smooth wine, with aromas of dark fruit piercing through more subtle herbal ones. The use of new french oak adds notes of baking cocoa and coffee. And despite how young the wine is (18 months at the time of this post), it drinks exceptionally. This alludes to the use of more modern techniques that can get a wine ready faster, versus the very traditional approach for its French counterpart.

You can treat this wine similarly to how you would treat a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Mendoza Malbec. Give it grilled steak and vegetables, and don’t get too fancy with it.  

The gift this month

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Your morning fix just got better! We’ve thrown in a bag of Firebat coffee, beans that are sourced from El Salvador. For those of you who yet to imbibe a brew made from their unreal beans, this coffee showcases everything we love about wine, aromatic, fresh, bright and silky with refreshing acidity. Firebat are roasters based in Ontario, Canada who focus on building relationships with their growers, demonstrating transparency in their practices, and providing unparalleled flavors and quality. We’ve proudly sold their coffee for nearly a year now, and we will continue to do so.

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Time to Tour Toro!

Those of you who visit us often at Grand Cata know we love Spanish wines. From Rioja to Ribera del Duero to Priorat, some of our favorite wines hail from the bigger of the two countries on the Iberian peninsula (and before you ask, yes, we love Portugal, too!).

Therefore, for this post, we decided to take a little tour of Toro, a not-quite-as-famous-but-just-as-good region that produces opulent reds. For any of you that prefer the ripeness and richness generally associated with New World regions, like California or Australia, Toro is an Old World region well worth your time.

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First, we’ll run through the wines you’ll find from Toro. And just so you know, we’ll showcase two wonderful expressions from the region for our #dailycata on Saturday. Then, we’ll discuss a bit of Toro’s history and architecture.

Like much of Spain, Toro produces reds from a clone of the Tempranillo grape. Think of Tempranillo as Spain’s answer to both cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. It’s exceptionally versatile, capable of producing elegant reds similar to the best Burgundys, as well as huge reds in line with California cabernet sauvignon. It all depends on the altitude and heat of the region growing it.

In Toro, they call the grape they use “tinta de Toro.” It wasn’t know, until recently, that it was actually Tempranillo. In fact, all over the Iberian peninsula, you can find clones of Tempranillo with different names. In Catalonia, for instance, they call it “ull de llebre,” or “eye of the hare.” In Portugal, they call it “tinta roriz.” So, when you get a bottle of labeled “Tinta de Toro,” you know that its tempranillo from Toro, Spain.

Toro has a “extreme continental” climate, meaning the temperatures vary drastically, both from winter to summer, and from night to day. It also means long, hot summers. This allows the grapes to ripen while maintaining a good balancing acidity. Tempranillo likes to ripen quickly, so the long summer also ensures that inclement weather that comes around at the end of the summer does not affect the grapes. All of this leads to the huge, inky, complex and decadent reds that we keep harping on!

So, what other delicious things come from Toro? Cheese, for one thing. Specifically, a hard sheep's milk cheese called “Zamorano,” named after the province of Zamora in which Toro sits. This cheese gets aged for 6 months and is characterized by a sharp, but pleasant, bite. In addition to cheese, expect to find lots of stews and “asados” (grilled dishes). Common ingredients include veal, chickpeas and lentils, and like much of Spain, sausages and cured meats are huge. Specifically, Toro and the rest of Castilla y Leon make exceptional “morcillas,” or blood sausage.

We highly recommend that if you plan to visit Spain, you consider including Toro. Toro is actually a town and municipality in the larger region of Castilla y Leon. Perhaps the most famous Spanish woman in history, Isabella of Castile, was born there. Being right at the edge of the Moorish Empire, Toro has some of the most diverse artistic and architectural stylings in Spain, taking cues from both Christian and Islamic influences. In fact, Toro is the heart of Mudéjar art, a style developed known for its heavy use of brick and the infusion of Islamic art and architecture into medieval Christian art and architecture. Some of the disciplines that this art encompasses include tilework, wood carving and plasterwork.

As mentioned above, this Saturday we’ll sample two exceptional wines from Toro to give you the chance to begin learning about this wonderful region. We’ll have a wine Prima, from the 2014 vintage, as well as Bigardo 2016, a natural wine. The tasting starts at 3 and goes until 6, and as always, whatever we taste on Saturdays is 10% off!     

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