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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.