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TalinayChardonnay was my great discovery for 2012, spending a lot of extra income finding interesting buys and asking reps to provide me samples to understand the many faces of this noble grape. While I am often introduced to newer and nerdier varietals, I was looking forward to one more yesteryear dalliance with an emerging Chilean wine region; an introduction to the Limarí Valley.

I had been dropped off a seven-fifty of 2010 Talinay Tabali Chardonnay from the D.O. of Limarí Valley in the north of Chile. Within the Coquimbo Region, Limarí Valley has a warm climate, where noble varietals, such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, enjoy cooling morning coastal fogs—the Camanchaca—that moderate temperature and preserve the inherit acidity as the afternoon sun warms up the area, allowing the grapes to ripen fully but evenly. The soil does the rest. The vines are growing in limestone heavy terroir, and these mineral roots are reflected in the wine.

I poured a glass of the medium-yellow Chardonnay stretching out its curvy legs (medium) that stuck to the edge of my glass. After a few spins I dropped my nose and took my first inhale. Exuberant and youthful fruit in the form of ripe pear, tangerine and lime, white flowers and crushed rocks manifested. On the palate it was dry and pure with medium-plus acidity and medium-body delivering Bartlett pears, squeezed limes and fleur de sel. There was mild interplay with oak that came across tastefully and rounded out the mouth feel. Suave.

An encouraging start from a relatively new (to me) D.O. of Chile, with the Talinay Tabali Chardonnay flaunting a bit of that Old World character (being compared to Chablis for its chalky soils formed by the ancient ocean beds that once washed over the Limarí, as we had talked about the geology in my WSET course) while retaining its enticing fruits and creaminess in the mid-palate. Sometimes you can have it all!

Here we go. A week elapsed after my last wine course concluded on a positive tasting note. The upcoming program was designed to fill the void, providing some shading in of the rest of the map of wine, especially after such serious detail was given to the major players (France, Italy and Spain) of the wine world in my previous course. I was excited about delving into the vin du Canada and pushing all the way across the globe to China, becoming familiar with wines that were not in the standard curriculum and were more off the beaten track. And, as always, thrilled to the thought of continuing the countdown-to-500…now serving number 327.

We began with the more traditional and commercially prevalent wines of South America to kick off this new exploration. Discovering the growing regions and wines of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, places where they are harvesting about a half-year earlier than we do in the USA, or specifically than my favorite winery in Santa Ynez, California.

We tasted through the darlings of each South American country like Chile’s Carmenère, Argentina’s Malbec and Uruguay’s Tannat, looking at the European influence in each country and how the vines matured, historically.

A couple of these wines served as my first genuine how-do-you-do with Carmenère and Tannat. Carmenère was introduced to Chile by way of the French, where the grape was one of the original six of Bordeaux (in the Médoc), falling out of favor, where now only five remain as the typical ensépagement of red Bordeaux wine. While in the Valle Central in Chile, Carmenère is king—though for some time it was believed to be Merlot.

Tannat, found all over Southwestern France, blended into the wines of Côtes du Saint-Mont, Tursan, Béarn and even in the Northern Basque region, regarded as Southwestern France—the rosés of Irouléguy (an AOC). Tannat found its way to Uruguay through Basque settlers in the 19th century. It took on the name of Harriague, after Pascual Harriague had established the vine in Uruguay but eventually gave way to its traditional moniker. Tannat is incredibly tannic and rough in the way it greets the palate but there is something that is nerdy chic and endearing about the grape at the same time. While dwindling in popularity in France, it has found a new home in Uruguay, setting them aside from other significant wine producing nations in South America by their mastery of the rustic grape.

Among the classic examples of each of these countries we tried a few more wines that have been commercially successful in every country (dubbed Noble varieties) and in which we were already acquainted. We tried a total of seven wines. They were:

08 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay

09 Lapostolle Casa Carmenère

08 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir, Casablanca

08 Tukma Torrontés

08 Ernesto Cantena Vineyards Tikal Patriota, Bonarda / Malbec

08 Domino del Plata Susana Balbo, Malbec, Mendoza

08 Bouza Tannat, Montevideo, Uruguay

The first class of the rest of the world went over considerably well, the wines had minimal faults and found favor with many tasters in the class. We tried a wide variety of grapes as opposed to looking at nuances of the same grape being grown in different areas.

I was struck by the Carmenère, which offered a developing bouquet of cocoa, plum, berry, bell pepper, herbs and iron—that tinny metallic flavor—that was dry, with a medium full body, gripping tannins (moderate +), controlled but noticeable oak and a long finish of plum, cocoa and savory herbs. It was rich and interesting.

The Malbec was another favorite of those tasted, yielding a mix of red and black fruit, some herbs and bell pepper—slightly vegetative upon first sniff. On the tongue it was dry, with medium acidity, a medium-to-full body, almost intensely drying tannins (moderate +) and a long finish of cherry, cassis, blackberry, meat and coffee.

After the first class I am dead set on exploring more examples of Carmenère from Chile as well as incorporating a few bottles of Torrontés into the fold, when the sun beats down mercilessly on the streets of Los Angeles in July. With this course I am sure to find a battalion of fascinating alternatives to the traditional pairings of Sauvignon Blanc in the summertime and Napa Valley Cabs with dry aged steak from Whole Foods Market at any time. I am also certain to find some more dynamic food and wine pairings to fuel this blog after the trove of new wines soon to be unearthed in this third course. Stick around; it’s just getting interesting.

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