Sep 20, 2013

Viña Leyda winemaker dinner with Viviana Navarrete - good value Pinots and intriguing whites from one of Chile's most exciting producers

I had an oppotunity to meet Viña Leyda's winemaker Viviana Navarrete in a tasting organized by importer Vindirekt in the beginning of September. I came away from the tasting thinking Viña Leyda is in the forefront among Chilean producers of wines made from cooler region varieties, especially from Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir. In my mind Viña Leyda is one of the country's most exciting producers right now by quality however also by price to quality ratio.

Located in Leyda valley, Viña Leyda cultivates there red varieties Pinot noir and Syrah as well as white varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, and Sauvignon Gris, in addition to Carmenére and Cabernet sauvignon in the warmer Colchagua and Maipo valleys. The tasting was organized around the cooler Leyda Valley wines, for which first vines were planted in 1998 after construction of the irrigation system enabling cultivation of vines in the area. According to Viviana no green harvesting is needed as yield of grapes is naturally low, shown during the tasting in the concentration of the wines.

Sauvignon Blancs: Reserva 2012, Garuma 2012, Lot 4 2010

Sauvignon Blanc Lot 4,
picture from Vindirekt site
First we tasted three Sauvignon blancs: Reserva, Garuma Single Vineyard and Lot 4. The Lot 4 provoked a lot of discussion, the wine is a thing of beauty and personally hard to put down. Made of a Sancerre clone of Sauvignon blanc, with 10% matured in french oak barriques, it is a unique wine possessing such truffle aromas which I have not found in any other Sauvignon blanc. The retail price is around 13 eur, but the wine is worth more.

The grapes from which the Reserva Sauvignon blanc is made are from three different vine clones, while the wine itself has lots of exotic fruit notes, peach, jack-fruit and kiwi along with a hint of vanilla. The wine is really fresh and the most fruit driven of the three, and for 11 eur on restaurant sales is a good value.

The Garuma (retail price 10 eur), a single vineyard wine from a single vine clone, stands out from the others by having a creamy structure to it with a really good acidity - reminiscent style wise of a Burgundy type Chardonnay compared to the others.

So they are three different Sauvignon blancs, each with good food combination possibilities given their structure and level of acidity - none were dull nor over alcoholic as some Chilean whites tend to be, obviously the cool climate benefiting the formation of acidity and not too much sugar which would turn into burning alcohol on the palate. Furthermore, the three wines were all noticeable different from each other, Lot 4 and Garuma being both unique in this category.

Sauvignon Gris 2012

Sauvignon Gris -
picture from Vindirekt site
An interesting white made of Sauvignon gris, Viña Leyda Kadun Vineyard Sauvignon Gris (12 Eur, 14%  abv.) was the revelation of the event. I put a lot of exclamation marks in my tasting notes for this wine. Imagine a low-yielding, concentrated viognier with its trademark oily structure and spicyness, with notes of white pepper, apples, caramel, ginger. Add a creamy feeling to it as 10% of the wine is matured in large oak, and as end result you have a nicely structured wine which viscosity is thicker than usual. Still they have managed to maintain a pleasant acidity. The wine has potential for cellaring for 5-10 years. Interesting.

Leyda Reserva Syrah 2010

The Reserva Syrah (12 Eur, 14%) is a black fruit driven wine which is a combination of a Crozes-Hermitage Syrah from northern Rhone Valley with the trademark blueberry notes, and a typical Chilean Syrah with spiciness. Being a very concentrated, fruit-driven although not jam-like, darker and more powerful than a Crozes-Hermitage, it is a full bodied and spicy expression of Syrah with an earthy and lime or limestone feeling to it with licorice, allspice and black salsify notes. Like it was made in the old world style in the new world. According to Viviana, 20% of the wine is matured 10 months in used oak barrels which are 5% new majority 1-4 years old, and even 8 years old oak can be used. Further according to her, the 2010 is superior to 2011. Recommended. 

Pinot noirs - Las Brisas Vineyard 2011, Cahuil Vineyard 2010 and Lot 21 2011

Lot 21 Pinot -
Picture from Vindirekt site
The Pinot noirs are each single vineyard wines, very intensive and spicy expressions of Pinot noir, the intensity peaking with the premium Lot 21. 

They are made in the exact same fashion with soft pressing and open vats. The Las Brisas (13 Eur, 14.5% abv) is harvested earliest, in mid-March, i.e. two months prior to harvesting the Syrah above. Vines are situated on a granite soil facing south with cool air breezes, the combination of the two maintaining lower average temperatures compared to Cahuil (17 Eur, 14% abv.). 
Comparing Las Brisas and Cahuil vineyards, if Burgundy terms are allowed, the former is more feminine and thus reminds me of a Chambolle-Musigny compared to Cahuils' masculinity which is reminiscent of a Gevrey-Chambertin. 

Cahuil is located on a north-west facing slope which receives more sun exposure (as the vineyards are located below the Equator, northern slopes get more sun), and composition of soil is 100% red clay which according to Viviana gives the wine creaminess. Cahuil is an intensive Pinot, definately the more powerful of the two with coffee notes accompanying cherry and rasperry notes. 

The Lot 21 Pinot Noir (33 Eur, 14% abv) is made of the best Pinot grapes. The wine has been matured 10 months in new french oak and 12 months in old, and has longer cellaring potential. And time the wine needs, as in the tasting Lot 21 was somewhat closed, more reserved than the other Pinots. It needs more air if enjoyed now, however recommended to keep in the cellar for a few years. Being a superintensive, spicy Pinot noir style, black pepper and cherry notes are accompanied with blackcurrant notes. It is a very Chilean Pinot Noir at core, however has more depth and power to it. Give it a couple of years in the bottle, the wine would be very interesting to try in 5-10 years. 

All in all, Viña Leyda's Pinot noirs have been accepted in my wine circles as premium quality within the Chilean Pinot noirs, and after the tasting I had no opposition to the view.