Tasting Note: Viña Chocalán Gran Reserva Blend 2004, Maipo Valley

Although I am most often weary of the “big” wines, I do enjoy ripe fruit and bold flavors just as much as the next guy. As long as the ripe fruit doesn’t jam the glass, if you see what I mean, and as long as other elements give it structure and balance.

Case in point: Viña Chocalán‘s 2004 Gran Reserva Blend, which was an accessibly-priced addition to a 2007 edition of the Courrier Vinicole, a mail-order catalogue by the Société des alcools du Québec, our very own wine and spirits state monopoly. At 22$, it seemed like a safe buy, and proved to be more than that.

When they say this Gran Reserva is a blend, the folks at this young and ambitious estate founded less than a decade ago really mean what they say: 30%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Malbec, 15% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, according to the web site. If that doesn’t bring at least a touch of complexity…

This is the kind of wine that doesn’t require you to stick your nose deep in the glass. Instead, it just jumps at you with a big burst of raspberry, blackberry, followeb by a good spponful of spices, all wrapped up in rich chocolate. As the very dark color hints at, it’s quite a mouthful, but with suppleness and enough acidity to sustain the mass of fruit and all. You even get a little herbal character and eucalyptus showing through, and  a very velvety mouthfeel from tannins that are very smooth and ripe. Very, very yummy.

The wine didn’t feel overdone or overblown. Nothing like a California grenache. Drinkability was reasonably good – meaning I could pour myself another glass without feeling stuffed. I’d be lying if I said I had any kind of problem with it.

Yet, tonight, when I was drinking a bottle of Hurluberlu, a joyful Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil cabernet franc from Sébastien David with 12.5% alcohol per volume, a touch of residual CO2 and expansive, fruity character of another kind, I was reminded of why I generally try to aim for slightly lower alcohol than trends are currently pushing. The wine, which did wonders with homemade chicken wings (first, use them to make the best broth ever, then finish them in the oven with your favorite marinade) just went down easy. So easy. Much more easily than the Gran Reserva.

Hurluberlu was gone just after dinner. And I felt like opening another bottle right away.

The Chocalán lasted two good days.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I totally agree with your assessment (in general) of “big” wines, but the alcohol issue is a little bit stickier…

    Here in Friuli, we get comments all the time about how alcohol levels are higher than they used to be and questions about the reasons behind this “trend”.

    We could easily make wines that top out at 12.5% alcohol every year. We would just pick when the sugar is high enough. But that’s not enough now. Years ago the indicator of ripeness was sugar and sugar only, but now we know there’s more to it than that. We want the grapes to be physiologically MATURE, not just sweet, when we pick them.

    The easiest indicator of this maturity is the seeds. If they’re green, the grapes aren’t mature. There’s much more to it than that, but the concept is that: a sweet-tasting grape will often have green seeds. The sugar is fine to make wine, but the complexities that come from real maturity aren’t there.

    When alcohol reaches higher levels without balancing structure (esp. acidity), then the wine becomes heavy and hard to drink. A problem with so many “big” wines.

    So higher alcohol isn’t a “trend”, it’s better winemaking, when in balance. Out of balance, it’s simply “showing off”, IMHO.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Wayne, and congratulations on your blog, which I’ve been reading with great interest.

    You’re absolutely right about the necessity to think about physiological maturity. It’s not just a question of sugar counts.

    However, I’ve been tasting wines from the mid-90s, clocking in at 12.5% or 13.5% alcohol, for instance, and they were clearly made from ripe grapes. The same wines are now made at 14% alcohol or more, which, as far as phenolics and physiological maturity goes, seems unnecessary. I’ve had ripe and pleasant wines from Roussillon at 13%, a rather warm place in terms of winemaking.

    The Chocalan maintains balance, it’s true. I don’t think it’s “showing off”, though many winemakers seem to think that bigger is automatically better.

    In my humble opinion, though, it probably would have hab better drinkability if it had been picked just a tad earlier, and produced a wine with, say half a percentage point less alcohol.

    Overall, I think we are in agreement, though: balance is, indeed, the issue, not absolute numbers.

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