By Rob Pickard
One of Chile’s oldest wine regions and one which is so often underrated, the Maule Valley is today Chile’s go-to region for top wines, producing fantastic expressions of varietals such as Carignan, Pais, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The region has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of press recently, with news of its VIGNO Project being picked up by UK journalists. This exciting new project has seen a group of Maule producers come together to showcase the best of the Valley’s Carignan production, with some really interesting wines hitting our shores (More about VIGNO on B Times soon).
This recent press has highlighted the quality of production that is so often forgotten from this corner of the world, and has sparked new interest in produce from the Maule Valley. One producer which has been flying the flag for Maule wines for some time, is Chilcas Estate. A winery with firm roots in the Valley; they are one of the region’s finest and are highlighting the many characters of this great wine region with a focus on regional terroir.
The focus for Chilcas in the Maule is on nurturing single vineyard sites throughout the Valley, championing Maule terroir and continualy pushing the quality barrier. A jewel in the Maule winemaking crown, Chilcas successfully blends traditional Maule winemaking philosophies with the latest winemaking know-how, while ecological wine practices, including some vineyards certified as organic, are a firm priority for the team. This approach has created an awesome range which really stands out from the plethora of generic, branded wines that so often come out of Chile at similar price points.
Of all the Chilean wine regions, the Maule Valley has the greatest geographic diversity, and with four distinct areas; the Andes Mountains, the Intermediate Depression, the Coastal Mountains and the Coastal Planes, this unique set up provides a huge diversification of soil and climate types. With such diversification to play with, Chilcas are able to display the best of Maule terroir throughout the range, with many varieties and resulting styles.
One of our favourite Single Vineyard wines from their range is the 2009 Pinot Noir. Notoriously difficult to grow, Pinot is a tricky varietal, and so often it can underperform, especially at lower price points. However this cheeky single vineyard is a superb effort from the Chilcas team. The grapes for this wine are grown in their La Esperanza vineyard within the San Rafael area of the Maule Valley, from 10-year-old, drip-irrigated vines. Here the Mediterranean climate with its long warm days and cool nights creates elegant fruit characteristics, structure and superb acidity.
Every effort is taken to produce top quality fruit, and following hand picking of the Pinot fruit, the grapes are carefully transported to the winery, before 80% of the wine is aged in French oak barrels and the remaining 20% in first-use barrels for 10 to 12 months. This barrel ageing lends a delicate touch of wood, whilst creating a medium body with firm, juicy tannins. The palate is dominated by rich, concentrated berry fruits, with a touch of smoke and spice. An awesome Pinot, which will give the growers of New Zealand’s South Island a run for their money.