I spent several hours on Friday evening with my friends Ben and Christa, who invited me to the tres bonne annee wine tasting event at the Hilton Harrisburg. The event celebrated the wines of Chile and proved to be a fantastic time. This was my first official wine tasting event and I am quite sure it spoiled me for all others.
We arrived a bit early and while we were waiting for the doors to officially open, were able to look at the wines we would be tasting at the “mobile state store” – No, it’s not like the book mobile, but wouldn’t that be fantastic? – and to peek in the doors to watch the elaborate set up.
When we were finally able to enter the ballroom I was amazed to see it set for 300 people. My mind operating as it does, my first thought was – holy moly – we’re tasting nine wines and they are already set in front of us – that means there are at least 2,700 wine glasses in here – who owns 2,700 wine glasses? Boy am I glad I didn’t have to wash them all!!!
Each place was set with a place mat on which the names of the wines were printed and on which the glasses were set in the order we would be tasting them.
There were also pitchers of water for cleansing the palate and platters of breads, crackers, cheeses, fruits and pate. The precision with which each place was set – so that there were no discernible difference from one to the next – was quite impressive and quite beautiful. Although I am a person who generally appreciates that which is different; I was comforted by the uniformity!
The panel of speakers included a representative from each of the following:
- The Wines of Chile, a promotional organization representing 90 Chilean wineries
- Carmen Chile – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and Chile’s oldest winery
- Conca y Toro – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and another long-time player in the Chilean wine game
- Vina Arboleda – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and a young winery fueled by a passion to produce wonderful wines
The panelists each took a turn educating us about Chile, the 4th largest exporter of wine to the U.S., and its wines. I learned that Chile has 3,000 miles of coastline and that the colder climate on the ocean means a longer harvest. I also learned that Chile is known mostly for its red wines, but that it has excellent white wines – my favorite of the whites we tasted was the Carmen Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011.
Each winery representative described the wines we were tasting with careful detail. They told us about the oak vs. non-oak aging, the fermentation, the climate in the region in which the grapes are grown, the aroma or bouquet of each wine, the subtle notes that could be detected in the smell and taste of each wine and the foods with which the wines would pair well. We saw a brief video about each winery. For me, the videos made me want to explore Chile on my own.
Fortunately for me, I was seated next to exactly the right person to discuss exploring Chile. Her name is Liz Caskey, of Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences, and she is a former Lancaster native who now lives and cooks in Santiago, Chile and hosts culinary and wine tours of Chile and other South American countries. Although I did not have the opportunity to speak with her at length, I was impressed by her adventurous spirit and her knowledge of the food and wine of Chile.
The following are the wines we tasted in three groups – whites, Carmeneres, and Cabernet Savignons. I’ve included a few tidbits of information about each wine and my favorite in each group is indicated with an asterisk (*).
We tasted three whites:
- *Carmen Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Non-oak aged, fresh green aroma, refreshing on the palate, pairs well with fresh seafood.
- Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Chardonnay 2011 – Oak fermentation, pale yellow, fine herbal notes, subtle aroma of toast.
- Arboleda Chardonnay 2011 – Oak fermentation – delicate aroma of fresh fruit and citrus, aroma not as “toasty” as Conca y Toro.
We tasted three Carmeneres:
- Carmen Gran Reserva Camenere 2009 – barrel aged 100% Carmenere, smoky, spicy, very dry, faint taste of paprika and coffee beans.
- Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenere 2010 – 90% Carmenere and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the pigment “hangs” on the glass more than the other two Carmeneres (I’m not talking about the “legs” or “tears” of the wine – widely debated as an indicator of the wine’s quality, but the actual pigment), very dry, almost dusty mouth feel, pairs well with tomato dishes, pasta and lamb.
- *Arboleda Carmenere 2009 – 100% Carmenere, fruity on the palate, least dry of the three Carmeneres, paired well with the salty cheese and peppery pate.
Lastly, we tasted three Cabernet Sauvignons:
- Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Carmenere, complex aromas, I detected traces of raspberry and grapefruit, pleasant rounded tannins (I found a good explanation of tannins and mouth feel at Just Grapes Wine Blog).
- Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, juicy (which I learned is from the acidity), fine tannins, spicy finish.
- *Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Carmenere, aroma of plums, cherries and chocolate, a hint of vanilla, nice mouth feel. This is the bottle I purchased because I knew Jeff would enjoy it the most of all the wines we tasted and he wasn’t able to attend.
I find it interesting that I my three favorite wines of those we tasted were evenly distributed among the represented wineries. I think that speaks well for the youngest of the three wineries – they seem to be on the right track. Christa and I stole a moment with the winemaker from Arboleda – Carolina Herrera – to ask a question about how she determines how much oak and the type of oak to use for fermentation. I was impressed to learn that she is only 29 years old. Her passion and enthusiasm for wine making were unmistakable. I thought she was an excellent representative of the wines of Chile.
Although I know the wines I like to drink; I don’t know much about wine in general. The evening offered the opportunity to learn about the different regions and valleys of Chile, the terroirs or micro-climates that affect wine making and Chilean wines, and the three wineries represented. It whet my appetite to continue learning about different wines and set a pretty high bar for future wine tastings.
All in all I had a great time spending the evening with Ben, Christa, and 297 of our closest friends!