Chile keeps improving

IT doesn't matter how big a wine geek you are (or not), wine tastings on a grand scale can occasionally be quite somnambulant affairs.

Not so with the speed dating version of wine tasting that's becoming more prevalent, and which we again encountered at last week's wine festival.

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"Chile's Diversity" was the occasion. And it was a real pleasure, a dynamic event, literally, as the tasters moved around the "tastees"-in this case a veritable all-star team made up of a dozen or so leading Chilean winemakers and winery principals.

In most "large format" tastings there's often that awkward moment at the end when the moderator asks for questions-usually followed by a deathly silence as everyone stares really hard at their glasses. Until the same know-it-all geek pipes up yet again.

Wine's answer to speed dating is up close and personal. And with just seven minutes per wine, time is of the essence. But wine is very much about people and place. And the Chileans as a group just happen to be a pretty committed, convincing-and friendly bunch.

As the title suggests, the idea behind the event was to showcase the remarkable range of wines that Chile produces, from crisp and clean maritime influenced coastal Sauvignon Blancs to mineral and meaty toned Syrah, and everything in between. However, this fast paced exercise also clearly demonstrated just how far the country has come in the last decade, not only in terms of overall quality (which continues to climb along with the plantings) but also emphasized Chile's genuine commitment to sustainable, biodynamic and in several cases organic viticulture.

Some of these wines demonstrate in particular how Chile's scene is progressing.

- Emiliana Organic Coyam 07 (Colchagua)

Emiliana's Alvaro Espinoza-arguably one of the most experienced of Chile's biodynamic winemakers-says when he joined the winery to implement its organic program, 12 years ago, it was more about protecting the workers and doing away with pesticides than anything to do with the wine. Today he oversees 1000 hectares of certified biodynamic vineyards in four valleys. The principal grape is Syrah (37%) but also Carmenere (21%), with Cab Sauv (21%), Merlot (17%), Petit Verdot (4%) and Mouvedre (2%). Wild yeast fermented. Smoky, layered, complex red berries, plum and spice notes wrapped in supple tannins before a lengthy, still vibrant close. BCLS Specialty $29.99

- Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Aconcagua Costa)

From Errazuriz' newer plantings just 12 km. from the coast. Owner Eduardo Chadwick says the shiste soils are ideal for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-and this wine bears that out: An expressive tropical and gently herbaceous nose. The complex palate combines tropical, grassy and ripe fruit elements is the result of blending fruit from cooler and warmer facing slopes, he says. Available at Everything Wine $19.99 and some other Private Stores.

- Undurraga "TH" Carignan 2009 (Maule)

TH stands for 'Terroir Hunter' and in many ways the label reflects what's happening in Chile at large, in a project that explores different terroirs and varieties. We like the red berry and gently earthy notes, not to mention its focused fruit and length. BCLS Specialty $29.99

- Chono Syrah 2009 (Elqui)

From one of Chile's newer regions, where Syrah has been planted for just 10 years, this was among our top festival "value" finds. The earthy mulberry top couples with its dark fruit palate with some mineral notes wrapped in juicy acidity, thanks to the cool climate setting. Good structure but also very supple. At BCLS $19.99 it's The Deal.

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