The Chilean winery Viña Ventisquero celebrated the start of the 2006 wine harvest back in Chile with a Chilean dinner and wine-tasting in a London penthouse suite across the river Thames from the Houses of Parliament. The dinner also marked the introduction of a new range of wines designed for the British off-trade under the name and label of Yali.
The Yali brand is named after the valley that is the home to a Ventisquero (Snowfield) winery and the wine is being marketed from the start with the European consumer in mind. Thus it joins those wines under the brand name Chileno launched three years earlier, which is already a leading Chilean brand sold in United Kingdom supermarkets and by wine merchants.
Yali is not only the name of the valley where the vineyard produces the wine, but is the name of a small and attractive finch which flies over much of Chile, as also on the other side of the Andes in neighbour Argentina. W.H. Hudson that great Anglo-Argentine naturalist of the last century saw the so-called Mourning Finch (Phrygilus fruticeti) as a very charming bird, tuneful, elegant in form, graceful and buoyant in its motions. The song of the male is very agreeable, and in bright weather its notes are heard all day long, while in autumn the Yalis unite in flocks of several hundred individuals.
Winemaker Alejandra Lozano over from Chile for this celebratory dinner hoped that the character of the Yali wines being offered would reflect this attractive bird and the excellent growing conditions of the Yali valley itself.
Viña Ventisquero has five main vineyards located across Chile, which allows its winemakers to take advantage of the different styles produced in each area, where in addition to the Yali valley its hectares are scattered through the Maipo, Rapel, Casablanca and Apalta valleys.
The Viña Ventisquero wine-tasting began with a choice between a Yali Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2005 and a Yali Merlot Rosé 2005. Your correspondent stuck with the Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a sequence of tasty Chilean village-bread canapés of black olive paste and Manchego cheese.
White wine continued with the starters of Choritos al vapor, Pacific mussels, and fresh salmon ceviche; moving up the scale to a very acceptable Grand Reserves choice of Yali Chardonnay 2003 and Sauvignon Blanc 2005. Your Correspondent Lovat Stephen, ever in search of alternatives to the too popular Chardonnay, gave full marks to the younger Yali Grand Reserve.
And then it was on to a truly representative choice of four kinds of empanadas, a national Chilean dish as it is also an Argentine one, perhaps best described to those who have not met them before as somewhat akin to Cornish pasties. In this case the fillings were either of red meat, spinach, Chilean seafood or fried cheese. Strictly in the line of duty Lovat Stephen sampled them all, accompanying his survey with the well-chosen red wines.
These were a Yali Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and a Yali Grand Reserve Merlot 2003. Again, your correspondent particularly enjoyed the Merlot, while allowing that the Cabernet Sauvignon - tasted later at home - was equally worthwhile in the price-range at which it would sell.
A very solid traditional Chilean main course meal of a corn pie baked in the oven, with layers of minced meat, onions and roast chicken followed. The dinner was beginning to prove almost too much of a good thing for us urban wine-writers who had not spent hours in the saddle nor all day hand-picking grapes on an Andean hillside, and Lovat Stephen now almost regretted his own over-sampling of the truly excellent empanadas.
But the Chilean grape-variety which Lovat Stephen has been studying in depth of late is the Carmenèré; and it was a Yali Premium Carmenèré 2003 that accompanied the pie that commanded his worthwhile concentration.
In a sense he welcomes the attention being paid to Carmenèré in Chile, as a truly representative South American varietal, in the same way as Malbec represents the red wines of Argentina and Tannat those of Uruguay.
While accepting that all these varietals have their origins and some present-day presence in France - Carmenèré in a few places in Bordeaux, Malbec in Madiran and Tannat in Cahors to roughly generalise - he is a genuine advocate of the New World attention given grape varieties like these, particularly in South America.
Those accustomed to the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots of France should make a point of trying these New World versions of accepted French grapes that might just be establishing a different "version" of the grapes mentioned. Indeed, those growing the locally-grown namesakes of their French ancestors, might even be dealing with truly new types. As a New Yorker might differ from an Englishman from Yorkshire, or a Chilean from a Frenchman from the Dordogne, so might the New World versions of their grapes differ from the original founder-members of those viticultural tribes.
For the Yali Premium Carmenèré 2003 was certainly a great wine in its own right, and was after all grown in a different terroir and brought up in a slightly different home atmosphere. Just a thought!
To finish, a Chilean milhoja thousand-flake pastry cake as a dessert was excellent with an offering of Reserva Pinot Noir 2004 to round off a most pleasant celebration of the 2006 harvest beginning in faraway Chile. May it all go well in the valley of the Yali in 2006.