De Martino take an unusual approach with their Cinsault – fermenting and maturing in clay amphoras called tinajas (see above). After carbonic maceration, the wine is drained, the skins are removed, the tinajas are cleaned and the wine is then put back into the tinajas. The amphoras are then covered with wooden lids, sealed and then covered with earth to mature. We tasted a sample in the winery which, as one might expect, had earthy aromas but it had more character than most Cinsault I have tasted.
Family-owned De Martino have a long tradition of winemaking but are also at the forefront of innovation when it comes to discovering Chile’s new wine regions and expressing her diverse terroir. When we visited they were keen to show us a presentation of some of these up and coming regions through a PowerPoint presentation with a series of stunning photographs.
De Martino was established in 1934 by Pietro De Martino Pascualone who arrived in Chile from Italy. Looking for the perfect site to plant vines, he found Isla de Maipo in the Maipo Valley, just 50 km from Santiago between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The village earned its name because it had been surrounded by a number of tributaries of the Maipo River until the early 20th century. A powerful earthquake and changes in climate have since dried up all but one large branch of the river. The third and fourth generations of the De Martino family now own and run the company and their vineyards stand on one of those former river branches.
De Martino was one of the first companies to identify Carmenère in their vineyards and started bottling and labelling it as a named variety in 1996. Carmenère has become a speciality for them and while we were in Chile, they were presenting a Carmenère seminar in London for the CWW. The vertical tasting from 1996 to 2010 showed how the style has evolved from the richer, fuller bodied more alcoholic styles that often win critical acclaim to a less alcoholic and more restrained style. To achieve this they have dramatically cut all use of new oak and now use 5,000 litre foudres to age their wines; the wines also spend less time in oak. Since the 2010 vintage they pick their grapes earlier thereby getting lower alcohol levels, better acidity and pH.
On our visit Marecelo Retamal, consultant winemaker at De Martino led a wide-ranging discussion on vine growing in Chile where the diversity of soils and conditions require a variety of approaches. Unusually, perhaps, he feels that high-density bush-trained vines are best for quality wines in many areas as this system helps to control the amount of light the vines get. However, in Pisco Elqui, for example, vines are at 1700 – 2200 metres on very steep slopes; in winter the vines are snow-covered and in summer temperatures are 28-34o C. Here the training system used is Parron Elquino, as it works well to protect the vines from excess sunlight. They use this with Syrah, Grenache, Petit Verdot and Carignan at 7,000 vines per ha, on soil that he describes as ‘pure granite and like a beach’.
Marcelo made the point that in a hot area like Elqui the climate is more important than soil or geology but in a cool climate, soil and geology become more significant. Between Elqui in the north and Bio Bio in the south there are a lot of different mesoclimates. Being further south does not always mean it is cooler – the middle of Bio Bio can be hotter than Santiago. The type of wind and whether it is an earth-sea breeze or sea-earth breeze is important.
The orientation of the vines is also very important. Marcelo showed a slide of grapes, sunburnt due to the wrong exposure, despite being in the cooler climate of Limari. A southern exposition in mountain areas is preferable to a northern exposition because the sun is too strong. All of the De Martino vineyards are oriented east to west. Vineyards with southern exposure can usually be identified by the fact that they have native trees behind them. If you want really cool climates you need to go south but southern Chile can be too cool so you need to be near the Andes on soils of limestone, schist or granite to get the best out of these climates. South of Maule you get 200mm of rain in summer but in the more northern regions of Chile you get less than 90mm.
De Martino do not use rootstocks because Marcelo feels they have ‘the most distorting influence on terroir ‘. I asked about margarodes, an insect which lives on the roots of the vine and is related to phylloxera but is (I was assured) not the same. It is prevalent in some parts of Chile such as Maipo. Marcelo’s response was that it wasn’t such an issue – the plant survives and continues to grow and yield is reduced; here they are interested in very low yields of 2 t/ha so it doesn’t matter to them. This concurs with what the viticulturist at Santa Rita said about margarodes – quantity is greatly reduced but quality of fruit is very good; they are still however trying to develop a resistant rootstock, a task they expect to take 10-15 years. In the meantime, margarodes acts as a natural yield restrictor.
Asked if he wasn’t worried about planting without rootstocks in the light of this problem Marcello replied, “It’s a risk but it’s like gambling. If you take a risk you might win a lot of money”.
Below is brief impression of a selection of the wines tasted.
Quebra da Seca Chardonnay 2009, Limari ,13.5%, £8-9. Subtle aromas of cream, melted butter, nut and gentle oak spice. Creamy and subtle without being over rich, a contrasting core of sharper grapefruit flavours adding freshness. 92/100
Parcels Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, 13.5%. Intense, ripe tropical aromas and flavours of passion fruit and pink grapefruit but fortunately manages to avoid the overly-herbaceous notes typical of SB. Good flavour intensity that lasts the length of the wine and is balanced by vivid acidity. 91/100
Legado Reserva Syrah 2010, 13.5%, £10. From the Choapa vineyard, 200km north of Santiago in the Andes at 500m altitude. Big soft gravelly-textured tannins, melting texture and dark chocolate, boldo (native Chilean plant) & bay leaf like flavours balancing the silkiness. 92/100
Single vineyard Carmenère 2010, Alto de Piedras. Grown on old riverbed soils – only 1200 cases. Rich, dark and velvety but not heavy. Very, very smooth but balanced but vivid acidity. Old fashioned liquorice flavours, velvety texture surrounding a fist of tannins. “The first Carmenère from Chile was made from grapes from this vineyard and is, therefore, part of the history of Chilean viticulture.” 93/100
Also tasted – Tinaja Cinsault 2011, 30 year old vines, fermented and aged in tinaja.
© 2011 – 2012, Susan Hulme MW. All rights reserved.