Once an aspiring tennis pro and classical guitarist, Felipe Tosso eventually found his true creative calling at the Viña Ventisquero winery nestled in the coastal hills of Chile’s Maipo Valley. There he makes world-class wines from grapes cultivated along the slopes and valleys that lie with the winery’s vineyards in Maipo, Colchagua, Casablanca, and Leyda valleys. Felipe recently shared his creations with a handful of wine writers over tapas at the restaurant Estadio.
We opened the conversation and meal with two Viña Ventisquero wines from grapes grown in Casablanca, where cool ocean breezes and morning fogs meet sunny vineyards. These factors make the Casablanca moderate-climate grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
As we sipped the Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Casablanca, Felipe explained that he avoids the “green” style common among many Sauvignon Blanc wines through strategic leaf plucking to ensure that the canopy stays open to sunlight and air circulation, which helps ripen the vine and grapes. Harvesting the grapes during the cool Casablanca nights keeps the berries fresh and oxidation free while they travel to the winery. There the winemakers press half the grapes to capture only the juices while they crush other half to release juice, which remains in contact with the skins for six to 12 hours to add complexity. A long, slow cool fermentation with carefully selected yeast produces a crisp and fruity wine with low to moderate alcohol of about 12 percent. It retails for about $12 a bottle.
The wine offered good citrus fruit along with minerals on its ripe and juicy nose. On the palate, a round and creamy texture joined complex citrus flavors along with some apple and other ripe fruit all beautifully balanced.
The Reserva Pinot Noir 2011 Casablanca presented a delicate nose of raspberry and spice, along with a light ruby color. Aged in 70 percent second-use French oak, the wine provides a fresh, light fruity style. Felipe ensures that the farm workers handpicked grapes at their earliest maturity to maintain natural acidity for balance and to make the wines very food friendly. A fresh tomato spread atop French bread blanketed with prosciutto opened this wine’s delicate and delicious red-berry profile on the palate. This wine retails for just $12 a bottle.
Moving from Casablanca, our next tasting experience included two wines from the winery’s “Grey” collection, a line of several wines, each of which is produced from single-vineyard blocks and then aged for 18 months. For both of the Grey wines we tasted, Felipe aged one-third of the wine in new French oak with medium toast and the rest in second-use oak. He selects extra fine grain wood to limits the amount of oxygen that gets into the barrel, thus allowing longer aging that moderates the tannin. The goal, Felipe explained, is to make elegant, nonaggressive wines with balanced acidity and mature and ripe qualities. These wines are designed for enjoyment the day they are sold, but are also capable improving in the bottle for many years.
A glorious wine, the Grey Carménère 2010 reflects its home terroir from the winery’s Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo, which surrounds the winery itself. Beautifully complex and concentrated with all the interest and style of that well-crafted Carménère delivers, the wine offered ripe black fruit, blueberry, and spicy pepper qualities. Utterly delicious, strikes the perfect balance with ripe fruit, acidity and spicy complexity. Filipe explained that the great interest in this wine comes in part from the fact that it is not fined or filters and it also contacts 2 percent Petite Verdot. It retails for around $21, which is a bargain for this quality.
Also from a single block in the Trinidad Vineyard, the Grey Cabernet Sauvignon possesses a complex nose of cedar, vanilla, sweet spice, cigar-box, oak, and herbaceous aromas. Simply fabulous, this big, ripe and concentrated wine shared balanced acidity with black fruit, coffee, vanilla, and toasty oak. Grown in a cool vintage, this cab also is accented with 3 percent Petit Verdot. It also retails for an amazingly good price of $21 a bottle.
Last but not least, we experienced the Pangea 2009 Apalta. A collaboration with renowned Australian winemaker John Duval, this 100 percent Syrah grows in the granite and clay soil of west-facing steep hillside vineyards in Apalta Valley, a region that lies inside Chile’s larger Colchagua Valley. This ripe, delicious treat offered a complex medley of black fruit, blueberry, coffee, and chocolate. It’s a premium wine and comes with a higher price tag of $68.
The best news of the night was that all these wines are available in the D.C. market. If you don’t find them on the shelves at your favorite wine store, ask them to special order as they should be readily available via their distributor, the Country Vintner.