Argentina, California, Chardonnay, Chile, Mendocino, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir, Vineyard
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Exploring North and South American terroirs

There’s a yin and yang to winegrowing in the Americas. As the vines in North America are stirring to life, the vineyards in South America are ready for harvest. As much as Chile and neighboring Argentina have in common with California – namely international grape varieties, plenty of sunshine and oftentimes similar aspects of terroirs – those similarities serve as a point of departure for differentiating the quality and style of New World wines.

To that effect, the stage was set at the Grill on The Alley in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood for a friendly competition between hemispheres. Joining me for a comparative tasting that spanned the depth and breadth of Viña Concha Y Toro’s North and South American portfolios were Italo Jofré, the company’s charismatic Santiago-based Fine Wine Export Manager, and a number of Chicago’s leading sommeliers and retailers.

Our first flight deconstructed the terroirs of two Chardonnays paired with appetizers and a classic Caesar salad followed by an in-depth look at two Pinot Noirs. The tasting then progressed through five monovarietal and Bordeaux blends paired with pan-seared salmon, chicken piccata and composed steak salad.

A Tale of Two Chardonnays

Just 14 miles from the Pacific coastline, the Quebrada Seca Vineyard in the Limarí region lies in what’s known as Chile’s costa (coastal) terroir on the western edge of the Atacama Desert. “This desert is the driest place on the planet,” said Joffre as he explained the terroir factors that create the Marqués de Casa Concha 2016 Chardonnay ($22). “The unique limestone soils of Limarí protect the acidity in the grapes resulting in very fresh wines.”

Given the arid nature of this cool, coastal region, the limestone-rich clay soils also help retain water for the Mendoza-clone Chardonnay vines that are planted on the north bank of the Limarí River.  Viña Concha Y Toro Technical Director Marcelo Papa presses whole clusters and sends just five percent of the wine through malolactic before it spends twelve months in neutral barrels.

“The bright fruit of this unoaked Chardonnay took us by surprise,” said Nancy Sabatini, Director of Wine Education and Sales for Mainstreet Wines & Spirits just outside Chicago. “There was consensus around the table that it was more Burgundian in style with freshness and vibrant flavors of green apple and ripe lemon.”

Limarí has now become Chile’s go-to terroir for Chardonnay and the riper styles have been readily compared to Northern California sites near the Russian River. In Mendocino’s Samel Valley, a narrow, five-mile long valley that was formed as a flood plain of the Russian River, Bonterra’s The Roost single vineyard 2016 Chardonnay ($39.99) is sourced from the biodynamic Blue Heron Ranch vineyard. Sited between the Russian River and a Blue Heron nature preserve, the vineyard lies 50 miles from the coast and sees a significant diurnal swing of as much as 50 degrees during the growing season.  Dijon and Wente Chardonnay clones are planted to alluvial Riverine soils and the Hopland series of sandy loam over Franciscan bedrock of sandstone and shale.

Read the full article here – TouroftheAmericasSJ122018

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