Apaltagua, San Antonio Valley (Chile) Pinot Gris Reserva 2017
(Global Vineyard Importers, $13): Some grape varieties are easy to categorize: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Viognier, for example, are aromatic varieties whose flavor is so irrepressible that their wines express those flavors
vividly. Chardonnay occupies the opposite end of the spectrum with flavor subtle enough that its wines can easily reflect winemaking technique more than grape character.
Some experts might place Pinot Gris in the aromatic-grape category, but the neutral flavor of most Pinot Grigio wines argues against that. In fact, the Pinot Gris grape makes a wide variety of wine styles, from the most innocuous mass-market Pinot Grigios to more flavorful, somewhat richer Pinot Grigio wines from areas such as Alto Adige, and Alsace Pinot Gris wines that are almost exotic in comparison.
This Pinot Gris from Chile falls toward the more intense, expressive end of the Pinot Gris spectrum. Its style is flavorful -- miles away from your standard Pinot Grigio -- although it has less body than many an Alsace version. The closest comparison, in my experience, is an unoaked Pinot Gris from New Zealand.
Pinot Gris is not a grape variety that Chile is known for. It doesn’t rank in the country’s top ten grape varieties, and probably not in its top fifteen, either. But Chile is increasingly recognized for the diversity of its production -- Chile currently grows more than 75 varieties -- and as winemakers continue planting vineyards in cool outposts near the Pacific or on the slopes of the Andes, Pinot Gris is a logical candidate for expansion. Judging from this wine, Chilean Pinot Gris clearly has potential.
Apaltagua is a family-owned winery with vineyard holdings throughout Chile, some of them seventy years old. The estate vineyard where the grapes for this Pinot Gris grows is only four years old, however. It is situated at 650 feet in altitude on the Coastal Mountain Range in the San Antonio Valley region, which borders the Pacific Ocean and is one of Chile’s exciting new cool-climate terroirs. The vineyard is less than eight miles from the ocean. Morning fog and moderate afternoon winds slow the ripening of the grapes and significant diurnal temperature swings -- on average the nights are 30°F cooler than the days -- also contribute to full flavor development and high acidity.
Two aspects of the 2017 Apaltagua Pinot Gris Reserva (“reserva” is a term used loosely in Chile) struck me immediately when I tasted the wine: the pronounced intensity of its aromas and flavors, and its substantial, oily texture. The aromas and flavors suggest green apple, pear, lemon, peach, pineapple, and floral notes. In your mouth the wine is full-bodied and dry, although its fruitiness and its viscosity give a slightly sweet impression. The texture is rich and oily but the wine’s high acidity counterbalances the textural weight and brings liveliness to the wine. This is a well-structured and delicious Pinot Gris, and a terrific value.
This wine is unoaked. It is the result of a long, cool fermentation (temperatures of 53° to 55°F for 20 days) in stainless steel -- classic techniques for aromatic white wines, intended to enable the flavors of the grapes to sing. The wine then undergoes two to three months of lees contact, which enhances the textural richness that was undoubtedly inherent in the grapes themselves.
Thanks to this wine, I will be keeping my eyes on the development of Pinot Gris in Chile over the next several years.