From £12.18, €16.99, CA$30, 229.90 krone
Extraordinary was the first word that came to mind when I tasted the 2013 vintage of De Martino's Viejas Tinajas Muscat from Chile's Itata Valley but then I realised this was the same word Jancis had chosen, for different reasons, to describe a previous wine of the week from De Martino, their Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2012. Yet I cannot find a better description.
The aroma of this pale golden wine is intense – initially more floral (rose petals) than grapey but still more like Muscat than Gewürztraminer. The floral character is underpinned by apricots and something like box, though I usually associate that smell with Sauvignon Blanc. After that initial captivating impression, the taste was a surprise: still grapey and perfumed but with an extraordinary smoky, almost sweaty, flavour of lapsang souchong and a definite dry saltiness that seems more intense than on the previous vintage. It's bone dry and the skin contact during fermentation seems to have added the scent of chamomile and hay, as well as a firm and unmistakable tannic effect on the finish.
It's definitely a wine to divide opinion because the flavours are so intense and distinctive – you could never ignore it or talk over it.
De Martino have gone a long way towards reinventing themselves, in their attitudes to vineyards, varieties, winemaking styles and drinkability, especially in a Chilean context, as I described in De Martino's journey to enlightenment, yet their methods are neither gimmicks nor bandwaggonery. Winemaker Marcelo Retamal spends three months of every year travelling outside Chile and a good deal of time scouting out vineyards at home. There's very little danger of Reta suffering from what is known as 'cellar palate', which is when a winemaker is so used to the taste of (only) his/her wines that he/she does not see them objectively any more, cannot taste their weaknesses.
The fruit for this Muscat comes from vineyards densely planted on mainly granite soils in 1975 in the Itata Valley, more than 500 km south of Santiago and just 18 km from the cold Pacific Ocean and its cooling influence. The photo below shows the densely planted bushvines (almost 7,000 vines per ha), which are ungrafted and dry-farmed.
The fermentantion is unusual in that it takes place naturally – ie no added yeast culture - over about 15 days in century-old clay tinajas of various sizes (pictured) and the wine is then aged for 6 months on the skins throughout the winter in the same vessels. After malolactic conversion in the spring, the skins are removed and the wine is racked into clean tinajas for another six months. Sulphur additions are low, and are non-existent for wines sold locally.
I found an extraordinary amount of pleasure in sipping this wine well chilled and slowly, partly because the aromas are so glorious they cannot be hurried. Thanks to the tannins you could also enjoy this wine at the table, though the floral character might make matching it more a matter of experiment.
The wine is imported into the UK by Les Caves de Pyrène and can be bought from them or at Whole Foods Market, Winemakers Club (London EC4), Exel Wines in Scotland and Bijou Bottles of Norwich. Since the vintage has just changed, it may well find its way further afield in due course.
It is also available in Chile (La Vinoteca), Brasil (Decantor Vinhos Finos), Norway (Autentico), Denmark (Winewise), Spain (Uvinum) and Canada (Marquis Wine Cellars, BC).