Duval x Ventisquero = Obliqua: high-end Carménère from Apalta, Chile

This pair of high-end Carménère’s was introduced live by Ventisquera chief winemaker Felipe Tosso and viticulturist Sergio Homazabal. They are very excited about the potential of this variety in their Apalta vineyard, and have worked together with ex-Penfolds’ chief winemaker John Duval to produce this alongside their Vertice blend.

Apalta is a special sub-region of Colchagua. Colchagua stretches from the sea to the Andes and Apalta is in the middle. There have been vineyards here for 100 years, but Apalta as an appellation is quite new. This Carmenère comes from the Robleria vineyard, at 500 m altitude. It gets a hefty 600-700 mm rain a year, and the soil here is 150 m year old granite with 30% clay in the matrix. The specific blocks for this wine, numbers 23 and 25, also have a colluvial layer of volcanic origin from the mountain, which is 2 metres deep. This means the vines can grow their roots freely through this layer, which has 30-50% stones. And because it’s like a sponge, with the clay-rich granite below, irrigation is rarely needed here.

‘John Duval started to work with us in 2003,’ says Felipe. ‘When he came, he was amazed by Apalta.’ At one stage they were blending together, and John did a blend of his own. ‘He wouldn’t say what it was,’ reveals Felipe, ‘but this was the beginning of Vertice.’ It turned out to be a half/half blend of Syrah and Carménère from these blocks 23 and 25.

Viña Ventisquero Obliqua Carménère 2017 Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua, Chile
14% alcohol. 92% Carménère, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot. Aged for 22 months, 70% in fine grain, second-use (but 3 year old) 300 litre French oak barrels, and 30% in a French oak foudre. Heavy bottle. From a plot at the top of Apalta, at 500 m altitude. This is a very bright, taut expression of Carménère, with real finesse – not something always associated with this grape. It shows refined, fresh red cherry and plum fruit with a touch of blackcurrant, and some very subtle meaty, gamey notes. It has a really fine structure, with good acidity and smooth tannins, and just a hint of pastille-like character that seems typical of many Chilean reds. There’s a slight tartness and bitterness on the finish, but overall this is a really finely wrought example of this interesting variety. Benefits from being open a couple of hours. 92/100 (UK retail c £40)

Viña Ventisquero Obliqua Carménère 2018 Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua, Chile
14% alcohol. Heavy bottle. A cooler vintage, same blend as 2017, and same elevage. There’s a sense of freshness here to the ripe, polished cherry and berry fruits, with a touch of blackcurrant. The tannins are present, and combine well with the acidity to give the wine a compact, brisk feel in the mouth. It’s fresh with some chalky, grainy notes and lovely balanced fruit, finishing with a hint of bitterness. It’s a really distinguished, thoughtful expression of this variety and potentially has a long life ahead of it. This really benefits from being open a while, and becomes silkier and purer. 93/100 (UK retail c £40)

And here’s a note on the latest release of Vertice, their premium wine from Colchagua:

Ventisquero Vertice Apalta Vineyard 2019 Colchagua, Chile
14% alcohol. Heavy bottle. Equal parts Syrah and Carmenere, aged in 40% new oak. This is taut and focused with bright blackcurrant and cherry fruit, with a touch of wild strawberry. It’s compact and a bit closed, with some grippy tannins and a touch of woodiness, finishing dry and awkward. There’s some firmness under the fruit, and it’s not really integrated at the moment, with a hint of clove and pepper on the finish. I can see where this is trying to go (fresh, elegant, ageworthy versus a sweet international red concoction), and there are many nice components here, but it needs a bit more time to integrate, and currently finishes dry and taut and a little charmless. 89/100 (UK retail £25)

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See also: An ode to Carmenere