Thursday, 20 February 2014

Tabali Winery, Chile

I suppose it might appear to be a form of torture and you may well ask why we do it, but you cannot have enjoyed being part of the wine trade for as long as we have without being equally eager to explore food and wine combinations and developing an abiding interest in all forms of scoff.  I’m talking about watching Gennaro Contaldo producing a rich, gooey, artery-clogging lasagna on BBC2’sFood and Drink programme, while enduring a 5:2 diet fasting day and having to ratchet up the volume to cover the noise of my own stomach, protesting mightily at the injustice of it all.  Compounding the gastric angst was their wine commentator, Kate Goodman, who wheeled out three different Syrah/Shiraz and waved her glass spitefully at me on what has to be a “dry” day. 

While I wondered why the wine choices were not specifically Italian rather than international to go with this calorifically disastrous, unctuous celebration of home-cooking, I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised to see that the final wine of the trio was none other than Tabali Syrah Reserva.  Furthermore it received the most favourable reaction of the lot and they were all impressed by its unexpected elegance and rich depth of flavour.  It is good to see top French and Italian chefs knocked out by a southern hemisphere wine at a price below that of most Claret or Chianti.   It was also interesting to note that although the price you should expect to pay was given as “around £11”, the price at Wines of Interest is £10.20 with your usual 5% off if you buy one as part of a mixed twelve, taking it well below a tenner.
Tabali Vineyards

Two more wines from their impressive range have come onto our radar recently and have both added to Tabali’s impressive haul of awards and trophies.  Felipe Muller, Tabali’s brilliant winemaker knows the vineyards like his own face and in concert with viticulturalist, Hector Rojas, they have mapped out the distinct terroirs of the estate and planted them with varieties best suited to their particular conditions.  Their Talinay vineyards, about twelve kilometres in from the ocean, are reserved for three which thrive in the calcareous soil here: Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We were seriously bitten by the first and last which ooze class.  Descorchados South American Wine Guide (the equivalent to James Halliday in Australia or Platter in South Africa) has given it The Best Sauvignon Blanc in Chile award while, closer to home, it has won gongs in the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge.  Its mineral-driven, green-apple crispness, fine acidity and cleansing zip led Descorchados to declare it “a Sauvignon fundamental to understanding the wines of Limari,” which is a bit poncy, frankly, but means that Tabali’s Talinay version is the one that sets the standards for the whole region.  Drink with fish and shellfish, obviously, but try it with a ceviche if you feel a little more adventurous.

Felipe Muller

Talinay Pinot Noir has a structure and refinement derived from its unique site and combines freshness with a degree of richness and finesse with a sense of strength.  Pinot Noir is a cooler climate grape and does not naturally, nor should it be encouraged to, develop the psychotic level of alcohol or port-like mouth-weight which some manage to coax out of Shiraz in the heat of the Barossa.  In wine big is not always best, although there are plenty out in customer land who equate octane with intrinsic quality; hand-to-hand combat reds have their place with a big winter braise, but frequently a bit more restraint, suppleness and subtlety are called for.  This is a job that Pinot Noir was put on Earth to do and Talinay does it in spades with a touch of pretty Pinot scent and assured elegance.  The minerality so to the fore on the palate of the Talinay Sauvignon expresses itself as structurally in the Pinot with an appetising edge of tannin which puts it perfectly with food.  Drink with feathered game, guinea fowl or grilled lamb.  To balance this delicious duo, Descorchados has also awarded it the position of The Best Pinot Noir in Chile.  How’s that for the double?  

We have stocked a few wines from this fine estate for several years and have banged on about them to the point of boredom, but only because we don’t want anyone to miss out, for there is a widespread misperception that Chilean wines are perfectly sound and preferably cheap, but simply do not feature among the world’s best.  Oh yes they do.  To reinforce this point leading Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, published an article in January this year naming the two best winemakers of Chile.  In the article, Felipe Müller is honoured for his ability to understand Tabali´s distinctive terroir and use it to create remarkable wines, unique for Chile.  According to the newspaper: “Today, more than ever, the wines of Tabalí are among the best wines produced in Chile”. For his achievement Felipe Müller is nicknamed “The Interpreter” and chosen as “Best Young Winemaker”.

Best Sauvignon in Chile, Best Pinot Noir in Chile and Best Young Winemaker in Chile...surely this needs some investigating.  We are pleased to make available the two Talinay wines in an introductory offer so that you can see what all the fuss is about.

Now, just before you look at the price and declare swipe me, that’s not my usual budget; how much does a bottle of standard house red set you back when you eat out?  Exactly.  By comparison these are a bargain.

Price: £13.95 but £11.95 if you buy two bottles or one of each.

Price: £15.95 but £13.95 if you buy two bottles or one of each.


Fairtrade Fortnight - Bit Lukewarm Actually. Here's Why...

Any minute now we should all expect a tap with the “worthy” stick as retailers try to persuade us to buy Fairtrade.  Many of us will respond and pay the extra for what are, as far as anyone can tell, the same bananas/coffee/chocolate (delete as appropriate) we bought last week with the exception of the comforting blue & green logo on them.  But hey! That’s fine because someone at the other end of the line should be getting a fair deal, right?  Not according to one of our suppliers who, when exploring the idea of a range of Fairtrade wines with a major supermarket was told that whilst this was an idea they would love to take further, they weren’t prepared to pay any more for the wines.  Really?  Isn’t that the point?  Shouldn’t those of us who can afford to do so be prepared to pay a bit more for the reassurance of a better deal for the chaps at the other end?  This particular major retailer was not in the least concerned about these effects, it simply wished to bask in the glory of being perceived to be Doing The Right Thing. 

How many will be offering discounts on Fairtrade products during Fairtrade Fortnight, and who do you suppose is supporting these offers? Cutting prices on these products just at the point that’s supposed to increase sales is at best counterproductive; hypocritical at worst.

Please don’t get us wrong here though.  We are not against Fairtrade (and other similar schemes) in principle.  We just don’t like the fact that a well-intentioned scheme has been hijacked and used as a marketing tool.  There are a lot of front-end costs too which make us wonder just how much of the good that could be done gets siphoned off in bureaucracy.

Surely the idea is not to attract the bargain hunters with special offers just for two weeks of the year but rather to encourage people to switch permanently to lines which deliver a better deal for the producers?  Sorry, but you don’t achieve that with discounts.  All you do is attract the “price-is-all-that-matters” consumers who’ll be chasing the next deal in 2 weeks time and the golden opportunity for long term benefit will be lost.

There is only one thing that will clinch long-term support for Fairtrade lines and that’s delivering quality products at affordable prices (actually that may be two things so to get round that we’ll call it “value for money”).  This is where it all starts to fall down as far as the vast majority of Fairtrade wines are concerned because frequently the people in most need of help are working the poorest plots of land so you’re not starting with good quality raw material – silk purse, sow’s ear etc.

Oh we’ve tried plenty of Fairtrade wines certainly, but it strikes us that the reason people buy them is because of the badge and not because they’re any good (the supermarket tale above certainly suggests that’s what they think anyway) and that’s putting the cart before the horse.  Frankly, the wines themselves need to be better, both better made and more exciting.  It’s no use trotting out yet another predictable South African Chenin Blanc or Chilean Merlot which people will simply find “acceptable”.  There has to be a reason to keep buying these wines beyond the call of the badge.  You don’t drink the badge after all.

If you’re minded to try wines such as these during the dedicated two week period we would point you to the Santa Digna (Gewurztraminer and Cab.Sauv.Rose) wines by Miguel Torres and the Coyam and Novas reds by Emiliana.  They carry the Fair For Life badge as opposed to the Fairtrade one but they were good wines first and happen also to subsequently deliver a good deal for the people who grow the grapes.  These wines do appear on offer occasionally, though not at the demand of the retailer.  More importantly, they are all good enough for us to recommend them for 52 weeks of the year and not just two.