Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

2014 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Supérieur ($17)

Bordeaux is likely the most recognizable wine region in the world, and for good reason. It is the largest AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) wine region in France, producing hundreds of millions of bottles of wine each year, including some of the most expensive and ageworthy wines in the world. Top-end wines come from estates and vineyard plots that are well-established and have been known for producing high quality grapes and wines for hundreds of years, but like every wine region, there are plenty of decent entry-level wines produced from grapes grown anywhere in the regional boundary.

Tonight’s wine from Chateau Timberlay is labeled as “Bordeaux Supérieur”, which has slightly more stringent quality guidelines than basic Bordeaux. The vines must be planted at a higher density (which makes them struggle for survival and adds flavour complexity to the grapes they produce) and their grapes must be harvested at a higher minimum ripeness level, which raises the potential alcohol level of the wines. Merlot is the most common grape planted in Bordeaux, comprising ~60% of all plantings due to its shorter ripening time and ability to grow in the predominant clay-based soil types. Where the soil contains an abundance of stones and gravel, Cabernet Sauvignon (~20% of vineyard plantings) can thrive with the heat retention offered by the rocks and the improved water drainage.

This red blend is made primarily of Merlot grapes (85%) followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) and has a delicate ruby colour. On the nose, the wine has a light floral quality of fresh roses and mostly red fruits. There are aromas of cherry throat lozenges, grenadine, blackcurrant, and strawberry nibs, with a touch of vanilla. It is clean and pleasant and shows a promising future. However, on the palate, this Bordeaux takes a left turn and shows a different side, with more green and herbaceous flavours of cedar, clove, resin, bell pepper, and unripe blueberry. The throat lozenge changes to a medicinal cough syrup flavor, more of the antiseptic variety than the sweet and sticky type, but retaining the red fruit presence throughout. Structurally this is a balanced effort although it is lighter all around with respect to body and tannins and has a medium finish. A solid effort for this price range and meant for near-term consumption within 4-5 years of the vintage.

86+ Points

Chateau Timberlay on the left with a much lighter core than the Emiliana Coyam on right

2013 Emiliana Coyam ($30)

Chile is known as a viticultural paradise: sunny, dry, and warm growing conditions and natural barriers in each direction (desert to the North, the Andes to the East, Antarctica to the South, and the Pacific Ocean to the West) to protect it from foreign agricultural diseases and pests. It is the only wine region in the world that has to this day never been hit by phylloxera, a devastating vineyard pest that spreads quickly and can singlehandedly destroy vineyards by attacking the vines’ roots, as it did in the late 1800s across France and various other countries when it decimated the global wine industry. It was eventually discovered that the pest was introduced to Europe from North America, where it had gone largely unnoticed because American vine rootstock was resistant to it; vineyards in Europe were ultimately saved by replanting efforts that grafted pre-existing European vines to American rootstocks. Most of the world has conformed to this practice, out of necessity, but there are still own-rooted vineyards in Chile which have not. Most believe they are playing a game of Russian roulette and that phylloxera will make its way into the country at some point, which has prompted many vineyards to replace or plant new vineyards on resistant rootstocks.

Although Chile has a largely Spanish heritage, it is France that has influenced its wine industry the most. Large wine estates were modelled after the famous Bordeaux chateaux which reigned supreme at the time after the 1855 Medoc Classification, and Bordeaux grapes were planted throughout the country. This French obsession is also how Chile’s signature grape Carmenère came to be. What is now known to be  Carmenère was once planted in Chile under the mistaken impression that it was a type of Merlot that ripened later; it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that it was properly identified as Carmenère, a grape that is now near extinct in its home region of Bordeaux. Red grapes  of all kinds thrive in Chile, with its ideal climate and long growing season that allows for full ripening of the fruit.

The Emiliana Coyam is an interesting and unexpected red blend of SEVEN different grapes: Syrah, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Yes, it may seem like an unconventional blend, especially coming out of Chile, but I must say it certainly works. The wine is packed full of flavour, immediately giving off freshly ground coffee, hazelnut, and black olives along with dark fruit aromas of blackberry, blueberry and bramble. The nose just keeps you coming back for more, also giving off sweet spice notes of ginger, liquorice and a light vanilla. Like the Chateau Timberlay above, the palate turns more savoury, with a mixture of flavours consisting of smoked meat, blackcurrant leaf, black and green olives, bell pepper and wet leaves with red fruits of raspberry and tart cranberry. The structure is well balanced and offers above-average body, tannin, acidity and alcohol that meld together with finesse and set up the wine to age well over at least the next 5 years. With such juicy and complex flavours, this bottle offers great value and is sure to be a hit at your next gathering!

90+ Points

Cork Ratings:  5/10 x2 (The crest is cool, but the “mis en bouteille”…c’mon.  And the clean and good quality of the Emiliana is balanced out by its boringness.)

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