Chile’s Viña Koyle: Wines of Irrepressible Passion
It’s a lot of fun to discover a musician or band at the very beginning of their career, before they’re a household name. If you do that, when they achieve success it’s likely you’ll feel a stronger connection than in the case when you stumble across an already well known artist because you heard all their hits. In essence, that’s how I feel about the wines of Viña Koyle. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking them since their first vintage. That has given me the opportunity to watch them grow. The vines have aged and already good wines have gotten better one vintage after another. Winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga is constantly tinkering and refining his winemaking approach, adding varietals to blends, using new techniques, and launching new wines. I’ve had the opportunity to taste his wines with him on numerous occasions and each encounter has been a treat. In part that’s because the wines are really, really good, yet still improving all the time. However, it’s also because the raw passion Cristóbal has for winemaking is palpable the moment you encounter him. Whether he’s speaking about sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, aging wine in concrete eggs, barrel types, specific releases, or really anything related to winemaking you can feel his soul in the words as much as you can sense it in the wines themselves. I sat with Cristóbal recently to taste through his current releases, and as always, I found a lot to love about his wines. Here are my thoughts on my favorites among his current releases.
Koyle 2012 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99)
In addition to cabernet sauvignon (85 percent), some cabernet franc (10 percent) and petit verdot (5 percent) were blended in. Aging occurred over 12 months in entirely French oak. 14,000 cases were produced. Cherry and leather aromas are omnipresent on this cabernet’s nose. Remarkably fresh red raspberry and cherry flavors light up the palate. Earth, spices and a velvety mouth-feel are all part of above average finish here. Koyle Gran Reserva is a medium bodied expression of cabernet with good structure and it will drink well for the next 6-8 years.
Koyle 2012 Gran Reserva Carménère ($16.99)
The carménère (86.5 percent) is supported by small amounts of malbec (8 percent), cabernet franc (3 percent), and petite verdot (2.5 percent). Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel. Barrel aging followed over 12 months in French oak. 6,000 cases of this wine were produced. In this glass this wine is as dark and inky as night. A classic mélange of pleasing green herbs such as thyme and sage lead the nose along with black fruits. The palate is jammed with fresh and juicy blackberry, raspberry, and more. It’s ripe and eager but not over the top. The finish, which is remarkably spicy features continuing dark fruit flavors and bits of sweet chocolate. Koyle Gran Reserva Carménère is an outright steal for the money. The forward fruit flavors will appeal even to casual wine drinkers and the structure and proportion it shows will satisfy more seasoned drinkers.
Koyle 2013 Costa Sauvignon Blanc ($23.99)
The sauvignon blanc for this wine comes from a vineyard close to the coast. Its three varying exposures inspired Cristobal to use a trio of fermentation techniques/vehicles. One third each was vinified in Burgundy barrels, concrete eggs, and stainless steel tanks. After 12 months the lots were blended and bottled. 4,500 six bottle cases were produced. Gooseberry and citrus aromas present on the nose. Lemon ice and yellow melon fill the palate. Minerals, sour fruits, and spice are all present on the long finish. This is a really special expression of sauvignon blanc. What truly sets it apart from others in its price range is the remarkable texture and mouth-feel which gives it a gravitas well beyond what the price tag says. Each vintage this wine has gotten more impressive, I keep thinking there’s no more room for upward movement but Cristóbal proves that theory wrong. If you’re a sauvignon blanc fan, this wine is a must for your short list.
Koyle 2012 Royale Carménère ($25.99)
In addition to Carménère (87 percent), dollops of Petit Verdot (8 percent) and Malbec (5 percent) were blended in. After the fruit was picked in small lots it was vinified in small tanks. Aging in French oak over 18 months followed. It was bottled unfiltered. 1,650 cases of this Carménère were produced. This wine was grown on a higher terrace than the Carménère in the Reserva; an area with more rocky soils. The color is a deep purple but not quite as inky. Aromas of ripe blackberry and mushroom fill the nose. Juicy black cherry flavors underscored by bits of pie crust and spice lead the palate. Dark chocolate and continued cherry flavors fill out the finish. This wine is a light tight out of the bottle right now and if you’re going to drink it soon, decant it for 90 minutes. Otherwise, lay it down for five or six years and drink it in the five or so after that. It has the stuffing to last awhile.
Koyle 2012 Costa Pinot Noir ($34.99)
The fruit for this wine comes from a vineyard site that is situated just five and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean. It’s composed entirely of pinot noir. One side of the vineyard faced north the other south. Each side is harvested and vinified separately; Burgundy barrels for one, concrete eggs for the other. After 12 months they are blended and bottle. 650 six bottles cases of this, the inaugural release of this wine were bottled. In the glass this pinot has a slightly darker than average hue. The nose is deeply layered with red and black fruit and a bit of pleasing funk. The palate is jammed with both fresh and dry fruits; mostly red, some black. Rhubarb, sour cherry, black tea, and wisps of cocoa appear on the long finish. As with the sauvignon blanc, the texture, weight and mouth-feel of this wine elevates an appealing wine to a higher, more impressive level. When I sat down with Cristóbal for this tasting, it was this wine I was most looking forward to since it was the first release of pinot for Koyle. Considering what he has done here the first time out of the gate, I can only imagine the greater heights this wine might reach going forward. But don’t wait; this first release is really delicious.
Koyle 2011 Auma ($99.99)
This red blend which is only produced in exceptional vintages combines Cabernet Sauvignon (37 percent), carménère 25 percent), malbec (18 percent), syrah (13 percent), and petit verdot (7 percent). Small lots were picked, vinified and barrel aged separately over 24 months in French oak. It was then gravity blended and aged for an additional nine months, this time in concrete eggs. 801 six-bottle cases were produced of the 2011 vintage. Cigar box and fresh red fruit aromas emerge from the nose of Auma. Leather joins red and black fruits on the remarkably cohesive palate. Minerals and chicory present on the notably long finish. As with all of the wines in the Koyle portfolio the flavors are incredibly fresh and this wine begs you back to the glass for additional sips. In some blends one grape dominates and steals the show, not here. Auma is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. This wine, which has quality of texture and mouth-feel in parallel to the pinot noir and sauvignon blanc that must be mentioned, will age seamlessly for the next 12-15 years.
The Biodynamic farming practices that Viña Koyle employs comes through in the purity of fruit that each of their releases showcases. If you want to drink wines from Chile with a sense of the place they were grown, made by the blood, sweat, and tears of a passionate family man, talented winemaker and hell of a nice guy, drink the wines of Viña Koyle. The pricing of these wines is, at minimum, incredibly fair across the board when you take into account the quality artisan product you’re spending your wine dollars on. I heartily recommend anything with the Viña Koyle name on it as strenuously as I do any wine.