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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

THE WINES OF VIU MANENT,  CHILE


Considering the wonderful fruit quality that Chile's more favourable southern latitudes can produce,  it has been surprising the wines have not been more popular in New Zealand.  Odd batches have been arriving since at least 1964,  and time and again I have been impressed with the combination of vibrant berryfruit in the reds coupled with European styling.  Admittedly,  there have also been some pretty rumpty wines imported by volume merchants looking to flog cheap wine at the highest price they could sell it for.  This hasn't helped Chile build a quality wine image here.  And earlier,  the downside to that European styling was appalling whites combining must oxidation with high sulphurs,  but stainless steel and flying winemakers have fixed that.  In the reds,  a downside was the formerly widespread use of rauli (a species of Nothofagus,  as in New Zealand's beech) for cooperage,  but that too is passing,  at least in modern wineries.

Just before Christmas former Esk Valley deputy winemaker Grant Phelps was over here from Chile,  where he is now chief winemaker for Viu Manent winery.  His goal was to establish Viu Manent on the New Zealand market.  This emerging and totally modern stainless steel and oak-based winery is in the Colchagua Valley of the Rapel wine district,   well south of Santiago,  and was established in 1935.  It is still family owned,  making 98% of its wines from its own vineyards.  It thus contrasts with many of the bigger and better known export wineries in Chile.  The Colchagua Valley is famous for the quality of its merlot,  according to Jancis Robinson.  Viu Manent is better known for its malbec,  based on vines up to 100 or so years old,  among the oldest in Chile.  The winery has recently been in the news overseas,  with wins in several wine judgings,  and favourable reviews in a recent issue of Wine Spectator.

The wines are presented in several tiers:

'The VARIETAL range are the bread and butter wines,  the reds having some oak exposure but not much time in barrel:  Sauvignon Blanc,  Chardonnay,  Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot,  Malbec,  Carmenere,  and Semillon Late Harvest;

The RESERVE range are traditional wines,  the reds with a lot of oak treatment which is apparently favoured in Chile:   Sauvignon Blanc,  Chardonnay,  Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot,  Malbec,  Carmenere;

The SECRETO wines are a modern series introduced by Grant,  the wines commonly being 85% the stated variety,  the balance other varieties blended in for complexity,  and the wines having less time in better oak:  Sauvignon Blanc,  Viognier,  Syrah,  Malbec,  Carmenere;

There is a small SINGLE VINEYARD series of wines tending to 100% new oak:   Malbec,  Cabernet Sauvignon;  and an ICON WINE,   Viu 1,  from malbec mainly,  which has received some glowing reviews beyond Chile.

The following report deals mostly with finished wines,  or stabilised and ready-for-bottling wines which should be the same as the wine sold.  The main exception is the basic Varietal range,  which were variously barrel or tank samples, far from finished.  They will be discussed in narrative only.  All prices are merely guidelines.  


VIU MANENT  THE WINES REVIEWED:

White
Sparkling
Chardonnay
2004  Viu Manent Chardonnay Reserve Barrel Selection
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2004  Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc
2004  Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc Secreto
Riesling
Pinot Gris
Gewurztraminer
Viognier
Sweet / Sticky
2004  Viu Manent Semillon Late-Harvest 500 ml
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2003  Viu Manent Viognier Secreto
Red
Rosé
 Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2003  Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oak-Aged
2001  Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection
2003  Viu Manent Carmenere Reserve Oak-Aged
2004  Viu Manent Carmenere Secreto
2003  Viu Manent Malbec Reserve Oak-Aged
2004  Viu Manent Malbec Secreto
2003  Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard
2003  Viu Manent Merlot Reserve
2001  Viu Manent Viu 1 [ Malbec ]
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2003  Viu Manent Syrah Secreto
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.


WHITE
2004  Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc   16 ½  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13%;  $13.50   [ plastic 'cork';   price range $12 - 15;  SB 100%,  s/s;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Brilliant pale lemongreen.  Ripe aromatic sauvignon ripened to mimic Hawkes Bay sauvignon:  aromatics from red capsicum,  piquancy from black passionfruit,  and fruit from white peaches / nectarines.  Palate is firmer and drier than many New Zealand,  a hint of austerity from a sur lie component (which will marry away),  good food wine.  Cellar 1 5 years.  GK 12/04

2004  Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc Secreto   18  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13%;  $19   [ cork;   SB 85%,  other vars 15;  s/s;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Bright pale lemon,  minutely richer than the standard wine.  Bouquet is sweeter,  riper and purer than the straight sauvignon,  with more fruit and more honeysuckle,  also clearly in the warmer Hawkes Bay sauvignon style.  Palate is very good,  fine black passionfruit and nectarine made aromatic by red capsicum,  much richer than the standard wine,  and not showing the sur lie hint.  It is a little more phenolic than New Zealand's best.  This could well be a gold medal wine,  in a judging where the milder Hawkes Bay style was rewarded equally with the more bouquetted Marlborough wines.  Cellar to taste,  longer than the standard wine.  GK 12/04

2004  Viu Manent Chardonnay Reserve Barrel Selection   17 ½  ()
Casablanca Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $17   [ final stabilised-blend tank sample;  cork;  Ch 100%,  100% BF in Fr oak,  35% new,  no MLF  (notwithstanding  interim label);  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Elegant lemon.  Clearcut chardonnay in a contemporary oaky Gisborne styling,  very fragrant,  sweet white peach,  pure,  without MLF complexities.  Palate is the same,  the body and  flavour attractively enhanced by LA,  introducing succulence.  Reminiscent of some of the serious Lincoln Vineyards Gisborne chardonnays,  but perhaps less oaky than them.  Casablanca is a cool wine region nearer the coast,  becoming famous for its whites.  Cellar 5 8 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Viognier Secreto
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $19   [ cork;  Vi 85%,  other vars 15;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Lemongreen.  This wine was profoundly corked on opening.  It later cleared off sufficiently to reveal a viognier as varietal as some of our better Hawkes Bay wines,  and similarly weighted and balanced (in contrast to many heavier Australian examples of the variety),  which might score in the 17 18 area.  GK 12/04

2004  Viu Manent Semillon Late-Harvest 500 ml   18 ½ +  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13%;  $13.50   [ provisional score barrel sample;  cork;   Se 100%,  85 90% botrytised,  must 44 Brix, 40% BF,  balance s/s,  then all into old French oak;   RS 185 g/L;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Cloudy lemon  to light gold.  A very youthful wine still to be bottled and start marrying up.  Even so,  there is gorgeous fruit and beautiful pure botrytis,  showing exact semillon varietal character as in fine Sauternes,  without the hint of herbaceousness so often seen in New Zealand examples of the variety.  The wine is much more citrus-floral / fragrant and varietally aromatic than the broader softer semillons often seen from Australia.  At this stage the bouquet is also showing some oak,  spirit,  and VA, but these will marry up.  Palate is luscious,  the oak a little high at this stage,  but the wine has the richness to carry it,  if it is bottled reasonably soon.  Cellar 10 20 years.

At present the Late-Harvest Semillon is slotted into the Varietal Range.  If it is half as good as it looks,  it is potentially outstanding wine,  and should be released as an occasional Secreto wine,  when season and vintage allows.  Like the Viognier,  it serves notice that Chile will provide us with vivid competition,  in styles we in New Zealand aspire to do well in.  GK 12/04



RED    VARIETAL RANGE:
These are hearty juicy wines made in a robust style.  Part of the blend comes from steel with newish oak suspended,  some from older oak.  They will sell in the $12 15 price range,  in 750s.  The samples brought over were sealed with plastic 'corks',  but the intrinsic wine quality was better than that,  and would so benefit from time in bottle,  that some variation on natural cork would be better.  Or screwcap.  The four reds at this level were all vat samples,  variously showing fermentation carry-over defects still to be remedied.  The Merlot was the most promising,  showing much better potential varietal character than the basic QDR quality most Australian merlot delivers.  The very similarly flavoured Carmenere looked potentially good too.  The Malbec was surprisingly aromatic and Australian in style,  reminiscent of Penfolds Rawsons Retreat.  The Cabernet Sauvignon was the least of the four.

RESERVE RANGE:
2003  Viu Manent Carmenere Reserve Oak-Aged   17  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $17   [ cork;  Carmenere 100%;  14 months in oak, 35% new,  90% French,  10 US;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than most.  A vigorous berry bouquet showing cassis and blackberry lifted by a little VA,  very fragrant.  Palate has the rich plummy juiciness and light aromatics of carmenere,  the nett impression like a good New Zealand cabernet / merlot / malbec blend.  Oaking is initially obtrusive,  but with airing shows better balance than several of the others.  Not as rich as the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve,  but still velvety.  Cellar 5 10 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Oak-Aged   17  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $17   [ cork;  CS 100%;  average vine age 55 years;  16 months in 100% French oak,  c. 35% new;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  lighter than the other Reserves.  Clearcut cassis lifted by oak and light VA gives this wine a big bouquet,  the oak becoming more prominent as one persists with it.  Palate is very rich,  and the varietal quality of the cassisy cabernet is excellent,  including some slight peppercorn aromatic complexity.  Only the amount of oak lets the wine down a little.  Cellar 10 20 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Merlot Reserve   16 ½  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13.5%;  $17   [ cork;   Me 100%;  16 months in 100% French oak,  c. 35% new;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  There is an oak-smothered dullness about this wine,  simply because the subtler and ideally more floral / fragrant merlot cannot dominate oak in the way cassisy cabernet can.  The wine smells like a heavy,  oaky, hot climate red,  variety incidental.  As such,  on palate,  there is great fruit, which would probably have been freshly plummy and delightful in a subtler elevage.  As it stands,  it is hard to differentiate the wine from many heavy over-oaked Australian merlots.  Hard to score,  since good in parts.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Malbec Reserve Oak-Aged   16  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $17   [ cork;  Ma 100%;  French oak 85%,  15 US,  35% new,  for 14 16 months;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is clean new oak,  with obscurely dark plummy fruit below.  Palate is even more oaky,  completely dominating the otherwise clean,  rich ripe fruit.  The wine is therefore substantially out of balance,  particularly freshly poured,  and is better left in a decanter for 24 hours,  when it mellows somewhat but is still much too oaky.  At best,  a new-world show-pony winestyle.  Cellar 5 15 years, but it will always be too oaky.  GK 12/04


SECRETO RANGE:
2004  Viu Manent Carmenere Secreto   18  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13.5%;  $19   [ provisional score pre-bottling tank sample;  cork;  Carmenere 85%,  6 other vars 15%;  c. 7 months oak,  15% US;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Bright carmine,  ruby and velvet.  A wonderful bouquet of cassis,  blackberries,  violets and deepest plums,  really fragrant and sweet.  Already one can smell some oak,  but the reduced-oak regime of the non-traditional Secreto range of wines promises great things for the future.  On palate,  the plump fruit coarsens a little, on oak that is becoming prominent,  and of a quality that with age might tend ashy rather than cedary.  Nonetheless,  this is one of the best balanced Viu Manent reds here,  and illustrates carmenere beautifully.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 12/04

2004  Viu Manent Malbec Secreto   17 ½  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $19   [ provisional score barrel sample;  cork;  Ma 85%,  other vars 15;   9 months oak;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Dense carmine,  ruby and velvet.  This is the most varietal of the malbecs,  in the sense it is not so dominated by oak as the others.  It shows a bright aromatic darkest plum quality on bouquet,  with a touch of boysenberry lushness,  all very youthful and disorganised.  Palate is rich in fruit,  and already shows more oak than expected presumably due to the percentage new.  It is soon to be bottled.  This wine should marry up attractively and become clearly varietal, and may well rate higher in a year or so.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Syrah Secreto   16  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $19   [ cork;  Sy 85%,  other vars 15;  20% US oak;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Big ruby,  carmine and velvet.  A drab bouquet containing retained fermentation odours and a brackish component,  reminiscent of some Murray River wines.  Well aerated,  some austere berry and peppercorn emerges.  In mouth the wine is relatively short and hard,  but it is moderately varietal,  and the actual fruit richness is good.  A charmless wine now.  Cellar 5 10 years,  maybe to soften,  and doubtfully to gain complexity.  GK 12/04


SINGLE VINEYARD SERIES:
2001  Viu Manent Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection   17 ½  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  13%;  $28   [ cork;  CS 85%,  Ma 15;  average vine age 15 years;  20 22 months in 100% new French oak;  not filtered;  later vintages will be Single Vineyard series;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Good ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as deep as most.  Clearcut cassis is the first impression on bouquet,  with floral and faintly minty complexities on fragrant oak.  Palate is more oaky,  but this seems a much higher quality oak,  fine-grained and potentially fragrant,  beautifully extending the cabernet,  cassis,  and tobacco into a dry Medoc-styled palate.  It is  not as fleshy as the Carmenere Secreto,  but should cellar well,  developing into a stern one-dimensional Bordeaux-like wine.  Cellar 10 15 years.  GK 12/04

2003  Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard   17  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $28   [ cork;  Ma 85%,  CS 15;  vines c. 80 years,  hand-harvested;  100% new oak,  90% French,  10 US;  not filtered;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Bright ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Initially this wine shows conspicuous VA,  but it is mostly ethyl acetate rather than acetic,  and settles down with aeration in glass.  Even so,  it is a pretty aggressive bouquet,  very new world and oaky,  on top of vibrant darkly plummy fruit.  Palate is in the same style,  strong even brash malbec,  but clearly varietal.  Should mellow out in bottle 10 15 years,  and may then rate higher.  GK 12/04


ICON WINE:
2001  Viu Manent Viu 1 [ Malbec ]   17 ½  ()
Colchagua Valley,  Chile:  14%;  $70   [ cork;  Ma 90%,  CS 10;  vines c. 100 years,  hand-harvested,  long cuvaison;  100% new oak,  90% French,  10 US;  only released best vintages;  www.viumanent.cl/ingles ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  indistinguishable from '02 Villa Maria Malbec Omahu.  If the Villa Malbec is oaky,  this premium Viu Manent is clumsy in its excess oak exacerbated by VA and alcohol.  Behind this porty first impression,  there is dense plummy fruit,  drier than the Villa but otherwise close in character.  Palate likewise seems drier,  intensely flavoured and velvety,  but also very oaky,  coarser than the Villa.  It reminds of the older-style Grange Penfolds is now finessing away from.  One hopes for some Old World restraint from Chile,  but not here.  Nonetheless an interesting and heroic wine,  which will cellar for 10 25 + years.  GK 12/04