Monday, February 29, 2016

Chilean Wine: Make It A Ritual

Fans of wine and social media got another chance to convene over a few sips with virtual friends when Charles Communications Associates held their first Brandlive event of 2016 with Huneeus Vintners and Ritual Wines, featuring Ritual's 2015 releases from Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Winemaker Rodrigo Soto guided us through the following wines with the help of CCA founder and co-host Kimberly Charles: 2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc ($18), 2015 Ritual Chardonnay ($20) and 2015 Ritual Pinot Noir ($20).

The proceedings are archived at hashtag #RitualLive on Twitter or see the video here.

Ritual is the Huneeus family’s original, flagship estate on the extreme eastern edge of the Casablanca Valley in Chile. The 800-acre property is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Chilean Coastal Range, and surrounded by 6,000 acres of protected, native forest. Suddenly, I'm ready for a vacation.

Soto works closely with superstar consultant Paul Hobbs and the renowned terroir specialist, Pedro Parra. Soto’s philosophy behind biodynamic & composting: "One must die to let the next generation live." I might have been a lot more receptive to that philosophy in my younger days, but I get that he’s talking about vines. Right?

During the virtual tasting event Soto said, "We believe in letting the vines connect with their environment over time, this is the art of crafting exceptional wine." Soto’s mentor said of him that when it comes to organic winemaking, "The student has become the master." Soto is in the process of converting all of Ritual’s vineyards to organic farming.

The Wines

The online tasters had nothing but good things to say about Ritual’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. Soto said he likes the freshness of the wine, but he made it to age. It was vinified in 30% neutral oak, 30% concrete eggs and 40% steel tanks. The egg portion complements the other aspects and lends a little more texture to the finished wine. Alcohol hits 14% abv and it sells in most places for around $15.

The wine has a fresh, grassy nose with citrus notes of grapefruit and a sense of wet rocks. On the palate, great acidity jumps right out at me, very fresh and bracing. Grapefruit, orange peel and lemon flavors get attention first, but the minerals get out front quickly. A nice, long finish is sorely missed when it finally goes away.


Soto commented during the virtual event that, "Chardonnay, for us, has been a challenge." He thinks overly sweet and round chardonnay masks its sense of place, so he works hard to keep a balance.

The Ritual 2015 Chardonnay is another cool-climate Casablanca Valley wonder, vinified 20% in a concrete egg and the rest neutral oak. Comments online ran along the lines of, "brisk acidity," "stunning," "a must have for all Chardonnay lovers!" and other such praise. In addition, it costs less than $20. Again, 14% abv.

This is a straw-colored wine with a nice tropical nose showing a hint of lime. Its palate is quite tasty, with lots of citrus minerality and just a shade of oak. Meyer lemon note is beautiful. The acidity is excellent and the mouthfeel is full. A lengthy finish makes the pleasure last.


Of the Ritual 2015 Pinot Noir, one participant in the tasting event remarked that "this Pinot is stunning me. I never enjoyed Chilean Pinot because it suffered from being too green." Not this time.

The wine is 100% open top fermented, with barrel aging in 30% new French oak for 11 months. Alcohol comes in at 14%.  It retails for under $20, far under at some online sites. It’s a true steal. Soto believes that Pinot Noir is a variety that can thrive in Chile, and the tasters think he’s right.  The wine got monster raves from the online crowd.

It gets high marks from me, too. The nose shows some funk right away, and notes of coffee grounds and tea leaves surface soon after. The palate is a walk on the dark side - none of that pretty little raspberry stuff here. The black raspberry element is carried along by a wave of savory forest floor, going under for a bit but surfacing nicely on the finish. Although there is enough tannic grip for pairing with meat, it has the mouthfeel of a sipping wine. It’s full and wild and raw, but it knows its role and plays it well.


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