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Originally published Friday, March 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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Tabali, the great winery you never heard of

The Limari Valley is six hours north of Santiago (by car), just west of the Atacama Desert, reputedly the driest place on Earth.

Special to The Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Tabali 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir; $15.

AN INTRIGUING nose, with subtle scents of composted earth, animal, cola and berry. Soft in the mouth, but flavorful and complex, with highlights of cocoa and coffee. (Distributed by Grape Expectations)

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IT'S ALL TOO easy to put wines from faraway places into convenient, simplistic categories, forgetting that Washington is not the only region in the world where exciting, even groundbreaking (pun intended) discoveries are under way. The introduction of a lineup of superbly well-made, affordable wines from Chile has brought this into clear focus.

I have Jeff Miller, the Western sales manager of the Southern Wine Group (www.southernwinegroup.com), to thank for showing me the wines of Tabali. Tabali is not in any region of Chile that most of us — myself included — have ever heard of. The Limari Valley is six hours north of Santiago (by car), just west of the Atacama Desert, reputedly the driest place on Earth. NASA, I am told, once sent astronauts there to simulate conditions on the moon. In other words, it's perfect for wine grapes!

Apart from its remoteness, the location is relatively close to the equator, yet temperatures rarely top 80 degrees due to its proximity to the ocean. One Tabali vineyard — the Coastal Limestone vineyard — is just a few miles inland and boasts limestone soils rich in ancient sea sediment.

The high UV factor, cooling fog and lack of frost or rain in the region allow grapes to ripen very slowly, extending the growing season into June (comparable to our December). The proof of any region's quality, of course, is what's in the bottle. Tabali shines with the usual suspects (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc), but further impresses with more difficult grapes such as pinot noir and syrah.

All of these wines are highly recommended, and distributed by Grape Expectations. Note that Reserva is the least expensive, Reserve Especial a notch higher in quality and price, and the vineyard-designates are best of show.

Tabali 2011 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc; $12. Expressive in the classic Chilean grassy mode. The fruit is intense and fragrant, with herbs more evident than citrus.

Tabali 2011 Talinay Coastal Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc; $20. An extraordinary sauv blanc, with crisp green apple, gooseberry and lime fruit that seems drenched in minerality.

Tabali 2011 Reserva Especial Chardonnay; $17. A pretty apple-blossom aroma introduces a pleasing chardonnay with a slightly oily mouth feel. Some cinnamon highlights run through sturdy fruit flavors of melon, apple and white peach.

Tabali 2010 Talinay Coastal Limestone Vineyard Chardonnay; $30. Clearly New World fruit, with the brightness and sharp acidity of Washington wines. Excellent focus and penetration, with sharply defined tree-fruit flavors etched in stone and a lingering highlight of anise.

Tabali 2010 Reserva Especial Pinot Noir; $19. A beguiling nose seduces with scents of raw meat, cola, milk chocolate and black cherry. The palate delivers complex, nicely integrated flavors, good length and texture.

Tabali 2011 Reserva Syrah; $14. Dark and aromatic, with licorice and black cherry, pepper and Dr Pepper. It's stylish and sleek, with the proportions and detail of much more expensive wines.

For a quick guided tour of this fascinating winery, visit

http://www.tabali.com/en/index.html.

Paul Gregutt's blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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