“When you think about a blend, there is a technical and a rational thinking (that goes into) it… But also, sometimes, there is a passion a passion behind it.” – Cristián Mubert, Estampa Wine
Part 2 of my discussion of Estampa Wine with its Export Director Cristián Mubert delves further into his eloquent take on the fascinating philosophies behind Estampa wines, beginning with the Estampa Reserva Malbec Syrah.
“Actually, this wine is sold out.”
According to Cristián, they made a first vintage in 2013 using a Petit Syrah instead of a Syrah, skipped three vintages, and made a little over a thousand cases of the 2017. “There was a miscommunication between us and an American buyer,” he said, explaining why they didn’t create the wine from 2014 to 2016. The American buyer did not know that there was still quite a bit of Malbec left over from 2013 (“They told us, ‘We thought it was sold out!’”), and the people of Estampa had too much Malbec to produce a next batch. Currently, Estampa is rushing to fill orders around the globe.
I was honoured, privileged, and thanking my lucky stars to be able to try something so rare. Seriously, it’s no longer on the market, completely sold out. I understood why it was sought after: The Syrah blended with the wine lends a much-needed structure to its sweet tannins and smooth texture. Personally, I’ve had way too many Malbec wines that lacked structure… They often smell wonderful, but falls flat after a while. Estampa’s take on the Malbec, blending it with a Syrah, was just glorious.
It was at this point where Cristián told me that they do change the proportion of the blends with each vintage, depending on the overall conditions of the year’s harvest. A couple of things Estampa never loses, though: They always make wines from their own grapes*, and they make sure they’re masterful blends.
“I remember when we made this vintage with the winemaker, Johana (Pereira), it was a lot of trial (and error) to get the blend right… Blending is like cooking… It’s a process that’s (both) an art and a science, because it’s not written in any book that this is the blend you have to make. You have to try it.”
Then, there was the Estampa Reserva Carménère Malbec.
Here’s a quick 411 on the Carménère: Once upon a time, Carménère thrived in Bordeaux, but because of the pesky phylloxera infestation that devastated many of their vines, the grape became extinct.
Or so everyone thought.
Elsewhere in the world – In Chile, to be specific – what was thought to be Merlot was later discovered to be the long lost, dodo bird of the wine world, the Carménère.
Here’s where things got dodgy. According to Cristián, “(In Chile), the market is divided fifty-fifty. There are people who love Carménère, and I include myself in that group, and the people who hate Carménère. (This is) because, in November 1994, it was the first time the word ‘Carménère’ was mentioned to us by a Frenchman** from Montpellier. There was a wine summit in Chile that year and they were walking through some of the vineyards… He told (one of the winegrowers), ‘This is not Chilean Merlot, this is Carménère.’ A completely different wine! Now, the 90s were the golden age for Chilean wine exports… There was a high demand (for Chilean wine). And Chile (we were known for) affordable wines at that time, and technically speaking, really well-made.”
In other words, they were making really good money.
Cristián said, “So, think of this: ‘Now you tell me that what we’ve been making, what we’ve been producing, what we’ve been bottling as Merlot was not all Merlot? Now, we have a little issue because I’ve been selling to you something that it’s not!’”
Yeah, one can imagine the financial implications this would have brought to Chile’s winemaking industry at the time.
“So some people mentioned or thought, ‘Let’s keep it to ourselves, because we are going to ruin our business.’ The other group said, ‘Look! This is like finding a living dinosaur! Not bones, not just (something written) on paper, but a living dinosaur! And we should be proud of it, because it’s a blending variety originally from Bordeaux that after phylloxera everybody thought was extinct.’ So, this is why it’s a love-hate relationship.”
I also learned that cultivating Carménère needs very specific conditions. When done wrong, they tend to have “very green, herbaceous profiles.” When done right, very good wines can be made out of the grape.***
Tasting the Estampa Reserva Carménère Malbec (a blend they decided to do primarily because “nobody has done it before”), I discovered that the Malbec lent acidity, depth, and length to the Carménère’s rustic tannins, without making the Carménère lose its characteristics. Honestly, I think I could still guess that it’s a Carménère on a blind tasting.
Now, being a fan of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, I naturally got excited to ask about (and taste!) the Estampa Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot. I also had to ask why they decided to blend the Cabernet Sauvignon with a Petit Verdot… Okay, so it’s not unheard of (Bordeaux has been using Petit Verdot to blend with their mythical Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes for centuries). It was just that, up to that point, we were having blends completely from the left field that something so classic was unexpected.
“For us, it was a no-brainer,” Cristián said. He explained that Cabernet Sauvignon has two general characteristics: High acidity and high levels of tannin (WSET1 students should really take note of this, BTW). However, it typically lacks in fruit concentration, which is precisely what the Petit Verdot lends to the mix. The thing is, Chile has a totally different climatic condition versus Bordeaux, so I looked forward to a more fruit-forward interpretation of a Bordeaux classic.
“With this wine, you’ll be craving for a Porterhouse,” said Cristián.
This was absolutely the case. It was a huge wine, wonderfully structured and fruit-forward, that made me look for something heftier than the pizza we were having… A Porterhouse was one, and a Chilean Empanada was another.
Another interesting trivia about the wine is that the 2015 vintage was legendary. Wine Spectator awarded the wine, usually under 15USD (retail!) on the market, 91 points (not typical for a wine of that price). Of course, the wine flew off the shelves (sold out in less than three months!) and was dubbed the “unicorn wine.” After all, wines of that quality below the 30 dollar mark typically does not exist.
People who know me well enough (or have been poring over the site’s entries for a few years, for which let me be the first to thank them and apologise for the constant babble) know that I’m a huge fan of what I like to call the three Us: Anything unorthodox, unique, and unusual.
Having said that, I was actually more excited to sample the Estampa Gran Reserva Carménère Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon (a blend that doesn’t happen too often) over the Cabernet Syrah Malbec blend. Chile has always been known for making quality wines out of powerful grapes, and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is one of my go-to wines for a dinner.
Given our previous discussion on the Carménère, however, I knew I was in for something different with the Carménère Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon.
Coming from the Marchigüe appellation, which is closer to the ocean, the grapes receive maritime influences (or in simpler terms, it’s a colder area). This allows the grapes to ripen slower, and give it a more intense concentration. From this, one can expect more flavourful characteristics from the wine.
Trying it out, I commented that it was an incredibly chewy wine. Cristián said, “Here, you are talking about a wine that requires food… Something more complex, sauce-based dishes… It has more flavour to it… You’re talking about more food-driven wines.”
Having been thoroughly impressed, I had to know how Cristián defined a great bottle of wine. “A great bottle of wine is a wine (whose) second glass is better than the first one, and the third one is better than the first two… But also, it’s a wine that will allow you to remember the people that you were with.”
If the concept of a succeeding glass being better than the first one is new, it’s a reference to good wines developing in a glass over the course of a meal. I like using conversations as pegs on how long it takes for a wine to open.
Take for example that moment. We started off with a chewy, seemingly coy wine.
Cristián launched into a talk about something that’s gotten him into trouble. “One of the challenges that we face in Chile is that, we know how to make wines. More and more nowadays, we are making outstanding wine with a sense of place, terroir-oriented wines… But we are an export-driven country. What happens (is that we) need professionals to go around the world and export these wines, present them, feature them, explain them, and share the story of the wineries… (But) do you know how many times I’ve met people in the export department from very important wineries… Large wineries… That don’t drink wine? So, one of the challenges that Chile has is the lack of passion when it comes to promoting wine… Because, these are not shoes, these are not belts… Forgive me, people who produce nice shoes and belts, but we have a very, very high responsibility when it comes to promoting wines because this is a passport. This is an ambassador. The only agricultural product that you wanna know and find out about the origin of it is wine… So when you have someone that doesn’t consider wine as a cultural asset, it bothers me. They shouldn’t be selling wines.”
After that lengthy talk, the wine did open up more to reveal beautiful red fruit aromas, the texture became exponentially smoother, and overall, became even more pleasant to drink.
The last wine was also an exercise on patiently waiting for a wine to open up, the Estampa Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Malbec. Cristián said it has the structure, the tannins, the body, and “all the elements to it.”
Trying it out, however, was a different story for me. I tried to be subtle about it and asked, “So… It’s a 2015…?”
Cristián understood what I meant immediately and inquired about guests asking for wines to be decanted in the restaurant. See, the wine was amazing, but as I told him, it was only beginning to open up, and I sensed that decanting it for about an hour and a half (or even more) would let the fruit characteristics pop out. In fact, it could actually be stored and revisited for another five to ten years.
He then spoke about arguments he had with people who say Chilean wines are always ready to drink (uh, that’s a hard no from me… I’ve had Chilean wine that’s incredibly powerful and tasted better years down the line), and even one with their winemaker who refuses to decant wine, allowing for the wine to open up on its own in the bottle (works if the drinker is drinking alone, which means killing the bottle in an hour… For a table of six, however, wine tends to be gone in fifteen minutes, never giving the wine a chance to air out).
Speaking of which, in an effort to give the wine even more time to breathe, we discussed one of Cristián’s passion projects, which involved traveling to different parts of the world on his bike, with his kid (the bike has a sidecar), a bottle of Estampa Wine, and a stop at Armenia, where the world’s oldest existing winery is located.
More talking definitely did the trick, as the wine’s dark fruit characters started to come out. Personally, I’d still think of keeping the wine in a proper wine chiller (I’m a huge fan of Vintec), open it after a few years, and share it with people I love.
To that, Cristián said, “Wine is meant to be shared. What we’re having today at this very moment, it will end when we all go away, but it will never be forgotten. We will remember this moment.”
Definitely. It was a colourful conversation, one for the books.
*There’s a general idea that using grapes from the winery it comes from means better quality
**A researcher from Montpellier’s school of Oenology
***In 2015, the 10th anniversary of Carménère in Chile, two out of the three Chilean wines awarded 95 points and above in Wine Spectator were Carménère
Very, very special thanks to Cristián (who is most likely in another part of the world rocking on and promoting his wine) and Mr. Chester Cabrera for this awesome opportunity.
Currently, my favourite from the bunch, the Estampa Gran Reserva Carménère Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon, is available on boozeshop.ph. 🙂