Meet winemaker Steffan Jorgensen and Find out about his Unique wines
I wonder if it was a mistake to start my Chilean wine tour in the Elqui valley visiting Elqui Wines. Why? Because I don’t think it can get any better. Why? Because I tasted some mind blowing red wines and learned about a truely unique region.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Elqui valley, the winery and the people behind it as well as show you the wines I was invited to taste. I hope you will get curious about the region as well as Elqui Wines.
The Elqui Valley: Where Vines have to struggle a bit
This valley is the most Northern wine growing region of Chile. It borders the Atacama desert, the world’s driest desert, in the North, the Andes in the East and the Pacific in the West. But how does this influence wine growing? Well, it’s dry, very dry, there is a lot of sunshine which is good for a continuous growing period. But at the same time the Pacific blows its cold wind, known as the Humboldt current, directly into the valley. There are no coastal ranges as in other parts of Chile that function as a barrier. This wind cools down the air and brings freshness and saltiness into the vineyards.
Cold nights, as we know them from desert areas, help to develop some good and strong acidity, while the sunshine during the day helps to develop the fruitness in the grapes. The vineyards of Elqui Wines are in ancient river beds with a lot of minerals like quartz and iron. They are rocky and stony and poor. They are not rich like limestone or clay. Here the vineyards have to struggle a bit, like wine maker Steffan Jorgensen explains. This is what makes the vines strong, concentrated, mineralic and unique.
The people who are Elqui Wines: Internationality as well as sense of place
Winemakers Steffan Jorgensen and his wife Pamela Nunez run Elqui Wines. Steffan is Danish, Pamela is from La Serena, the town that forms the entrance into Elqui Valley. Steffan has worked as a winemaker in several countries for several wine estates before setting up his own winery here in Chile in 2012 with currently 25 hecatares of vineyards. They are fairly new to the Chilean wine scene but can already boast sold out wines and export partners in New Zealand, China, Denmark and the USA. So, what meakes the wines special? Steffan explains to me that nowhere else in the world he has felt and tasted this sense of place in the wines. I nod knowingly but don’t really understand what he means until he lets me taste some of his wines. And after that I truely understand what is so special about the wines coming from Elqui Valley.
Elqui Wines: The good, the great, The Interesting and the fantastic
Come with me on a tour of Elqui Wines, you will not regret it!
Let’s start with the white wine made out of the Pedro Jimenez grape. It is fairly unusual to make a white wine soley out of this grape here in Chile. It is usually used for Pisco production. Steffan decided to play a bit with this grape and the result is fairly interesting. The wine is exciting! It is not your usual, everyday drinking white that you can easily enjoy on your balcony. Of course you can do that too but this wine will make you think. You will ask yourself: What is this? Where have I had it before? Have I had it before? It is a deep wine, it is fruity but earthy and grassy at the same time, that will go well with food and is actually better enjoyed with food, I think. So, who is this wine for? It is for those of you who like a little bit excitement, who like to taste and experience new flavours.
Our next wine is a rosé that Steffan makes out of his Syrah. I am not a rosé fan, I’d like to say that at first so I was a little sceptical. The rosés I have had so far were a little boring to me, I never felt like I wanted more and more of them. But this rosé from the 2015 vintage taught me differently. A rich and deep colour, an intense smell of strawberries and mint and lastly for a rosé intense falvours of fruits, spices and even a little smoke and vanilla. Why is that I wonder? Well, two thirds of the wine fermented in stainless steal tanks, the remaining third fermented in oak barells. This mixture gives the wine what I think is usually lacking in rosés: complexity.
Let us now turn to the big boys and girls: The reds
I will explain the flavour of each wine, what makes it special and what philosophy or idea lies behind each wine. Get ready!
The Elqui Valley’s first Pinot Noir
With this wine, Steffan presents the first Pinot Noir of the Elqui valley. He takes his Pinot very seriously: Within the winery he stablished a special Pinot Noir winery where he uses tanks and other material especially for the making of the Pinot Noir. And what a Pinot Noir that is! It combines different opposing tastes and aromas and that is what makes it so interesting. Cherry notes, spice, an earthness and dried plums at the end. These make a full body but at the same time the wine exhibits a great freshness and clarity. It aged in 100% French oak.
Syrah: Drink it now or drink it later but drink it!
Syrah is big, Syrah is intense, Syrah is a lot of fruit and spice. This Syrah is all this and more! It aged one and a half years in French, American as well as Hungarian oak because Steffan believes that oak brings out the intensity of the fruit in the wine. I taste it, and I must agree. The fruit aromas blow my mind, but at the same time there is something in the wine that I find fascinating: mint. It has got a distinctively minty, eucalyptussy taste. The philosophy behind this and all other wines is that the wine must taste great NOW. It must be ready to drink NOW and not need years for the tannines to soften. Of course this doesn’t mean that the wine can’t age. Oh yes it can! I like this philosophyand have another sip! Oh and the tannins, yes, they are there but they are soft and form a good base for the fruity flavours.
Beyond what you know of Malbec!
This is the wine that was first to sell out completely. This is a shame to everyone reading this. But let’s stay hopeful that the next Malbec is just as good, and I’m pretty sure it will be. Probably even better, if that’s possible at all. After many many Malbecs in Argentina with many fruit explosions, this Malbec surprises me. Less fruity, more tannins than the Syrah, dried leaves. Here again we taste eucalyptus. I swear. It blows my mind. And what I also taste, which i can hardly believe, is salt. Steffan explains to me that this impression is not unusal since the Humboldt current blows the salty air into the valley. I learn that a Danish wine critic attributed this wine with changing his perception of Malbecs. Not a wine critic myself and surely having had less Malbecs than this person, I think I understand what he means. This Malbec is exceptional: it is linear and straight and doesn’t fuss around and over induldge with too much fruit. I like it a lot!
Carmenere: Welcome to The heaven of complexity
This carmenere is the last wine we taste and from the first sip of the Pinot Noir I thought that it can’t get any better and here I am writing this and remembering this wine and I am still amazed. I know that carmenere is Chile’s stand out variety. It’s the country’s mostly produced variety and its stand out feature. This Carmenere must be one of the best then in the whole country. When drinking it I go through three different phases. Phase one: smelling the wine. I smell grass, smoke, herbs. I like the smell but it doesn’t blow my mind. Phase two: tasting the wine. I drink it and fruity and even jammy flavours without being too sweet overflow my mouth. This in combination with the aromas forms such a great contrast that I think I truely understand the term „complexity“. You know, sometimes this term is used and you just think: „What the hell is this supposed to mena?“. But here I am right there: in the heaven of complexity! And hell do I enjoy it!
I hope you enjoyed this trip to the very far North of Chilean winemaking. I like to thank Steffan for his generosity and openness to accept me into his winery and sharing his ideas about winemaking with me.