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Under the Spell of the Enchanted Valley

Darren Gall Share:
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The Limari Valley or ‘Enchanted Valley’ is in the Coquimbo region of Northern Chile, an area more famous for its Piscos than its wines. 
 
The valley is one of the most interesting and relatively unheard of wine regions in Chile, let alone the rest of the world, but that is a rapidly changing story. Approximately 400 kilometers north of Santiago, the Limari Valley is on the southern edge of the Atacama Desert whilst its western boundary runs to the Pacific Ocean. 
 
To the east the Andes rise up to the roof of the world, about 6,000-7,000 meters above sea-level. 
 
The valley runs east west and during the day ocean breezes come in off the Pacific to cool the vineyard air. At night the Camanchaca comes in, a fog that keeps temperatures down till noon.
 
Water is scarce and drip irrigation is employed sparingly. The soils are mostly limestone and vines there struggle, vigor is low and the harvest is often not until June. This allows for the harvesting of wine-grapes with enormous complexity, concentration and balance, the small berries are packed with flavor, retain good acidity and have a mineralty that comes from their soils. 
 
The region has been compared with Marlborough in New Zealand with regards to climate and Sauvignon Blanc has performed exceptionally well there, as has Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 
 
Last weekend I met the affable and generous Gonzalo Gomez Estol from Tabali winery, one of the very first wineries in the Limari Valley. Gonzalo is a regular visitor here to see his distributor in Cambodia, Chhim Chinda at Winest. 
 
Paul Gregitt of the Seattle Times famously called Tabali “the great winery that you never heard of,” but that was five years ago and today the world’s most famous wine critics are well aware of Tabali winery and the Limari region, almost speaking as one in their praises. 
 
I tasted several wines from different ranges and price points from Tabali and was left astonished at the quality of the wines for their relatively low prices. 
 
Only two days after National Pinot Noir Day I tried the 2014, Tabali, Limari Valley, Reserva Especial, Pinot Noir and thought it was just outstanding, one the very best Chilean Pinot Noirs I have tried. 
 
After taking in the elegant, perfumed aromas of oaky spices, ripe fruit – framboise, cherry and a hint of forest floor earthiness – the wine exploded onto the palate with a creamy eddy of maraschino cherry before giving way to more complex notes of game, stems and subtle French oak tannin, finishing with linear acidity and vibrant minerality. 
 
Other highlights were the Sauvignon Blanc, which was very restrained, grassy and herbaceous with a hint of gooseberry and passionfruit, supported by fine chalky acidity and long, lingering minerals. 
 
The entry level Carmenere was also a revelation, great depth of flavor, ripe, intense fruit in the plum, black berry spectrum with hints of chocolate and some spice giving way to fine tannins and subtle oak – incredible value for money. 
 
The tasting was finished with another outstanding wine, the 2012 Reserva Especial Red Blend, (70 percent Syrah, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Merlot) the wine spends a full 18 months maturing in French oak barrels, about 70 percent of which are brand new. 
 
The blend offers a seamless integration of complex fruit aromas and flavours: pepper spice, mint, forest berries, cola, violets, ripe plum and charred oak. This is another enormously impressive wine with attractive fruit, a silky texture and assertive but not dominant oak and fine, ripe tannins with a typical lick of chalky minerals.  
 
After trying the Tabali wines I felt I wanted more and wanted to visit them again, with Gonzalo promising to be back in October, I look forward to drinking them with him very soon.   

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