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What our expert thought of Rogue Vine, Grand Itata Tinto

about this wine About this wine
This wine is from the Itata Valley, Chile’s oldest wine region.  Vines were first planted here by Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, largely because it was the most northerly part of Chile with enough rainfall to support unirrigated vineyards.  Even so, it still lies 400km to the south of the capital Santiago, the main market for its produce.
In the 19th century huge irrigated vineyards were planted in the valleys further north, closer to the main population centres.  Their hot dry climates made ripening healthy grapes easy every vintage, and the vineyards were planted on readily-mechanised flat land.
By contrast, the old Itata vineyards were planted on steep slopes to maximise exposure to the sun, and their cool southerly location experienced significant vintage variation.  Making matters worse was the small size of each plot, constrained by the topography and further fragmented by centuries of inheritance.  Mechanisation was impractical, so the vineyards continued to be worked by hand and ploughed by horses.
The big businesses that came to dominate Chile’s wine scene largely ignored Itata, buying the region’s grapes at rock-bottom prices for jug wine, or distillation into pisco.  That unfortunate situation has continued to this day.  However, all this neglect has had an unexpected benefit, at least for those winemakers and drinkers keen on authentic, terroir-driven wine.
Itata’s vines are really old.  There hasn’t been enough money to replant the vineyards with international varieties trained on modern trellises, so they’re still full of gnarled old bush vines, many over a century old.  Phylloxera never reached Chile, so the wholescale replanting it caused in the rest of the world didn’t happen here.  Organic viticulture is the norm, because the families who own the vines have neither the time nor the money for chemical spraying.
Enter Leo Erazo and Justin Decker, the two friends who make up Rogue Vines.  Recognising Itata’s potential, they have sought out the best of these ancient vineyards and entered into partnerships with their owners, advising them on viticulture and buying the resulting crop.  All their vineyards are farmed organically and worked by hand.  In the winter they are grazed by the horses still prevalent in the region, and fertilised by their manure.  The same horses are used to plough the vineyards, aerating the topsoil and allowing it to absorb more of the winter rains.
They make just three reds and two whites, most of them in tiny quantities, roping in family and friends to help at harvest time.  This Grand Itata Tinto is their ‘volume’ red; around 400 cases are produced each year from a 10-acre plot of bush vines called La Bella which was planted in 1960, making it the youngest vineyard in the Rogue Vines portfolio.  Most of the vines (around 95%) are Cinsault but there are some other vaieties, chiefly Pais, mixed in.  All are picked and vinified togather to produce a field blend.
Leo and Justin are fervent converts to the natural wine cause and their winemaking reflects this, with no chemical corrections or additions.  Uncrushed whole grapes go into the concrete fermentation vat, and fermentation is carried out entirely with the natural yeasts from the grape skins.  This makes for a long, slow fermentation, which keeps the temperature down naturally as the vat is not temperature controlled.  The cap of skins is punched down twice a day, gradually breaking up the whole berries and releasing sugars to prolong the ferment.
The wine is then aged for a year in a mixture of concrete tanks and ten-year-old oak barrels, which soften the wine without imparting any oak flavours.  A little sulphur dioxide is added just before bottling, and then the bottled wine is aged for a further six months before release.
the tasting The Tasting
A medium ruby, this is properly red without being particularly dark.  Cinsault is a deep-coloured variety, so this colour reflects the very gentle maceration the wine has undergone.
The nose is fresh, delightfully perfumed and floral, with scents of rose petals.  There are plenty of sweet red fruits too – raspberries and cherries – along with an intriguing gamey, savoury note and a touch of pungent spice, like cloves.
Medium-bodied but full of flavour, the palate is earthy and spicy with more of those red fruits.  There’s also a weird but appealing smoky, medicinal flavour that continues long into the finish.  It’s reminiscent of iodine, but a lot more attractive than that sounds!
Also on the finish are warming spices, supported by light, soft tannins.
Well, this is a wine with plenty of personality!  That smoky, medicinal flavour is like nothing I can remember tasting before, but it works really well.  This is perhaps the most ‘natural’ wine we’ve had on DC, but apart from the fascinating iodine-y note I’d never guess.  It’s not some wild beast of a red, and it doesn’t have the reductive scents on first opening that I’ve come to expect from natural wines.
Instead it’s fine, complex and decidedly old-world in style: a bit like a village burgundy crossed with a northern Rhône Syrah, but with a distinct earthy, Chilean character all its own.  I think I’ve just joined Rogue Vine’s Itata Bush Vine Revolution – all I need is a beret and some suitably militant facial hair…

Tasting notes

clear medium- ruby

Intensity medium

Aromas floral (rose), sweet red fruit (raspberry, cherry), gamey/savoury note, pungent spice (clove)

Development developing

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium(+?)

Body medium

Tannins light, soft & fine

Intensity medium+

Flavours red fruits as nose, earthy, spicy, also weird but nice smoky/medicinal iodine-like flavour

Length medium+

Flavours more of that smoky-medicinal thing, warming spices
Other notes
No detectable oak. Fresh, fine & elegant old-world style. Village burgundy crossed with north Rhône Syrah.

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