Thursday, September 6, 2018

Winemaker, Andrés Sánchez of Alcance


I was invited to a media and trade tasting lunch at Backstreet Cafe with Andrés Sánchez, the winemaker for Alcance, a Jackson Family winery. As guests arrived, we were greeted with a glass of lightly chilled Alcance Chardonnay 2016, a perfect start for a hot summer day in Houston.
This rich and elegant Chardonnay is grown on granitic soils in a coastal mountain vineyard in the Valle de Itata. Despite my multiple wine classes, this was a growing area with which I was not familiar. This vineyard is located between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean about 12 miles from the coast which as Sánchez pointed out adds a nice sea influence to the wine. The Chardonnay was pleasantly fresh with light citrus notes and a touch of butterscotch with a distinct saline mineralty throughout the slightly creamy finish. 

A mixed appetizer platter with Gulf Coast Beignets, duck spring rolss, asparagus and zuchini flatbread, and lump crab cakes on red pepper beurre blanc were brought out to the group as Sánchez continued. The Alcance story begins in 1988 when Jess Jackson and son-in-law, Don Hartford came down to Chile in search of land. Jackson, who had founded Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in 1982 was seeking a new project. Sánchez recalls Jackson telling him to "forget everything you think you know about grape growing for wine in Chile," and more importantly, "don't listen to others, go out and taste the land." After a thorough search of the country and tasting wines from everywhere, the group rented a winery and made their first wine in 1993. Sánchez said the wines in today's lineup were the reflection of that search. 

Our next pour was the Alcance Merlot 2015 from the El Maitén vineyard in the Valle del Maule. This vineyard area lies west of Talca, the region's largest city. Sánchez stated that this growing area has clay-rich soils that Merlot loves. The wine itself is gently treated with only 10% seeing 18 months in new French Oak resulting in a lighter, fresher style of Merlot bursting with dark plum character with a soft, lush finish. As we tasted, burrata with grilled peppers, eggplant, olives, and tomatoes on pesto with pita bread arrived to the table. 

Next up was the Alcance Carmenère 2014. Sánchez started by questioning how the grape could have been confused with Merlot in Chile for so long. His own experience has shown how very different the two grapes actually are from both the appearance of the leaves and the grapes and even more telling the difference in the ripening schedule. He mentioned that the Merlot is typically harvested in mid to late March while the Carmenère is picked in the middle of May, over a month and a half difference. He discussed how he finds the grape somewhat difficult to work with as picking too early can create a wine with heavy green notes and despite his best efforts it can also have a bit of a hollow feeling mid-palate that requires an added bit of Cabernet Sauvignon for more substance. I found the wine to be nicely spicy with no green notes, primarily aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries with a black pepper note through the lengthy finish. This wine was also sourced from the El Maitén Estate Vineyard.


My red pear salad with red lettuce, bleu cheese, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and pomegranate in balsamic vinaigrette arrived as the Alcance Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was poured. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from their El Principal Vineyard in the Maipo Valle. This wine exhibited classic Cabernet aromas and flavors and was definitely ready to drink now. The gentleman across the table from me had ordered the red corn chicken enchiladas, a Backstreet Cafe favorite, which comes with corn pudding and green beans, which he was kind enough to share with me as he was enjoying it so much with the wine.

The next pour was the Bravura 2013. This proprietary red blend's name means courage in Spanish though it takes no bravery to enjoy this wine.The label was inspired by a Chilean dance. Though the nose was a bit austere, the wine had good structure with a a nice freshness and dense tannins with a persistent mixed berry finish. The wine is a Bordeaux blend that is sourced from the highest quality areas of the Maipo Valley Estate, it is only produced in the best years and always in limited quantities.

As the final wine, the Alcance Vigno Carignan 2014, was poured, seared lamb chops with sautéed arugula and savory bread pudding arrived for the entire group to taste alongside. Sánchez shared that Carignan was commonly grown in the Valle Del Maule in the 1940s. He stated that the variety is even mentioned in historical Chilean wine books from over a hundred years ago though no one is sure who originally brought the vines over. He founded an organization that includes fourteen high quality growers called the VIGNO Association of Chile with the goal of promoting old vine Carignon that has been head pruned and dry-farmed. Sánchez oversees fourteen acres of Carignan that are approximately 50-70 years old. The wine was definitely a welcome surprise for the table with its light floral nose with juicy red berry flavors, refined tannins, fresh acidity, and a lingering finish. It was a perfect pairing with the lamb chops.

It was a great pleasure to meet Andrés Sánchez and to learn more about Chile. Sánchez was born in Santiago but now lives in the city of Talca. He has watched the country change and grow and enjoys life in the less populated area in which he now lives. The stories he shared and the wines we tasted were as he said, "A neat way to understand Chile from a different perspective."