A taste of modern wines with ancient roots
Marco De Martino was in Beijing last week to present a series of his family vineyard wines at a private dinner hosted by Chile’s ambassador to China, Jorge Heine. The chosen wines included a pleasant chardonnay and two standout vintages of carmenere— whichhascometo be considered Chile’s national grape.
But the surprise hit of the night was the De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2014. A light and refreshing wine, it was like nothing most of us had ever tasted. There is an earthiness to both the taste and the aroma, and my first thought when I smelled it was “Cherry Kool-Aid”. That sounds like a put-down (the renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson was smoother, describing the nose as “sour cherry”). But in fact, the wine is as tasty as it is intriguing.
Its individuality comes from the grape (Cinsault) and the chosen fermentation vessel, earthenware jars known in Spanish as tinajas. Though they vary, they are about barrel-size — much smaller than the huge clay amphorae used by Georgian and Armenian winemakers for thousands of years. But the tinajas have plenty of their own traditions, employed by winemakers in southern Europe for several centuries and still used by some Spanish and Portuguese winemakers today.
Spanish colonists, you may have guessed bynow, brought the technique to Chile in the 1500s. Modernization and commercialization of Chilean wineries pushed the tinaja tradition into obscurity, but the enterprising De Martino family made a project of reviving it, and the results have turned heads around the world.
“It’s the sort of summer red that would be delighted to be served cool,” Robinson wrote in a column about the 2012 vintage, “and has no tough tannin so could be drunk without food as well as with fish.” We’d say the same of the 2014, though we were happy to enjoy it with a grilled beef filet — intriguingly wrapped in almonds and seaweed and served alongside an asparagus risotto. •••