Sunday, December 26, 2010

Viña von Siebenthal.

Mauro von Siebenthal is one of the few small producers in Panquehue. Literally a few hundred meters from the front door of his inspiration, the huge Errázuriz estate, von Siebenthal is making amazing Bordeaux-inspired wines that consistently win medals and score high points with many judges. In fact, his wine is among my favorite of all I’ve tasted in Chile.

Meeting Mr. von Siebenthal is quite an experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone. He is a fascinating, cheerful, gracious man who can talk about history and wine for hours and keep his audience riveted. At least that’s what happened with us. We were in fact late to our next appointment but chose to stay longer just to listen to more of his stories and explanations!

Mauro has been an appreciator of wines since he was 17 years old. A Swiss native, he developed a dream of making wine at a young age. After serving as a lawyer for 25 years in Switzerland he started to look for vineyard land in the EU; however, his desire to plant new varietals was not an easy one to satisfy in the old world. So he decided to look toward the new.

Mauro began tasting Chilean wines in Switzerland. One of his favorites was an Errázurriz hailing from Panquehue. Simultaneously a friend sent him some pictures of Aconcagua telling him how beautiful it was. Quoting Paulo Coelho, Mr. von Siebenthal said, “You know, when you want something, all the universe conspires to achieve it. This is what happened with me.” Errázurriz was the only vineyard in the region at the time, and the locals were not the most welcoming of newcomers, but Mauro came nevertheless in 1997 and spent quite a large sum planting his Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere vines.

A view of Panquehue

According to von Siebenthal, no one in the area cared much for fine wine production in the late 1990’s (the folks at Errázuriz would disagree, but I’m not sure which side is closer to the truth…). Mauro found that the terroir was perfectly suited to the Carmenere grape due to the complex, unusual soil: there are no stones for 2 meters and then big gravelly rocks below. Carmenere, he says, loves deep, cool soil. And Robert Parker apparently agrees, as he gave the von Siebenthal Carmenere 97 points.

Von Siebenthal’s vines are farmed and harvested by hand. A tractor sits idly on the property; this is apparently only used to spray sulfites when needed. As in most Chilean vineyards you will find no trace of rootstock here. With an average of 320 days of sunlight per year, fresh water from the Andes, and little risk of diseases or botrytis, Mauro refers to his land as a paradise for vinegrowing.

The cellar is nothing fancy, just a functional operation. “It’s not an Armani store. It’s a winery. I prefer to have a low-profile winery and make fantastic wines,” he says. These wines typically ferment for 2 weeks following a cold maceration. An additional maceration occurs after the fermentation. The wines then spend 10 to 24 months in French oak, with the soft, elegant Taransaud barrels reserved for the best wines (always for the Carmenere).

We tried the 2005 Montelig

This 40% Cabernet, 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Carmenere blend’s name is derived from “mountains and light,” two things Panquehue has in plenty. It sees 24 months in new French oak followed by 2 years in the bottle. Hues of rich garnet and deep purple are visible. Black pepper and concentrated berry fruit with a hint of leather form a friendly assault on the nose. Dense red fruit and berries are backed by slightly harsh tannins: this wine still needs a few years in the bottle. “This is an expression of Panquehue,” Mauro explains. “Mature but not over-mature fruits, soft tannins, a lot of structure.” For Parker fans, this one consistently scores 93-94 points.

For information or to visit Mr. von Siebenthal, check out the website or email María Soledad Latorre at

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