A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pedro Ximenez - Elqui Valley, Chile

Like our friend Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximenez is probably not a fringe wine if we consider only its best known incarnation. In the Jerez, Montilla-Moriles and Malaga regions of Spain, Pedro Ximenez is used to make very sweet dessert wines that can age for many decades. We're not interested in Spanish Pedro Ximenez and we're not interested in dessert wines here, but rather a dry table wine made in the Elqui Valley of Chile.

The Elqui Valley is located in the DO Coquimbo region of Chile, about 300 miles north of Santiago. It is Chile's northernmost wine producing region which means, since they are in the southern hemisphere, it should be the warmest region. Parts of the region are certainly warm, but Chile is very mountainous, and many vineyards are located high in the Andes mountains, some as high as 6,500 feet above sea level. The altitude has a moderating influence on the climate and allows the grapes to receive more intense sunlight during the day. There is also a large diurnal temperature variation which allows many of the grapes to retain a high level of acidity while ripening fully, an important consideration for a grape with low natural acidity like Pedro Ximenez.

The grape is named after an almost certainly apocryphal Spanish soldier named Pedro Ximenez (or Pedro Siemens or something similar) who, according to the story, brought the grape back to Spain on his return from the Spanish Netherlands early in the 16th Century. It is very unlikely, though, that a grape that flourishes in the hot, southern Spanish climate would be of much use that far north. There also does not appear to be any grapes currently in that region of the world that resemble Pedro Ximenez, so the story itself isn't taken very seriously by wine researchers. The most likely origin for the grape is somewhere in the Canary Islands where the grape is still grown and made into mostly nondescript table wine.

There are large plantings of a grape called Pedro Gimenez in Argentina and Chile, but this grape is not thought to be related to Pedro Ximenez. Most of the grapes grown under the Giminez moniker are used in local table wines in Argentina or are distilled into Pisco in Chile. As far as I can tell, though, the bottle that I was able to get is actually from Pedro Ximenez and not from the lesser Gimenez variety. Pedro Jimenez is a frequent synonym for Pedro Ximenez in Chile, but my bottle definitely was labeled Ximenez (Pedro Ximenez Reserva, actually, though I don't believe that Reserva has any legal definition in Chile).

The producer for the bottle I picked up was Falernia which is apparently the northernmost wine estate in Chile. It cost $10 and was from the 2009 vintage. In the glass, the wine was a very pale silvery straw color. The nose was reserved with some honeysuckle and apricot and white peach notes. It was pretty flowery smelling when you could tease an aroma out of the glass at all. The wine was light bodied with medium acidity. The flavors were reserved and tended to follow the nose pretty closely: white peaches and honeysuckle. It had a steely crispness to it that was nice and refreshing. This isn't the most complicated wine in the world, but it was charming in its way. It had more character than the Palomino I tasted previously, which isn't saying much, I suppose. It would make a nice aperitif or would go with delicate seafood dishes, but probably not anything more assertive than that.

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