CASA MARIN ::::::::::: Crazy for Cool Climate!

This entry was written and composed whilst enjoying a Rabl 2013 Gruner Veltliner 'Langenlois' Kamptal DAC Austria and listening to a Jay Dee aka J-Dilla interview with Gilles Peterson from Feb 2001 commemorating his death anniversary and birthday

the conversation: w/ Jamie Verbraak - commercial manager

Jamie Verbraak - Commercial Manager for Casa Marín

Jamie Verbraak - Commercial Manager for Casa Marín

It was nearly a year and half ago that I was introduced to the wines of Casa Marin. A colleague of mine, Mr. Ian Thresher had recently been on a wine tour of Chile and shortly after his return to Canada he placed a private order for several of their wines. The purchase Included a wine of remarquable character  this wine being 'the' Syrah from the Miramar Vineyards of Lo Abarca. The wine was enchanting. Along with their Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Sauvignon Gris these wines had a purity and brightness of fruit that is 'Chile' at its best, but these wines had a precision that reflected the passion and drive of their maker Maria Luz Marin. 

Maria Luz Marin is Chile's first Lady of wine, the nation's first female wine maker and the first female to own a winery in a rather male dominated industry. She was and still is at the vanguard of cool climate Chilean wines and boy do we love 'cool climate wines'! In fact shortly after her first vintage of 2003 under her Casa Marin label she received acclaime as the top producer of Chilean white wines!

She has accomplished all that she has in the face of a wine hierarchy that is dominated by massive brands and by companies that are not directly related to wine. I was informed that about 60% of the wineries in Chile are owned by approximately 40 large national or international companies. To clarify  - I can make no factual claim in this statement but I can understand the 'new world winery' business model and the investment that is needed in order to compete on the world market. Though private sector investment and corporate management is one way of doing things the Casa Marin story set's it apart from the rest. 

Maria Luz Marin, started her winemaking career in the 70's and into the 90's gathered momentum by building the 3rd largest producer of bulk wine in Chile, wines that would be used for blending and for supermarket brands in the domestic and european  markets. But....She had a higher calling and would be inspired to make 'great' wines with her talent and drive, but where? 

Lo Abarca in the 90's 

One of Maria's oldest childhood memories was of taking family vacations to the coast. The destination would be on the other side of the San Antonio Valley towards the ocean and the route would take them through an area called Lo Abarca. Lo Abarca is known for superior agriculture products and produce. As a child she would notice the temperature change and coolness as the family car travelled through various elevations towards their destination. As an adult knowing that she wanted to create unique wines, where would that be, and it was a childhood memory that would direct her back to Lo Abarca. Everyone thought she was crazy, it was too cold, the soils were too fertile. It would be folly, it would be financial suicide. Bah! She withdrew investments from her bulk wine company and bought, at auction, vineyard and land over various plots in Lo Abarca and set off to make her own wines as the first Chilean woman to found an independent winery. In 1999/2000 she planted vineyards and in 2003 she released her first wines that would prove to silence critics and nay-sayers.


  • 46 hectares.
  • planted to Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris for white grapes and Syrah and Pinot Noir for red grapes ( with a new project focusing on Grenache).
  • wines are sourced from 63 different vineyard plots.
  • 80% of the vineyards are located in the hills of Lo Abarca on various micro-climates at elevations that range from 100 feet to 500 feet above sea level.
  • soils range from loam to granite with sand and limestone with marine deposits in the flatter vineyards. 
  • the maritime terroir is one of the coolest and closest to the coast,  though this cool the region benefits from a long season with an early and long spring and rather consistent and moderated temperature throughout the year.

Maria Luz is now assisted by her son Felipe, who has recently graduated from school of viticulture and oenology and has returned home from working in New Zealand. He is also spearheading a project focused on Grenache from vineyards that are farmed with biodynamic and natural applications. The results of which are fascinating and engaging the palates of some of the most astute critics and wine writers around the world.  

Casa Marin is the epitome of cool climate wines from the ever evolving wine world of Chile

the tasting:

Sauvignon Blanc 'Cartagena' 2013 : Cartagena is the Casa Marin entry level series of wines. They are most certainly pleasant and drinkable. Those who love Sauvignon in the riper fruit context and those studying Chilean Sauv Blanc will delight in the purity of flavour and complexity of expression. They are using a French Clone for this wine coming from one of their top vineyard sights, which helps explain certain complexity in flavour. From poor soils and a warm site this wine is a pleaser 

Sauvignon Blanc 'Cipresses' Casa Marin 2013: is the ultimate expression of the Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc vision. The wines is made from smaller but better quantity of grapes per hectare coming from the vineyard. They are using a UC Davis 1 clone with cold maceration over 18hours with 3 weeks of lees contact. The wine sees 5% of oak but is barely felt if any on the palate. Think asparagus, sweet corn, and savoury and earthy notes with a sweet pea to creamy pea soup feel. Honestly Sauvignon Blanc is not my first choice but I find these wines to be precise, focused and made with the utmost care. 

Sauvignon Gris 'Estero' Casa Marin 2013 : is a unique creature indeed. Sourced from an old clone from Pessac Leognan in Bordeaux that never re-emerged after phylloxera as it was not considered profitable as a grape. Maria Luz felt this would be the exact grape to hold a place in her stable of white wines. The wine is made from spontaneous fermentation with 70% of the wine aged in 2/3 times used barrels with 30% rested in steel. To taste this wine think, grass, herbs, young green shoots, to leeks and chives, with texture and natural sweetness, though it is a dry wine. Lemon Thyme and Lemon Balm, but I may be reaching here. The palate is fresh and spiced with white pepper, round and pleasing. I fun wine for the student and the connoisseur. 

Pinot Noir 'Cartegena' 2013 : the first of their entry level Pinot Noir, think lean, fresh and spiced red berry. A pleasant balance of cool climate pinot character - fragrant, meaty, savoury with fruit that is dry versus sweet. Clocking in at 14% alcohol, it is impressive that the wine is so lean. 

Pinot Noir ' Litoral Vineyards' 2013 : is an example of their top tier production. The wine is high toned, peppered and savoury with nice red fruit. Really a balance of fruit and the savoury quality of Pinot Noir at it's best. Lush, Plush, mineral with a smokey and pleasant finish. A must have for PInot that should be ready to drink in the next 2-5 years. 

Viñedos Lo Abarca - a new series of wines  

Viñedos Lo Abarca - a new series of wines  

Garnacha/Syrah 'Viñedos Lo Abarca No. 3 2013 : this is the Casa Marin new generation of wines made by Felipe, Maria Luz's son. He represents the new generation of wine makers focusing on wines made closer to natural and biodynamic principles. They planted grenache in 2011 and this is first presentation of the wine. 1800 bottles, 2 years in  barrel. The wine is killer! Think North Rhone, think Gigondas with a 20-30% blend of Syrah that takes the wine into a whole new level. The wine is of a sweet berry profile, with freshness and vibrancy, white and black pepper, a textured and pleasant mouthfeel. Can you tell that I really enjoyed this wine. Get some when they get here! Please!

On the Real! - The Outside Looking In.

Music paired with this entry - Stormzy 'Shut Up' - really it's about striving to be the best at what you do....However you want to interpret…'s up to long as nobody gets hurt. 

From Burgundy on King Street to Rum on Dundas… today was a good day of wine tasting and industry harmony. In brief the afternoon started with a Master Class tasting of Wines of Burgundy hosted by Sopexa and moderated by John Szabo. A fantastic and welcome seminar on the 'village wines' of Burgundy. About 20 Village level wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, tasted blind for structure and relevance in a new world and old world context. The experience was profound for many of us. A room full of 20 hardcore Sommeliers, Wine Writers and Industry professionals, it's not often we get to taste wines blind and learn…most often we are there to taste and offer analysis and critique and then think of purchasing. Here we were students once again as we are always meant to be. Bravo Sopexa and John Szabo. 


Then off to service. Normal for a Tuesday night. Though this evening, over at Archive Wine Bar, Will Predhomme and Nicholas Pearce were hosting a unique wines of South Africa tasting. Showcasing some cool wines that they tasted and experienced on a recent trip to the Cape, they shared these wines with a good dollop of Toronto's crème de la crème wine elite in attendance…'the Cru' as Nick Pearce put it in a text to me as I was riding over. Exploring a series of above normal wines from South Africa I missed the bulk of the tasting but had the opportunity to taste the 'Sparkling Horse' sparkling wine. Delicious. Over glasses of Bouzeron, Clos de la Roilette and Toro Albala Sherry we all discussed life in Paris, wines of the County, while I sipped Mount Gay XO Barbados Rum and the Cru rocked out to what's his name…Queen and Freddie Mercury. A good night pre-Christmas Madness. 

A full report in on the Burgundy tasting…in blog format to follow….

A Taste of Bourgogne - April 8th Luncheon Tasting.


Earlier this month I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a structured seminar on the fine wines of Burgundy, France. It would be impossible to fully capture the true essence Burgundy in one sitting, in reality it would take a lifetime. I and a few other Sommelier and Media Representatives were presented with a well curated snapshot of the whole region via 15 different wines starting in Chablis continuing down to Rully and further down to Pouilly-Fuissé in the Maçonnais.

Vins de Bourgogn le 8 Avril 2014

Vins de Bourgogn le 8 Avril 2014

This seminar hosted by Sopexha was presented in tandem, by John Szabo, Master Sommelier (Toronto), and Francois Labet, vigneron and Chairman of the BIVB* Marketing and Communication Commission (France) with the assistance of Nelly Blau, Manager of Export Marketing and Communication for BIVB* (France)

  *Bureau Interprofessinnel des Vins de Bourgogne.

All wines selected for the seminar were sourced from the LCBO and through Consignment Agents. During the introduction given by Francois, it was made clear that Burgundy and Canada enjoy a positive and longstanding relationship that has lasted for many years. The Quebec and Ontario markets are very important to the Burgundians. Recent vintages have been good but reduced in quantity and availability. The purpose for the visit/tasting was to reconnect  with a Toronto public, the Restaurant and Hospitality community and for those of us attending the seminar, it was another opportunity to taste and understand the region, this time in a very non-academic format. 

Francois Labet introduces the Wines of Burgundy

Francois Labet introduces the Wines of Burgundy

During the introduction to the tasting there were a few important key facts about Burgundy  that were brought to our attention, facts that I feel should be shared with you for a greater understanding of Burgundy and its' importance in the continued history of wine. 

1. Burgundy, and particularly the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits are soon to be recognized as an Official UNESCO World Heritage Site. A worthy consideration because of the Burgundian geographical history of soil, and for it's European Cultural and Historical significance of which a great part of this history is based on the vine and wine.

2. Some would argue that the notion of 'terroir' was born in France, with Burgundy as the clearest example. John Szabo offered up this formula for the argument supporting the 'terroir case for Burgundy. The following is the formula: Soil + Climate + Vine + the Intervention of Man + HUMILITY. Humility being the key factor, stemming from the Burgundian history of the Cistercian Monks crafting the first of Burgundy's great wines. The life purpose of the monk was to work and live by god and to produce the best wine that they could offer up to the heavens. In producing such wine only an extreme amount of Humility would allow the the best possible wine, even in the face of the ever unpredictable nature of the elements of the earth, sky and the heavens. The monks discipline was to perfect gods work exemplified through wine. It was the monks that identified that different plots of land that gave way to different qualities of wine. Thus the creating of the base for 'cru' vineyards and the notion of terroir that we know and understand today. 

John Szabo defining Burgundy and Terroir

John Szabo defining Burgundy and Terroir

3. Burgundy has a history of wine making that started in the middle ages, a history that has been more or less uninterrupted throughout the ages. Even through the decades of political, economical unrest and the turmoil due to war, the vineyards of Burgundy have remained intact thus creating a long period of production which has allowed continual development and growth. There are few regions around the world that have been so favoured by so many. A long and rich history is a key factor adding to the prominence and importance of this region in current times. 

soil + climate + intervention of man + humility = the true notion of Terroir. Humility being an important factor determining man’s purpose in wine.
— John Szabo

Here I will list the wines tasted and highlight the wines which I found of particular interest. Based on my limited experience these notes are by no means based on a score or critique. They are simply a sommeliers analysis of wine. The omission of notes on a wine is by no means an indication of judgment or a lack of quality. 

An intimate conversation with Nelly Blau, a native Burgundia

An intimate conversation with Nelly Blau, a native Burgundia

CHARDONNAY based wines.

1. Chablis AOC,  2012. Domain Gautheron. $24.95. Vintages 207902. A wine with a bright lemon and citrus attack, a nice touch of lees leading to slight melon and banana with a nervy amount of acid. Some texture on the palate, mineral and driven of medium complexity. Oak maturation was evident but restrained.

2. 1er Cru Montmains AOC, 2010. La Chablisienne.  $28.95. Vintages 265090

3. Bourgogne Blanc AOC, 2013. Louis Jadot. $20.95. Vintages Essential. 

4. Mâcon-Villages AOC, 2012. Maison Joseph Drouhin. $17.75 Vintages 356956

5. Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais, 2011. Domaine Jaeger-Defaix. $41.99 Consignment. I found the wine to be quite taught and focused, with a nutty almond character under the fruit. There was a slight spiced component to the aromatics of the wine which I found intriguing and added to the complexity of the wine. Palate was dry, saline, mineral and tart like that of plum skin. 

6. Pouilly-Fuissé AOC, 'Vieilles Vignes', 2010 Château Vitallis $27.95 Vintages 360495

7. Pouilly-Fuissé Ver Cras AOC Château de Beauregard 2010. Masion Joseph Burrier $49.95 Consignment. This wine was deliciously tart and lifted, rosemary, lemon, lime, chalky minerality and bright presenting a complex 'nose'. The follow through on the palate was equally tart and textured, fresh pear to slightly bruised apple, soft spice and a certain viscosity t the palate. 

NOTE: I found the Pouilly-Fuissé wines to be of great value and quality. The discussion upon tasting the wines lead to the admission by our hosts that some vineyards had been submitted for 'premier cru' status, which would lead to an eventual stratification of Pouilly-Fuissé, much like the rich cousins of Côtes de Beaune and des Nuits to the north. Creating a new profile of quality for the region of Pouilly-Fuissé. 

8. Chassange-Montrachet AOC, 'Vieilles Vignes' 2012. Maison Vincent Girardin. $55.75 Vintages 364141. The aromatics on the wine gave way to ginger, lemon and a nice mineral touch. The wine was tart, mineral and with a bright acid structure, all of this contributing to its great elegance on the palate. Sourced from 50 year old vines there was a lot happening in this wine, with chalky, stoney and some vegetal tones shining through. 

PINOT NOIR based wines: 

9. Bourgogne Rouge AOC, 2010. Maison André Delorme. $20.95. Vintages 366427. 

10. Givry 1er Cru, Cellier aux Moines AOC, 2008. Domain Thénard. $32.50. Consignment. A pleasant wine of fresh red berry fruit, some caramelized chocolate, floral and a slight herbed nose, to a palate that was earthy, mineral, elevated in acid, with medium tannin. Some bitter vegetable, and more earth adding a complex dimension to the wine. 

11. Beaune 1er Cru, Beaune du Château AOC, 2009. Dom. Bouchard Père & Fils. $36.90 LCBO Signature 325142

12. Beaune 1er Cru, Les Grèves AOC, 2010. Maison Roche de Bellene. $46.95 Consignment. 

13. Pommard, Clos des Ursulines AOC, 2011. Dom. du Paviollon, Masion. Albert Bichot. $49.95 Vintages 23820. This was a very attractive wine, with dark bramble and rhubarb fruit, wrapped by smokey and hickory tones, celery and a touch of espresso or raw chocolate. The mouthfeel was that of bright red cherry fruit over the dark berry from the nose. firm tannin and great structure.

14. Morey-Saint-Denis AOC, 2010. Domaine Aurélien Verdet. $36.25. Vintages 354316 One of the few wines in the tasting based on biodynamic practices. The wine was plush and elegant with a soft earthy feel. more bramble of red and black fruit, fleshy. A sweet and tart pleasant sipping wine. I think future vintages will certainly produce better wines as a result of biodynamic practices. 

15. Nuits-Saint-George AOC 'Vieilles Vignes', 2011. Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils. $53.75 Vintages 356600. A continuation of that delightful bramble fruit nose, that wafts between cherry and other red berry, nice cinnamon and warm wood spice - similar in tone to the Pommard but a different range. The palate had what seemed like sweeter, rich black fruit, with candy cinnamon to fine elegant acid and tannin.