THE wines will still be drinkable after seven days. If not, I’ll replace your bottles. You don’t have to use a wine saver…the cork will do.” Laurence Odfjell had just proposed a most interesting experiment with his wines. We were to choose two bottles each to take home and drink over seven days. Of course, the opened bottles would have to be stored in the wine chiller or refrigerator. But still, I thought seven days was stretching it. I chose the Armador Carmenère and the Orzada Carmenère, both 2016; the former aged in oak, the latter in stainless steel. Five days was all I was giving the wines. But that’s getting ahead of the story—which began at lunch.
“We are drinking only red.” I thought Laurence Odfjell sounded just a bit apologetic. This was lunch, after all, and something light would be not quite right with the wines he had lined up: Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Armador Carmenère 2016, Orzada Carignan 2012, Orzada Carignan 2016, Orzada Carmenère 2016, Orzada Malbec 2013, Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2014—to be tasted in that order. But then, the object of the lunch was not so much food and wine pairing (although the opportunity did present itself), but the tasting of the wines. I had become acquainted with Odfjell wines—and had met Odfjell—about three years ago when he was in Manila to introduce the wines. Since then, I had become very friendly with the Orzada Carignan which became a regular on my winelists. And because the Carignan was the one wine I was so smitten with, I forgot all about the other Odfjell wines. Now here was the chance to renew their acquaintance.
Red wine is the focus in the Odfjell winery. Norwegian shipowner Dan Odfjell, Laurence’s father, bought the property in Chile in the 1980s, which was initially an orchard before the vineyards were planted in 1992. The winery was built in 1997 and Laurence, an architect (with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Yale University), designed it. But Laurence first had to learn about—and understand— the winemaking process before he could design the facility. The result is a gravity flow winery that allows for high-quality production. Because pumping over is reduced to the barest minimum, the unnecessary agitation of the wine is avoided, ensuring that the wine’s subtle fruit characteristics are preserved from vineyard to bottle. The facility is also 60 percent below ground, making it highly energy efficient.
Fruit for the Odfjell wines come from vineyards in Maipo, Maule, Colchagua and Lontue. The vineyards are planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carignan. (Laurence also mentioned that they also make wine from Petite Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tannat and Tempanillo, bottlings of which he would bring to Manila on his next visit.) Low yield, manual harvest, organic and biodynamic farming protocols are employed in the vineyards. This commitment to sustainable and environment-friendly agriculture and winemaking practices has placed the Odfjell winery at the forefront of progressive vineyard management in Chile. The goal is to make unique wines that make the most of the region’s potential, Laurence says.
The Odfjell wines are named with Spanish nautical terms—Armador, Orzada and Aliara—a reference to
the Odfjell family’s involvement in the shipping business. Laurence’s father is, after all, an “armador,” the term for shipowner. In the past, during the long voyages of the sailing ships, wine was a necessary provision for the crew. Aliara, a red blend produced in very limited quantities, is a reference to the “liara,” the tin cup measurement of the daily ration of wine for the ship’s crew. “Orzada,” the term for sailing up against the wind before setting a direction, describes the winery’s “staking of a course in pursuit of beautiful and memorable wines,” Laurence explained. Perhaps the stars had steered a shipping family toward winemaking.
Carignan from century-old vines in Cauquenes (in the Maule Valley) is an Odfjell specialty. The winery made its first varietal Carignan in 2001 and since then, the Orzada Carignan had gone through transformations. We had a glimpse of this at lunch when Laurence presented the Orzada Carignan 2016—unoaked, from 60- to 100-year old vines in Cauquenes—and the Orzada Carignan 2012, aged for 10 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. After the 2012 vintage, the Orzada Carignan was no longer aged in oak, making for a juicier, fresher profile.
Freshness is a trademark of Odfjell wines. “Sunshine” was the word that first came to mind after the first sip of the unoaked Orzada Carmenère 2016—I thought the wine felt like a brilliant shaft of sunlight. All the wines have this juicy freshness over a core of rich, ripe fruit. I still remember how the wines were fascinating with what I picked from I’m Angus’s meat-centric menu. Or was it just in my head that the Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was more than pleasant with the ham salad and freshly shaved fennel, and that the rest of the red wines absolutely sang with the duck leg confit and seared duck breast? The wines are bold, well-built without being muscular, deeply flavored and beautifully balanced. Lunch over, I stepped out into the brilliant, sunny afternoon that I thought mirrored the wines’ bright, vivid profiles. These wines are hard to forget.
And Laurence was right. The opened bottles of Carmenère were still up and about and still drinkable on the ninth day.
THE Odfjell wines are imported and distributed by Werdenberg International Corp., and available at all Santis Deli stores.