This estate, which began planting vines in 1993, is located on the southern bank of Chile's northern Limarí Valley, around 400km north of Santiago. About 29km inland from the Pacific ocean, where the average maximum temperature in the hottest month is about 25?C, this is ideal for fine chardonnay and pinot noir. The predominant vegetation is cacti, attesting that this is a desert, with just 90mm of rain a year (Mendoza has 200mm, Santiago 400mm), but it is a cool desert. Despite a series of reservoirs in the Andes, recent years have been very dry, and lack of water may threaten existing vineyards and limit future development.
Vineyards are situated on three sites, comprising 300 hectares of vines in total. The site around the winery was originally poorly planted but viticulturist Héctor Rojas has been analysing the soils and planting in the best ones which often have high levels of active calcium carbonate. The new Espinal vineyards, 25 km from the sea, have been planted to a density of about 7000 vines a hectare, drip irrigated, and planted with excellent clones and French sélections massales of pinot noir and chardonnay from French nursery Guillaume. The first crop of chardonnay appeared in 2013 and is already showing a huge promise. Syrah from near the winery has also been a huge success.
The second site is in the Talinay mountains just about 12km from the coast, with significant wind, which reduces crop at flowering and limits photosynthesis (and so maturity). What is remarkable here is both the very low temperature of about 23?C (the average maximum in the hottest month), which makes this one of the coolest vineyards in Chile, and the so far unique white limestone soil, with some clay, a marine terrace formed from the shells of sea creatures. Pinot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are planted here and make tense, taut mineral wines, very different from anything else produced in Chile. A range made from grapes grown here is labelled Talinay.
The third site is a small experimental site called Rio Hurtado at 1922m above sea level in the mountains. It was planted a couple of years ago, and so far a number of red varieties have been planted. Malbec has been promising but it is early days.
The winery reflects the Molle culture of the pre-Columbian era: during this period, the people used to live at the bottom of ravines to protect themselves from the heat and to be nearer to water supplies, and so Tabalí chose to build its winery in the cool depths of a ravine.
Gifted winemaker Felipe Müller oversees the production of a handful of ranges, from the keenly priced Reserva range, which showcases the elegance and complexity of single varietals (including syrah, chardonnay, viognier and a sweet, late-harvest muscat) to the more premium Reserva Especial range, made from grapes planted on the oldest alluvial terrace of the Limarí river. The wines are fermented in stainless-steel tanks, and aged in new French oak where appropriate, normally for around a year.
Tabalí's top wine is the exquisite Payen, a 100% syrah grown from a small plot of the estate's very best vines, which is fermented in a mixture of stainless steel and French oak, and then aged in oak (90% new) for up to 18 months.
Read our interview with Felipe Müller