Hola, Señor Pedro Ximenez!

When you saw the name “Pedro Ximenez,” what did you think? Let me guess …

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If you know this grape variety at all, you likely associate it with an offbeat style of Sherry that uses this grape to produce an ultra-sweet dessert wine so thick and sugary that you can make a nice dessert by pouring it over vanilla ice cream.

It’s not a bad choice, either, if you’re looking for something comforting to sip by the fire on a cold winter night. But it’s not winter now, not in the Northern Hemisphere, and most certainly not in this part of the world where the daily high temperature has been flirting with the 100ºF mark and seems likely to keep on doing so.

So who’d want a Pedro Ximenez right now? Well, me, and you too, maybe, but not a rich dark Sherry. This week’s featured wine, Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximenez from northern Chile’s arid Elqui Valley, is a delicious, dry white wine that’s fresh enough for summertime and interesting enough to be worth more than casual quaffing.

How did this Spanish grape get from Jerez to the mountains of Chile? It’s actually a well traveled variety. The grape’s legendary origin story traces it back to the Canary Islands, from where it was supposedly taken to Germany’s Rhine Valley in the early 16th century. It came back to Spain and to Sherry’s Jerez a couple of centuries later, this pretty legend asserts, by a German soldier named Peter Siemens … whose name in Spanish translation becomes Pedro Ximénez!

More recent DNA studies tell another, perhaps less interesting story, according to Sur in English, a magazine that covers Southern Spain: “A DNA study by the Julius Kühn Institute showed that it is related to the grapes introduced by the Arabs in Al Andalus.”

Although Pedro Ximenez isn’t a particularly well-known grape, it’s still fairly widely planted in Spain, with other plantings in Argentina, Chile and Australia. Outside Sherry it’s mostly used as a blending grape or to make a light, forgettable white wine. In Chile, a lot of goes into pisco, a rather raw grape brandy that’s also popular in Peru.

Nestled in a valley in the Andes foothills, Chile's Elqui Valley vineyards form a green spot near one of Earth's driest deserts.

Nestled in a valley in the Andes foothills, Chile’s Elqui Valley vineyards form a green spot near one of Earth’s driest deserts.

Much of Chile’s pisco is made with Pedro Ximenez grapes grown in the Elqui Valley, a green ribbon along the southern edge of one of the dryest strips of desert on Earth. Because the valley is so dry and its skies so clear, reported The Guardian in a July 2019 story headlined Chile’s mystical Elqui valley and its sky full of stars, it is home not only to vineyards but to some of the world’s most modern and high-tech observatories.

“By 2020,” The Guardian wrote, “this grape-filled valley (along with the greater Atacama desert) will have an estimated 70% of the world’s astronomy infrastructure, thanks to its high altitudes, low population density and near non-existent cloud cover. As more scientists move to Elqui’s space-age facilities so do everyday astro-tourists in the hope of gazing at the heavens.

“The International Dark-Sky Association declared Elqui valley the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015 due to the unrivalled purity of its skies.”

Not loath to take advantage of this reputation to label its wine, Viña Mayu’s producers fill its label with this declaration: “Bright days, cold nights, and the world’s clearest skies – Chile’s northern Elqui valley is a desert oasis for stargazing and winemaking. Discover the taste of the Milky Way, what the ancient Incans called Mayu. Drink the Stars.” The accompanying images features an observatory and a stylized Milky Way.

The wine is fresh, crisp, balanced, and surprisingly complex for a bottle that sells in the $15 range and often on sale for less. Serve it chilled, but not too chilled, so as not to diminish its flavor, and enjoy it soon. While you’re sipping, try to pronounce it! It’s not easy, and the details may vary a little depending on whether you say it in Castilian Spanish, the Spanish of Jerez in Andalusia, Chilean Spanish, or just go with “Pay-dro Hee-MAY-ness” in Spanish-American Spanglish. To hear it with an Andalusian accent, try this short YouTube link.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Viña Mayu 2020 Huanta Vineyard Valle de Elqui Chile Pedro Ximenez ($14.99)

Viña Mayu Pedro Ximenez

In relatively rare use of this white grape that’s usually destined for sweet Sherry, Viña Mayu Valle de Elqui Chile Pedro Ximenez is a refreshing, food-friendly dry white wine that’s especially suited for summer enjoyment. Its clear, light straw color adds a pretty brassy hue. Delicious citric aromas of lemon-lime and tangerine are apparent at first, with hints of wildflowers and beeswax playing behind the citrus fruit. It’s bright, acidic, and dry on the palate, with citrus flavors following the nose, and hints of stony minerality and peach pit bitterness appearing in a medium-long finish. It’s fermented and aged briefly in stainless steel, so it’s free of oak character, but aging on the yeast lees imparts desirable complexity. 12.5%alcohol. U.S. importer: Vine Connections, Sausalito, Calif. (June 18, 2022)

FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests pairing it with seafood and shellfish, and that’s good advice. It will go pretty much anywhere that a dry white is welcome, and was just right with bucatini and pesto.

WHEN TO DRINK: Its acidity and a sturdy screwcap should keep it appealing for a few years, but it’s not a cellar keeper. I suggest drinking it young and fresh.

My local price matches Wine-Searcher.com’s $15 average U.S. retail. It’s a good buy in the middle teens. It’s widely available for as low as $10, though, so check Wine-Searcher and shop around if you can.

Here’s a link to the winery’s information page about Mayu Pedro Ximenez.

Check prices and find vendors for Viña Mayu Valle de Elqui Chile Pedro Ximenez on Wine-Searcher.com.

Read more about Chile’s Elqui Valley and browse dozens of wines of the region at this Wine-Searcher link.

Wine Focus June 2022: Rosé All Day!

International Rosé Day is June 24, so we are going pink for the entire month. Rosé from anywhere is part of the Focus. Provence, California, South Africa, Colorado, New York, Spain, Italy, wherever, even Champagne. Rosé is warm-weather and outdoor-dining friendly. If it gets too hot outside, just put an extra chill on it.

Join the conversation in Rosé All Day month, June 2022!


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