Cover Story ｜ 2017 Jul - Aug
Chile Wine Trip Part 1 - HOLA ANDES!
智 利 酒 莊 之 行 Part 1 - 安 第 斯 山 下 的 Cult 風
Chile has been making wines for several centuries, but it was until the 1990s that they started to produce really great wines and being recognized by the global market. Nowadays, even top wine critics were often stunned by the modernization and innovation of Chilean wines.
Thanks to Brandabout who organized this wonderful winery tour, we have the rare chance to explore the modern ecology in Chilean wine industry. The absolute height they reached is evident but what is more interesting are the ultra-new ideas under the magnificent Andes - for example, the cult wine craze inspired from Bordeaux. This time I will introduce some of the remarkable examples which are flourishing on stage.
The Dream Retreat Under. THE CELESTIAL EXPANSES
"Vina Vik is sure the signature cult winery in Chile."
As our vehicle passed through the mountainous area while heading to Vina Vik Hotel, what we sawwere endless boulevard and vineyards at both sides, which occasionally interfered by a cactus or a small fox that came out suddenly. Finally the wheels stopped and I was completely stunned by the dream building in front of us – even looks like Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
This ultra-new concept hotel is designed by Alexandar Vik and Uruguay's top architect Marcelo Daglio. A central Zen-inspired garden is surrounded by all the suites, with public area - galleries, restaurants, lounge and reception are all available just a few steps beyond the centre. The open corridor allows a panoramic view which boost the luxurious ambience without feeling inhibited. What is more breathtaking is the 22 luscious suites that scream design, form, color, and creativity from every corner, with each suite having its own creation, from Japanese shogunate, to Hollywood live to even Hermes. The floor-to-ceiling windows in every suite are bathed in natural light, which you could fly into the unlimited landscape of the valley, the picturesque vineyards and the captivating celestial expanses.
Cristian Vallejo, the winemaker of Vina Vik was the person who served me at the door and explained that this ‘utopian’ project was the dream of Alexander Vik which had come true. The Norwegian billionaire was once a legend in Wall Street – he managed to make his company, Xcelera.com, grow a whopping 74 000 percent on the stock markets in just one year! Mr. Vik, who had nothing to do with wine, was moved by the picturesque landscape of Uruguay while he was travelling in the country. This triggered his determination to construct the world's most beautiful hotel, which he believes was the perfect compliment to the beauty of nature.
He established his hotel kingdom in Uruguay in just afew years - although there were only three branches,but each was stunning enough to make even the toparchitects jealous. He was so dedicated into the hotel industry, while another dream - the winery project -was still in the embryonic stage.
It was in 2004 while Vik decided to spend years with Patrick Valette, the former co-owner of Château Pavie and now the head oenologist of Vina Vik, in search of an optimum terroir in South America. They examined a dozen of locations and finally pick the Millahue (means place of gold in native Mapuche language) on the north side of Apalta valley in Chile.
I was not fortunate enough to meet Mr. Vik in person, but still I could feel his tremendous aspiration from the fact that he purchased the whole Millahue valley covering 4,300-hectare and hired a team of 450 people to serve for only one ultra-premium wine in Chile.
The cultivation of vines in Vina Vik was started in 2007, with five typical French grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, all vine are grafted. By doing so, the optimal root could be used to suit with particular soil composition. The high planting density, i.e 8,500 per hectare helps to promote the growth root.
Christian offered me the third vintage of Vina Vik – 2011, perhaps the most expensive wine made in Chile today which sold at US$140. Its components of 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 29 percent Carménère, 4 percent Syrah, 7 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Merlot. It was an extreme concentrated wine with a concrete backbone and robust tannins. It is reminiscent of top Bordeaux right bank, even more structured than Chateau Pavie, but the unique personality derived from CarmОnПre lead to a variant conclusion from Bordeaux blends. The unusual addition of the Syrah brings out a higher fruit component, while the Merlot softens the wine. Vina Vik 2011 is the best counter example for anyone insisted that young vines do not produce world-class wines!
THE SINGING ANGEL IN CHILE
On the opposite side of the Colchagua valley, Vina Montes is located in the notorious Apalta – two wineries out of so called ‘big 4’ are located in Apalta, which includes Vina Montes. The prospective of the winery is quite international yet it is one of a few top-notch wineries in Chile who was soley invested and owned by Chilean. From its establishment in 1987, Montes relied only on Chilean capital – they don’t even hire celebrity consultant from Bordeaux like the others do (the head oenologist Aurelio Montes was once awarded the best winemaker in Chile), but instead they introduce a little Chinese Feng Shui element in its architect design. This is why I call it cult.
Some dozens of metre behind the signboard, we saw the wooden bridge leaping across a mini-lake, where Dennis Murray, the export manager of Montes, has long welcomed us. According to him, the architectural design and layout of Montes include the “Feng Shui” theory from China, such as the flow of water embodies that of money; and the fountain at the center of the winery symbolizes the sun and the moon, which connects the building and the outer universe. Although I do not believe “Feng Shui”, I was quite interested in the Angel sound constantly echoed in its underground cellar. Does it make the wine more elegant?
The three signature expressions of Montes vary greatly in their composition of grape varieties. Born in 1999, Montes Alpha M was considered the first premium wine in Chile which somewhat paved the way for its Bordeaux-like style. The very typical black currant and blackberry aromas and the perfect harmony of oak, which combine and lead to a thick but elegant wine with evident finish. Montes Folly was a 100% Syrah in which the grapes come from the top of the slope. This leads to a wonderful balance regardless of the high alcohol. The low-yield Folly is rich and robust, which deserves its fame of Chile’s first premium Syrah. The Purple Angel, which is Carménère-dominated, performed extremely well as its name suggested, while the rich blackberry and violet notes reminded us both the divinity and charm of ‘Purple Angel’, and the peppers, capsicum and soft and sweet tannins made it to the feminine end when compared to her brothers.
Besides, I have also tasted two wines form another series called Montes Outer Limits, one Sauvignon Blanc and one Pinot Noir. The term Outer Limits suggested the grapes are planted beyond Apalta, and were actually from a region called Zapallar Coast in Acongahua. The clay loam, granite soils offer moderate drainage and the sea breeze from Pacific retains lively acidity and encourages aromatic characters of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
HALF FRENCH, HALF CHILEAN
I talked about Cabernet Sauvignon with my winemaker friend, who thought Maipo of Chile offered one of the three best terroirs (the other two were Bordeaux and Margaret river) to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. I think this was quite insightful but not yet precise enough, especially after my visit to Almaviva.
Maipo is the traditional wine producing area of 1Chile. The hot and dry summer here was recognized the best region in Chile offering perfect terroir for producing Cabernet Sauvignon, except that the temperature may be slightly too high and acidity was sometime a concern. Being the highest point (Puente Alto at 650m) of the whole Maipo, Almaviva is strongly influenced by the snow-capped Andes, which makes the region the coolest area in Maipo. This is the X-factor that Almaviva stands out from the usual Maipo reds.
Almaviva is a joint-venture project of Château Mouton Rothschild and Concha y Toro, the largest winery in Chile. Therefore it’s not hard to imagine the Bordeaux DNA inherited in their wines. However Michel Friou, the current head oenogist, reminded that there was a risk of overripe for growing Merlot in Chile so he would only add up to 2% in the blend and sometimes even nil. On the other hand, they included Petit Verdot every year since 2010.
The vertical tasting encompassed the debut vintage of 1996, 2001, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2014. 1996 has the highest proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and exudes the most complex aromas. It showed a floral scent and showed the tendency of dried fruits. The mid palate is rich with leather, tobacco, truffles, and a hint of pine forest. 2010 is a special year to Chilean wines because it has suffered from the huge earthquake. The irrigation system was once stopped. This was also the first year Petit Verdot was used in the blend, which contributes to the bitter notes of vanilla and mint.
Michel commented the 2017 vintage as a qualitative but not a productive year. "The rain in the spring lead to coulure. The above normal temp in summer was balanced by cold influence from Andes, which slowed the maturation period and kept it fresh."
星空下的治瘛幻境 Vina Vik
「如果要數智利最Cult的酒莊，Vina Vik絕對當之無愧。 」
這座超新概念酒店，是由Vina Vik莊主Alexandar Vik和烏拉圭著名建築師Marcelo Daglio設計。酒店圍繞著一個具禪宗意味的花園中心庭院，以及按照七星級酒店標準設計的公共空間——畫廊、餐廳、休憩館和接待處都在此，開放式的循環通道，透明的全景視野，讓人感覺奢華而沒有任何壓逼感。
接待我的釀酒師Cristian Vallejo解說，這個近乎人間烏托式的酒莊暨酒店項目是Alexander Vik的夢想。這位來自挪威的資本家座擁國際科網企業，股價曾於一年內爆升700倍，蔚為華爾街一大傳奇。本業跟酒毫無關連的Vik，在一次前往烏拉圭的旅途中戀上當地的絕美景致，因而觸發了他打造世間最美的酒店的決心。Vik認為，這是作為對絕美自然的完美禮贊。
他以短短幾年時間，在烏拉圭創立了他的酒店王國 —— 雖然只有3家分號，但每一項都是驚世之作，足以讓最頂尖的建築家嫉妒不已。他的熱情幾乎全盤傾注在酒店業，而他的另一個夢想 —— 釀酒事業 —— 還處於醞釀階段。
時為2004年，Vik攜同Château Pavie前任莊主Patrick Valette花了兩年時間在南美物色開墾葡萄園理想之地。他們考察了十多個地點，最終敲定了智利Apalta山谷北面的Millahue(原始馬普切語，意為黃金之地)山谷。雖然這次我未有幸碰上莊主Vik，卻能感受到他跟釀酒師的豪情壯志。當年他二話不說購入了整片佔地4,300公頃的Millahue山谷，聘請一支450人的團隊，只為釀出一款智利曠古爍今的好酒。
2007年起Vina Vik開始在山谷種植CabernetSauvignon、Carménère 、Merlot、Syrah和Cabernet Franc，跟其他莊園不同，Vik所有的葡萄苗都為嫁接苗——Patrick認為，每一種土壤應該採用相對應的嫁接苗，才能種植出更完美的葡萄；再配合每公頃8,500株的種植密度，以促進葡萄藤根部生長。
Christian 給我試了Vina Vik 的第三個年份2011，55% Cabernet Sauvignon、 29%Carménère、4%Syrah、7%Cabernet Franc及5%Merlot，那可能是智利目前最昂貴的一支酒，索價140美金。她的果香極為集中、擁有精緻骨架及紮實單寧的精品佳釀，結構讓人想起最高端的Bordeaux右岸，甚至比起Pavie更為札實，但Carménère的獨特個性讓你能從Bordeaux中分辨出來，Syrah強調了她的果性，而Merlot則讓其更柔和。如果有人認為年輕的葡萄藤釀不出世界級的好酒，Vina Vik 2011年就是最佳的反證。
南美天使 Vina Montes
同樣座落Colchagua Valley、山谷的另一邊是翠綠而「地靈酒傑」的阿爾帕塔——被稱為智利四天王的其中兩個酒莊都在這個山中，Vina Montes是其中之一。它的釀酒理念雖然很有國際視野，但背景上卻是純正本土。從1987年創立、開發至改革，Montes都沒有「勾結外國勢力」，甚至拒絕效法一眾智利酒莊般從波爾多高薪挖角星級名師，而選擇全然靠智利人的資本(其總釀酒師Aurelio Montes更曾被選為智利最佳釀酒師)，或者在建築上還滲入一點中國元素。這正是我認為Montes的Cult處。
「Montes三寶」主打的葡萄品種各異，級數相近但各有千秋。1999年面世、傳統波酒結構的Montes Alpha M可說是奠定智利波酒風格之作，經典的黑醋栗與黑莓香氣，橡木融合得極為恰當，酒體厚重而優雅柔順，結尾悠長；其兄弟作Montes Folly，100% Syrah來自山頂坡度最大的田，具成熟漿果氣息與香草味，偏高的酒精度卻能保持平衡，極低的產量造就其濃郁和耐嚼，難怪被譽為智利第一款頂級西拉；而以Carménère為骨幹的Purple Angel一如其名，黑莓、紫羅蘭等味道令人聯想起紫色帶著微醺解放的嫵媚天使，夾雜點青椒、胡椒、雲呢拿等，單寧偏向柔和甜美。
三寶以外，我也試了未見過的Montes Outer Limits系列，一款Sauvignon Blanc一款Pinot Noir。所謂Outer Limits，是指葡萄採自Apalta以外，較接近海洋的另一大區Acongahua之Zapallar Coast，那裡的黏質壤土、花崗岩疏水度適中，海風保留了葡萄活潑的酸度，Sauvignon Blanc及Pinot Noir都具濃郁芳香，酒體平衡。
一半法國 一半智利 Almaviva
旅途中跟某釀酒師朋友談及Cabernet Sauvignon，他認為世界上最適合種植Cabernet Sauvignon的地方，除了波爾多左岸以外，就只有澳洲的Magaret River及智利的Maipo。這種結論頗有見地，不過還未道出全部真相，尤其經歷這趟Almaviva之行後。
Almaviva由智利最大酒廠Concha y Toro與波爾多一級莊Château Mouton Rothschild 聯營，每年只出一款正莊酒。不難想像，他們的酒內有著波爾多的基因。現任法國釀酒師Michel Friou提到，智利種植的Merlot有過熟的風險，因此他最多只會加進1%至2%，有時甚至不採用；反而Petit Verdot在2010年
垂直品試了1996、2001、2007、2010、2013及2014六個年份。當中1996年是Almaviva的首個年份，Cabernet Sauvignon比例最高，也是最為複雜，花香幽雅，開始有乾果傾向，中段層次豐富，帶皮革、煙絲、松露、松樹林的味道；2010年是特別的一年，因智利經歷了世紀大地震，灌溉系統曾一度停止，此外這年也是Petit Verdot首次亮相的年份，果味背後隱約透著雲呢拿、薄荷的甘苦，記載著智利人的集體回憶。