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."