A rare masterclass in vintages from the Almaviva winery left an audience in Hong Kong in no doubt of Chile’s ability to challenge anywhere in the world. Patrick Schmitt MW reports.
If one were in any doubt about Chile’s ability to craft fine age-worthy red wine then the Almaviva masterclass at Vinexpo Hong Kong would have changed your opinion forever. The wines, a library collection of seven vintages back to 1998, all in magnums, proved that Bordeaux grapes planted in the poor rocky soils of Chile’s Puente Alto can produce something that is powerful, structured and layered in its youth, but also elegant, complex and lingering with maturity. Importantly, the wines, whatever their vintage, were distinctive: Almaviva manages to deliver a style that is hard to replicate, one that stems from Chilean terroir, but also the winemaking traditions of Pauillac. The project was jointly established in 1996 by Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton-Rothschild and Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle of Concha y Toro, Chile’s biggest wine producer.
Today, 20 years since the winery’s foundation, Almaviva has earned a reputation as one of the world’s great wines. But cementing such an image requires truly global exposure, and the Hong Kong event, called ‘The Almaviva Experience’, was designed to properly introduce the Asian market to the particularities of this great Chilean wine, as well as gauge people’s responses to it.
To lead the event, Almaviva invited Ch’ng Poh Tiong, wine judge, consultant and writer, as well as publisher of Asia’s The Wine Review. Ch’ng, enthusing about the opportunity ahead of the panelists and attendees, said at the start of the masterclass: “It is really very rare to sit down and go on a journey with a wine over seven vintages, one third the lifetime of this wine, and it means that we will become the most experienced Almaviva tasters.”
Ch’ng acknowledged that the history of Almaviva is relatively short in the world of wine, but said that this had not diminished its ambitions. Drawing a comparison he said, “America is barely 300 years old and it is such a dynamic country: sometimes it’s not the length of time but the purpose you put behind something that makes it great.”
Mouton-Rothschild and Concha y Toro “came together to produce a very special wine, having sensed that they had the fundamentals to make something great,” Ch’ng told the audience, “but let’s hold our judgment until we taste these wines.”
Turning his attention more broadly to Chile, Ch’ng said that the country was “a very special place for all scholars of wine… and in a sense it is more Bordeaux than Bordeaux.” That, he explained, was because “in the 1860s phylloxera decimated the vineyards of Europe – of course, Bordeaux wasn’t spared, but strangely enough, Chile is so isolated that phylloxera never spread there, and because of that, the original rootstocks of all Bordeaux are now found in Chile.
“It was as though Chile was locked in time… so the rootstocks for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère are more Bordeaux than what you find in Bordeaux. It’s like Kew Gardens: a repository of the plants of the world.”