MW Chile trip in pictures
From 17-23 November, 30 Masters of Wine took a tour of Chile, covering more than 2000km by road and air, tasting over 200 different wines, and working their way through well over 7,000 glasses.
The arrival: Passing over the Andes on the last leg of the flight from London to Santiago, it was apparent quite how little snowfall there has been over the recent winter, with precipitation around 80% below average levels.
Day 1: Sunday 17 – Concha y Toro: Don Melchor Experience. Following an introduction to Chile by local wine writer Patricio Tapia, the MWs met with Don Melchor winemaker Enrique Tirada, who talked them through seven vintages spanning 30 years of the pioneering fine wine from Chile, from the inaugural ’87 vintage, to the latest release from the 2017 harvest.
The tasting, which took place at Concha y Toro’s historic HQ in Maipo, was preceded by a tour of the nineteenth century ‘Don Melchor Casona’ manor house, featuring this portrait of the man, who brought Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux to Chile in the 1880s, and founded Concha y Toro, which is now the largest wine company in Chile by a significant margin, producing around 33 million cases annually (the second biggest Chile wine group, VSPT, makes around 7m cases annually).
Lunch followed, where Isabel Guilisasti, whose family have a majority shareholding in Concha y Toro, expressed her gratitude to the MWs for visiting Chile “during these difficult days”, referring to the social and political unrest in Santiago.
She also said, “We are so proud to celebrate this 30th anniversary with you”, while revealing that from the 2017 vintage the brand is being called Viña Don Melchor to reflect the fact it was “one winery, one wine”. As lunch drew to a close she served the MWs a sweet fortified ‘Licor Don Melchor’ from the 2003 vintage. With 79g/l residual sugar and 20% abv, and masses of rich, raisined black fruit, it was similar in style to vintage Port. With just 810 bottles produced, it is reserved only for the family and their guests.
Day 2: Las Majadas – a hotel and conference venue in the Maipo was the setting for the second day of the tour, where the day began with a seminar climate change, led by Dr Olga Barbosa from Chile’s Austral University, who outlined how the wine industry could play an important role in preventing a mass species extinction.
After coffee and cake, we had a tasting of the ‘extreme’ wines of Chile, and then a presentation from MOVI (Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes), followed by a tasting and picnic in the gardens of Las Majadas (meaning ‘sheep pen’, which was somewhat apt considering Wines of Chile was herding 30 MWs through the Maipo).
The ‘Santa Rita Experience’ came next, starting with a tour of the wine group’s estate in the Maipo Andes sub region of Alto Jahuel, where Sebastián Labbé, winemaker for the company’s top wines, including its icon label, Casa Real, poured us a range of samples atop this rocky outcrop.
He also spoke of a massive replanting scheme for almost 500 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon at the estate, telling db, “It is definitely the most important single project with Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile.” Due to the political unrest in the country preceding and during the visit, the MWs were accompanied by private security, and hence these figures among the vines.
Two seminars ensued, one considering Chile’s top wines over a 20 year span, and the other on Cabernet Sauvignon sub-zones, led by Concha y Toro’s Marcelo Papa and Santa Rita’s Labbé.
Among the wines sampled were Almaviva 1998, Casa Real 1995, Montes Alpha M 1996, and Casa Lapastolle Merlot 1999, compared with current releases from the same producers, in a tasting designed to show not only the age-worthiness of Chile’s top labels, but also the stylistic changes over the past two decades.
Day 3: Cachapoal Valley. Arriving in Cachapoal Andes, this was the striking setting of a masterclass and blind tasting on the top wines from Cachapoal at Viña San Pedro’s property in the region.
A winery visit saw the MWs taste barrel samples of Viña San Pedro’s ultimate expression, called Altair, named after the Aquila constellation’s brightest star.
Pictured deep within a soil pit is Gabriel Mustakis, who is chief winemaker for the high-end wines of Viña San Pedro: Altaïr, Cabo de Hornos Sideral, Kankana del Elqui and Tierras Moradas.
His lesson on the soils of Cachapoal Andes was disrupted by the arrival of this furry vineyard resident, Chile’s ‘harmless’ Chicken Spider.
This giant stone sculpture once housed a bottle of Altaïr from the top-end wine’s inaugural vintage, but sadly got broken in the earthquake of 2015. Richard Kershaw MW appears intrigued.
Lunch at the winery was lavish, and finished with this extremely sugary and creamy pudding – the Chileans certainly have a sweet tooth.
Next the MWs were taken to Cachapoal’s Vik Winery, named after its Norwegian founder, Alexander Vik, who has built a steel-clad hotel high on a hill, resembling a stranded space-ship when seen from afar. Normally the view from the terrace and infinity pool would be of water, but the lake that once filled this valley has almost entirely dried out – another example of the impact of what some winemakers said has been an almost unbroken 10-year drought in the country.
Chief winemaker Cristián Vallejo took us deep into the barrel cellars of the vast modernist Vik winery, where some of Alexander Vik’s artworks are displayed.
Then it was time for another seminar, this time on ‘respecting terroir’, led by Luca Hodgkinson, who has his own label called Wildmakers, but also helps other wineries with soil management to maximise vine health and wine quality.
Day 4: Colchagua / Curicó. The following day began at Vina Montes, where Aurelio Montes junior gave us a brief tasting of the Montes range after telling us about the inspiration for the Chilean flag: the white represents the snow of the Andes, the blue is for Chile’s clear skies, the star is to state that the country is one state, and the red represents the blood of Chilean soldiers who fought for independence from Spain. As he concluded the seminar, he mentioned a pioneering vineyard plantation by Montes 1,200km south of Santiago on the “magical” Patagonian island of Chiloé.
Taina Vilkuna MW took inspiration from the Montes Angel, an emblem used for the winery’s Purple Angel series.
This was our most extravagant lunch yet, laid on at the Montes’ restaurant, which was created a couple of years ago in partnership with celebrity South American chef, Francis Mallmann, who is famous for grilling food on open fires. Called Fuegos de Apalta, it sits within the vines behind the Montes winery.
And Mallmann flew in to join us for lunch at this, his only restaurant in Chile. Addressing the MWs, he said, “The only reason to have wine and food is to have better conversation, and if the wine and the food is good, so much the better, but the true reason is to sit down and share thoughts.” He is pictured here with Wines of Chile director, Angelica Valenzuela.
‘Carmenere Sub-zones from Rapel’ was the topic of the ensuing seminar, which was held within the restaurant. Presenting wines at the event was founder of Clos de Luz winery, Gabriel Edwards, who showed his Carmenere from Puemo at the tasting, which taken from vines planted in 1945, although here he is pictured here with his first-rate Grenache – proof that Mediterranean grapes are perfectly suited to Chilean terroir.
Later that afternoon we headed to Casa Silva in Curicó, where we gathered alongside this historic Sauvignon Gris plantation.
Before Mario Pablo Silva led a seminar called ‘Not only Carmenere lives in Colchagua’.
And then hosted an extraordinary evening complete with a skills display from Chilean polo players and a performance of traditional Chilean music from local children.
Among the dishes served later that evening was the ‘discada’, named after the large disc-shaped pan used to boil the ingredients.
There was plenty of grilled meat too, even though it had only been a matter of hours since the Mallmann flamed steaks and lamb had been served…
The evening ended with karaoke bravely begun by Kate McIntyre MW, setting in motion a trend to finish following dinners in a similar vein.
Day 5: Itata. After a very early flight to Concepción, we began the day with a seminar on Old Vines, including a Pais from a producer called Cacique Maravilla, based in Bio Bio, which the winemaker, Manuel Moraga said was 253 years old, having been registered at his family’s farm back in 1776.
It was then a long bus journey to Guarilihue in Itata, where Leonardo Erazu introduced the MWs to the specifics of the region, comparing his quality classification of the area to the crus of Beaujolais. Erazu has been making wines from ancient vineyards in Itata under the label ‘Rogue Vine’, but is a relative newcomer to the area.
“The first vines were planted here in 1551, and you can find vines that can be over 300 years old, but the area of vines is shrinking as the older people are retiring and the younger generation don’t want to take over,” he said. “There are no tractors here, everything is done by hand or horse, it is very hard work,” he added.
Producers of the area came out to show the MWs a selection of typical wines from the area, many of them based on Pais, which was introduced to Chile in the 1550s. Today, fewer than 8,000 hectares remain in Chile, although there were more than 15,000ha at the turn of this century.
An early dinner was generously laid on by the producers.
Among the empanadas were options for those with food allergies.
And this was the makeshift loo set up by Leonardo and his team. This visit showed another side to the Chilean wine scene, and made a sharp contrast to the concrete chic of Vik, or Montes-Mallmann meat feast.
Day 6: Casablanca Valley. Biodynamic Veramonte winery played host to a morning spent discovering ‘Cool Climate Wines’. Pictured above are a trio of South American wine experts, from Argentina’s only MW, Marina Gayan MW (left) to Sweden’s Malbec specialist Madeleine Stenwreth MW and Angelica Valenzuela from Wines of Chile.
More grilled food ensued, with the Wines of Chile team caught behind the roasting veg as lunch began. (left to right) Anita Jackson, Angelica and Claudia Soler.
This is what they do to pumpkins in Chile.
Surprising the MWs was the lunchtime appearance of Spain’s Mauricio González-Gordon y Díez, who is head of the sherry and wine business González Byass, which bought Veramonte in 2016 – marking the group’s first venture outside Spain.
Staying within Casablanca, but moving on from Veramonte, we visited another biodynamic producer, Matetic, where we were shown the different preparations used to treat the vines.
Of course no visit to a biodynamic producer is complete without handling at least one cow horn.
And on this occasion I was also made to dig my own soil pit.
It was then time for another seminar, this time on Sauvignon Blanc, where producers proved there’s little need for PowerPoint.
Matetic also laid on dinner at their restaurant, even though the owner’s daughter was getting married at the same place the following day.
Apparently strawberries from the cool climate of San Antonio are Chile’s best, and were delicious served on ice with a generous sprinkling of rock salt.
Day 7: Don Maximiano Estate. The final day saw the MWs hosted by Errázuriz, where they were taken on a tour of the Don Maximiano Estate by the group’s owner, Eduardo Chadwick.
After the tour, Chadwick gave a presentation on ‘the evolution of fine wines’, and then presented his collection of top-end brands in a magnificent tasting comprising young and old vintages of Chilean greats such as Don Maximiano 1989, Sena 1996, Chadwick 2000. After the sampling was over, one MW pointed out that the value of the brands poured represented almost $2,000.
Felipe muller from Vina Tabali and Errázuriz head winemaker Francisco Baettig also presented a set of impressive wines during a seminar on Aconcagua and the Northern Valleys, while Eduardo showed the MWs a framed photograph from the first official MW trip to Chile, back in 1989.
Which can be compared with the one this year, which was in fact the third in MW history, with one further taking place in 2009, led by the late Michael Cox, who was former director of Wines of Chile UK.
The final dinner of the tour saw us descend on the Torres restaurant in the heart of Santiago, where Torres treated us to Chile’s priciest Pinot, from magnums. This, the 2013 vintage, marked the first release from the Torres Empedrado vineyard.
The evening was then made complete, once again, by some karaoke. This time it was a group effort by (left to right): Tim Jackson MW, Paul Tudor MW, Lydia Harrison MW, and Jonas Tofterup MW.