Icon wines: setting the bar
A select band of producers in Chile and Argentina offer wines acknowledged as the pinnacle of what’s possible in their locations. Yet cult status still has to be earned, says Anthony Rose
What’s A South American icon? Easy: a wine that comes wrapped in pretty tissue paper. Yes, such a superficial view is, of course, nonsense, yet the i-word is bandied about so freely that overuse can all too easily lead to a devaluation of the coinage.
Almost by definition, any wine that has icon status conferred on it by its own producer is not an icon. As Achaval Ferrer’s Julio Lasmartres puts it, the status of icon is ‘not something that you can name by your own judgement, but a recognition which can only be given to you by customers, trade and press’.
There can be many interpretations of the extent to which a wine is an icon. According to Liv-ex director Justin Gibb, for instance: ‘Liv-ex indices only track prices for wines with significant secondary market activity, and [south American] wines have not yet achieved this.’ Rating wines according to three categories – quality, brand strength and economic performance – Wine Lister rates Chile’s top wine as Almaviva, followed by Don Melchor and five others. Argentina’s number one spot goes to Nicolás Catena Zapata, followed by Cheval des Andes and a further eight after that.
An individual expression of terroir is the sine qua non of an icon, and along with it, legitimacy, prestige, longevity and recognition by the market, although the weighting to be applied to each may vary. Leading by example, Catena has forged its icon status in Argentina thanks to the remarkable vision of its owner, Nicolás Catena. Much the same can be said of Eduardo Chadwick’s Viñedo Chadwick in Chile. seña with Mondavi, Almaviva with Mouton, Clos Apalta with Marnier Lapostolle and Cheval des Andes with Cheval Blanc are the highest-class expressions of the dovetailing of two cultures.
The consistent track record of Chile’s Don Melchor and Casa Real confers a genuine, home-grown legitimacy on these two stalwarts of the Chilean wine industry. In the cases of Argentina’s Noemía, Chacra and Achaval Ferrer, an ancient vineyard, coupled with European prestige, has resulted in remarkable wines. By corollary, the relative youth of Paul hobbs’ Cobos Malbec Chañares Vineyard and Zuccardi’s Piedra Infinita gives them both icon-in-the-making status.
‘An individual expression of terroir is the sine qua non of an icon’
First vintage 1996 Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot
Average annual production 11,670-15,000 cases
Almaviva celebrated its official 20th birthday this year, after Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and Viña Concha y Toro’s Eduardo Guilisasti decided to create an exceptional Maipo Valley red from 40ha (hectares) of Bordeaux varieties (now 60ha) planted in 1978 in the poor, gravelly soils of Puente Alto. The moderating influence of the Andes here allows the grapes to maintain their freshness as they ripen slowly and late.
Hitching France’s savoir-faire and traditions to Chile’s natural resources, a winery was built for Almaviva a decade later. With selective harvests in micro-zones and improved technology at reception, the focus has been on greater elegance and finesse. ‘We are aware of the potential for abuse of the word “icon”,’ says Almaviva’s head, Michel Friou, ‘so we prefer to borrow the French concept of grand cru.’ Baron Philippe de Rothschild & Concha y Toro, Almaviva, Puente Alto, Maipo, Chile 2014 95 £80-£93.33 Altus, Berry Bros & Rudd, Fine & Rare, Frazier’s, Hedonism, Jeroboams, Laithwaite’s, Millésima, Penistone Wine Cellars The seductively concentrated cassis fruit is framed by stylish oak and such suave, silky tannins that it’s almost ready now. Drink 2018-2030 Alcohol 14.5%
First vintage 1997 Blend Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Petit Verdot
Average annual production 2,500-12,000 cases
It took just a few harvests before the Marnier Lapostolle family realised the potential of the Apalta terroir after founding its Colchagua winery in 1994. An excellent 1997 vintage led to a special bottling, and Clos Apalta was born. The grapes are sourced from two blocks of old Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1920 and 1940, along with Merlot planted on hillside vineyards from 1997. In 2005 Clos Apalta was given its own gravity-flow winery, with hand-destemming and fermentation in small French oak vats. In 2008, the Apalta vineyard was certified organic and in 2011 biodynamic. ‘The philosophy is simple,’ says Charles de Bournet Marnier-Lapostolle: ‘to make world-class wines using our French know-how of generations in wine and spirit production, together with the unique Chilean terroir.’ Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile 2014 94 £ 56 Fine & Rare
With cedar and liquorice spicy aromas, this supple-textured, richly concentrated red is fleshed out by powerful, cassis opulence framed by a reprise of polished French oak and supported by a muscular structure. Drink 2018-2027 Alc 15%
First vintage 1999 Blend 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Average annual production 400-1,000 cases
Viñedo Chadwick springs from what was once a polo field set up by Eduardo Chadwick’s father, Alfonso, on an old terrace of the Maipo river. Put to alternative use, the 15ha at Puente Alto were planted in 1992 to the usual Bordeaux suspects. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine is aged for 22 months in French oak and Stockinger foudres.
Frustrated by a lack of recognition, Eduardo organised the Berlin Tasting on 23 January 2004: a milestone for Chilean fine wine. Led by Steven Spurrier and René Gabriel, the panel vindicated Chadwick by placing Viñedo Chadwick 2000 first and Seña 2001 second, above 2000 Lafite, 2001 Margaux and 2000 Latour (see Wine Legends, p146).
Go to Viña Errazuriz today and you can visit The Berlin Room, a shrine to Berlin, and to polo. ‘It’s the market demand that has positioned this wine as the most expensive Chilean offering,’ says Eduardo Chadwick.
Errazuriz, Viñedo Chadwick, Puente Alto,
Maipo Valley, Chile 2015 94 £ 285 (2014) Available via UK importer Hatch Mansfield Tinged with classic Maipo herb, mint and cedary oak, there’s a sinewy texture about this bright, Cabernet-based blend with its enthusiastically adolescent mulberry and cherry fruit quality and peppery undertones. Drink 2017-2027 Alc 13.5%
First vintage 1987 Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (in vintages since 2009)
Average annual production 13,500 cases Ask any wine lover on the streets of Santiago for the name of a great Chilean red and chances are they’ll come up with Concha y Toro’s much-loved Don Melchor. Twenty-eight vintages under winemaker Enrique Tirado’s belt testify to one of the oldest stories of any South American icon. Planted at 650m at Puente Alto, Don Melchor vineyard’s 127ha are zoned for their varied expression of the terroir into six parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon and one of Cabernet Franc, with a little Merlot and Petit Verdot. The cooling influence of
‘Market demand has positioned Viñedo Chadwick as the most expensive Chilean offering’ Eduardo Chadwick
the Andes, with its wide day-night oscillations in temperature, combines with the freedraining, gravelly, silty soils of the Maipo river’s third alluvial terrace. The result is even ripening, pure fruit, fresh acidity and fine, balanced tannins. Concha y Toro, Don Melchor, Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile 2014 92 £60 Harrods Vanillin oak and dark cherry in an opulent mouthful of cassis and black cherry richness. Sinewy tannins moderated by a refreshing counterpoint of acidity, just starting to soften. Drink 2017-2027 Alc 14.5%
First vintage 1995 Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc Average annual production 4,000-6,000 cases A joint venture between Viña Errazuriz and Robert Mondavi in 1995, Seña became wholly owned by Eduardo Chadwick’s Errazuriz in 2005. His belief in Seña as a terroir wine led him to introduce biodynamic viticulture in the same year. A Bordeaux-style blend, Seña is sourced from a 43ha mountain vineyard in the Aconcagua Valley. Precisely monitored for optimum harvesting date, the vineyard is characterised by warm sunny days and cool nights, hence ideal ripening conditions for a long hang-time of nearly 140 days. Maturation for 22 months in French oak and Stockinger foudres moderates the unique expression of Aconcagua’s intensity with the desired textural finesse. Chadwick’s series of vertical blind tastings held around the world cemented Seña’s place in the Chilean hall of fame. Errazuriz, Seña, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2015 94 £ 124 (2014) Available via UK importer Hatch Mansfield Subtle smoke and chocolate powder character lie behind vivid, plump, fleshy mulberry fruit, supported by a slim veneer of toffee and vanilla oak whose youthful, sinewy tannins frame an appetisingly savoury finish. Drink 2017-2028 Alc 13.5%
First vintage 1989 Blend 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Average annual production 2,500 cases Santa Rita’s Casa Real is made from the low-yielding 20ha oasis of Carneros Viejo vineyards planted in 1960 in Alto Jahuel at 527m above sea level. Since 1989, it has been produced every year except 1992, 2000 and 2006. The clay content of the old alluvial terraces of Carneros Viejo allows the vines to ripen slowly and consistently with finesse. ➢
‘Our aim is to create the same vision and style in Mendoza as at Château Cheval Blanc’ Lorenzo Pasquini, Cheval des Andes
In the semi-arid Mediterranean climate, daytime warmth is maintained until the evening when cooler air drifts in from the Andes to keep the grapes fresh and allow a long, slow ripening process. Winemaking is traditional, with the aim of extracting maximum expression of the terroir. After 25 years of masterminding Casa Real, winemaker Cecilia Torres has this year handed the reins over to Sebastián Labbé. Santa Rita, Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial, Alto Jahuel, Maipo Valley,
Chile 2013 92 £ 35-£40 Amazon, Waitrose, Winedirect Showing scents of liquorice and vanilla spice, the fleshy, full-bodied black fruit middle is smoothly textured and supported by a firmer structure of fine tannins and firm acidity than is immediately apparent. Drink 2017-2025 Alc 14%
ARGENTINA Zuccardi, Piedra Infinita
First vintage 2012 100% Malbec Average annual production 300 cases While Zuccardi has ploughed a historic Malbec furrow in the lower-altitude, highervolume Santa Rosa region in Mendoza’s east, father and son José and Sebastián decided on a project in the Uco Valley in 2002. Finca Piedra Infinita was purchased and planted in 2007 at 1,000m in the Altamira area; work on a new winery began in 2013. Aiming to express the typicity of the rocky, alluvial soils, they harvest specific sectors of the vineyard where the stone matrix is between 20cm and 49cm deep. Fermentation is carried out with native yeasts in concrete vats with about 60% of the grapes worked in whole bunches. Half the wine is aged in concrete, the other half in used oak vats. ‘It’s a wine that does not aim for perfection, but rather the unique identity of its origins,’ says Sebastián Zuccardi. Zuccardi, Piedra Infinita, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2013 92 £74.95 Davis Bell McCraith, Fine & Rare, Hailsham Cellars The popular Familia Zuccardi has taken its reds to the next level with this pure Malbec, whose fragrant violet aromas give way to a palate of spicy blackberry fruit, underpinned by subtle oak and a fresh mulberry-like bite. Drink 2017-2025 Alc 14%
Achaval Ferrer, Finca Altamira
First vintage 1999 100% Malbec Average annual production 830 cases When Santiago Achaval and Manuel Ferrer Minetti linked up with the Italian wine consultant Roberto Cipresso to buy the 8ha vineyard of Finca Altamira in 1998, the concept of single vineyard was virtually unknown in Argentina. Their conviction that low-yielding, ungrafted, old Malbec vines planted in poor, stony soils would express themselves in different ways according to location led to the discovery, at different elevations and over different soil profiles, of Finca Bellavista in Perdriel and Finca Mirador in Medrano.
‘In each bottle, you can see and taste the differences of soil profile, elevation, temperature, vintage and the characteristics that each of these variables produce in each terroir,’ says Achaval Ferrer’s Julio Lasmartres.
With an Italian cast about their freshness, Achaval Ferrer’s single-vineyard Malbecs are among Argentina’s greatest and longest-lived. Achaval Ferrer, Finca Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2013 94 £78-£78.65 Corney & Barrow, Harvey Nichols A dense, highly perfumed Malbec with floral notes and a polished veneer of lightly charred oak, sumptuous dark cherry and blackberry fruit with the silkiest of tannins and a firm spine of bright, damsony acidity. Drink 2018-2025 Alc 14.5%
Bodegas Noemía, Noemía
First vintage 2001 Blend 100% Malbec Average annual production 400 cases Arriving in Argentina in 1998, Hans VindingDiers and Cinzano heiress Noemi Marone Cinzano found a semi-abandoned vineyard in Mainqué, Patagonia after almost a year of searching (see p56). Instinct told them that the 30ha of Malbec and Pinot Noir planted by Italians in 1932 and 1955 were unique. The Pinot Noir was sold to Piero Incisa della Rocchetta and became Chacra ( below), while Noemía is made from the 1.5ha of Malbec planted in 1932. Viticulture is biodynamic, though not certified. After hand de-stemming, berry by berry, using 30% stalks, the grapes are fermented for 10-22 days using natural yeasts, then the wine spends about 18 months in new French oak. ‘We felt this vineyard had something to say for itself,’ says Vinding-Diers. ‘The aim is to bring the vineyard to the bottle.’ Bodega Noemía, Noemía, Alto Valle, Río Negro, Argentina 2015 95 £97 Hedonism, Planet of the Grapes, The Wine Treasury Accomplished Patagonian Malbec mingling floral violets and incense spice, while a seductive mid-palate richness kicks in with black fruit flavours imbued with beeswaxy, spicy notes and a savoury splash on an elegantly balanced finish. Drink 2017-2030 Alc 14.5%
Chacra, Cincuenta y Cinco
First vintage 2004 Blend 100% Pinot Noir Average annual production 1,400 cases Weighing in at only 12.1% (for the 2016) in a light Burgundy bottle with screwcap, Cincuenta y Cinco – so-called because the vines, originating in France, were planted by Italian immigrants in 1955 – reflects the philosophy of its owner, Piero Incisa, of Sassicaia lineage. In a vineyard of almost 7ha sitting on pebbly clay and sandy riverbed soils, the luminosity of Patagonia’s desert, linked to cold nights and pure Río Negro water, provides even ripening, while a degree of salinity in the soils adds a savoury note. After fermentation with indigenous yeasts on whole bunches, 30% of the wine is aged in cement and the rest in used French oak barriques. ‘I am drawn to the fruit and floral characters of Pinot as opposed to a more extracted, concentrated, alcoholic style,’ says Incisa. Its equally renowned sibling Treinta y Dos hails from the same Patagonian vineyard, planted in 1932. Chacra, Cincuenta y Cinco, Alto Valle, Río Negro,
Argentina 2016 92 £ 31.95 (2014) Lea & Sandeman The prettiest of perfumes mingle with notes of bright raspberry fruit and liquorice spice in a mouthful of juicy, red berry fruit underpinned by subtle oak, silky tannins and a spine of mulberry freshness. Drink 2017-2023 Alc 12.1%
Nicolás Catena Zapata
First vintage 1997 Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec Average annual production 3,500 cases With the aim of making an Argentinian wine that could compete with the great wines of the world, Nicolás Catena released the 1997 vintage in a series of international blind tastings that marked a new era for Argentina. Made by Alejandro Vigil, the core of the 78% Cabernet Sauvignon derives from the deep alluvial loam and clay of Lot 3 of La Pirámide Vineyard planted at 950m in 1983. The Malbec is grown in the gravel and limestone of Lot 3 in Adrianna Vineyard, planted at 1,440m at Gualtallary, Uco Valley in 1992. Cool to cold nights result in intense aromatics, complexity and richness. The blend, aged in new French oak and in bottle, both for 24 months, is Nicolás Catena’s favourite, combining his unshakeable faith in Cabernet Sauvignon with the Malbec loved by his father and planted by his pioneering Italian grandfather. Catena, Nicolás Catena Zapata, Uco Valley/Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina 2013 96 £60 Alex Marton, Cru World Wine Displaying a majestic medley of enticing liquorice spice and subtle oak, the youthful vigour of this blend’s opulent dark berry fruit richness infused with notes of cardamom spiciness confidently expresses its two great Cabernet and Malbec terroirs. Drink 2017-2030 Alc 13.5%
Cobos, Chañares Vineyard Malbec
First vintage 2014 Blend 100% Malbec Average annual production 250 cases After cutting his teeth in Argentina at Catena in the late 1980s, Paul Hobbs set up his own winery, Viña Cobos, in Luján de Cuyo. After creating the Cobos, Marchiori Vineyard Malbec, he acquired the 17ha Chañares vineyard at Los Arboles, Tunuyán in 2013 from a group of three professors from Mendoza University. At 1,180m altitude, the northfacing Chañares is planted to relatively young Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vines on free-draining, alluvial rock with coarse sand and loam. In addition to a Cabernet Franc, Hobbs produced his first pure Malbec from here in 2014. An icon-inwaiting, this as-yet youthful, structured red is aged for 17 months in new French oak, and promises to be as good as, if not better and longer-lived than the powerful Marchiori. Cobos, Chañares Vineyard Malbec, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2014 93 £ 230 Armonk Wines & Spirits Framed by spicy vanillin oak and sweet dark berry fruit, primary aromas give way to a blackberry richness, a chocolatey opulence beneath tempered by a firm spine of acidity. Drink 2018-2027 Alc 15%
Cheval des Andes
First vintage 1999 Blend Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon Average annual production 5,000-6,600 cases
When Château Cheval Blanc’s Pierre Lurton visited Mendoza in the late 1990s, he teamed up with Roberto de la Mota, finding a block of ungrafted Malbec planted in 1929 in Las Compuertas. Selected for its elegant, refined expression, Cheval des Andes was born once the use of the revered Cheval name had been personally sanctioned by LVMH’s owner Bernard Arnault. Malbec has taken over from Cabernet Sauvignon as the senior partner in the blend, as its properties in viticulture and winemaking have become better understood. ‘After 18 years of experience,’ says Lorenzo Pasquini, technical manager and winemaker, ‘our aim is to create the same vision and style in Mendoza as at Château Cheval Blanc: ageing potential with elegance, complexity, freshness and balance.’ Cheval des Andes, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina 2013 94 £85 Cambridge Wine Merchants, Clos 19 Scented cedar, lipsmackingly rich black fruit. Polished oak adds to a suave texture, morphing into a firmer structure of youthfully vigorous grip and a fresh acid spine. Drink 2018-2030 Alc 14%
Left: Chile’s Casa Real, a long-established icon wine, and Nicol‡s Catena Zapata from Argentina
Above: storm clouds over recently harvested Carmenere vines at the Clos Apalta vineyard
Left: Almaviva winemaker Michel Friou
Above: grown in Maipo’s Puente Alto, Don Melchor is the icon wine from the Concha y Toro stable
Above: Eduardo Chadwick (left) and veteran California producer Robert Mondavi originally founded Seña as a joint venture in 1995
Below: Zuccardi’s new Uco Valley winery in Paraje Altamira was opened in early 2016
Above: Hans VindingDiers first arrived in Patagonia in 1998
Below: Chacra’s 2016 Cincuenta y Cinco
Right: Nicolás Catena was the 2009 Decanter Man of the Year
Above: Cobos, Chañares Vineyard Malbec 2014, grown at 1,180m in Tunuyán