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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Modern Sure Can Age

With all the uncertainty about the affects of progressive winemaking techniques, late harvests and rigorous canopy manipulation on the aging process of wines, I think I just uncovered a little nugget. I doubt it will surprise most, but sometimes the first hand ‘slap in the face’ experience we receive from the taste of a particular wine is just what the doctor ordered.

Almaviva is a joint venture project between Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro & Chateau Mouton Rothschild from Bordeaux. The winery has access to arguably the best Cabernet in the country (the famed Puente Alto vineyard, the same source for Concha y Toro’s prestige Don Melchor bottling) and generally splashes about a quarter of Carmenere (a failed Bordeaux variety that seems to find its stride in Chile) into the final cepage. This project involves state of the art winemaking that pulls out just about all the stops that leave the cautious crowd in doubt w/ regards to how these modern products evolve. Now every vintage of Almaviva I’d tasted, the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, have either been too young, too ripe or too unevolved to provide me with a frank gauge on the wine’s potential evolution. Well last night I decided to pop the 2000 vintage w/ a Valentine’s Day spread and I got just what I was looking for. What a difference a year makes!

See the 2000 vintage was considered to be less than ideal in Chile, and perhaps is the country’s weakest link in the 21st century to date. February and March had much higher than average rainfalls, causing dilution and lack of concentration in major grape varieties (varied sources, Jancis Robinson referred to the year as the ‘almost El Nino vintage’). So why am I excited about said mediocre year? Well off years provide quicker glimpses into a wine's evolution, producing wines that mature early, and it happened to play right into the hands of my investigation. To my delight, not only did the wine not fall apart nor become less interesting in age, it has begun to mature in quite a similar fashion as I’ve experienced w/ older Bordeaux. The second I popped the cork I thought ‘wow, stinky, smells just like an older Bordeaux,’ and you Francophiles know exactly how positive such a commentary is!

Tertiary nuances have taken shape in this 8 year old cuvee, the tannins have softened and the integrity of the fruit, while perhaps a smidge less robust than at release (I’d assume), is in perfect harmony with all the wine’s additional nuance. This wine was no longer about potential (though it’s got plenty of guts left in it to last another decade), it was about the present experience. Nothing spoofy, gaudy, or destructive had occurred during this vintage of Almaviva’s slumber. What happened is what we, as wine connoisseurs, hoped would happen, but weren’t ready to bet the ranch on just yet (that is, if you belonged to the fore-mentioned cautious camp). I really am kicking myself for not bringing this bottle to a blind ‘meritage vs. Bordeaux’ taste off as it would have had everyone (including myself) completely fooled w/ regards to origin. Ah well, you live, you learn.

In this case, while the magical terroir of Bordeaux will still retain its hallowed imagine, Chile has proven (to me at least) that their ground is every bit as capable of producing wines that can change favorably in time. In addition, Almaviva has shown me that progressive techniques in the winery & vineyard will not void a wine’s ability to evolve in the bottle. My feelings about how excellent vintages, such as 2003, will evolve are confirmed by this bottle of 2000, which seems to have given me the tangible reason I needed to hold off on drinking younger vintages. Hope you enjoy my tasting note:

Almaviva 2000
Wow. Still quite saturated at the core, w/ hints of transparency at the rim, but oh goodness what a mature nose! Classic, spicy Pauillac notes of charcoal infused gravel, loam, tobacco, lilacs, black currant, licorice, iron, truffle and cedar are as close to mature Bordeaux profile as I’ve ever had in the New World. The palate is medium in proportion, w/ lovely finesse, symmetry and is as perfectly harmonious as any mature Cabernet could aspire to be. Still w/ adequate depth and extract to merit close to another decade of aging. The synthesis of a dinstinctively Chilean profile w/ the grace of an aging claret, 92 points.


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