I had the very good fortune of travelling to Chile recently and to visit many vineyards, meet several winemakers and other winery personnel and to taste a selection of Chile's many and varied wines. I have tried Almaviva wines of different vintages on several occasions and was very pleased to have a personal tour and tasting at the winery with export director Felipe Feliú and Almaviva's winemaker, Michel Friou.
Almaviva winery began in 1997 when the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (owner of Mouton Rothschild) recognized the potential of Chilean terroir and entered into an agreement with Don Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle, Chairman of Concha y Toro, a premier Chilean producer. Together, they decided they could create a super premium Chilean wine in the Bordeaux tradition with a wine dominated by cabernet sauvignon, with carménère, cabernet franc and merlot added in different proportions each vintage to create a powerful, intense and fruity wine with structure, texture, elegance and finesse.
Almaviva winery essentially makes one blended wine, and it is all spoken for, that is, sold out prior to harvest. Five hundred new French oak barrels are bought annually and are used to oak age the blend. Then the wine is bottled and allowed to rest for another 18 months prior to release. The wine is always released three years post harvest. French maker Michel Friou's first complete vintage at Almaviva was 2008. He told me, “Our wines will last 20 years or longer, easy. I prefer five to seven year old Almaviva. The freshness of the fruit in the wine is key to our success”.
The winery has 60 hectares planted with the four varietals and they produce only 150,000 bottles per year and only 18,000 bottles find their way to the US in wooden six pack cases. The just released 2009 will be sold in the US for around $130 per bottle retail, making this a special occasion wine.
Chile has 14 distinct wine regions covering a vast north to south area ranging over 700 miles. Almaviva is located in the Maipo Valley in the north to south belly of Chilean wine production, between Santiago, home to half of Chile's population and Valparaiso, Chile's largest port. The Mapuche Indians were an indigenous tribe that roamed the Maipo Valley and Almaviva's logo is derived from one of their symbols and the winery tasting area has a beautiful collection of Mapuche artifacts.
We tasted four vintages of Almaviva, including the '99, the '01, the '07 and the just released 2009.
Michel called our first wine, the 1999 “a very special vintage from a very dry year.” This wine tasted of brilliant dark cherry, blackberry and fresh currants with soft black pepper and licorice, leather and a balanced earthiness with good aromatics. Good tannin integration has this wine drinking beautifully right now. The 2001 showed a fresher fruit flavor leaning toward red cherry, with stronger tannins, a sweet oak influence, good spice and light licorice. The 2007 tasted of ripe raspberries, currants, spicebox with good aromatics, pepper and present tannins. The '07 was my favorite of the four wines we tasted. And the 2009 showed fresh cherry and leather, red cedar, fresh pepper, raspberry with full palate involvement. The '09 showed youthful exuberance and should have a long and happy life. Each of these wines were powerful and elegant and each showed the evolutionary process of bottle aging and how the fruitiness morphs over time.
Many wineries make many different wines from different grapes, styles, blends for targeting consumers of different means. Almaviva simplifies their operations by offering one super premium, boutique style blended wine. If you find this wine in a store or on a wine list and you feel like celebrating, take the leap. It's guaranteed to enhance any dining experience. You can check them out at www.almavivawinery.com .