Almaviva: Chile’s grand opus turns 20

Almaviva is now 20 years old. This is the joint venture between Viña Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s largest wine companies, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, the parent company of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in Bordeaux. Almaviva was launched in 1997 as a Chilean-Bordeaux partnership akin to Opus One, Mouton’s joint venture with the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. The goal was to combine French winemaking with Chilean terroir and craft an icon wine for Chile that could stand among the best in the world.

I visited Almaviva earlier this month while in Santiago to judge the Catad’Or wine competition. Almaviva is located in the Maipo Valley on the outskirts of Santiago, just beyond where the freeway ends, though I suspect that description won’t last long as the city continues to expand. The winery draws upon the legends of the Maipu peoples, and the name means “living soul.”

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Lots of excitement in Chile and Argentina

My recent visit to South America reminded me there is much to be excited about with Chile’s wine scene – and I hardly scratched the surface. Winemakers are exploring new regions, and rediscovering old grape varieties. Large wineries are pursuing “icon wines,” while independent mom-and-pops are crafting soulful vino at very affordable prices.

Chile’s big problem – at least here in the US – may be its image as a producer of cheap plonk. As my friend Alfredo Bartholomaus, the now-retired importer who popularized Chilean and Argentine wines in the 1980s and 1990s through his Billington Imports, likes to say: “Chile made the mistake of coming into the US long ago at $1.99 a bottle. Once you fix that price in the consumer’s mind, you can’t go up.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to drink the cheap plonk while I was there. My main purpose for going to Santiago was to be one of 45 judges from 12 countries evaluating wines for the Catad’Or wine competition, an annual, privately run judging now owned by Pablo Ugarte, a former rock musician in Chile. The competition featured 636 wines from 150 wineries in seven countries; mostly Chile, but also Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and even Australia. Ugarte aims to highlight the wines of the “southern cone,” and he organized separate categories for small producers and what he called campesinos, or farmer wines, to be sure we weren’t focusing solely on the icon wines. With very few exceptions, the wines my panel tasted impressed me with their quality and consistency across these categories.

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Some of the judges for the Catad’Or wine competition in Santiago, Chile. I’m hiding in the back. (Photo: Catad’Or)

And I was interviewed by CNN Chile.

Argentina doesn’t necessarily have Chile’s reputation for cheap wine, though there’s plenty of inexpensive Malbec to go around. Argentina’s excitement remains the exploration of the Andes foothills and the “alluvial fans” that brought granite and limestone down from the mountains when the glaciers melted. In an all-too-rushed visit on my last day, I toured the spectacular new winery the Zuccardi family built in the Uco Valley, a 90-minute drive south of Mendoza. And during a visit with the Catena Zapata team, I enjoyed a fascinating (and frigid) vineyard visit and tasting in Gualtallary.

There are some common themes in Chile and Argentina, which I will write about in future posts. And these won’t be unfamiliar to wine fiends in general. Everyone seems to be doing electro-magnetic mapping of their vineyards to identify their “micro-terroirs.” The name of Pedro Parra, a winemaker and vineyard consultant known as Chile’s “Dr. Dirt,” is whispered with awe and reverence by his clients. It’s hard to walk through a vineyard without tripping into a soil pit. Many vintners are dialing back on new oak and high alcohol, believing the “international style” of wine masks the true expression of their vineyards. Several winemakers described their efforts in identical language, so that I began to wonder if Wines of Chile and Wines of Argentina had distributed official talking points for 2017. But the wines were delicious.

And of course, the scenery was magnificent. More to come …

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The quality of the wines at the Catad’Or competition was impressive. (Yes, the glasses look empty, but there were plenty of wines to taste. Photo: Erin Kirschenmann)

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Wednesday wine recommendations, 7/19/2017

We’ve had some glorious summer days of late, so to celebrate here are two new rosés as scene-setters to slake your thirst, plus a savory pinot noir, a white Burgundy and a fun Malbec.

Domaine de Fussiacus Saint-Véran 2015

***

Burgundy, France, $21

“Fussiacus” is the ancient Roman spelling for the town of Fuissé in a part of Burgundy known for producing some the world’s greatest chardonnay. This beauty is another reminder to buy 2015 vintage wines from France — any part of France — whenever we can find them. The ripe vintage chardonnay produces something akin to peach cobbler in a glass: Think juicy, sweet peaches with a buttery biscuit topping. Then drink it in. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, MacArthur Beverages, Whole Foods Market (Foggy Bottom); on the list at Le Diplomate, Matisse, Mirabelle. Available in Maryland at Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium, Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon, the French Paradox Wines in Stevenson, Reds Wine & Spirits in Kingsville, SoCo Fine Wine & Spirits in Deale; on the list at Ouzo Bay in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Grand Cru in Arlington, Libbie Market in Richmond, the Town Duck in Warrenton, Vino Market in Midlothian, Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington).

Brooks Pinot Noir 2014
***

Willamette Valley, Oregon $28

This wine was reticent when I opened it, as though it didn’t like being called to perform just yet. But a half-hour or so later, it opened into a lovely, savory wine with dark berry fruit and more than a hint of earth. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at S&R Liquors; on the list at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Mirabelle, Squash on Fire. Available in Maryland at Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville; on the list at Artifact Coffee and Grand Cru in Baltimore, Carrol’s Creek Cafe in Annapolis, the Dish and Dram in Kensington. Available in Virginia at Oakton Wine Shop; on the list at 2941 in Falls Church.

Great Value
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016

 **-1/5

Rhone Valley, France, $16

From a top producer in the northern Rhone Valley, this rosé is a perennial favorite. It offers strawberry flavors, a hint of herbs, and good value. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Distributed by M. Touton: Available in the District at Best in Liquors, Cairo Wine & Liquor, Capital City Wine & Spirits, Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits, Eye Street Cellars, Pan-Mar Liquor, Rodman’s, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, Crestwood Liquors, Old Farm Liquors, Riverside Liquors, Village Mart Beer & Wine and Ye Old Spirit Shop in Frederick, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, the Old Vine and Smitty’s Liquors in Baltimore, Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington. Available in Virginia at Wegmans (various locations), Whole Foods Market (various locations).

Great Value
Petit Jammes Malbec 2015
**

Cahors, France, $13

Fans of Argentina’s malbecs should check out Cahors, the region in southwestern France that specializes in the grape. Cahors can be rustic and tannic, but this little charmer is more polished and modern in style. Enjoy it with red meat from the grill, takeout kebabs, pizza . . . you get the idea. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Distributed by Dionysus: Available in the District at New York Liquor Store, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview).

Great Value
Beauvignac Syrah Rosé 2016
**

Pays d’Oc, France, $10

This is a straightforward, delicious rosé, with berry and melon flavors and loads of refreshment. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Kysela: Available in the District at Grape Intentions, Magruder’s, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor; on the list at the Black Squirrel. Available in Maryland at Eddie’s Liquors in Baltimore, Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Libations in Millersville, Maple Lawn Wine & Spirits in Fulton, Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick, Petite Cellars in Ellicott City, Port of Call Liquors in Solomons, Wine Loft in Pikesville. Available in Virginia at Culpeper Cheese Company, Kroger (various locations), Wine Seller in Williamsburg.

Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

(Originally published July 1, 2017, on washingtonpost.com.)

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Wine trivia #1 – What family is this?

Okay, wine peeps. What internationally famous wine family is represented in the symbol in this picture? Give me your answer in the comments, and I’ll do the reveal there too, after at least a few days. Hint: The name is spelled out in the family seal …

Added July 22: And the answer is … Cousiño. This family crest is in the Cousiño Palace in Santiago, Chile. Once owned by the mining family that established the Cousiño-Macul winery in the 1850s, the palace was sold — or pretty much donated — by the family to the city in the late 1930s. The city used it as a guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries, until the upper floors were badly damaged in a fire in the late 1960s. The February 2010 earthquake caused more damage, and the palace recently reopened after extensive repairs. I visited earlier this month while judging the Cartad’Or wine competition; the judges were invited to a tasting and dinner celebrating the release of a new Carmenère from Viña la Rosa winery.

 

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Maxwell Park adds somm pizzazz to DC’s wine bar scene

Daniel Runnerstrom, far left, Niki Lang and Brent Kroll are the team behind Maxwell Park in the District’s Shaw neighborhood. (Dave McIntyre)

A sometimes unheralded factor in Washington’s restaurant renaissance has been the active cadre of young sommeliers who have raised the bar for wine service. Some of them are now branching out, and they might just change the way we drink and think about wine.

They certainly may change our concept of wine bars. Maxwell Park, the brainchild of sommelier Brent Kroll, opened June 26 in Shaw, not far from the convention center. When I visited four days later, people poured through the door as soon as it opened at 5 p.m. An hour later, customers were standing and waiting for one of the 33 seats in the modest corner establishment.

Kroll, 31, has been a familiar face to the District’s wine lovers for nearly a decade from his stints at Ardeo, the Oval Room and Adour. He managed the lists for Iron Gate and the Passenger as wine director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group before moving to Proof last year for a brief stint as general manager.

Kroll is not the only sommelier involved in the project. Max Kuller, owner of the Fat Baby restaurant group (Proof, Estadio, Doi Moi) and a sommelier himself, is a business partner. Daniel Runnerstrom, formerly of Iron Gate, and Niki Lang, formerly of Voltaggio Brothers Steak House and Fiola Mare, help manage the bar. Both are certified sommeliers through the Court of Master Sommeliers and can partner into ownership if Maxwell Park succeeds.

Named for a place in Detroit where Kroll played as a child, Maxwell Park oozes fun, right down to the chalk provided for customers to write or doodle on the slate bar. And because many customers today like to stay connected, the bar is lined with electrical outlets that include USB ports. Your check will be presented in a copy of a pocket wine guide by Oz Clarke or Hugh Johnson — another sign that “this is meant to be fun, not a dissertation,” as Kroll says.

Kroll modeled Maxwell Park after wine bars in New York rather than more food-centric examples in Washington’s first wave of a decade ago. “I want this to be a true wine bar, not a restaurant marketed as a wine bar,” he says. “If you have 20 dishes on your menu and a chef in the kitchen, you’re a restaurant.”

The wine list will eventually feature 600 labels, quite extensive for a place with 33 seats. Fifty wines are offered by the glass (with pours of varying sizes available), half of which will rotate monthly according to a theme. July’s theme is ABPG, or Anything but Pinot Grigio, emphasizing the variety of white wines from Italy.

“Not that we hate pinot grigio, but you’ve already had it,” Kroll explains. “Why not try something different?”

The July list includes one of my all-time favorites, the kerner from Abbazia di Novacella, plus a minerally saline pigato from Liguria and a fascinating sparkler from Mount Etna in Sicily. There is so much to explore. Some cocktails, beers and nonalcoholic drinks are also available.

And there is some food: Kroll plans to enlist Washington area chefs to design menus of about half a dozen snacks, to rotate seasonally. He also plans to have guest appearances by other area sommeliers. “You’ll always see one or more of us,” he says, referring to Runnerstrom and Lang, “but you may come in one night and see another somm behind the bar.”

Kroll does let his inner wine geek emerge when he talks about the four distinct temperature zones he uses to store and serve his wines. “Most restaurants have two storage areas, one for reds and one for whites. But all white wines are not meant to be served at the same temperature,” he says. A crisp falanghina might benefit from a good chill, for example, while a full-bodied Chablis should be served just slightly cool.

“I hope it catches on,” he says of the attention to temperature.

Sommeliers in charge might be catching on. Sebastian Zutant, formerly of Proof and Red Hen, plans to open his own wine bar, Primrose, in August in Brookland, with his wife, Lauren Winter. Jennifer Knowles, now wine director at Mirabelle, dipped her toe into winemaking last year, blending a pinot noir at Oregon’s Brooks winery. That wine is served by the glass at Plume in the Jefferson Hotel, where Knowles worked. She hopes to blend a cuvee for Mirabelle next year.

Maxwell Park is certainly catching on. The evening I visited, I encountered Pamela Margaux, a Charlottesville wine importer, and her husband, Claude Thibaut, maker of Virginia’s Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wines. As we surveyed the crowd of wine lovers, we realized we were decades older than everyone else in the place.

“Maybe I’ll come back when I’m 30 years younger,” quipped Thibaut, 59.

I’ll be back sooner, whether or not I fit in.

(Originally published on washingtonpost.com on July 8, 2017.)

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Rejuvenating WineLine

Well, it’s been two years since I’ve posted on this blog. I stopped because it was taking time and energy, and I was busy writing my weekly wine columns for The Washington Post. But many friends have asked me to resume, and I’ve long meant to. Now, it’s time. After all, I started Dave McIntyre’s WineLine in 1999 as an email newsletter, long before anyone called these “blogs.” It would be a shame to let it disappear.

There’s no shortage of material to post here. My columns will appear, as well as my weekly wine recommendations. But WineLine also gives me a venue to report on other news and wines that don’t make the column. I may even get wonky from time to time.

So thanks for your patience and your encouragement, and thanks for reading Dave McIntyre’s WineLine. Please share it with your wine-loving friends and encourage them to subscribe, or “follow” to receive updates as they are published. And don’t hesitate to send me feedback and encouragement. Of course, if you don’t see a new post for several days, remind me to get back to it!

Since I’m now dusting off the blog, I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos from my recent trip to South America, beginning with dusty wine bottles in the cellar at Santa Carolina winery on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile. I’ll post much more from Chile and Argentina in the weeks ahead.

Cheers!

Dave

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Posted in Argentina, Chile, Washington Post, Weblogs, Wine | 7 Comments

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild Brings Business Savvy and Impish Humor to a Wine Empire

Bordeaux is transforming itself. Change was widely on display during Vinexpo, the biennial trade fair held this month at the city’s Parc des Expositions with satellite parties at chateaux throughout the Left and Right Banks. The visible changes were magnificent new cellars at several wineries, including Chateau Margaux, which hosted the international press dinner to showcase its new facility adjacent to the iconic chateaux, and Chateau Montrose, which hosted the Fête de la Fleur at the end of the week.

There is also generational change. A prominent example is Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, who took over as “Chairman of the Supervisory Board” of Baron Philippe Rothschild SA last October following the death of his mother, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. Born in 1963, the Harvard-educated Sereys had a successful career in business and international finance before joining the family company in 2006. I had the pleasure of meeting Sereys and his companion, film actress Carole Bouquet, at the Margaux dinner. They added a little celebrity glitz to the old-fashioned glam of Bordeaux during Vinexpo.

And he has an impish sense of humor, I learned. At the dinner, I told Sereys my story of having met his mother, the Baroness, at the same function in 2009, on my previous visit to Vinexpo, and how my poor French and a functionary gatekeeper thwarted my opportunity to have lunch with her the next day.

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild at the Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA pavilion at Vinexpo, June 15, 2015.

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild at the Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA pavilion at Vinexpo, June 15, 2015.

“Well you must come have lunch with me tomorrow then,” he said. “My mother would insist.” When I told him I had a lunch appointment at a chateau in Pauillac, an hour away up the Left Bank, he exclaimed, “Cancel it!” We eventually negotiated a 2:30 meeting at the Baron Philippe pavilion at Vinexpo, and when I showed up out of breath at 2:45, he upbraided me: “You’re late!” I half expected to hear “Off with his head!” but he doesn’t seem to take the royalty part too seriously. I noticed the staff referred to him as Monsieur Sereys rather than Baron Philippe. Apparently he is crafting his own identity and leaving the royal moniker for his famous grandfather.

I asked Sereys about the challenges facing Bordeaux, from complaints about the high prices of the futures market (Mouton Rothschild struck a moderate stance in this year’s en primeur campaign) to a perception, here in the US at least, that Bordeaux is passé.

“There’s no perfect market,” he said, drawing on his business perspective. “Every market over-reacts, either up or down. For the moment, the futures market is as good as it can be.”

Globalization has created challenges, he said. “The routes to market are becoming more diverse. The market itself is more diverse, more global, more immediate. And people are looking for service. How do we adapt to those changes? At the end of the day, you have to get the bottle into the customer’s hands.”

Adapting to those changes may not be easy for an industry focused on its main task – making wine.

“People forget how our business is a long-term business,” he said. “It’s not private equity. Which is a luxury, because in a world where everything goes faster and faster, we cannot rush the climate. We cannot rush the terroir. Opus One took 30 years to develop, but now it is terrific. We started Alma Viva in Chile in 1998 – it’s halfway there. And there’s still a lot of work to do at Mouton. When you are at the top, you need to work hard to stay there.”

That led me to mention the visible transformation underway throughout Bordeaux, with significant investment in new production facilities and a focus on “precision viticulture” – a focus on specific soil types and small-lot fermentation to give vintners more flexibility in blending their final wines.

“Since the market has become more global and Bordeaux remains at the center, we have to reinvest to maintain and improve quality,” he said. “Although we do have to sell it, our core business is the production of wine. Speaking of which, are you thirsty?” He ran over to a nearby tasting bar, and a few minutes later a waiter brought two glasses of Mouton-Cadet rosé. He wasn’t being cheap, but playful. This referred back to our conversation at the press dinner the night before, where we had Clerc Milon 2006 and 1988 along with Mouton Rothschild 2006 and 1995.

He took a sip, smiled and shrugged. “It’s rosé.” And indeed, it was fine.

“I notice you had it placed as the exclusive rosé of the Cannes film festival, right in the heart of Provence,” I said.

He giggled and said, “Isn’t that cool?”

As I stood to take my leave, Sereys shook my hand and said, “My mother will be happy now. You made it inside the Baron Philippe pavilion.”

Posted in Bordeaux, France, Vinexpo, Wine | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment