While Chile has been the top source of imported bottled wine in China in 2019, the average bottle gets declared at just about USD2 — premium labels are a tougher sell.
“It’s been a difficult year and I don’t think it will be getting any better,” says Mariano Larrain Hurtado, a China-based importer and distributor since 2013. “A lot of wine is coming in cheap but I’m doing something more expensive.”
Making a go is so challenging that Larrain Hurtado says wine can feel more like hobby than business. At the very least, it’s one tasty hobby.
He led a tasting this month at Chile’s embassy in Beijing, with a pair of wineries from Casablanca Valley. Jean-Charles Villard of Villard and Angelica Romero of Casa Romero presented their family wine while Beijing-based Chilean wine expert Hans Qu doubled as a translator and color commentator.
Villard told us Casablanca Valley’s wine scene got started about 35 years ago and only 120 hectares was planted when his family arrived in 1989 from France, via Australia, where his father worked in wine-making for a dozen years. The valley, about 100 km from capital Santiago and 30 km from the coast, now is well-known, especially for whites, Sauvignon Blanc leading the way. Casa Romero, meanwhile, is a newer operation, established in 2009, with the first vintage in 2012.
Villard’s Sauvignon Blanc didn’t have the intense green / vegetal notes found in some Chilean, and notably New Zealand, versions. I found it milder, lightly bread-y, with some floral aroma. He attributed this to less wine protection from oxygen much less during production–from using an open press to keeping it on lees–and that gives it a yeastier element.
I liked Villard’s wines for its fresh fruit-first focus: I had blueberry, red plum, black cherry, forest berry and more scribbled throughout my notes. L’asseblage Grand Vin, a blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah and Merlot from Casablanca Valley with Cabernet from Maipo Valley showed this freshness along with a nice chewiness and oak balance.
In terms of Casa Romero, my favorite of the five wines was the Syrah: vibrant purple, with violet aromas and some intense ripe fruit.
All in all, an insightful tasting and a fun way to spend Friday afternoon, especially given there were lots of snacks–from ceviche to empanadas–paired with the wines.
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