It all started with the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Since then, New World producers have been keen to take on Bordeaux winemakers at their own game, encouraged by Napa's historic victory over the French. Last month in Los Angeles, it was Chile’s turn to show that it could compete with the best.
Inspired by American writer Jay McInerney’s comment in The Wall Street Journal that Apalta in the Colchagua Valley was the “grand cru” of Chile, Viña Montes organized a blind tasting for American sommeliers and wine professionals.
It invited them to judge three of the company's flagship wines – Folly Syrah, Purple Angel Carmenère, and Alpha M, a Bordeaux blend – alongside bottles from top producers in France, Italy, California and Australia.
The tasting provided encouraging results for the New World contingent, despite the 2004 Château Lafite Rothschild taking first place in the cabernet challenge:
1. 2004 Château Lafite Rothschild 2004 – average score 92.8
2. 2004 Montes “M” – average score 91.1
3. 2004 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia – average score 90.8
4. 2007 Montes Purple Angel – average score 90.2
The syrah challenge pitted the northern Rhône against South Australia, Chile and Napa. Montes Folly 2004 (average score 91.7) came out on top, with 2004 Penfolds Grange (average score 91.5) beating Chapoutier’s 2004 Ermitage l'Ermite for second place. Note, though, that 2004 was not the greatest vintage for the northern Rhône's producers.
“We were very gratified to see how our wines showed alongside these legendary wines from the greatest wine regions in the world,” said Aurelio Montes Snr., co-founder and winemaker at Viña Montes. “Since the beginning of Montes Wines, we have set as our goal the production of wine that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best wines anywhere. Our belief in the potential of the terroir of Apalta has been validated by the results of this tasting.”
The results, said Canadian wine journalist and tasting judge Tony Aspler, reflected the improvements made by the Chilean wine industry in the past three decades.
“I have been following the Chilean wine industry since my first visit in 1985 and have made several visits since then," explained Aspler. "The growth both in the quality of the wines and the confidence of the winemakers over those years has been exponential."
Sommelier Christopher Lavin said the results “offered validation that Chile can play with the big boys."
A similar tasting took place in October 2011 in Hong Kong. Chilean producer Eduardo Chadwick placed several vintages of his flagship wine, Seña, from the Aconcagua Valley, against Bordeaux's first growths. Seña took the top five spots, ahead of such big names as Latour, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild.