This is something of a bargain – to the extent that I tasted without knowledge of the price and was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw the cost. This doesn’t always happen.
Viñedos de Alcohuaz was founded in 2005 by father and son Àlvaro and Patricio Flaño in Chile’s Elqui Valley, some 150 kilometres to the north of Santiago. Home to a breath-taking landscape, this is an interesting location for viticulture as it borders the Atacama Desert, one of the driest spots on earth, but the valley stretches from the South Pacific coastal plain all the way up to the Andes Mountains inland. Unsurprisingly, the area that works for grape-growing is situated close to the River Elqui, benefitting from deep groundwater. The Flaños were drawn to the area on account of the sandy, granitic soils and their initial hunch that the region was suitable for a vineyard was verified by a viticulturalist, Eduardo Silva, who concurred on the area’s potential. Amazingly, their vineyard lies at elevations ranging between 1,800-2,200 metres above sea level, making it the highest commercial vineyard in the world.
As this was virgin territory for fine wine production and given the varying altitude, the Flaños planted a broad base of largely heat-loving/tolerant vines, including Syrah, Malbec, Garnacha, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Cariñena and Touriga Nacional. They also tried Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which didn’t survive in this challenging climate, but the rest (most of which are grown very successfully in Mediterranean Spain) thrived. A spring-fed reservoir is also used to prevent the vines suffering from too much water stress during the growing season and the vines are typically trained in pergolas so that the canopy of leaves is able to protect the fruit from the intense light of day. And of course, at this kind of altitude, the nights are cold despite the hot days – in fact the diurnal shift in temperatures can be as much as a remarkable 25 degrees Celsius! Patricio and Àlvaro have tended their vines according to biodynamic and organic principles since they were first planted, but they aren’t interested in pursuing certification. Today, they have 20 hectares of vines and have also planted white Rhône varietals, Marsanne and Roussanne. As you might expect, everything here is carried out in a non-interventionist manner; harvest is by hand, only indigenous yeast is employed in fermentation, which is carried out in traditional stone lagars or troughs. The wines are then aged in concrete eggs or in very large Stockinger oak foudres.
Frankly, their approach is paying dividends. Whilst I would have struggled to place this wine if tasted blind, I thought it showed beautifully, with a rare sense of purity and energy that I seldom associate with any Chilean wine. I will follow Viñedos de Alcohuaz with added interest over the coming years, as I can only imagine that they will push on to greater heights, in achievement that is, not in altitude!
Please see my full note below along with a note from Luis Gutiérriez on robertparker.com. By the way, 2018 is shaping up to be a very impressive Chilean vintage – one of the best in quite some time.