Category: South America

Q&A with Carlos Serrano from Vina Montes

carlos-serranoCarlos Serrano is the Commercial Director for Vina Montes and manages the global strategy for Montes brands including Vina Montes, Kaiken, Napa Angel and Star Angel. Here, he talks about Montes’ experience of working in Asia.

What’s your view of the Asian market right now?

In general, Asia is growing and willing to drink more and better wines. We have been in the market for almost two decades; our name is known among those consumers willing to pay more for quality.

However, Asia is very big and there are different market realities. China is very different from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. China in the year 2013 was difficult but improved a bit in 2014. Japan has been booming for Montes and Korea is growing at a slower speed. I would say the more open markets for Chilean wines are between Japan and Korea. Our wines have been there for a long time and with very good reputation for quality.

How would you compare this with the European or American market?

Chilean wines in the USA have been part of the scenario for a long time. In many Asian markets Chilean wines are still being introduced. This is not the case for Japan and Korea but in many other markets, including China where, in T2 and T3 cities, Chilean wines are just starting to be known.

What’s Montes’ strategy in Asia?

montes-zapallarWe have been following the same strategy for many years – quality, quality, quality. Not only in the wines but also in the service to our importers as well as a relationship with them that includes trips to each market from Chile. In China we do have a Brand Manager that lives in Shanghai; we also visit two or three times a year from Chile.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is wine education. With today’s wine supply it is common to see a lot of wines at very low prices. We produce quality wines and cannot offer cheap prices. It is vital for a winery like us that people can identify between a good and an “easy drinking” wine and then be willing to pay more for the better one. We work with both importers and consumers on this.

There’s a pressure for winemakers to make wines for food. Are Montes’ wines geared for the Asian market in the same way?

We do not have special wines for a specific market. All our wines, from the same range, have the same philosophy, wine making, etc. What is real is that in Asia, consumers prefer some grape varieties more than others depending on the market – again, Asia is not homogeneous. Merlot and Chardonnay are more popular in China than in Korea where Cabernet Sauvignon is more popular.

In our range, several wines match very well with many Asian foods. As a matter of fact we have participated two or three times in a seminar that Ch’ng Poh Tiong (Singapore wine writer) organised a few years back. The results were amazingly positive. A lot of Asian food matched wine, not only Montes, to be fair.

Montes opened the South Korean market for quality Chilean wines, how has the market changed since you first started working there?

the-vines-survive-among-the-cactiThe change has been dramatic. Montes wines were the very first quality Chilean wine in Korea. This was a result of Douglas Murray’s efforts in years when not a lot of people took the time to travel, offer and establish relationships in the market. I’m not afraid to say that many Korean wine lovers learned to drink with a bottle of Montes Alpha.

Today, there is a plethora of Chilean wine brands that are offering low prices, and consequently lower quality levels, that consumers are very much willing to drink. In a way it disturbs our market since some consumers move to cheaper kind of wines. This phenomena not only happens in Korea but in all markets.

What about the grey market for Montes wines?

This is the price we have to pay for having “emblematic” wines in China. Grey marketers take advantage of today’s global economy and they buy Purple Angel, Montes Folly, Montes Alpha M and, lately, Montes Taita in other markets then they ship them to China.

How they profit is still a big question. We do not know how they are able to offer our wines in China at the same, or even lower prices, than our importer considering that they have to pay a lot more freight if they buy from Europe, plus the mark ups of a longer trade channel. This situation is very disturbing to our official importers. It is not a fair way to work and we repudiate all grey market and copying activity.

This Q&A was originally destined for a magazine but sadly it never made it to print. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it here.

You can also read about my vinous travels to Chile on Daily Mail Online, which was one of the articles submitted for consideration for the 2016 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards. I was shortlisted in the Food and Wine category.

#HOTGV: On Francois Lurton wines with the man himself

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with Francois Lurton, a French winemaker with vineyards in France, Spain, Argentina and Chile.

Francois Lurton

Francois represents the fifth generation of the Lurton family, who are well known in the world of Bordeaux wines. But as a bit of a maverick, Francois has ventured out to establish his own brand and his own wine identity after more than a decade of working for the family business.

We recently met at a tasting at Lima Floral Restaurant in London to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his estate in Argentina, Bodegas Piedra Negra in the Uco Valley. There, I tried a selection of his wines from Chile and Argentina.

Francois Lurton vineyard

Reading back on my notes almost two months later, I realised just how diverse the selection of 15 or so wines were.

Some were young and robust while others were gentle and fruity. There were even notes mentioning dark and moody alongside smoke and spice. I was surprised by how remarkably well they coped with the very challenging flavours of Peruvian food. Granted, the selection matched with the punchy dishes had a bit more age to them.

Although we tasted a sizeable collection of wines, it’s less than a quarter of the labels in Francois’ portfolio across the two continents.

Well, I’ll let Francois tell his own story in this little taster:

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Photos c/o Francois Lurton Wines.

Malbec Nights with WineChap

Voyager Estate tasting

Tom Harrow’s reputation as WineChap precedes him. Lovers of fine wine will already have his number on speed dial, of course, but those following trends couldn’t have missed him being named one of the 1,000 most influential people in London by the Evening Standard last year. His trademark linen suit, a shade somewhere between terracotta and muddy red, jaunts between elite crowds. His ChapMobile frequently spotted at mysterious locations in Marylebone. His considered musings found at tables of the best dinners.

At the 11th hour, well, more like the 14th actually, I received an invitation to dine with Mr Chap. The invitation came from Mr Chap’s dashing friend, and arrived via flashing red beacon to my BBM. Injected with mystery and flirtation, it contained the promise of an evening sampling some special Argentinian offerings with two charming gents – how could a girl resist?

A fine mist descended from above and puddles formed underfoot as I dashed across London, to Casa Malevo in Marylebone, for 7pm whereupon I discovered I was unfashionably early. Mr Chap greeted me with Christian Rothhardt, the man behind the Argentinian wine specialist Ruta 40, who was introducing a selection from Bodega Tempus Alba that evening.

Swiftly, I was offered a shot of ruby – the Rosado de Malbec 2008. Few are the Malbec not transformed into a bold red but this floral number held its fruit rather well, injecting a hint of vibrancy to the evening.

As I considered my rosé, I surveyed the setting. The lower floor of Casa Malevo plays host to the sizeable private room, styled as an old Estancias dining room, as well as their selection of, largely Malbec, wines. Malbec is much celebrated as the Argentinian varietal after all. The intimate space seats 12 who, as Mr Chap talks of international wine markets, began to filter in. A glass of the rosé magically appeared in the hand of each as everyone familiarised themselves with the evening and each other.

A three course dinner followed where two wines were paired with each of the first two courses. The first, a very lively Malbec 2008, overwhelmed the palate with its rich plummy fruits, which seemed a bit unfair on the gently vanilla Tempranillo 2007 that followed. But then again, perhaps the Tempranillo couldn’t have afforded the intensity desired to open the starter.

For the largely Marylebone-based set, the evening seemed to be as much a social occasion as a forum to explore new varietals. Christian explained the selection we tasted from the producer’s point of view, including the age of the vines from which the grapes were harvested, while Mr Chap discussed terroirs and the style of wine with eloquence.

The first wine which accompanied the main required and warranted such explanation, and it was afforded with grace. The Vero Malbec 2007 was the first vintage to come out of Tempus Alba’s 10 year in-house cloning programme, with a very limited production of 5,000 bottles. The idea was to produce a wine which was made from a very pure Malbec vine so that, as more producers adopt the varietal, any expressions of the final wine would be a true reflection of the terroir rather than differentiating varietals. It’s an interesting concept and the wine was similarly so, although it would have enjoyed being set down for a while longer before being cherished.

The wine which followed, and the final of the evening, was the Pleno 2006. A blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, it offered a good bouquet of cherry and was much more accessible than the Vero Malbec 2007.

In the interlude between coffee and desserts, guests had the opportunity to pick up wine tips if that was their intention and curiosity. The alternative seemed to be talk of golf and property – I know which I’d rather spend my money on.

There’s a good splash of wine loitering around at the end of the night for those who want to stay on for conversation or, with the help of Casa Malevo’s very potent double espresso, you can do as I did and entice the dashing gent to join me for a sharpish cocktail or two.

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

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