As South American wines aim higher, the French connection goes both ways | Wine

We usually turn to Chile and Argentina for affordable, quaffable wines. Yet both are capable of producing high-end vino that can stand among the best in the world. And they’ve looked to Bordeaux, the very image of Old World wine sophistication, for help.

On a recent visit to South America, I was interested in exploring French-influenced wineries to see how the Old World was influencing the new in this reach for quality. Instead I found the opposite: that Bordeaux has been reaching out to the New World to reconnect to its roots.

Chile is known for red wines from the smoky, peppery carmenere grape, and Argentina for fruity malbec. Both are traditional varieties prominent in Bordeaux blends in the 1800s but fell out of favor after the phylloxera root louse epidemic decimated European vineyards in the latter part of that century. When the Bordelais replanted their vineyards, they favored cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, grafted onto American rootstock immune to the louse. By then, however, carmenere and malbec vines had been exported to South America, where they thrived on their own rootstock; vinous time capsules waiting to be unlocked.

My first stop in Chile was Almaviva, on the outskirts of Santiago, a joint venture between Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s largest wineries, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which owns Chateau Mouton Rothschild and other wineries in Bordeaux. Almaviva is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, a landmark that Philippe de Sereys de Rothschild, vice chairman of the French company, says marks a turning point toward maturity and top quality.

“Wine is an investment,” he told me during a visit to Washington in May. “It takes time for the terroir to begin to express itself. Almaviva is already 20 years old, but it is only 20 years old. There’s still a lot of work to…

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