Zonin1821 Taps into the Soul of Chile

Stefano Ferrante, chief winemaker, tasting wine

Once it was New World winemakers who ventured forth, looking for new wine lands. Today, it’s just as likely to be French and Italian companies looking to expand into new terroirs. One such is Zonin1821, Italy’s largest family-owned wine company, who launched their new Dos Almas (‘two souls’) range of Chilean wines in 2017.

“We have a joint venture with a Chilean company, the Vial family,” said Domenico Zonin. He and chief winemaker Stefano Ferrante were at the Meininger offices in late June, pouring a range of Italian and Chilean wines. Zonin explained that the Vial family own a number of agricultural businesses in Chile, from salmon to fruit, and have significant investments in wine regions. Such a partnership made sense, because “it’s complicated if you have to invest everything” from scratch, he added.

One of the benefits of investing in Chile, Zonin continued, was that Chile had created so many international free trade agreements, plus an excellent distribution network in key markets such as China.  Companies like Zonin1821, who invest in Chile, can now access these networks.

“Chilean wines in China are growing at 30%,” said Zonin. “Last month we participated on a tour of Wines of Chile in China. Our guys were excited by the tour, because the Chileans are ten years ahead. They know the market better.” He added that the company also sees South American markets as good export prospects for the future.

For their part, the Italians see themselves as contributing expert Italian winemaking knowledge and experience to Chile.

To demonstrate, the tasting began by pouring the Prosecco Cuvee 1821 and the Dos Almas Brut from Casablanca.

“We ferment a lot of Prosecco every week,” explained Ferrante. “That lets us preserve the freshness of Prosecco, while decreasing the sulfur and preserving very aromatic and fresh Prosecco. We spend a lot of money on electricity, to referment the must in the tanks, but it’s worth it.”

Unusually, the wine is a Brut Prosecco.We have 200 ha of Prosecco in Friuli, which is a nice region for producing this very fresh, clean Prosecco,” Ferrante went on.

Chile is not known for its sparkling wines, but Ferrante believes that this is going to change, given the encouraging results.

“This is a charmat wine, like Prosecco,” he said as he poured the Dos Almas Brut. “Casablanca is perfect for sparkling wines, because they have a very cool climate with very long ripening at the end of the season. Naturally low pH, high acidity and an incredible natural balance.” The result, as he says, is “very salty, very dense and bigger than Prosecco.” The company’s ultimate goal is to be producing one million bottles within five years.

The tasting went through Zonin’s Italian Sauvignon Blanc, also from Friuli, the fresh and mouth-filling Ca Bolani Aquilis Sauvignon Blanc 2016. “We wanted to prove that Sauvignon Blanc could age,” observed Ferrante.

Then came the Chianti Classico Grand Selezione Santa Caterina 2015 single vineyard wine, followed by the Castella d’Albola Grand Selezione Il Saltio 2010, of which only 3,000 bottles were made, and which is already sold out. Ferrante believes that the wines produced by premium single Chianti Classico vineyards are rapidly becoming “the Burgundy of Italy”.

Also on the table were a Nero d’Avola from Sicily, a red blend from the new, trendy region of Maremma, a Primitivo from Puglia and a spicy Amarone. Given the focus of the tasting, the Dos Almas Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve 2015 from Maipo was particularly interesting, with a palate showing a touch of balsamic vinegar freshness along with the fruit. Left overnight, the wine tasted even better the next day.

“We produce a range of seven [Chilean] wines now,” said Ferrante. “A sparkling, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Carménère, two Cabernet Sauvignons, a Pinot Noir and a red blend.” In 2019, the company plans to add a high-end wine from Apalta to the mix.

One of the Chilean wine industry’s most urgent issues is convincing the world that it produces fine wines, as well as its popular branded offerings. The excitement that European companies such as Zonin1821 are showing suggests they’re well on their way.
Felicity Carter.