Much has been made in the wine press of a recent blind-tasting event, where a panel of over 30 expert judges tasted some the top Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of Chile, against the best wines of Bordeaux. Eduardo Chadwick of Viña Errázuriz organised the tasting in Berlin, to pit his own wines against the likes of Châteaux Lafite and Latour in a head-to-head challenge.
The fuss is because, somewhat predictably, two of Señor Chadwick’s wines – Vinedo Chadwick and Seña, his collaborative project with Mondavi – took top spots. How can I say “somewhat predictably” when the very idea of a Chilean wine being preferred to the £150 icon wines of Bordeaux is so seemingly shocking? Two factors have to be taken into consideration: one is that this is a mere snapshot of very young wines; the Bordeaux vintages on tasting were 2000 and 2001. The fact is that wines like Lafite 2000 are simply not designed to be drunk a year after release, and would not be expected to hit their stride for a decade or more. Factor two is that the profile of most New World wines is generally more forward and flattering than Bordeaux. The top Californian, Australian or Chilean Cabernets major on fruit sweetness, ripeness of tannins, and softness of acidity, as well as copious sweet oak. Bordeaux is almost always more reserved and structured, with a leaner framework and more savoury character. Whilst “comparing apples with oranges” might be overstating it, this tasting was definitely pitting two quite distinct styles of wine against each other.
Having said all that, a third factor certainly influenced this outcome: these wines from the Errazuriz stable are very, very good indeed. Whilst Chile’s stereotype is fruity, simple good value and cheap, more and more very high quality wines at super-Premium level are being made. By coincidence, I tasted all three of the top Errazuriz wines that featured in the Berlin tasting earlier this month: Don Maxiamo, named after the original 1870’s founder of Errazuriz, Seña, the much-praised joint-venture with California’s Robert Mondavi, and a brand new wine, Vinedo Chadwick, the first commercial release being the one tasted, the 1999 vintage. My notes on the wines follow.
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Errazuriz Don Maxiamo 1999
This is gorgeous stuff, composed of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Merlot. with an inky-dark purple/crimson hue and an alluring perfume of sweet, lush black fruits, coffee-bean, tobacco and touches of spice-laden, dark, earthy character. On the palate it is beautifully glossy, rich and fruit-cakey, with masses of unctuous blackcurrant and damson fruit, and plenty of warming, dark espresso and chocolate depth. The tannins are agile and crisp on the tongue, with a good lick of acidity too, meaning this stays fresh and savoury. The mid-palate stays strong and focused, and it finishes with great style. Excellent, and I have to say given its reasonable price, possibly it deserves to be rated as outstanding. £19.99 Luvians, Everywine.co.uk, some Thresher and Tesco stores, Wino’s, Left Bank Village, Wimbledon, Vicki’s, Four Walls Wine.
Probably the highest profile wine in Chile’s armorment, Seña is the elegantly-packaged trophy wine made in colaboration between Eduardo Chadwick or Errazuriz and Robert Mondavi. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 8% Carmenère, this too comes from the Aconcagua Valley. After a long maceration it spent 18 months in French oak, 56% of which was new. The nose has a wonderfully polished sheen of minty blackcurrant and black cherry, with a little gamy, animal note and some earthy, truffle aromas. The oak is sweet and custardy, but quite subdued, sitting beneath the fruit. On the palate it has a medium-bodied sense of finesse, with plenty of richness and warming flavours of coffee, spice and tobacco, but a great core of concentrated black fruit where a liquorice edge dominates. Quite severe at present, with firm, grippy tannins and good acidity matched against that solid black fruit, this will mellow over the next few years. A beautifully balanced and very impressive wine. Around £34.99, Luvians, Villeneuve Wines, Portland Wine, Wimbledon Wines, Vicki’s of Cobham, Eton Vintners and Everywine.co.uk.
Vinedo Chadwick 1999
This is the first ever release of Eduardo Chadwick’s own single-vineyard prestige wine, a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon with 6% Carmenère. Vinedo Chadwick is located along the banks of the Maipo river, and was close-planted with selected clones in 1992. This low-yielding vintage has produced a dense, garnet coloured wine with a deep, serious, vinous nose of cedary, powerful character with notes of very sweet black fruits, a hint of violet and a broad, toasty, tobacco background. On the palate there is a mass of mouthfilling cherry and raspberry fruit, with depths of plummier concentration filling out the mid-palate, a real rasp of acidity, but polished, ripe tannins creating a warming, expansive finish. There is plenty of spice and and and lovely sense of harmony about this wine which finishes with great purity and focus. Outstanding. Around £34.99, Luvians, Four Walls Wine, PMH Wines, Classic & Rare Wines, Halifax Wine Co., L’Assemblage and Everywine.co.uk.