Getting to know Chilean wines

Chilean winemaker Eduardo Chadwick, president of Viña Errázuriz, and his daughter Magui were recently in New York to show off a selection of their Seña wines.

Chile has been producing wines for centuries, but it’s only relatively recently that its wines have garnered respect on the world stage. Beginning in the early 1980s, winery owners and winemakers in Europe and North America were on the hunt for the next California, made famous by the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” competition, in which two wines Californians beat their French counterparts. Visionaries and breed producers such as Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Robert Mondavi, Paul Hobbs, Michel Rolland, Grand Marnier, Aurelio Montes, Miguel Torres and many others all had a demanding view of the Chilean terroir and were convinced that the short stretch between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, with optimal weather and soil conditions, was a safe bet for the production of high-end wine.

Money flowed to Chile and international partnerships were forged. Existing vineyards were improved and new vineyards were planted with grapes capable of performing in this environment. In just a few years, it became clear that the experts were right. There are now several Chilean wines that sell for north of $100 and many for much more. Recently in New York, I had the opportunity to meet Chilean winemaker Eduardo Chadwick, President of Viña Errázuriz, and taste six of his legendary Seña wines – which started with a collaboration with Mondavi.

In 1991 Mondavi arrived in Chile to investigate and Chadwick was invited to show him around the area. As they drove, it became clear that they were on the same page: making world-class wine, starting with the vineyard. They chose an amphitheater of a site with rugged terrain for the winery and vineyards, which were eventually planted with six varieties native to Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. (Today, Viña Errázuriz, sole owner of Seña wines since 2005, has just over 100 planted acres.)

Chadwick knew Chilean wines were poised to shake up the international wine world and he called on none other than Steven Spurrier – an architect of the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting that was dubbed the “Judgment of Paris” after the Greek myth that helped start the Trojan War — to create another event. In May 2004 they coordinated a blind tasting with international wine experts in Berlin. Chadwick expected a respectable finish against Bordeaux premier crus, Super Tuscans and other notable wines. By the end of the tasting, his wines had taken half of the top 10 places, including Errazuriz Founder’s Reserve, 2001 in ninth place, Viñedo Chadwick 2001 tied for sixth place with Château Latour and Château Margaux, Seña 2000 in fourth place, Seña 2001 in second place ahead of Château Margaux and Lafite-Rothschild and Viñedo Chadwick 2000 in first place. The results stunned everyone in the room.

Over the next decade, tastings were held in 17 major wine-consuming cities on four continents around the world. And in every tasting, Chadwick wines have performed and outperformed the established wines of the world. He continues to travel around the world to show not only the beauty of his wines but also the ability to keep vintages. Seña’s inaugural vintage dates back to 1995 and in New York, Chadwick and his daughter Magui showed us the brilliant, balanced maturity of older vintages alongside more current vintages.

We tasted six wines spanning 23 years, including the 2015 James Suckling 100 points. Usually in vertical tastings (different vintages/same wine) we taste from young to old. Chadwick poured the oldest first, progressing to the youngest. The 1996 Seña had that brick red look, but at 26 it was far from tired. Discreet tasting of blackberry, pomegranate and spices, it was simply delightful. Next we tasted the 2005, which showed pronounced dark fruit, blackberry, pepper and spice notes with plenty of flavor layers to explore. The 2009 reveals aromas of black fruits and blackberries with a rich and powerful presence. The 2015 was brilliant with notes of dark fruit, spice and cinnamon. Balanced and wonderful, it will clearly benefit from some time to age, if you can wait. The 2017 showed red fruits, raspberry and cassis and the 2019 — rich and dense, with a dark fruit flavor — will benefit from decanting.

All these six wines are structured with finesse and elegance. Chile has become, in just a few years, a major wine producer ranked ninth in the world in volume production. But during these few years, many producers have demonstrated the excellence of the region. As Chadwick told us: “We walked into the club. To convince people that you have a quality wine, you must first make a quality wine and then spread the word. He spread the word like no other Chilean producer. Seña, Viñedo Chadwick and Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve will turn any event into something special. Find a few wine-savvy friends, crack open a bottle or two, and spread the word.

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Shirley M. Pinder