My blind date at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills with 10 international wine icons from France, Italy, California and Chile.
I inhaled deeply, eyes closed. A slight smile crept across my lips as I took in aromas of ripe, black fruit and subtle notes of truffles and cocoa. Gorgeous, I thought, admiring the intense violet-ruby red color. I took a calculated sip, letting the complexities of the wine linger on my tongue. “Lovely to make your acquaintance, Glass No. 4.”
It’s a perfectly lovely May afternoon at the Montage Beverly Hills. I’m cozying up to some of the world’s greatest wines, like first growths Château Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion, and Napa icons Opus One and Stag’s Leap SLV. Just what was I doing, surrounded by the country’s foremost wine experts and professionals? Let’s call it a blind date. Ten of them, actually. On the table in front of me were ten unidentified glasses of 2006 vintage wines from France, Italy, California and Chile. And I was excited to meet each one of them.
Wine legend Steven Spurrier (see the movie Bottle Shock or read Judgment of Paris — yes, that man) led this blind tasting, modeled after the “Paris Tasting” he hosted in 1976 that forever changed the wine world. Today, he recreated the “Berlin Tasting” of 2004 in which legendary French reds and Super Tuscans were bested by a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s right, Chile.
A Chilean Charmer
Eduardo Chadwick makes me want to pack my bags for Chile. He described his country and his wines with such passion and charm; I wondered why I hadn’t yet traveled to the lush Errazuriz vineyards for a private tasting. I suppose my reaction is not surprising to a man who was named 2008 Wine Personality of the Year by the Chilean Circle of Food & Wine Writers. Sigh…
Chile, the land of soaring Andes Mountains, is home to Viña Errazuriz, a family-owned, estate winery founded in 1870 by Don Maximiano Errázuriz in the Aconcagua Valley, 65 miles north of Santiago. Having recognized the ideal grape-growing potential of this valley, with its temperate Mediterranean climate and diverse soils, Don Maximiano brought in the finest clones from France to transform the land into a viticultural paradise
Eduardo Chadwick, a fifth generation descendant of the Errázuriz family, is the charismatic president of Viña Errazuriz whose dynamism propels the historic estate’s production of exceptional hand-crafted wines. Mr. Chadwick has overseen the modernization of winemaking technology while maintaining a distinct identity for the wines. He built quite a reputation for his winery in the process. International accolades for Vina Errazuriz include “Winery of the Year 2008” by Wines of Chile and “Top 50 Power List” by Decanter Magazine.
Even so, I thought it a gutsy move to challenge the best of the best. Could the Errazuriz wines really be that wonderful? Mr. Chadwick, ever the brilliant marketer, has a plan: Conduct blind tastings in different cities worldwide as part of Viña Errázuriz’s global educational program and demonstrate the world-class status of Chilean wines to an international audience.
I’ve enjoyed plenty of Chilean wines and deemed them a reliable value — pleasant, consistently nice bottles for around $20. But when serious, I have always reached for a fine French or cult California. Was I a wee bit biased when it came to Old World vines and Napa superstars? Possibly. It’s true, I’d never even considered there were wines from Chile that could hold their own in the company of such major players. However, if you told me a Chilean would outrank established global icons, I’d have bet my entire Bordeaux collection on the contrary and questioned your palate.
But that’s exactly what happened in Berlin on January 23, 2004. Steven Spurrier and Errazuriz led a blind tasting with 40 of the top European wine journalists and professionals. Among the 16 wines sampled, including the absolute best of Bordeaux and Tuscany, the top scoring wine was Errazuriz’ Viñedo Chadwick 2000. Six years later, with new judges, different palates and some steep California competition, could it happen again on U.S.soil?
Let’s Meet the Contestants
I was intrigued. Had the Berlin Tasting been simply a blind tasting fluke or was it truly a monumental event in the Chilean wine industry? I was eager to learn the identity of the Chilean wines that took on such a risky proposition.
The contenders for the Los Angeles rendition of the Berlin Tasting, in the order they were blind tasted:
- ’06 Château Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
- ’06 Sassicaia, Tuscany
- ’06 Errazuriz, Don Maximiano
- ’06 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, S.L.V., Napa Valley
- ’06 Errazuriz, La Cumbre, Aconcagua
- ’06 Opus One, Napa Valley
- ’06 Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan
- ’06 Errazuriz, Viñedo Chadwick
- ’06 Errazuriz, Seña, Aconcagua
- ’06 Errazuriz, KAI, Aconcagua
It’s been said that the fate of a first date is decided in the first few minutes. I took my first sip of what was later revealed as the Errazuriz KAI 2006 and couldn’t help but wonder if this bold, fruit-forward wine was trying to seduce me. At the very least, there was definitely some flirting going on.
Chile’s signature grape is Carmenère and it is expressed perfectly in KAI. Grapes for KAI 2006 were sourced from the finest Carmenère vines of Errazuriz’s Don Maximiano Estate in the Aconcagua Valley, a region that features an extended dry season with moderately warm summer days cooled by the soft afternoon breezes that blow in from the Pacific Ocean. With each sip, I could practically feel the warmth of the Chilean sun kissing my cheek … and an unexpected appreciation for the unique Carmenère grape variety.
The bottle itself is stunning. A beautiful label, of course, but what’s inside is even more intriguing. As one familiar with the Los Angeles dating scene can attest, style and substance are an all too rare combination in these parts, but KAI has it in spades. I just might have a little crush.
Love and Money
Said Steven Spurrier of Errazuriz, “I don’t think there is any other wine producer in the world with the generosity to give such a seminar and presentation worldwide. Eduardo’s wines are a benchmark for Chile at a fraction of the price of the globally revered European classics.”
Yes, let’s talk about price points for a moment — and ratings, too. Those of us who adore the fabulous French heavyweights know that love comes with a hefty price tag. A bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild retails for $950, while a bottle of Viñedo Chadwick goes for $180. That’s quite a disparity. Can one taste the $770 difference? Maybe not.
If you don’t believe me, ask Robert Parker. He’s only the most influential critic of fine wines in the world today. And these are his scores for Vintage 2006:
Château Lafite Rothschild, 97 points.
Viñedo Chadwick, 97 points.
All you Napaphiles will be pleased to learn that the Stag’s Leap SLV took top honors. Errazuriz made the top five with KAI taking its rightful place among the best wines from France, Italy and California. This fascinating experience made me rethink my position on Chilean wines and view them in a new light.
So, who was my favorite blind date? I’m not the kind of girl to sip and tell. There are many eligible bottles out there competing for my affections, and I’m still playing the field before I make any kind of commitment. But let’s just say I see more Chileans in my future.