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In my early days of wine drinking, Chilean wines were more of an afterthought. Those were the wines that drank when I did not have any more money. I remember drinking with fondness Gato Negro , Casillero del Diablo and Frontera. They were simple, yet delicious. In those early formative years, I thought that the spectrum of possibilities for Chilean wines was limited under the $12 bracket.

As the years passed on, my knowledge of Chilean expanded considerably. My first taste of premium Chilean wines was Almaviva, the joint venture, between Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and Concha y Toro. It was kind of like a Pauillac with a latin groove.

In my subsequent holiday trips to Venezuela, I discovered Don Melchor and Montes as well. In the early 2000’s, Venezuela was an important market for Chilean wines. I bought a lot of Don Melchor over there.

In an series of two post, I will share some of the wine estates that are positioning Chile in the premium wine category. On this posts, I will discuss some of the wines of Errazuriz and in a later posts the wines of Vina San Pedro.

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Not long ago, I had a chance to encounter Maria Luisa Errazuriz, marketing director of Vina Errazuriz, Caliterra and Vinedo Chadwick. Maria was passing in Montreal. The tasting took place in the offices of their Canadian Importer Philippe Dandurand. In a candid presentation and tasting, she describe the efforts of her family to specialize in Chilean premium wines and spread the gospel that image that Chile has more to offer than inexpensive wines.

The story of Errazuriz goes back to 1870 when Don Maximiano Errazuriz founded the estate in the Aconcagua Valley A man ahead of his time, he planted the first french grape varieties, In less than a decade his wines were among the best of the world. His motto was ” De la mejor tierra, el mejor vino”. This translate as ” from the best land, the best wine”

The Aconcagua Valley is one of the key wine growing areas of Chile. Only 100km north-west of Chile’s capital, Santiago, the Aconcagua Valley is an amazing wine spot. The name ‘Aconcagua’ means ‘Stone Sentinel’ in the ancient native language, and the valley is named after the mountain which constitute  its eastern border, which at 6962m high, is the highest peak of the Andes, and the highest as well in America.

The Valle de Aconcagua itself is very warm  and becomes fierce hot further inland. Moving far east, ideal conditions can be found for red wine production. Some of the best sites are on well-drained slopes, quite rare in Chile

In researching this post, I found many  important historical precedents that  bear witness to the contribution of Errazuriz to the Chilean wine industry. For instance, in 1993, the family were one of the pioneers of the introduction of Syrah in Aconcagua Valley. The climax of this proyect took form in the cumbre bottling which come from mountain syrah from the Aconcagua Valley. A good mixture of crispy whites and full bodied, intense reds are produced

Ten years after,  when Carmenere was identified in Chile,  Errazuriz did it again by  launching  one of the first ultra premium Carmenere based wine, Kai which means plant in aboriginal Chilean language. Kai took the International wine market by storm, receiving important accolades and the 2006 vintage was a winner in the Berlin Tasting 2010 in New York.

In 1995, Errazuriz were the first Chilean winery to establish an international joint venture. Following the lines of Opus One in California, Sena wine was a collaboration between Eduardo Chadwick, president of Errazuriz and the late Robert Mondavi. The objective was to create a Chilean grand cru in the Aconcagua Valley.

Errazuriz Wine States tasting notes

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Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay 2016. SAQ #  12531394 . $22.95

( 100 % Chardonnay. 10 months aging in second and third hand french barriques)

Medium intensity nose. Aromas of Italian pear, lemon jelly with a touch of blanched almond. With aeration in the glass, aromas of chamomille and acacia appear. On the mouth, it is a dry with a medium acidity and flavour intensity. Creamy texture. Stone orchard fruit flavours with fennel leading towards a gunflint finale. A very good Aconcagua Chardonnay. Pair it with a grilled tuna steak and mango salsa.

Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir 2016. SAQ # 12611036. $24.95-LCBO # 541151. $24.95

( 100 % Pinot Noir. 11 months aging in french oak, 15% new and 75% of second and third hand. The remainder 10% in concrete eggs vessel)

Medium plus intensity nose. Aromas of Rhubarb, cherry and grenadine syrup. Furthermore, licorice with nuances of Pimiento del Piquillo peppers and a brigth note of vanilla bean. On the palate, medium to full body with pronounced raspberry flavours and aromatic notes of menthol and eucalyptus. Medium acidity with ripe and soft tannins. Very fine and balanced wine. Pairing suggestions include game dishes or pastas with mushrooms.

Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. SAQ # 13394766. $22.05-LCBO # 203364. $21.95

( 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 12 months aging in french oak. 20% new)

Medium intensity nose. Fruity in nature bringing to mind, leafy blackberry fruit with peppermint and black peppercorns as well. On the palate, full body with ripe and fine tannins. Satiny texture with flavors bringing to mind cedar and licorice. An impressive effort for a Chilean Cabernet at this price range. Pairing well with grilled red meats dishes.

Aconcagua Don Maximiano 2014. SAQ # 11396557. $84.00-LCBO # 396333. $84.95

( 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Carmenere, 9% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. 20 months aging in french oak, 70% new)

Pronounced intensity nose. Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon aromas bringing to mind cassis, black plums, tobacco leaf and graphite. On the palate, full body with fine grained but muscular tannins and a medium acidity. Very complex notes bringing to mind tar, menthol and the classic smell of cigar box typical of fine Cabernet based wines. An stunning wine illustrating the potential of Chilean wines in the ultrapremium category. Will have anytime this wine with a rack of lamb.

Aconcagua La Cumbre 2014. SAQ # 11891101. $93.00.

( 100% Syrah. 22 months aging in french oak, 50% new)

A nose with very well pronounced aromas. Spicy dark fruits with a plethora of game notes as well as cocoa and vanilla bean. On the mouth, full body with a creamy texture Fine grained tannins and a medium acidity. Flavors that bring to mind, wild rosemary, oregano and violets. A very firm and long finale. Pair it with game dishes such as deer, or lamb.

Aconcagua Kai 2014. SAQ # 12051411. $140.75

( 95 % Carmenere, 5% Syrah. 22 months aging in french oak. 70% new)

Pronounced and complex nose. Bright leafy red fruit with alluring notes of grilled red bell pepper and tomatillo. On the mouth, full body with a lavish and creamy texture. Elegant with satiny tannins, flavors bring to mind spanish paprika, cumin and a complex floral side. A grand wine, fantastic to enjoy now but can be kept in the cellar for a decade or more. Pair it with empanadas of confit de canard.

Sena wine

The word Sena means signal in Spanish, and this wine was conceived to send a message to the world that Chile was capable of world class terroir wines.

Always a  red Bordeaux blend since its first vintage in 1995, the wine is born  from vineyards located  on north-east facing hillsides in Aconcagua. The location was well thought, for the finesse and balance to be accentuated in this wine Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 50% of the wine, but the blend also has  varying proportion of Carménère among other varieties, to impart a native Chilean signature.

The wine is a protagonist in the so called Berlin Tastings. These are series of Tastings where Sena and other premium wines of Errazuriz are blind tasted again its peers such as Solaia, Tignanello and Sassicaia as well as Chateau Latour and Margaux.

The first vintage of Sena that I tried was the 2008. A ravishing wine with notes of cohiba cigar, dark chocolate, black currants and spices. Mesmerizing with powerful tannins, yet presented in a silky palate.

I recently tasted the 2014 ( SAQ # 13098393, $195.25 for the 2013 vintage).  in a trade tasting. I found it fresher and vibrant. The nose was more into bright black fruits, licorice, fennel and red currants. On the palate, there was more finesse and balance, still powerful but with a feminine quality to it much like a Chateau Margaux. It is a very graceful wine.