Chile has been making wines for centuries, but it’s only relatively recently that its wines have commanded respect on the world stage. Beginning in the early 1980s, winery owners and winemakers from Europe and North America were looking for the next California, made famous by the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” competition, in which two California wines bested their French counterparts. Visionaries and pedigreed producers such as Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Robert Mondavi, Paul Hobbs, Michel Rolland, Grand Marnier, Aurelio Montes, Miguel Torres and many others were all taking an exacting look at the terroir of Chile 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 premium wine production.
Money poured into Chile and international partnerships were forged. Existing vineyards were improved and new vineyards were planted with grapes capable of showing brilliance in that environment. In just a few years, it became clear the experts were right. There are now several Chilean wines that sell for north of $100 and many for considerably more. Recently in New York City, I had the opportunity to meet Chilean winemaker Eduardo Chadwick, president of Viña Errázuriz, and taste six of his legendary Seña wines — which began as a collaboration with Mondavi.
In 1991, Mondavi arrived in Chile to investigate and Chadwick was asked to show him around the area. As they drove, it became clear they were on the same page — to craft a world-class wine, starting with the vineyard. They chose an amphitheater of a site with rugged terrain for the winery and the vineyards, which was eventually planted with six varieties originally found in Bordeaux — Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. (Today Viña Errázuriz, sole owner of Seña wines since 2005, has slightly more than 100 acres planted.)
Chadwick knew Chilean wines were ready to rock the international wine world and he called upon none other than Steven Spurrier — an architect of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 that was nicknamed the “Judgment of Paris” after the Greek myth that helped spark 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 the first growths of Bordeaux, the Super Tuscans and other noteworthy wines. By the time the tasting was finished, his wines had taken half of the top 10 spots, 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.
In the next decade, tastings were organized in 17 major wine-consuming cities on four continents around the world. And in every tasting Chadwick’s wines performed and out-performed the established wines of the world. He continues to tour the world to show not just the beauty of his wines but also the ageability of the vintages. Seña’s inaugural vintage was in 1995 and in New York City Chadwick and daughter Magui showed us the brilliant, balanced maturity of older vintages beside more current ones.
We tasted six wines spanning 23 years, including the James Suckling 100-point 2015. Usually at vertical tastings (different vintages/same wine), we taste from young to old. Chadwick poured the oldest first, progressing through to the youngest. The Seña 1996 had that brick-red look to it, but at 26 years old it was far from tired. Tasting of discreet blackberry, pomegranate and spice, it was simply lovely. Next we tasted the 2005, which showed pronounced dark fruit, blackberry, pepper and spice with many layers of flavor to explore. The 2009 showed dark fruit and blackberry with a rich and powerful presence. The 2015 was brilliant with black fruit, spice and cinnamon. Balanced and wonderful, it will clearly benefit with some aging time, if you can wait. The 2017 showed red fruits, raspberry and cassis and the 2019 — rich and dense, tasting of dark fruit — will benefit from a decanting.
All six of these wines are structured with finesse and elegance. Chile has become, in just a few short years, a major producer of wines ranked ninth in the world in production by volume. But in those few years, many producers have demonstrated the excellence of the region. As Chadwick said to us, “We’ve entered the club. To convince people you have a quality wine, first you must make a quality wine and then spread the word.” He has 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 knowledgeable wine friends, open up a bottle or two and spread the word.
Write Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.