Winery Profile: Viña Errazuriz
Who owns bragging rights as Outstanding Value Winery retailing in Canada? That would be Errázuriz of Chile. This winery entered eleven wines in the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and took seven value medals – three gold, three silver and one bronze.
by John Sazbo, MS
“I think the challenge is to stop following the recipe when it comes to making wines, and start making “terroir” wines, wines that the world’s best restaurants would fight to have on their wine lists”, writes Francisco Baettig, in Chile’s La Cav magazine nearly a half dozen years ago, some time before the real beginning of what might be called Chile’s vinous renaissance. The thoughtful and introspective chief winemaker at Viña Errazuriz (as well as Seña and Viñedo Chadwick), Baettig has long had a solid grasp on the Chilean wine business, its past and especially its future, and its place on the world stage.
As I’ve written on WineAlign before, Chile is in the process of shedding its staid image, and waking up to its vinicultural potential, exchanging dog-eared recipe books for vinous adventure guides. It’s no easy task, considering the weight of history and the slow moving wine business, which wheels about with the nimbleness of a giant cargo ship. But Baettig, and Errrazuriz owner and president Eduardo Chadwick, have assigned themselves the task of refashioning Chile’s reputation, and putting the country on the world map, all the while maintaining the success of one of Chile’s oldest wine companies, founded by Don Maximiamo Errázuriz Valdivieso in 1870.
‘Don Max’ was the first to plant French grapes in the Aconcagua Valley north of Santiago. At one point in the 19th century, with 700 hectares under vine, Viña Errazuriz was thought to be the largest vineyard under single ownership in the world. Chadwick, a descendant of Don Maximiano, is less interested in sheer size today, and more focused on exploring Chile’s terroir and its stylistic potential, and gaining recognition around the world.
Chadwick has achieved a great deal in his time, best known internationally for his “guerilla tastings” first launched in 2004, pitting his top wines against the best from elsewhere in a series of blind tastings for top journalists in major cities from Toronto to Tokyo. The results were often shocking, and pleasing, for Errazuriz. Seña, Viñedo Chadwick and Don Maximiano regularly bested top crus from Bordeaux and Italian cult classics. In repeated tastings over the years, Chilean wines finished in the top three in 19 out of 21 tastings, establishing that Chadwick’s, and Chile’s wines, have earned a spot at the top.
Uniquely for a large player in the Chilean wine industry, the vast majority of Errazuriz’s wines come from a single region, the Aconcagua Valley. And the valley itself is also unusual, a long, narrow transversal valley that stretches from the Pacific to the Andes, unlike most of Chile’s other valleys. Soils and climate thus vary dramatically, making it suitable for a variety of grapes and wine styles from sauvignon blanc and pinot noir to grenache and cabernet sauvignon. This fact was recognized recently in Chile’s revised appellation system, dividing the valley into three sub-regions: Aconcagua Costa is the coolest near the ocean in the coastal range, Aconcagua-Alto covers the high foothills of the Andes at the eastern end of the valley, and everything else falls under the cumbersome Entre Cordilleras (“Between the Ranges”) denominations, usually labeled simply as Aconcagua Valley.
In early February, the WineAlign crü tasted through currently available wines from Errazuriz. Among the highlights is the simple but tasty, and well priced, 2015 Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95). The Estate series is the entry point into the Errazuriz range, designed to be inexpensive, easy drinking and varietally driven. This sauvignon achieves the mark, with substantial fleshy texture and weight in the price context, and a fine mix of tropical guava/papaya flavours alongside sharper citrus.
Equally competent and attractively priced is the 2015 Estate Series Chardonnay ($12.95), a sweet lemon and apple/pear fruit-flavoured, crisp and fresh wine, essentially unoaked (aged in 4th and 5th use barrels), from Casablanca Valley fruit. Lively acids (no malolactic fermentation here) carry the finish beyond the mean for the price category.
The Max Reserva range is the next step up, the core of Errazuriz’s production. These wines are more structured, made from generally older vines, and hand harvested. Reds are made from vineyards in Panquehue around the winery itself, and whites from the more suitable Casablanca Valley and Aconcagua Costa appellations. According to Baettig, the Max Reserva wines are “very polished, so apt for early consumption, but with enough intensity and structure to age for 5-8 years. We aim to over deliver on quality”.
The 2015 Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($16.00), for example, comes from Errazuriz’s Manzanar vineyard in the Acongagua Costa DO, a stone’s throw from the Pacific. It’s slightly denser and richer than the Estate Series sauvignon, with more extract on the palate, and flavours comfortably situated between the extremes of overtly tropical fruit and green-herbal character.
Especialidades, or Specialties, is Baettig’s favorite range, a playground for experimentation. “In these wines I try to make the kind of wines I personally like to drink, that is, more food-friendly with less alcohol, more nerve and freshness, bone dry, and with very intense fruit and some oak-derived complexity, but well integrated.”
A prime example is the 2013 Pinot Noir Aconcagua Costa ($24.95), also from the Manzanar vineyard. It bridges the gap between old and new world styles, leaning gently towards darker fruit character, though also offering some savoury, earthy notes. Wood is marked but already well integrated, and will continue to meld into the ensemble over the next 1-3 years no doubt, maximizing complexity. It’s surely a very promising vineyard site for genuinely cool climate pinot in Chile, one to follow closely as vines mature.
Also worth a look is the pleasantly juicy, fresh, lightly wooded 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Alto ($19.95) from Errazuriz’s vineyards in the Andean foothills. Fruit stays lively and buoyant on the palate, aided by firm acids. Let this sit another year or so in bottle to come together nicely.
Among the things to look forward to from Errazuriz is a new vineyard project called Las Pizzaras in the Aconcagua Costa zone. “Eduardo asked me to create a high end Pinot and Chardonnay”, relates Baettig. “I wanted it to come from a terroir approach. I knew we had some metamorphic rock (pizarra means slate/schist) on the property so I hired a geologist from Burgundy to create a geological map. From this, coupled with exposure, plant material and tasting of the different lots, I’ve identified what I believe are the equivalents of Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village parcels. It’s not Burgundy, but it is another level of Chilean Pinot and Chardonnay. It’s an on-going project”.
Baettig is also experimenting with different vessels like concrete eggs, concrete tanks, and small foudres, and red and white blends from Mediterranean varieties (grenache, mourvedre, tempranillo, etc.), among other projects, so there is more to come. But for now, we can take advantage of the value that Errazuriz, and Chile in general, offer. “Chile not always has the leverage to charge a “fair” price for the quality we provide”, says Baettig, “thus usually we over deliver on quality in the $12-$25/bottle range. “Try to find a Cabernet from the US, for instance, like our Max Reserva at $18.95. Very difficult.”
Sounds like we’ll be lining up another blind tasting…
John Szabo, MS
As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign.
About Viña Errazuriz
Don Maximiano Errázuriz founded Viña Errázuriz in 1870. With his great vision for the future and his innovative, pioneering spirit, he planted the first French grape varieties in the Aconcagua Valley. His initiative and creativity were handed down to future generations and, in just over a century, his descendants consolidated the winery and positioned their wines among the world’s most noteworthy. Here, we invite you to get to know some of the main landmarks that have shaped the history of this family vineyard, currently one of the best examples of successful winemaking in Chile. Visit their website for more infomation: www.errazuriz.com
Photos courtesy of Viña Errazuriz