There’s no need to be snobbish when it comes to big brands, as Errazuriz shows with its high-scoring Chilean wines, writes Peter Ranscombe.
Branded wine is an interesting phenomenon: for some, it’s the reassurance they need to part with their cash, safe in the knowledge that this bottle will taste the same as the previous one; for others, it’s a massive turn-off, conjuring up images of bland, mass-produced plonk only fit to occupy the bottom shelf in a supermarket.
I’ll confess to sitting somewhere in-between. There are indeed big brands hoovering up grapes from here, there and everywhere, producing wine on an industrial scale with little sense of place.
But branded wines aren’t all made by faceless corporations. After all, the negociants of Burgundy and the Rhone have been creating “brands” for centuries, as have co-operatives in France and beyond – and what are the best-known chateaux in Bordeaux if they’re not brands?
Plus, “brand” certainly doesn’t have to equal “bad” when it comes to the quality of the wine either, as a recent Errazuriz tasting and lunch at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh reminded me. The event centred around the brand’s high-scoring wines, which have won praise from wine experts in competitions and vintage reports.
Mark Calver, commercial director at Hatch Mansfield, the brand’s UK distributor, hosted the lunch alongside master of wine and fellow Hatch veteran Mark O’Bryen. Calver explained how Errazuriz’s high-end bottles were designed to “put Chile on the map” when it came to fine wines.
Following in the founder’s footsteps
Errazuriz is one of the best-known producers in Chile, with its labels being a mainstay in both independent bottle shops and supermarkets. The company is family-owned, with its president, Eduardo Chadwick, representing the fifth generation to be involved in the business, which traces its roots back to 1870, when Don Maximiano planted his first vines.
And it’s his legacy that’s celebrated with the 2014 Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve (£53.95, Vino Wines), a Bordeaux-style blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Carmenere, 9% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The wine received 96 points in James Suckling’s Chile report; its aromas of brambles and heavy wood smoke – along with its dark chocolate, mint, blackcurrant and blackberry flavours – mark it out as a serious tipple.
The 2008 Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve (£53.99, Luvians), served from a magnum at the lunch, tips the scales with more Cabernet Sauvignon at 82%, with 6% dashes of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Rhone-style interloper Syrah. There’s leather, cinnamon and cloves joining the dark chocolate and wood smoke on the nose, with softer tannins and a richer and rounder mouthfeel, with sweeter red cherry and sharper cranberry and redcurrant notes.
While the founder’s reserve salutes Don Maximiano, Chadwick’s own pet project is Sena, a biodynamic estate in the Aconcagua Valley, which produces Bordeaux-style blends from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The 2013 Sena (£124, Berry Bros & Rudd) is full of blackcurrant, black cherry and smoke on the nose, with gripping tannins and tinglingly-fresh acidity, plus blackcurrant, redcurrant and mint flavours leading through to dark chocolate on the finish.
For me, the 2014 Sena (£124, Berry Bros & Rudd) had slightly softer and better-integrated tannins, with brighter black fruit flavours and more cinnamon and vanilla notes. The 2014 picked up 97 points from Suckling, while the 2013 carried home 99 points.
Proving a point
The highlight of the tasting was a pair of Vinedo Chadwick, Errazuriz’s flagship wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Maipo Valley south of Santiago. The 2009 Vinedo Chadwick (£125, Drinks Direct) offers roast meat, wood smoke, blackberry and black cherry aromas on the nose, with the black fruit being joined on the palate by mint, vanilla, cloves and milk chocolate, wrapped in fine tannins and a rounded mouthfeel, helping it towards 94 points from Suckling.
The 2014 Vinedo Chadwick (£330, Noel Young Wines) was the first Chilean wine to score 100 points from Suckling; it’s full of sweet milk chocolate and bitter dark chocolate flavours, along with a mix of sweeter blackberry and sharper blackcurrant. The acidity is fresh and the tannins are fine – lots of structure here and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops with age.
While the top-end wines were very impressive, there were three wines served with lunch that particularly caught my attention. The fresh acidity and bright lemon, melon and pear flavours of the 2015 Errazuriz Pizarras Chardonnay (£58.80, Hedonism Wines) worked particularly well with a dish of hake rillettes, served with charred orange and pickled cucumber – easy to see why Suckling awarded it 98 points.
My star of the day was the 2016 Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir (£15.50, Wine Direct), which comes from a single vineyard and represents absolutely stonking value. I love Pinot Noir, but I find some Chilean examples can be too vegetal for my liking; yet this was full of ripe red cherry and redcurrant aromas, notes of wood smoke and cinnamon, with well-integrated vanilla joining the concentrated red cherry and raspberry flavours on the palate. Yum, yum, yum – especially alongside the Balmoral’s Borders lamb rump, with crushed potatoes and a basil gravy.
Finally, regular readers of the Wine to Dine column in the main printed Scottish Field magazine will recognise the 2015 Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (£10.99 for 375ml, Hennings Wine), which has graced those pages. The latest vintage was showing really well when paired with a cheeseboard, displaying its sharp lemon juice and rounded apricot flavours.