Cool-climate quality from Errazuriz

A vertical tasting of iconic Bordeaux blends by Errazuriz included some new cool-climate wines. For publication in week of 24 October 2016.

Errazuriz in Chile has released some beautiful new wines: the 2015 Las Pizarras Chardonnay and the 2015 Las Pizarras Pinot Noir, both from the cool-climate coastal region of the Aconcagua Valley. The terroir has large amounts of slate, and the Spanish word for slate is pizarras. That slate and other metamorphic rocks allow the estate to produce wines with exceptional complexity, depth, minerality and natural acidity.

The new wines have been meticulously made using some of the best techniques from Burgundy. Francisco Baettig, group technical director and chief winemaker at Errazuriz, said the aim was to produce the equivalent of a grand cru wine from Burgundy. He is an avowed Burgundy-phile and has studied there. “I love Burgundy. It’s about elegance rather than richness. Chile needs to produce more terroir-driven wines. The country’s wine industry is moving in the right direction but it needs to make a range of wines from a range of grape varieties.”

Currently Chile’s most iconic wines are Bordeaux blends. “It takes time to develop other styles, and [with pinot and chardonnay] it’s about balance, not just terroir,” Baettig said.

Errazuriz has been working since 2010 with a French geologist from Burgundy, Francois Vannier, to perfect the terroir, experimenting with different exposure to the sun for growing grapes. They have also been pressing the grapes as whole bunches rather than individual berries to increase the tannic grip, and using natural yeasts.

The Las Pizarras Chardonnay is aged for 13 months in French oak, but only 15 per cent of the oak is new, so the wine is not overwhelmed by the vanilla tones of new oak. It has a textural and mineral salinity and the acidity is precise yet restrained. Given that the wine comes from vines planted in 2006, it will be fascinating to note its evolution as the vines age. Vines tend to produce their best fruit as they mature from about 25 years. The chardonnay has pristine fruit aromas of lime blossom and lemon zest combined with honeysuckle.

The Pinot Noir is another classy wine, though given the way it was made it sells at a premium price. One must be willing to pay for quality like this. About 85 per cent of the grapes were de-stemmed but the rest involved whole-bunch pressing, and the wine was made with natural yeasts (those that live in the air in the winery). As with the Chardonnay, the wine spent 13 months in oak. For the Pinot this involved 30 per cent new oak. The oak is well integrated and feels soft and structured in the mouth, with delightful aromas and flavours of raspberries, nutmeg and cherries. A delicious wine that would easily win a gold medal in global competitions.

The rest of the London tasting involved a vertical of Errazuriz’s flagship Bordeaux red, the Don Maximiano Reserva, from 1987, 1995, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2014. The wine is named after the estate’s founder, Don Maximiano Errazuriz, who pioneered vineyard planting in the Aconcagua Valley from 1870. The Aconcagua Valley is north of the capital, Santiago. The current head of Errazuriz is Eduardo Chadwick, a descendent of Don Maximiano and the sixth generation of the family to be involved in the wine business. Previous columns have talked aboutChadwick’s successes in bringing Errazuriz wines to the world’s attention.

The Cabernet vines for Don Maximiano were planted in 1978. This meant the vines were relatively young when the 1987 was made, but it has evolved well in the cellar and was a lovely wine with which to finish the evening, with echoes of ripe plums and dark cherries exuding from the glass. Don Maximiano wines have an excellent reputation worldwide and are sold in the United States, Brazil, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Indeed, about 70 per cent of Chile’s wine is exported. The country does not have the wine culture that we see in countries like France or Italy, so not a lot of wine is imported, which makes it difficult for local winemakers to learn from overseas products.

The 1995, also 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, had some slight green notes on the edge of the palate despite the ripeness in the mouthfeel. But this is still a very drinkable wine. The flavour profile has evolved to suggest balsamic notes, leather, mocha and nuts.

Francisco Baettig arrived as the winemaker in 2003 and initiated a change in approach to the wine’s composition. When a red wine is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon it is important that the fruit be fully ripe. From the 2004 vintage the Don Maximiano has involved other grapes, with more emphasis on finesse and elegance.

Thus the rest of the vintages in the vertical tasting included other Bordeaux style grapes in the cepage. The 2007, for example, is 83 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon with 10 per cent Cabernet Franc and the balance Petit Verdot. The extra weight from the blend is noticeable, with more sense of fruit complexity amid masses of rich black fruits. This is a voluptuous wine with loads of flavours of cassis, truffles, blueberries and cherries.

The 2010 has 10 per cent Carmenere as well as the base of 78 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The wine has polished tannins and a juicy quality that makes one want to drink more and more of it. This is a wine to collect and cellar because it is still young, despite the array of black fruits in the glass.

The 2013 and 2014 are also still young and need time in the cellar. By the 2014 vintage the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon has declined to 68 per cent, with 18 per cent Carmenere and the balance Malbec and Petit Verdot. The fine-grained tannins from 20 months of French oak (65 or 70 per cent new) give both wines structure that will hold them together for at least a couple of decades in the cellar. Make sure you store them well, and enjoy from 2036.

Words: 1,020

Categories: Chile, Not home, wine

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