I can still remember vividly what the late European Director at Wines of Chile (a generic organisation), Mr Michael Cox, said in a Chilean wine seminar in London a few years back. “For a long time,” he said with an amused expression, “Chilean wines can only satisfy demand but can’t excite.” Back then, those seminar attendees smiled in agreement. But now, people can grin for Chilean wines for many good reasons, as wines from Chile have never been so exciting.
One of the driving forces behind the rapid transformation of the image of Chilean wines has to be attributed to Mr Eduardo Chadwick, the President of Viña Errázuriz.
I met the charismatic Eduardo in a sunny September afternoon in the classy Goring Hotel in London, when he was in town to celebrate Decanter Magazine’s 40th Anniversary. Having an engineering background, Eduardo took up the reins of Viña Errázuriz from his father in 1983, becoming the 5th generation of this family owned wine business. “When I started to get involved in the family business, Chilean wines were unknown in the international market. Nothing was exported before the ‘90s. But look at what is happening now; 90% of Chilean wines are exported,” explained Eduardo.
Having a rather unique terroir, Chile has long been considered as the paradise for vines as it is so far, free of phylloxera, the louse that devastated the European vineyards in the 19th century. The combination of the ideal Mediterranean climate and the superb natural barriers make it perfect for winegrowing and applying sustainable and organic practices. In short, Chile ticks all the boxes for making high quality wines.
“This perfect and healthy winegrowing condition forms the pillar of Chilean wine industry,” Eduardo continued, “those Bordeaux-inspired wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec as well as Carmenere blends show great results. However, I don’t think wine critics around the world, even two decades ago, did Chilean wines any justice. No one thinks Chilean wines are good enough to gain the so-called ‘iconic’ status.”
This is the biggest motivation that kick-started Eduardo’s quest for recognition.
Eager to show the world how good Chilean wines could be, in 2004, Eduardo initiated a blind tasting in Berlin. This in fact was inspired by the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting, during which wines from California were compared with Bordeaux wines from top growths. At the tasting, which was later known as “The Berlin Tasting,” 36 most influential wine critics were gathered under one roof and 16 wines from France, Italy and Chile were tasted blind. The results were astonishing; two wines from Eduardo’s premium brands (Viñedo Chadwick 2000 and Seña 2001) ranked in the top two positions, leaving Château Lafite Rothschild 2000 and Château Margaux 2001 in the 3rd and 4th place. Eduardo felt as if he was in seventh heaven when the results were announced.
Following the success in Berlin, the journey for pursuing global recognition continued. Between 2004 and 2013, Eduardo repeated the blind tasting every year in different cities around the world. After hosting 22 tastings attended by 1,400 opinion leaders worldwide, the results were always in the same vein: 9 times out of ten, Chilean wines were placed among the top three. There is no doubt that Chilean wines can truly be extraordinary and can stand alongside the world’s best wines with confidence.
But how about the ageability of these iconic Chilean wines? Some critics are skeptical about it.
To prove that, Eduardo organised various tastings since 2012 in major cities worldwide, comparing different vintages of Seña range with other fine wines from the same vintages. Seña is Eduardo’s personal project and originally in cooperation with the highly respected late American wine figure Robert Mondavi. The results silenced those still in doubt as Seña successfully prove that Chilean wines can indeed age!
“Throughout the way, I was making risky decisions,” Eduardo commented. “Just imagine if at the first Berlin Tasting, our wines were placed at the last few in the rankings, it would have been a disaster. But for me, it’s like a learning curve and I am pleased that the results were more than satisfying. All these events have helped prove one thing, that Chilean wines are not only about value for money, it’s also about high quality and the potential to age.”
Only recently, Seña 2013 got 99 points from the world-renowned American wine critic James Suckling. “Last year we got 98 points for the 2012 vintage from him,” Eduardo beamed with joy. “Maybe we will get 100 points next year!”
Judging by what has been achieved so far, I can only say, nothing seems impossible!
Seña’s First Vintage 1995
Originally from Taiwan, Leona moved to the UK in 2005. She started her career as a PR professional, helping brands (spirits, travel, food etc) to create stories that would interest journalists. She also worked for Sopexa Taiwan as Project Manager, managing wine projects and media relations; it was then she started to be fascinated by the world of French wine and wishing to explore every single detail about wine making and vine growing.
Leona began her wine writing and translating career when she moved to the UK, firstly with Decanter Magazine (Chinese Edition in Taiwan) and is currently UK & Europe Correspondent for the most influential wine and spirits magazine (Wine & Spirits Digest) in Taiwan. She has travelled extensively to vineyards in Europe and you will almost always find her in major International Wine Exhibitions “grilling” producers.