We began our day at 2880m above the sea, at Chile’s famed Portillo ski resort, the first and only resort in South America to host the World Cup Skiing Championship in 1966. On the 1st of March, the weather is warm and sunny, but a quick morning dip in the glacial lake nestled within the surrounding Andes Mountains is an instant reminder of the frigid impact of this level of elevation. Soon we are descending the mountain into Chile’s Aconcagua Valley for our first visit, fittingly at the birthplace of winemaking in this region, Errazuriz’s Don Maximiano winery.
Before we dive into the details of our trip, here’s the thing about Chile — its fine wines are grossly underacknowledged. There are many misconceptions of quite what is emerging from this new world country. The benefit of this? Exceedingly reasonable pricing! But these wines deserve every bit of praise and following which comes their way from those in the know. Our first-hand experiences debunked many a myth about Chile for us. It is only fair we share our findings with you.
Myth #1: Chile is only capable of producing cheap and cheerful supermarket wines.
Founding Vina Errazuriz in 1870, Maximiano Errazuriz was a man with a mission. He wanted to create Chilean wines which would rival the very best in the world and today under the leadership of Eduardo Chadwick, the fifth generation of the Errazuriz family, this vision and commitment to producing world calibre wines is more apparent than ever. Eduardo is a man with a single-minded determination towards innovating and elevating the Chilean wine industry from its former reputation as an inexpensive bulk wine exporter. This truly kicked off in 1983 with the first release of Errazuriz’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve.
To fully understand this journey, we first toured the historic cellars of the estate, which have weathered a number of Chile’s most fearsome earthquakes over the last century and half, before sitting down to a vertical tasting. The tasting began with the historic inaugural vintage, and then covered all the major decades the Errazuriz team have spent carefully fine-tuning their viticulture and vinification to produce a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon blend, deserving of a seat alongside the best in the world. It was fascinating to witness the evolution of this historic wine over the decades thanks to increased investments, research and access to cutting edge technology and we were left with no doubts that the Don Maximiano wines are a worthy ambassador of the top-quality wine production Chile is capable of producing.
Myth #2: There is no vintage variation in South America, the wine is the same every year.
From here we continued our journey to the dramatic hillside vineyards of Vina Sena, another tremendously innovative venture, which was initially established between Eduardo Chadwick and Robert Mondavi, but which has been under the sole direction of Chadwick since 2005. At Sena we were able to witness Chadwick’s dedication to sustainability, as one of the first estates in Chile to embrace organic and biodynamic farming practices to promote an entirely self-sustaining eco-system.
We climbed up to the stunning vista overlooking the estate, where once again we were able to taste a comprehensive vertical of Vina Sena, dating back to its early vintages in the 1990’s which are still beautifully elegant and harmonious today. While once people may have jested that there were no actual vintages in Chile as the sun never failed to shine brightly upon the vines, our tasting at Sena was instrumental in showing the subtle nuances that can be found from bolder, riper wines from warmer vintages such as 2005 or 2009, as compared to the complexity and restraint found in cooler vintages like 2011 and 2013. Then there are vintages which can be considered truly exceptional in every way such as 2015, 2018 and as we were able to conclude with one of the first ever tastings for any group, the 2021 vintage, which was absolutely outstanding from the estate.
Myth #3: Chile is far too warm to ever produce top quality “cool climate” grape varieties.
While there is no denying the strength of the Chilean sunshine (as witnessed by our troupe of English men and women quickly wilting in the heat of the vineyards), those who rose early in the morning for a swim in the Pacific Ocean can attest first-hand to the significant cooling properties of Chile’s Humboldt current. Eduardo could see the potential that a close proximity to the current could provide, so when he found a plot of entirely undeveloped land with prized metamorphic slate soils just 12km from the Ocean, he knew this was his chance to be able to produce cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah unlike any ever produced in Chile before.
With the first vintage released in 2014, the Las Pizarras range was an immediate global success earning rave reviews from critics who were enchanted by the Burgundian-like quality of these restrained and elegant wines. We were treated to a mini vertical of both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as a first ever tasting of the superb Syrah, all showing such vibrancy, nuance, and tension; they could not be better ambassadors for the remarkable vineyard sites.
Myth #4: Wines from Chile may be good, but they could never compete with the very best from France or Italy.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Chile underwent a period of significant investment and innovation even piquing outside interest from prominent wine-making families such as Robert Mondavi who partnered with Eduardo to create Vina Sena in 1995 and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who partnered with Concha y Toro to produce Almaviva in 1996. The country was now producing highly noteworthy wines, but they were still struggling to capture the interest of global critics who remained quick to dismiss the quality potential of Chilean wines. Eduardo knew he needed to do something dramatic to prove to the world just how good his wines had become and so, inspired by the historic Judgement of Paris, which forever altered the trajectory of the California wine industry, he set out to organise his own blind tasting competition in 2004, the Judgement of Berlin.
Eduardo invited a number of top global critics, including Steven Spurrier who had presided over the original Judgement of Paris, for a blind comparison of similar vintages of Bordeaux First Growths as well as top Super Tuscan Bordeaux Blends against his own Don Maximiano, Sena and Vinedo Chadwick. When the results were announced by Spurrier, Eduardo finally had the undeniable proof he had been seeking. In first place was Vinedo Chadwick 2000 followed by Sena 2001 in 2nd place, besting no less than Lafite 2000 and Margaux 2001 who followed in 3rd and joint 4th place with Sena 2000. Rounding out the top 10 was Vinedo Chadwick 2001, Margaux 2000, Latour 2000, Dom Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2001, Latour 2001, and Solaia 2000. However, Eduardo was not satisfied to accept the results as a possible one-off, so he repeated the same tasting countless times in global capitals around the world over the next decade, and sure enough, the triumphant results for his wines never faltered.
Thanks to his determination, Chile is now an important destination for global critics and the country’s wines have racked up a number of perfect scores as proof of the world-class quality they are capable of producing. For our final stop, we were welcomed to the childhood home of Eduardo where he produces the now iconic Vinedo Chadwick from vineyards, which were once his father’s polo fields (and which overlook fellow Chilean powerhouse Almaviva). Having the opportunity to taste the victorious 2000 vintage of Vinedo Chadwick was a taste of history, and the wine certainly still lives up to the soaring expectations.