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Surprising fine wines of Chile claiming their place

  • Stephen Quinn, Digital Development Editor of South China Morning Post, poses to photographer in the studio Thursday, December 29th, 2011, at the SCMP Studio on Leighton Office in Causebay Bay.

For many years, the world saw Chile as a source of cheap and cheerful wines. Eduardo Chadwick, president of Vina Err?zuriz, has almost single-handedly changed that belief. Earlier this year, Peter Richards MW predicted that “in 10 or 20 years time, when wine aficionados around the world had finally got the message that Chile produces great fine wine, Eduardo will be recognized as the pioneer who changed their perceptions.”

Chadwick initiated blind tastings of fine Chilean wines around the world and matching them against the world’s best, starting with the famous Berlin Tasting in 2004.

Do you remember that event? Like the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 that showed the quality of Californian wine, the Berlin tasting in 2004 also benchmarked relatively unknown wines against the world’s best.

Steven Spurrier, at the time running a fine wine store in Paris, organized the Judgment of Paris. Wines from California were tasted blind against their French equivalents, and the American wines came top. At the time, this was a seismic event in the wine world and probably the first time the supremacy of French wine had been challenged. Hollywood made the 2008 movie Bottleshock about the event.

Chadwick invited Spurrier, by then consultant editor at wine bible Decanter magazine, to host the 2004 Berlin event because of his experience at the Judgment of Paris. At the Berlin tasting against First Growth Bordeaux and the best Italian Bordeaux blends, Chilean wines came first, second and fourth out of the 16 wines judged.

Late last month, Chadwick’s company marked the 10th anniversary of that 2004 event by publishing a book and organizing a range of dinners. The book is called “The Berlin Tasting: Uncorking the Potential of Chile’s Terroir.”

Since 2004, Eduardo Chadwick has repeated the Berlin format in most of the world’s major wine capitals. The most recent were in mainland China (Xiamen and Shanghai). The process begins with an educational seminar on Chilean terroir in the context of other great terroirs, followed by a blind tasting.

In 1995, Chadwick formed a partnership with Robert Mondavi and his family in California with the aim of creating the first Chilean icon wine. Sena was launched in January 1997. The company is converting the Sena Hillside Vineyard into a biodynamic estate and introducing new grape varieties.

Since 2011, events have also been designed – via vertical blind tastings – to test the potential of Chilean wines to age gracefully. Multiple vintages of Sena, now one of Chile’s great wines, have been tasted against multiple vintages of other iconic wines from France and Italy, including the famous first growths of France. Again, the Chilean wine has prevailed.

Those tastings have vindicated Chadwick’s initial insight. Spurrier, chairman of the Decanter World Wine Awards, noted after the London tastings of 2012: “What Eduardo is proving now with his vertical tastings of Sena is that as his wines and similar vintages of Bordeaux age, his wines are still up there, judged equal, if not superior.”

Jeannie Cho Lee of MW, who organized tastings in Asia, congratulated Chadwick for taking the risk of putting Chile’s wines into blind tastings against the world’s best Bordeaux-blends and “forging a legacy for the wines of Chile.”

In an interview in May, Chadwick described Chile’s wine industry as “sleepy” for more than a century before providers began “tooling up” in the 1980s.

“A decade later [in the 1990s], we decided on a policy of growth and expansion through exports. The main difficulty was proving the quality of Chilean wine after years of it being seen as ‘value for money.’” That was his explanation for proposing the Berlin Tasting and later events.

Chadwick has plans to expand further into Asia. In terms of the monetary value of products sold, his wines are second in the South Korean market and third in Japan and China. He plans to move into India, and has just started selling in Vietnam.

Don Maximiano Err?zuriz founded the Vina Err?zuriz estate in 1870 in the Aconcagua Valley and it has remained family-run. Eduardo Chadwick graduated as an industrial engineer from the Catholic University of Chile and joined his father Alfonso Chadwick-Err?zuriz at Vina Err?zuriz in 1983 at the age of 23.

Five years later, he created Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, the first ultra-premium wine from Vina Err?zuriz. He also began experimenting with new clones and varieties such as Carmenere and Syrah.

Chadwick is interested in wine education and has been a principal supporter of the Institute of Masters of Wine since 1999. In July 2005, Decanter magazine included him among its 50 most influential people in the industry, and described the family vineyard as the “quality benchmark from Chile.”

 
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Summary

For many years, the world saw Chile as a source of cheap and cheerful wines.

Chadwick initiated blind tastings of fine Chilean wines around the world and matching them against the world's best, starting with the famous Berlin Tasting in 2004 .

Like the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 that showed the quality of Californian wine, the Berlin tasting in 2004 also benchmarked relatively unknown wines against the world's best.

At the Berlin tasting against First Growth Bordeaux and the best Italian Bordeaux blends, Chilean wines came first, second and fourth out of the 16 wines judged.

Since 2004, Eduardo Chadwick has repeated the Berlin format in most of the world's major wine capitals.

Multiple vintages of Sena, now one of Chile's great wines, have been tasted against multiple vintages of other iconic wines from France and Italy, including the famous first growths of France.

Chadwick is interested in wine education and has been a principal supporter of the Institute of Masters of Wine since 1999 .


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