Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Viña Errázuriz.

After a fascinating visit with Mauro von Siebenthal, we headed 200 meters down the road to his inspiration, Viña Errázuriz. This giant in the Chilean wine industry consumes a good chunk of Panquehue with its beautifully manicured vineyards and gardens, majestic visitors’ center, and mesmerizing but functional biodynamically engineered cellar. This winery was founded in 1870 by Don Maximiano Errázuriz, who was the first to move north from the then established Maipo region.

Don Maximiano brought Cabernet and Merlot from Bordeaux, and later Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and planted 300 hectares in the Panquehue region after recognizing its potential for fine wine production. The deep soil of sand, loam, and clay over large stones on the valley floor and the colluvial stony soil on the hillsides provide excellent locations for low yield vines; the large temperature differential of 40 degrees Fahrenheit from day to night preserves acidity in the grapes and helps to develop complex aromatics and flavors. Rainfall is typically around 250 mm per year, but the water table rises quite high in the valley to offer good hydration for deep roots. There are not many pests or diseases to worry about, except for two: a recent invasion of avocado trees has brought with it a certain destructive nematode forcing the grafting of some vines on rootstock, and a small red spider mite that attacks the leaves sometimes results in a chemical treatment for the vines.

a view of the winery from the hillside.

The Errázuriz estate has been family-owned since its inception (Mondavi partners with Eduardo Chadwick, the 6th generation owner of Errázuriz, for Seña but Chadwick is the sole proprietor of the Panquehue estate). The total current landholdings are around 2500 hectares throughout the regions of Chile. Techniques are constantly fine-tuned at the estate: vine vigor is monitored by satellite imagery, special organic fertilizers such as chicken guano are used, and heavy green harvesting is often employed. Harvest is done at about 25 Brix for optimal ripeness. Now the farming is done organically and biodynamically where possible, and at the Aconcagua estate a completely biodynamic winery was commissioned to be built from a design by Samuel Claro, the leading sustainable and biodynamic architect in Chile, with consultation from Guillermo Hevia. Only a visit to this remarkable structure can allow one to appreciate the incredible use of natural water and air flow, gravity, and a fluid, streamlined design to benefit wine production.

Walking around the vineyards, cooling down in the fabulous winery, and relaxing in the garden with our flights of Errázuriz wines, it was difficult to relate to the small von Siebenthal winery down the road. However the overly touristy presentation and repeated flaunting of the Errázuriz family’s name and connections by our host made us long for the simple wooden table, glass of deliciously unique wine, and personalized stories offered by the former. And when a bill was given to us for the tour that was originally offered by our host with no mention of cost, we were completely nonplussed. Errázuriz is a beautifully pristine estate that perhaps once had character, but now seems to be a Disneyland of a winery.

Now on to the wines. The two top wines of the estate are Seña, developed with Mondavi, and Maximiliano, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc considered to be the flagship wine. And maybe next time we will taste these, if we come with large pockets ready to empty them. I suppose they are quite rich and powerful, but I cannot say. We did, however, try a mystery “Chardonnay” (according to the guide) which was actually the Estate Sauvignon Blanc… I did not correct him. Here are the wines we tried:

2007 Wild Ferment Chardonnay

Grapes for this wine are grown in Casablanca. After full malolactic fermentation, this Chardonnay is aged for 10 months in used French oak. It is a deep gold in color, with lots of butter and toast on the nose mixed with slight tropical fruit richness. It is quite mouthfilling. Probably best for chicken dishes or pasta with a cream-based sauce. We liked it so much we bought a bottle.

2009 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

A plumy, high-alcohol Cabernet with very concentrated dark berry fruit and excellent structure.

2009 Estate Sangiovese

This is the only Sangiovese I encountered throughout all of Chile. Definitely a new world style, with bright jammy strawberries and spicy oak. The tannins are a little strong. This wine probably could use 2-3 more years in the bottle.

2008 Estate Carménère

Lots of leather, damp earth, and wet leaves dominate the nose. Herbaceous notes of rosemary and thyme integrated with red fruits make a very interesting wine. Its medium tannins and very high acidity made me wish I had some lamb or a rare steak!

2009 Reserva Shiraz

I couldn’t get over the hard tannins in this wine. It is very young yet, so its floral and fruity flavors were only hints. I’d like to try this one in a few more years.

2007 Carménère Kai

This was one of my favorite wines in Chile! Soft vanilla and sweet oak mingled with strawberries, herbs, and baking spices… delicious!

Overall the wines were quite good, and the winery is beautiful, but this was not my favorite visit. However I would definitely recommend a visit if one wanted a more touristic experience with a professional tour guide.

For further information or to set up a visit, visit the website here.

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