Tasting the icons and Pizarras wines from Errazuriz with Francisco Baettig

Francisco Baettig

Francisco Baettig

Yesterday I met with Errazuriz winemaker Francisco Baettig, tasting some new releases. He’s the man behind the ‘icon’ wines of Errazuriz owner Eduardo Chadwick, and also the new venture in coastal Aconcagua, Las Pizarras. In recent years, Francisco has been on a journey which has seen him change the style of the icon wines significantly, and they are much better for it.

‘I started to struggle to drink my own wine around 2007,’ he recalls. ‘Then I started to think how to change the style a bit.’ He met with fellow Chilean winemaker Mareclo Retamal in 2008, and the two of them tasted together. ‘I thought I should try to take the alcohol and oak down. I started to put this in place little by little.’

But it’s not easy turning a big ship around. ‘The icons had a history and style so I had to be cautious,’ he says. He started in 2010 by picking a bit earlier, working on the winemaking, using less new oak and selecting coopers that produced barrels with less impact on flavour. ‘All these wines were 14.5% alcohol on the label,’ Francisco explains, ‘which means nearly 15%. From 2010 on they went to 14%. 2013 and 2014 saw a change. I’d been managing the vines differently and could pick earlier. But 2015 is the real shift in style.’

Francisco adds that over the last 15 years, his own tastes have changed. ‘When you start making wine at 25 where you don’t have a lot of wine from overseas and don’t travel much, you try to satisfy the market.’

‘My own change moved from sweet to acid and dryness. It’s a natural evolution. You start like a child liking sweetness, then you like olives and acidity, and once you get there you can’t go back.’ He now values balance, freshness, drinkability and tension.

‘In the end it is about us beginning to interpret the Chilean terroir. It’s not Bordeaux.’ He’s managed to tone down the sweetness of the fruit, the wines are now purer, and he thinks they will age better. ‘I got rid of the eucalyptus and mint notes and the wines are cleaner and purer.’

He describes this shift as like following a path. ‘The wine has to be successful in the market place. I took a few steps in the direction, and we kept getting good results. Errazuriz already had good vineyards: it was fine tuning – a refinement of what we had, in a cautious way.’

Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2015 Aconcagua, Chile
14% alcohol. The main estate in Panquehue, which is a bit warmer, 80 km from the ocean. Most of the vineyards here are colluvial, but most of this comes from Max 5 which is alluvial. It has better drainage and is a little cooler. ‘I got rid of a good proportion of sweetness in the palate and there is more tension,’ says Francisco Baettig. ‘It still has very round tannins, but with more intensity and vibrancy. I diminished to new oak proportion to 70%, and added some other varieties to lift the nose.’ The blend is 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere, 8% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 6000 cases produced. Sweet, intense, pure blackcurrant fruit here with some structure on the palate. Has a nice tension: this is a ripe wine, but it’s in balance. There’s a bit of blackcurrant pastille character, with just a hint of rubber in the mix. Good focus and structure, with a slight floral twist to the fruit. Shows good balance and will likely age very well. 93/100 (See this report on a visit here)

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Seña 2015 Aconcagua
13.5% alcohol. In the middle of the Aconcagua valley in a cooler place, 40 km from the ocean. The structure of the tannin is a bit more firm, says Francisco. 22 months in barrel, 65% new, and 12% is aged in Stockinger Foudres. 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 201% Carmenere, 12% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This shows lovely restraint, with good structure and acidity underpinning the sweet black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. There’s some floral lift and a hint of olive, giving a slightly Mediterranean feel to the fruit profile, but the palate seems dry and structured, with real potential for development. Lovely weight and focus. 94/100 (5500 cases) (see this report on a visit to Seña)

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Viñedo Chadwick 2015 Maipo
13.5% alcohol, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Historically, I harvested this on 15 April. In 2014 I picked half in March, half in first two weeks of April. In 2015 I picked everything in March. In 2016 it was late, everything was picked in first two weeks of April, and in 2017 it was picked in March again (a small, early crop). 15% Foudres (2500 litres), and overall 70% new oak. Sweet and textural yet really fresh with lovely elegance and purity. There’s a freshness and directness to the blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, with good acidity. I love the combination of silky, pure fruit with good acidity, freshness and structure. This should age beautifully. 95/100 (800 cases) (see this report on a visit)

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Las Pizarras is the new project in the coastal Aconcagua. ‘2015 was all about the Chardonnay, but the 2016 I’m very happy with the Pinot. We did roughly 15% whole cluster, and the new oak is 33% for 14 months. I do mainly pump over and not a lot of punch down.’

‘In the past I used to send the wine straight to barrel but had to rack some lots because they were reduced. So now I finish the fermentation and decant them for around 10 days to get rid of the heavier lees, then I send them to barrel and don’t have to rack them for the next 12 months, and there are no reduction problems. I take a month to do the SO2 correction: if you do it in one shot the wine will recover but not 100%, so I do it very slowly.’

Errazuriz Las Pizarras Pinot Noir 2016 Aconcagua Costa, Chile
Beautifully fresh and perfumed with lovely red cherry and plum fruit. Such haunting perfume, with real detail. Bright and focused on the palate with a hint of sappiness, and good structure and acid sitting under the silky, pure red fruit. There’s a hint of savoury blood and iodine character adding interest. Lovely mineral edge, too. Fresh and pure with potential for development. This is a beautiful wine, up there with the best new world Pinots, and the best I’ve had from Chile yet. It’s just a shame that it’s not more affordable, but even for a wine without a track record, it sells (£70). 96/100 (500 cases)

Errazuriz Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2016 Aconcagua Costa, Chile
13% alcohol. Whole bunch pressed, wild ferment, 50% malolactic, 14 months in French oak, with 15% new. pH 3.15, which is low, but the 2015 had a bit more tension. This is taut and focused with lovely sweet pear and apple fruit, with some citrus freshness. There’s good acidity, but also some generosity to the fruit, with ripe characters and a touch of mealy, nutty character. The oak is really well integrated. Currently in quite a tightwound, dumb phase, with with the potential to age really well. Serious effort. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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