The final visit of the first leg of this trip was at Viña Errázuriz’s home base, the winery in Panquehue, Aconcagua Valley, where their Max I vineyard is located. This is home both to the historic Don Maximiano winery, first built in 1870, and also the brand new icon winery, which was opened in 2010.
The old winery was an impressive project for its time that involved excavating underground cellar rooms. This alone took five years to achieve, and once it was built it was filled with large raulí casks (a native Chilean wood). These were to remain there until the 1980s, and the first vintage of the new era of Don Maximiano was aged in these casks, back in 1983. Indeed, the first French oak barrels only came into Chile in the late 1980s. ‘The first French barrels came into Chadwick. ‘We imported them and my first thought was how am I going to pay from them?’
The Don Maximiano ‘Icon’ winery was designed by architect Samuel Claro. It’s an impressive facility, built from bleached concrete. It’s been constructed with winemaking in mind, and allows the movement of juice and wines by gravity in their passage through the various stages of winemaking.
Max I is the name of the 20 hectare vineyard here around the winery. It’s reasonably warm here, and the vines planted on granitic sandy/loam soils are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah. This is where most of the fruit for the Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve and La Cumbre Syrah come from.
We looked around and tasted with chief winemaker Francisco Baettig (known as Pancho by his colleagues). He’s a great talent, and is a real thinker. Recently he has slowly and gradually pulled the style of the Errazuriz icon wines away from the riper, oakier, more ‘international’ style beloved of some critics, towards a more classical, ageworthy style that allows an expression of place. ‘Since 2010 I have been changing the style little by little,’ says Baettig. ‘I use less new oak, I’m picking earlier, and I’m stretching the ageing from 18-22 months. In 2014 I am getting close to where I want to go.’ He adds that the 2005 vintage was the high point of ripeness, oak and sweetness.
Why did top Chilean wines go to an excess of ripeness and oak? ‘In the 1990s when we started to export we started to make riper wines with more new oak,’ says Baettig. ‘Traditionally in Chile the production of wine was big crops from the flat, fertile soils. The wines were green and light. When we wanted to do a riper style, getting rid of greenness, with more concentration, we started to push ripening and did a green harvest to lower yields.’ But concurrent with this was a move to planting new vineyards in more marginal soils which were capable of yielding better quality (these naturally had lower yields and produced riper grapes with less greenness). ‘We planted in more marginal soils and yet we carried on pushing ripening,’ says Baettig. ‘Marginal soil are usually found in foothills with more sun and less water. So it became an extreme of extreme. We didn’t need to push ripeness on the marginal soils.’ So the result was very ripe, concentrated wines, and in many cases these were excessive. ‘I think we have been going backwards now to a better equilibrium, but we needed to reinterpret our sites.’
We tried through some new trials. In the icon winery he’s now got a few concrete eggs and several large oak botti or foudres (some from Stockinger in Austria and others from Gamba in Italy.
Grenache 2016 from concrete egg, Las Vertientes vineyard (near Seña), 13.5% alcohol. This goes into The Blend. Reduced. Fresh, direct and powerful with vivid raspberry fruit. Very fine and fresh.
Petit Verdot 2016 from botti (2800 litre), 13.4% alcohol. Las Vertientes vineyard. Pure, vivid, concentrated and fresh with lovely juicy black cherry and raspberry fruit. Lovely.
Malbec 2016, Las Vertientes vineyard, from botti. 13.3% alcohol. Has a bit of nice reduction. Fresh, linear, pure and floral with some mineral character.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 from 2500 litre Stockinger foudre, Max V vineyard, alluvial souls, 13.6% alcohol. Very fresh and floral with vivid, supple fruit. Vital raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, with lovely weight.
Cabernet Franc 2016 Las Vertientes vineyard, 13.6% alcohol. Supple and fresh with raspberries and spices. Supple and juicy with intense red fruits.
Syrah 2016 from Aconcagua Costa, in Nomblot egg. Fine, spicy, grippy and vivid with peppery raspberry and black cherry fruit. This is really grippy and delicious.
Traditional Method 2015 (early disgorgement)
This is an exciting project: a traditional method sparkling wine made from 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay. The plan is to keep this for five years on lees. 12% alcohol, pH 3. Very bright and intense with real precision and lovely citrus intensity. So pure and vivid (150 cases of this and the blanc de blancs, 2016 increased to 250 cases). Taut and linear with a hint of cherry and pure lemons. Such good acidity and precision. Needs time. 91-93
Errazuriz The Blend Collection White 2015 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
13.5% alcohol. 60% Marsanne, 26% Roussanne, 14% Viognier. Fresh with herb, mint and fennel notes alongside white peach and yellow plum fruit. Nice freshness and weight here with a touch of bitterness on the finish. Shows restraint and precision. 90/100
Errazuriz The Blend Collection Red 2013 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
14% alcohol. 45% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 12% Carignan. 10% new oak. Has a slight meaty edge to the fresh, vivid raspberry and black cherry fruit. Dense and taut with a touch of reduction keeping things tight. There’s a focus and freshness with a touch of savoury tautness from the Maule Carignan. Juicy and grippy with lovely freshness, and good potential for development. 90/100
Errazuriz Kai 2014 Aconcagua Valey, Chile
14.5% alcohol. From the Max V vineyard, with deep alluvial soils, very stony. Sweet, lush, smooth blackcurrant fruit with some gravel, chalk and subtle green notes. Rich, sweet autumnal palate with blackberries and sweet black cherries, showing an almost salty lushness and smooth fine-grained texture. Very smooth and rich. Ripe but very attractive. 92/100
Errazuriz La Cumbre Syrah 2014 Acongcagua Valley, Chile
14% alcohol. A blend of Max vineyards and Aconcagua Costa. 50% new oak. Lovely fresh raspberry fruit with some vivid cherries, too. Subtle hints of pepper and olive, with nice precision and freshness. There’s polish here, but also freshness and a bit of stony grip. Oak is really well integrated. It’s impressive and nicely weighted. 93/100
Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 1983 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
This was the first vintage of the reopened vineyard, made with very basic equipment. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The first wine of the new era. Very fresh and still quite vibrant with cherries, berries and herbs. There are faint hints of mint and rubber, and also subtle tarriness. It’s elegant and supple with nice smoot fruit, and it’s really beguiling, with some iodine and fine spices. Aged in large, old 4000 litre casks. There’s a bit of warmth here, and it’s just delicious. 93/100
Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 1993 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
12.5% alcohol. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This has aged beautifully. Some sweet, ripe, herb tinged blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with hints of earth. Some smoke, some tea leaves, fine spices and cedar, too. Supple and balanced with freshness and detail, and just a hint of mint. Freshness and detail here. A beautiful wine. 94/100
Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2005 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
Lovely spicy black fruits. Has some lushness, and it is sweet and smooth with nice texture to the black cherries and blackberries. Very smooth and stylish with just a hint of earthiness. A really elegant, mature wine, with some notes of iodine, spice and earth. 93/100
Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2005 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
14.5% alcohol. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. Rich, intense and spicy with lots of sweet, bold black fruits and some lush oak. Powerful and a bit salty with some sweetness, and a bit of alcoholic warmth. It’s concentrated and has some deliciousness, but it’s just a bit too sweet and ripe. 90/100
Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2014 Aconcagua Valley, Chile
14% alcohol. 14% alcohol. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Carmenere, 9% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot. 70% new oak. Beautifully floral aromatics here: black cherries and blackcurrants, with real detail. The palate is ripe with lovely sweet fruits, but also precision and detail. There’s a nice texture and fine grained, stony detail. Fine detail and freshness, and also purity and ageing potential. 95/100
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The few wines I have tasted have been too “modern” for my liking.