Wine of the Week: Errazuriz, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2018

A wine of impressive complexity and depth, with that Bordeaux-like savoury fruit and earthiness

In wine circles, the ‘Bordeaux blend’ is held up as, if not the holy grail, certainly something of a benchmark for red wine. In its strictest terms, such a wine is merely a blend of some – or all – of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and carmenère. Each variety brings something to the party, with the perfect blend marrying sweetness, savouriness and spiciness with strength, smoothness and, dare I say, a little sexiness to yield the classic descriptor of ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’.

In Bordeaux itself, the formula has endured for centuries in the vineyards of the grand, storied châteaux, where producers tend to focus largely – often exclusively – on the first three of these varieties. In theory, though, a Bordeaux blend can be made anywhere, and so steeply have the prestige – and prices – of the Lafites and Latours risen over the years that the formula has spread around the winemaking world, with producers all across the globe putting their own spin on the style.

Some do this more successfully than others. In California, where most producers rely heavily on the powerful cabernet sauvignon – the supposed ‘spine’ of the blend – the wines are accordingly well-structured, sometimes to the point of excess. Likewise, Argentina, whose preference towards the equally punchy malbec grape leads largely to big, bold, sometimes brutish wines often in correspondingly heavy bottles that burnish their fine-wine credentials as vividly as their shipping burns through the ozone layer. South Africa and Australia, on the other hand, generally veer towards more restrained, savoury renderings, though sometimes with a touch of green, under-ripe fruit and unrefined, astringent tannins.

The best Chilean examples, by contrast, tend to offer a more balanced package – at least to my palate. For years, the country was seen as the preserve of well-made, solid but unexciting wines – the ‘Volvo’ of the wine world, in critic and master of wine Tim Atkin’s memorable putdown – that seemed to reflect the stereotypical reserve of their winemakers compared to the ebullience of their more dynamic Argentinian counterparts. But, after years of quiet, methodical improvements in vineyard and winery, the country’s producers are now turning out assured, classy wines that speak of their provenance and heritage.

And no producer has more heritage to call upon than Errázuriz. Founded by Don Maximiano Errázuriz, back in 1870, the winery has survived land reforms that forced the sale of many of its vineyards in the 1960s, as well as a government expropriation policy in the 1970s that saw it stripped of further land. In the 1980s, the family were able to reclaim the land, and, since then, Don Maximiano’s descendent, Eduardo Chadwick, has led a move firmly focused on more premium wines.

As part of this, he named one of Errázuriz’s top wines – a Bordeaux blend – after Don Maximiano. The make-up of the Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve is intriguing. While the wine is dominated by cabernet sauvignon, which represents 70 per cent of the blend, the malbec, carmenere, petit verdot and cabernet franc that make up the balance are harnessed for more than mere seasoning. The result is a wine of impressive complexity and depth, with that Bordeaux-like savoury fruit and earthiness, rather than the one-dimensional sweet, ripe berry fruit that you find in many New World reds. Here, there are coffee, tobacco and cedar tones – a smokiness that speaks of the more nuanced French oak (rather than the more overtly vanilla-tinged American oak) in which the wine matured. It’s also a wine that will age well – as all top Bordeaux wines do – developing further earthy, tertiary tones.

Crucially, the wine is not trying too hard to make a statement. Errázuriz has already done that via its so-called Berlin Tasting, in 2004, at which its Viñedo Chadwick, Seña and Don Maximiano bottlings were presented, ‘blind’, alongside three first growths from Bordeaux and three ‘SuperTuscans’, to a room full of top wine critics.

Errázuriz’s idea was to persuade the assembled throng that Chile’s top wines belonged in such company. It did, and they do. Today, such is the quiet assurance behind Don Maximiano that the wine is housed in a noticeably lighter bottle than many of its Napa and Argentinian counterparts, with Errázuriz having undertaken an official glass light-weighting programme as part of its commitment to the environment. Sometimes, good guys do come first…

Errazuriz, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2018

Errazuriz, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2018

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