Chile Showdown in Toronto

Chile Showdown in Toronto

First they took Berlin, then Tokyo, then São Paolo. But Toronto proved no pushover.

Earlier this month Eduardo Chadwick, the owner of prominent Chilean properties like Errazuriz, Sena and Vinedo Chadwick, brought his top cabernet sauvignons to town for a blind tasting showdown against top-ranked cabernets from Bordeaux and Italy. Sommeliers, wine writers and Vintages consultants from the GTA, plus journalists flown in from Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, sat down at the Rosewater Supper Club for the first North American running of the Berlin Challenge, first held in Germany in January 2004.

It was co-moderated by Vintages’ Shari Mogk-Edwards and renowned British wine writer Steven Spurrier— who has made something of a career of putting together high-profile blind taste challenges. These include the Paris tasting of 1976 wherein a handful of California wines knocked the spots off top Bordeaux—such a marketing coup for California that the recipe has been oft repeated by New World challengers. Mr. Spurrier has been contracted to help organize the previous Chilean taste-offs as well, including the original Berlin Tasting when Chilean wines were awarded first, second and fifth places by European judges.

Eduardo Chadwick is as affable, genuine and knowledgeable about wine as they come. He has done more for Chile than anyone to raise that country’s wine image to the point where most wine folk are completely convinced—especially if they have been there—that Chile is a fabulous place to grow grapes and perfectly capable of making great products. So why persist in pitting his wines against Bordeaux, at least in front of people already convinced, and able to tell them apart in a blind tasting? Chilean cabernet has gorgeous ripeness and lushness of texture, and distinctive cassis and mint that Bordeaux will never have. It would have been more challenging and germane to pit his wines against cabernets from California’s Napa Valley or Australia’s Margaret River. But that wouldn’t have had the giant-killer effect earned in the previous challenges (where I’d bet less-familiar palates fell prey to Chile’s seduction).

In Toronto, only one Chilean wine finished in the top four, the poorest result for Chile since the Berlin tasting tour began. Chateau Margaux 2000 finished first, Chateau Latour 2000 finished second, Errazuriz 2003 Don Maximiano Cabernet Sauvignon third, and Antinori’s 2000 Tignanello from Tuscany fourth. These were my four top picks as well, although I placed Don Max second and Latour third. In my tasting I tried to focus on more measurable elements like balance, complexity and length. And to me, the one element that the Chileans lacked in general in comparison to the Europeans was complexity, fewer aromatic and flavour nuances. They were just not quite as intriguing. The Chateau Margaux 2000, for example, has incredible fragrance—a concert hall of flavours—with amazing structure, presence and incredible length. The Chileans, although lush, elegant, deep and were largely three note wines—cassis, mint and oak.

The fall back conclusions for these blind challenges is that the challengers at least prove they “belong on the same table” and are “much better value” than $500+ Bordeaux. Again, we don’t need blind tastings to tell us that first-growth Bordeaux are overpriced. These wines are produced and sold and traded as investments, not to be drunk. Intrinsic value long ago left the building. If I were buying on a $100 per bottle budget to drink delicious, high quality cabernet I would be looking first to Sena, Eduardo Chadwick and Don Max. Maybe the real exercise should have been to take all these talented palates out to dinner.

Here are the final rankings of the Toronto Tasting with total points from over 50 judges:

Chateau Margaux 2000, Bordeaux (58)Chateau Latour 2000, Bordeaux (52)Errazuriz 2003 Don Maximiano. Chile (37)Antinori 2000 Tignanello, Tuscany (32)Sena 2003, Chile (tie) (31)Chadwick 2000, Chile (tie) (31)Chadwick 2003, Chile (16)Sassicaia 2000 Tuscany (9)Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2000, Bordeaux (8)