I'm the luckiest guy on earth. A couple of weeks ago I visited Berlin for the purpose of tasting some of the most expensive wines of Europe against some top bottles produced by the Errazuriz winery of Chile. Errazuriz, whose guest I was (along with 50 others from the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia), had the bold idea of pitting their wines in a blind tasting against premier cru Bordeaux and super-Tuscans. Sixteen in all, 2000 and 2001 vintages. The wines on show were the Errazuriz bottles (Sena, Don Max Reserva and Vinedos Chadwick); France's Châteaux Latour, Lafite and Margaux; and top Italian wines from Sassicaia, Tignanello and Antinori.
Even though the event was conducted with impeccable respect for standard protocols, a tasting of this kind does not give a comprehensive account of the wines. It is a snapshot, taken at a single moment when the wines are at different stages of development - early stages in the case of the French and Italian wines. Indeed, it isn't even a snapshot of wines but of bottles of those wines, since bottles sealed with a cork are susceptible to random variations. Some of us tasted two of the wines when they had been open just a few moments, as replacements for faulty bottles, while the others tasted bottles that had been open long enough to form a ring on the inside of the glass.
With these disclaimers out of the way, the overall message of the tasting can be broached - and it is pretty clear. The Chilean wines can, a) win the highest plaudits from experienced tasters and, b) be drunk at a much earlier age than the European wines. And they don't even need to be the most expensive Chileans, as top marks went to a wine that retails here for around £35 - scoring better than Sena, which costs £45. The Italian wines didn't fare well at all, showing leathery, raisiny qualities that I - along with many others - found positively off-putting.
The tasting illustrated the divergence between the delicate, elegant styles of the Bordeaux wines and the big, primary-fruit-packed flavours of the Chileans. These are standard features in each, and nothing new. But the preference for one or the other is sometimes considered a New World versus Old World issue: Europeans like their wines better, New Worlders like theirs. In our group, there were only two New Worlders, myself, an American, and Eduardo Chadwick, president of Errazuriz. And still the group gave three of the top five marks to Chilean wines. First place: Vinedos Chadwick 2000. Second: Sena 2001. Third: Château Lafite 2000. Joint fourth: Sena 2000 and Château Margaux 2001. For the record, my top three were Château Latour 2001, and both the 2000 and 2001 Vinedos Chadwick. I should add, however, that at lunch I drank with pleasure the Château Margaux 2000 that had seriously underwhelmed me in the tasting.
The tasting, dubbed "Three Terroirs", kicked off with a talk by Chadwick about how geography affects wine. He showed how his family firm had chosen certain sites in the hope of rivalling the ancient terroirs of Bordeaux and Tuscany. You can see what the fuss is about by buying earlier bottles of those winning wines: Sena 1999 is at everywine.co.uk for £45; and Vinedos Chadwick 1999 costs £35, also at everywine.co.uk and some Waitroses. Both are also available from independent merchants. And the vintages we tasted will be rolling along in due course.
Not cheap, accepted. Cheaper, though, than the top-scoring Châteaux Lafite and Margaux at around £400 a bottle. That's what I would buy, if I didn't have to sell a kidney first. But I've grown accustomed to having two kidneys.
Top Corks: Three Valentine's sweeties
Stella Bella Muscat Oddbins, £6.99/37.5cl A real stickie, the fermentation stopped at just 7.5 per cent alcohol. Lovely fresh Muscat flavour profile and mouth-coating sweetness. Yum.
Chambers Rutherglen Muscat Lay & Wheeler, tel: 01206 764 446, £7.45/37.5cl Fortified Australian Muscat, big style but one of the best of its type. 18.5 per cent alcohol. Heady stuff.
Blandy's Alvada Madeira £8.99/50cl, Sainsbury's, Budgens, Booths Nicely packaged Madeira from outstanding producer. Rich sweetness cut with zippy acidity, lots of dried-fruit appeal.Reuse content