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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Dinner with Francisco Baettig, Vina Errazuriz

Tasting and Dinner with Francisco Baettig, Vina Errazuriz
Chile is the Guns 'n' Roses of wine - too much talent squandered.
Whether Chile has it just too easy or is overly in thrall to the bigger-is-better tastes of its northern export neighbour, this country with so much potential seems to make liking its wines so difficult at times.
I first got excited about Chile's potential, then rather bored and eventually stopped calling.
So I was intrigued at the opportunity to meet Francisco Baettig, oenologist at Errazuriz, over dinner to find out where the country is at these days.
Francisco started by talking about Chile's geography - a long, thin country with mountains and cooling sea breezes. I knew all of this already.
It was when he moved on to the Vision Thing that I got interested: hot years being a problem, not a blessing; lower alcohol levels; a more-European style of food wines; old oak. Now he had my attention.
I have heard this only from a small number of vanguard, European-focused winemakers in Chile. I mentioned a few names and it turned out that Francisco knows them and shares a common vision.
We started with a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc - with just a month's bottle age, it felt taut, linear, precise and cool climate. More expressive and pungent than a Sancerre (especially with some aeration and warmth), but with the same underlying minerally steeliness.
A 2013 Chardonnay with 12m in old oak was equally well-defined with florality, buttery sweetness and fresh citrus.
The most interesting white and my top wine of the night was a 2011 Rhone blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
A unique blend to Chile, it was floral with sweet spice, waxy-yet-fresh and densely concentrated. Initially, the oakiness on the nose dominates, but with aeration it becomes more nuanced and interesting.
One does not especially associate Chile with wines for laying down, but these whites all showed that they will improve with age.
On to the reds and the Pinot Noir was full of sweet, ripe cherry fruit with freshness and perfectly ripe tannins, just a hint of Burgundian farmyard.
The Syrah had a family resemblance, with ripe dark fruits, spiciness, freshness and rounded, ripe tannins.
Both wines were technically very correct, but not quite spot on - I had a nagging sense that something was not quite right.
Eventually I realised; it was a muscular assertiveness - more tannic backbone underpinning the fleshy ripeness. These wines had all the curves but just not quite enough of the frame.
The final flight of reds was four vintages of Don Maximiano, the flagship wine.
The oldest, 2007, now showing some aged character, is big and alcoholic with grippy tannins.
The 2008 is sweet, ripe and fruity, but still primary and quite warming.
The 2010 has more vanilla sweetness.
But the 2011 was a revelation - savoury, mineral, long and concentrated. It was both smart and sexy.
All the wines on the evening had a distinct personality - some were lean and angular, others big and blowsy; a couple were just the right combination of intriguing and beautiful.
It was like I'd had dinner with Keira Knightly, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Feltz, a drag queen trio and Emily Maitlis.
In reality, as I headed off down the restaurant, there was Dawn French having a tete-a-tete dinner with someone - but I didn't have the courage to wink at her or ask for a selfie.
In any case, my favourites were the Rhône blend and the 2011 Don Maximiano.
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