Winter rain and warm summer months, without any heat spikes, have helped Erràzuriz’s Francisco Baettig turn in three outstanding premium wines in the shape of the new 2021 Seña, Viñedo Chadwick and newcomer Rocas de Seña. Although not truly cool as in a Bordeaux vintage of old, 2021 has the Médoc all over these wines with the vintage set to be a classic in Chile, as Baettig explains. Heather Dougherty listens, tastes, evaluates and provides some fascinating insight into the background of the wines.
“In the latest 2021 Seña the blend leans more towards Malbec (27%) which Baettig favours in cooler years, as it brings colour, a floral note, soft tannins and a grainy texture on the palate,” writes Dougherty.
It’s hard to avoid the word ‘icon’ when talking about two of Chilean producer Erràzuriz’s top wines, Seña and Viñedo Chadwick.
Yet I got a distinct sense of weariness when I asked technical director for Erràzuriz group, Francisco Baettig, about his own definition of an icon. He may not like the word, which carries the whiff of acclamation from outside, rather than any innate quality of the wine itself; yet there’s no denying that icon has been applied to both these wines for many years. And, says Baettig, because Chile has no appellation system, they have come to use this word to describe wines that have a reputation for high quality and that carry high prices.
The origin story of Seña is well-known – a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick of Erràzuriz. The link with Mondavi came to an end early on, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have had one of the most recognised names in wine endorsing your vineyard and wine. The first vintage (1995) was released in 1997, though the vineyard that it originates from now was not itself planted until 1997.
The vineyard that produces Seña is a 42-hectare “clos” (in the sense that it is self-contained, with no near neighbours) in the Aconcagua Valley. It sits just to the east of the Coastal Range, around 40km from the coast, sheltered from most of the cooling winds from the Pacific. In terms of heat summation Degree Days (DD) it is broadly similar to Bordeaux, at around 1,500. The estate has been certified organic since 2005 and is also run biodynamically, despite no longer being certified.
Always a blend, Seña is usually around half Cabernet Sauvignon, matched with mostly Malbec and Carmenère. In the latest 2021 release it leans more towards Malbec (27%) which Baettig favours in cooler years, as it brings colour, a floral note, soft tannins and a grainy texture on the palate. Carmenère, he feels, does better in warmer years, with its plush fruit.
The 2021 Seña does have a real lift on the nose, with pure cassis from the Cabernet and a touch of violet from the Malbec, leading onto a palate with super-fine tannic structure supporting pure, juicy black fruit and wonderful freshness. It’s certainly enjoyable now but will clearly age gracefully. 140,000 bottles of Seña are made, most of which spends 22 months in French oak, 70% new. 10% of the wine is aged in foudres.
There is now a second wine to Seña, called Rocas de Seña, whose first vintage was 2020. The 2021 has a base of 35% Malbec, combined with the Rhône trio of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, plus 20% Cabernet and a little Petit Verdot. It shares the hallmark elegance of Seña: those fine tannins, plus a certain meatiness alongside the brambly fruit. Despite being new to the market, and with production of 45,000 bottles this year, it’s been a commercial success so far.
From polo field to the best Cabernet terroir in Chile
Not content with just one pretty memorable origin story, Erràzuriz has two: Eduardo Chadwick’s father Alfonso had a passion for both vineyards and polo. In 1942 he bought an estate in the Alto Maipo, using some of the land to lay down his own polo field.
In 1992 Eduardo convinced him that he should allow him to dig it up and plant Cabernet vines instead. Francisco Baettig now says he considers it “the best site for Cabernet in Chile”.
What makes it so good? This part of the Alto Maipo, Puente Alto, is in the highest part of the valley, in the piedmont, or foothills of the Andes. The soils are alluvial gravel which provides good drainage, moderated by some clay underneath which brings a degree of water retention. There is no excess vigour. Any lover of Left Bank Bordeaux will recognise the Cabernet-friendly sound of it. Weather-wise, it is warmer overall than Bordeaux, with 1,650 DD (versus around 1,500 DD), but the warmth is spread over a longer period, rather than being concentrated in the summer months, as in the very maritime French region.
Named Viñedo Chadwick in honour of his father, the wine is essentially all Cabernet, with 3% Petit Verdot (from the same 15-hectare vineyard) in the 2021 wine. Production is generally just 10,000 bottles, and they are in the process of organic and subsequently biodynamic conversion.
One sniff and I was transported to the Médoc. Viñedo Chadwick 2021 is a very different beast from Seña, with a more broad-shouldered, generous feel and some spice and tobacco supporting that wonderful, pure, black fruit. It’s still fresh and elegant and not at all heavy. 80% of the wine has spent 22 months in 80% new French oak; the remainder is aged in foudres.
While only around 20% of Seña and Viñedo Chadwick find their way into the on-trade, with the majority snapped up by private clients and fine wine merchants, the wines have a following among sommeliers at some of London’s and the country’s most prestigious restaurants.
If you know of any polo fields, it might be worth having a dig around to see if the next great Cabernet terroir is there just waiting to be discovered.
A word about the 2021 vintage
Baettig is clearly enthusiastic about 2021 – a “relatively cool” year – not truly cool as in a Bordeaux vintage of old, but winter rain meant the vines weren’t suffering from lack of water at the beginning of the growing season. The summer was warm, but with no heat spikes, which can lead to photosynthesis shutting down and a consequent lack of smoothness in the tannins. Degree Days for the 2021 season at Seña stand at 1,425, a little below average. The same trend extended to the Viñedo Chadwick site, with 1,594 Degree Days, versus an average of 1,648.