Landmark event for the classics

Helen Coburn reminds us why hers is the best job in the world, as she pours over the recent tasting of old world classics and new world stars in London

Over the last 30 years there have been several international tastings pitting European classics against top new world bottlings. Up to now, new world wines have tended to win the game, as when tasters are hurried they tend to favour riper, more alcoholic styles over the complexities of structure and fine acidity.

Recently, however, there’s been some convergence between new and old world styles, with European wines getting fruitier and more alcoholic while their new world counterparts have become more restrained. So when Chilean producer Eduardo Chadwick staged a tasting of some of his Errazuriz wines against a range of European classics, things were much more evenly spread this time, with the two top places being taken by Bordeaux classics.

Over 80 tasters gathered at London’s Landmark Hotel, with a small group of Irish press and trade taking their places alongside such luminaries as Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke and Stephen Spurrier. I should say now that, in tasting, I had two problems. One was, that with around 40 minutes to taste 12 top quality wines, I found the session over-hurried. The second was that my sample, at least, of Chateau Latour 2005 did not appear fully fresh.

By the time I came to it, the tasting had virtually finished so that calling for a new sample was impractical. I therefore opted not to rate it. The wine’s agregate score put it at eighth place and I suspect that the limp showing was due to the fact that a number of tasters relied upon a less than perfect bottle. A pity.

The results from the 80 tasters were as follows: Chateau Margaux 2005 was favourite, followed by Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2005. Next came Italy’s Solaia 2005, and fourth was Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2006. Fifth was a tie between Errazuriz Sena 2005 and Vinedo Chadwick 2006. After that, it was Sena 2006, followed by Chateau Latour 2005. Ninth was Italy’s Sassicaia 2005, then Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2005 and, finally, at eleventh and twelfth were Vinedo Chadwick 2005 and California’s Opus One 2005.

My own top picks were close but not identical:

(1) Tuscan Solaia 2005 with its slight greenness, smooth cherry fruits, and one of the longest finishes of all the wines

(2) Lafite 2005 had slightly creamy leather aromas and Christmas cake notes on the evolving fruit

(3) Margaux 2005 had a very slight fatness to the palate, with slightly soft tannins, but good length and nice definition to the blackcurrant, plum and cherry flavours

(4) Vinedo Chadwick 2006, with good length, well defined flavours and fine balance

(5) Don Maximiano 2006 was possibly a little evolved for its age but its good concentration and length should give it decent ageability despite the appearance already of soft leathery notes, and there are wonderful flavours of rich dark and red fruits

(6) Don Maximiano 2005 also displayed that slight forwardness but again had sufficient concentration to wear it well, and tasty dark fruits underpinned by earthier notes

The Chileans were overall not outclassed by the Euro-icons and it should be borne in mind that they are a good deal cheaper. In the UK, Don Maximiano retails at around £28, while Sena and Vinedo Chadwick sell for £40 to £50. Margaux and Lafite, however, could set you back around £900 a bottle. They may be better, but are they 15 times better? Cachet and resale value on the fine wine market may justify the investment, but when it comes to drinkability, I don’t think so.

Errazuriz wines are available from July through Cassidy Wines.

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