Wine connoisseurs take their job seriously at the Berling Tasting in New York.
In 1976, there was a blind wine taste test in Paris. It was called the Paris Tasting, or later, the Judgment of Paris. California wines — both red and white — surpassed the Bordeaux and Burgundies of France. The result shocked the French and brought new respect to California wines: It put Napa Valley on the map.
In 2004, a similar event called the Berlin Tasting brought new respect to Chilean wines.
Now, a Chilean vintner has re-created the Berlin Tasting by starting blind tests in Brazil, Japan, China and the United States. He is gambling that his wines will achieve even more recognition.
'They're Chewing The Wine'
A tasting in New York recently took place on the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Some of the nation's best wine reviewers, importers and retailers sat at some 50 tables.
1. Errazuriz KAI
2. Opus One
3. Chateau Haut-Brion
4. Errazuriz Don Maximiano
5. Chateau Lafite Rothschild
6. Errazuriz Syrah La Cumbre
8. Stag's Leap SLV
9. Vinedo Chadwick (tie)
9. Sassicaia (tie)
Each person had 10 glasses in front of him, filled with red wine. Five of the wines were Chilean; the rest were French, Italian or Californian. All were 2006 wines. No one knew which was which.
There were water and crackers and a cup to spit out the wine, if you didn't plan to drink it all. It was very quiet.
"Everyone is being very serious, everyone is taking notes, everyone is swirling their glasses and sniffing," whispered Leslie Gevirtz, a reporter for Reuters.
A man nearby made a very odd sound in his throat.
"They're chewing the wine," Gevirtz said. "They are trying to extract every note they can from it."
Eduardo Chadwick, the head of the Errazuriz winery in Santiago, Chile, says before the Berlin Tasting in 2004, Chile's wines had no recognition.
"I was traveling around the world trying to convince the audience that Chile had quality, and it was very difficult," he said.
Chilean Wines Triumph
When the Berlin Tasting took place, Chadwick said he would have been happy for his wines to come in anywhere in the top 5.
But to everyone's surprise, Chilean wines came in first, ahead of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Margaux.
Chadwick described the coup as "the Berlin Wall falling down." By re-creating the Berlin Tasting in many parts of the world, Chadwick is trying to repeat this again and again. But there is a risk.
Michael Yurch, president of Sherry-Lehmann, one of New York's finest wine stores, has just marked his favorite wine. "I like No. 6," he says. "It's French or Californian; it's not Chilean. I'm just guessing."
It turned out to be Opus One from California. Yurch and several others said they could tell which five wines were Chilean. This reporter didn't have a clue which was which.
Yurch said some of the tasters traveled long distances to be at this event. This is a splendid panel, he said, "which speaks to the quality of the wines."
After the votes were tabulated, the wines were revealed. The Chilean wine KAI by Errazuriz came in first, followed by Opus One from California, and Chateau Haut-Brion from France.
"I've covered cops; I've covered courts. Today we are tasting wines," Gevirtz said. "The 2006 French Lafite sells for well over $400 a bottle. There is no way you and I could afford this."
We continued to taste these expensive wines, spitting most of the liquid into a little plastic cup. After all, we had to go back to work.