Food

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

In 1976, at a blind tasting in Paris, California wines, both red and white, bested French Bordeaux and Burgundies. It shocked the French and it brought respect to California winemakers. In 2004, a similar event called the Berlin Tasting brought new respect to Chilean wines.

And now, a Chilean vintner has recreated the Berlin Tasting, gambling that his wines will win big.

NPR's Margot Adler reports from Manhattan.

MARGOT ADLER: I'm on the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Some of the nation's best wine reviewers, importers and retailers are sitting at some 50 tables. Each has 10 glasses filled with red wine. Five of the wines are Chilean; the rest are French, Italian or from California. All are 2006. That's all anyone knows. There's water and crackers and a cup to spit out the wine, if you don't plan to drink at all.

I'm sitting next to Leslie Gevirtz, a reporter for Reuters.

LESLIE GEVIRTZ: Everyone's being very serious.

ADLER: Yeah.

GEVIRTZ: Everyone's taking notes. We're all swirling our glasses, sniffing.

ADLER: It's very quiet. I hear a curious sound from the person on my right.

GEVIRTZ: They're chewing the wine. They're trying to extract every note that they can from it.

ADLER: Eduardo Chadwick of the Errazuriz winery says before the Berlin Tasting of 2004, Chile had no recognition.

EDUARDO CHADWICK: I was traveling around the world trying to say - to convince the audience that Chile had quality, and it was very difficult.

ADLER: Chadwick says when he did the Berlin Tasting, he would have been happy to come in anywhere in the top five. Chilean wines came in first and second, ahead of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Margaux.

CHADWICK: So this was like the Berlin Wall fall down.

ADLER: But can Chile repeat this again and again?

Michael Yurch, president of Sherry-Lehmann, one of New York's finest wine stores, has just marked his choices.

MICHAEL YURCH: I like number six. I think it's a French wine or an (unintelligible) or one of the other. I don't think it's Chilean. I'm just guessing.

ADLER: It turns out to be Opus One from California. Yurch and several others tell me they can tell which five wines are Chilean. I don't have a clue. Yurch says some of the tasters have traveled long distances to be here.

YURCH: This is a splendid panel, and it speaks to the quality of the wines offered.

ADLER: After the votes are in, members of the panel describe each wine.

Steven Spurrier of Decanter magazine describes wine number three.

STEVEN SPURRIER: Fine, deep, slightly smoky, a black fruit nose, broad yet contained fruits, quite a rich sweetness on the palate, but...

ADLER: I didn't experience half of that.

At the end, the Chilean wine KAI by Errazuriz comes in first, followed by Opus One from California, and Chateau Haut-Brion from France. Leslie Gevirtz of Reuters says this sure beats covering courts or cops.

GEVIRTZ: Today, we're tasting wines. The 2006s on the French, the Lafites, they went for well over $400 a bottle. There's no way you and I could afford this.

ADLER: So there we were tasting expensive wines and spitting most of them into a little plastic cup. After all, we had to go back to work.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

SIEGEL: And just in case you're curious, that pricey bottle of Lafite, it landed in fifth place. And for a first place bottle of KAI 2006, you can pick that one up for around $80.

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