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Wine Legend: Seña 1997

What makes the Seña 1997 a Wine Legend...

Wine Legend: Seña 1997, Aconcagua, Chile

  • Bottles produced 30,000
  • Composition 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Carmenère
  • Yield 35hl/ha
  • Alcohol 13.5%
  • Release price $60
  • Price today £112

A legend because…

Robert Mondavi had a knack for forming distinguished joint ventures far from his native California. During his first trip to Chile in 1991, he met Eduardo Chadwick; the first vintage of their new label, Seña, was in 1995, a year before a comparable joint venture, Almaviva, was created by Concha y Toro and Mouton-Rothschild. However, the first wine from the dedicated Seña vineyard was not produced until 2001. From the beginning the wine showed a more European, indeed French influence and polish than Californian weight and brashness. Because of changes in the Mondavi wineries’ structure and ownership, Chadwick bought its 50% share in 2004.

Looking back

The first vintage of Errazuriz’s Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve Cabernet, arguably Chile’s first ‘icon’ wine, was in 1983, so the development of the Seña label was a natural progression. Viñedo Chadwick would follow in 1999. In 2004, Eduardo Chadwick organised a blind tasting in Berlin, pitching his Cabernets against the best-known versions from Europe, including Bordeaux first growths. Seña took an honourable second place to Viñedo Chadwick. Similar tastings would take place in Asia and New York, again with gratifying results. Chadwick’s aim was not just to promote his own wines, but to ally Chilean reds with some of the world’s most admired wines.

The vintage

The early part of the growing season was cool, but then it warmed up considerably. Before harvest there were alternating periods of heat and cool, foggy weather, which brought some concerns about rot. However, by the time of harvest the weather was dry, although heat spikes retarded maturation so that the harvest was not completed until mid-April. Yields were moderate because of drought conditions.

The terroir

The Seña vineyard was planted from 1998 and occupies 42ha on a hillside in Ocoa, Aconcagua – home to the Errazuriz estate. The site has been farmed biodynamically since 2005. However, the grapes for this vintage were sourced from various parcels, the oldest vines being 26 years old.

The wine

The handpicked grapes were fermented at moderate temperatures in stainless steel tanks with pumpovers. For this vintage the winemakers were Irene Paiva and Edward Flaherty. The wine was aged in 43% new barriques for 16 months, as the team wasn’t aiming for a conspicuously oaky style. Later vintages were given longer ageing in entirely new French oak. The 1997 was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, although by 2004 some Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot had been added to the blend.

The reaction

James Molesworth, in Wine Spectator, assessed the wine in 2000: ‘High-toned, stylish Cab that’s robed in cedar, mineral, smoke, iron and currant flavours. It’s plush yet sophisticated, and the structure is finely grained… showing more elegance than previous vintages of Seña.’

In 2012, The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin said: ‘The 1997 Seña… is endowed with more fruit concentration [than the 1996], with baked black cherries, strawberry, orange peel and dried tobacco that attest to a warmer vintage… plenty of mocha-tinged black fruit with a crisp acidic bite on the finish, although it does not have great length or authority. The nose is showing better than the palate here.’

Putting it into the context of a vertical tasting, Martin added: ‘While I understand that older vintages have their share of plaudits, I discerned more complexity and vitality as well as finer integration of oak on newer vintages, as if more thought had gone into the wines. The result can be seen in the wines themselves, in particular the outstanding 2010.’

In 2018, Jancis Robinson noted: ‘Dark blackish garnet. Very mellow mature nose. Warm and welcoming with only the freshness of Carmenère on the palate suggesting Chilean origins. Finishes a little suddenly but very correct and refreshing.’

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