Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Opimian Tasting: Chile vs. California

The Opimian Society hosted a tasting and dinner. This blinded tasting was meant to highlight the value of Chilean Reservas and Gran Reservas versus more expensive Napa wines. There were four Chilean wines and one Napa wine:

1998 Laura Hartwig Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)
2001 Cornellana Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Grand Reserva ($27)
2000 Cornellana Merlot Reserva ($16)
1999 Cornellana Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserva (est. $30)
1999 Steltzner Claret (Napa) ($35)

I generally agree that Chilean wines can compete with pricier American wines, and my cellar is very underweight California and overweight South America for that reason. However, I don't think the choice of wines this evening succeeded in highlighting Chilean value.

From my perspective, the Steltzer was the only notable wine. A beautiful nose of vanilla/caramel, with hints of blackberries and blueberries. On the palate the wine was medium to full-bodied, with nice, silky tannins and tasting of black cherries. Ready to drink now, but could improve slightly. This is a regular Opimian offering, and I just ordered the recent vintage at an attractive price of C$28-ish.

Looking at the Chileans, only the 2001 Cornellana Cab/Merlot came even close to the Steltzner, and coincidentally had a price tag close to the Steltzner. This was a well balanced wine, but uncomplex with a medium body and short finish. My next favourite was the Laura Hartwig, which I guess could be the value winner - decent nose, slightly rustic, medium to light bodied and "drinkable". That being said, I am certain I have had similar priced California wines that were equal to this one. Of the other two wines, the Merlot was quaffable while the 1999 Cornellana was well beyond its prime (perhaps a storage issue?).

Overall, the entry-level Steltzner was an impressive wine. This is not a winery that gets a lot of attention from the critics, so I am glad that Opimian highlighted them for me. I will try to visit this winery when I visit Napa.