Vina Undurraga was founded back in 1882 by Francisco Undurraga and since that time five generations of the Undurraga family have successfully managed the winery, maintaining the spirit and Old World character of the founder. However, for this writer a visit to Vina Undurraga is more than a step back in time; it is an interlude in the Old World, a visit to a time and place where gentility, grace, and good manners predominate. Furthermore, a day spent at this attractive estate, a mere 20 miles from Santiago, constitutes the culmination of a personal quest and the fulfillment of a sort of pilgrimage. Yet, my interest in Undurraga and Chilean wine in general began after what seemed like a chance encounter.
This story really begins with the very first exceptional bottle of Chilean wine I had ever drunk. It was a well aged Cabernet from Undurraga that would now be eligible for Medicare, but at the time what many considered to be a “lowly” Chilean red put to shame in a formal tasting many much more expensive classified Bordeaux – to the horror of more than a few wine snobs. However, the true irony of all this is that the bottle of Undurraga Cabernet in question was about to be discarded by a wine shop owner who had assumed that its contents would be over the hill, dead and buried, if indeed they had ever been any good at all.
Three decades ago when I encountered the unassuming Undurraga Cabernet, Chilean wine in the United States was a rarity. Moreover, fine Chilean wine in the 1970’s was considered by most “serious” wine drinkers to be an oxymoron or an anomaly at best. Chilean wine was thought to be cheap and adequate – nothing more. And who ever thought it could age? Needless to say what ventured forth from the bottle in question that day was neither cheap nor ordinary, and it had aged beautifully. The label and price may have been less than awe inspiring, but the contents of the bottle were top notch. This experience convinced me, and quite few others, that fateful day of the truth of the maxim: You can never drink a label or a price tag, only the contents of a bottle. This encounter also instilled in me the desire to see the place that had spawned such wine and meet the good people that placed pearls inside lowly shells: hence, a recent visit to Undurraga and the fulfillment of a promise.
Today, Undurraga produces a wide variety of premium wines, only some of which are readily available outside of Chile. Red wines, comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, and Pinot Noir still constitute the lion share of production at Undurraga as they do at most prestigious Chilean wineries, but the quality of Undurraga’s white wines is now on par with its reds. The firm’s Chardonnay Reserva is a particular standout, but the Sauvignon Blanc and Late Harvest Semillon are exceptional as well. However, Undurraga’s most notable single offering remains its outstanding luxury proprietary red called Founder’s Collection, which is named of course in honor of Francisco Undurraga – the firm’s founder. Undurraga’s Founder’s Collection is one of South America’s most expensive and sought after wines.
The panel’s recent visit to Vina Undurraga was as pleasant as my first encounter with this estate’s ancient Cabernet. Truly, Undurraga possesses a striking winery, set in a park like atmosphere. Even on a rainy day, Vina Undurraga is stunningly beautiful. Moreover, we were all elated to see how far Chilean producers have come in the last thirty years and Undurraga in particular as it mirrors Chile’s meteoric rise in quality, without losing its Old World charm. In fact, it is hard to imagine that the wines from Vina Undurraga have ever been better. Today, Undurraga remains one of Chile’s top wine estates, and with good reason: the wines they make are as charming and delightful as the people who make them.