Have you ever been so focussed on achieving something that when you actually succeeded, you didn’t know what to do next? I had such a moment back in 2003 when I finished walking the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. After 40 days and 770km, it felt amazing to totter, footsore and pink-faced, into the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. But part of me also felt rather deflated because it meant I had to figure out my next destination without a map or yellow arrows to point the way. As Antonio Machado’s poem states:
“Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” (“Traveller, there is no road; you make your path as you walk”).
Just over a year later, I emigrated to Chile.
I’m having another “what now?” moment again, 16 years on (though I don’t imagine moving to another country this time!!). I’ve just completed another big challenge – this time studying alongside full-time work – and now I’ve finished I find I have free time on my hands and a head full of geeky knowledge and am wondering what to do about it. The course was the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits, their top qualification. It took three years of blood, sweat, tears and more money than I care to think about. But I’ve done it; I’ve passed.
So what now? First, I need to take a breath and get back into the routine of normal life. I need to get back on track with friends I’ve been neglecting, recoup my depleted finances and thank my translation clients for remaining loyal over the years, despite my periodic disappearances to sit exams in London.
Of course I also have a whole heap of wine-related ambitions. I’d love to go and visit all the wine regions I’ve learned about and taste wines with the Master of Wine candidates in Santiago. I really want to get some hands-on experience in a vineyard (or several) and sooner or later I’m going to make my own garage wine just for the hell of it.
But for now my biggest ambition is to share some of the wonderful things I have learned about wine. In addition to writing for my blog, I am very proud to be helping wine journalist Amanda Barnes with her publications: Around the World in 80 Harvests and South America Wine Guide, mostly as sub-editor, but also doing a little research and some writing. And I am also just developing a brand new service: wine events like tastings or presentations for small groups in English or Spanish. I’m completely open to ideas about this so please get in touch if you have any suggestions or want to find out more.
It says a lot about Marcela Burgos and her ability to be concise and to the point, that we managed to shoehorn her interview into just 20 minutes before the other MW candidates arrived for a blind wine tasting. Marcela is one of those women who exude self-confidence and a sense of purpose, so in her presence I always feel like I need to pull my socks up and get on with things. No shilly-shallying about. A typical teacher vibe, actually, now I come to think about it.
No surprise then that Marcela is the owner of the Conservatorio de Vino school in Santiago offering Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses and occasional masterclasses. Marcela set up the school six years ago and is in the enviable position of having waiting lists for some courses, while others sell out soon after the dates are publicized.
What makes the Conservatorio de Vino so successful?
“Three things,” she says. “Firstly, I directly import the wines for the course tastings from the United States, so students can sample a really great range of wines. Secondly, unlike some wine schools, my courses have a gradual format – one or two evening classes a week. This means that students can review the material between classes and it also tends to fit better with their family and work commitments. Thirdly, I have a great team of teachers with first-hand knowledge of the wine industry, like Master of Wine candidates Marco de Martino (de Martino winery) and Fernando Almeda (former Technical Director of Miguel Torres Chile).”
So how did she get into this industry in the first place? She smiles, “I had just graduated with a business degree and was looking for a glamourous job, so I wrote to all the wineries on the Wines of Chile list.” Her first job at Los Boldos winery marked a key moment in her career. During the year she worked there, she had long conversations with the French winemaker, who told her about the world of wine outside of Chile.
Marcela’s next stop was a visit to the French white wine enclave of Alsace, followed by a year studying German in Munich, where she developed her ongoing love affair with German Riesling – especially from the Mosel.
“Riesling is a superlative variety,” she extols, “and Mosel Riesling evolves like a poem.”
Her career was set after a period living in Canada, where she worked her way through the WSET courses, completing WSET Level 4 (the Diploma) in London. Then, six years ago, after coming back to Chile and starting a family, she opened up the Conservatorio de Vino.
So what are her ambitions for the future?
“The Master of Wine programme, of course,” she says. Marcela is one of a very select handful of people in Chile on the extremely challenging MW programme who are seeking to join the 382 people around the world who currently hold this highly prestigious wine qualification.
She also writes features about Chile’s wine industry for Meininger’s Wine Business International, something she really enjoys. And she is confident that the Conservatorio de Vino will continue to grow over the coming years, offering the WSET Diploma, which is not currently available anywhere in South America, and increasing the number of WSET courses she runs each year.“Also I’ve just added the new WSET spirits qualifications and the demand is very strong, so I expect to see lots of growth there.”
And the final question: what are her favourite wines? Other than Mosel Riesling, red Burgundy tops her list, especially Chambolle-Musigny because it is so fragrant and evolves in the glass. And in terms of Chilean wine, aside from the Riesling wines from Chile’s coolest climate areas like the far south, she highlights Carignan from Maule because of its concentration and fresh, nicely balanced acidity. What an excellent choice!
People often ask me why they should pay more for a bottle of wine. I understand their point; we all have a limited budget that we need to cover all of life’s necessities and hopefully a few little extras, like wine. And if your tipple of choice is a highly affordable Shiraz from South Australia, Zinfandel from California or Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Central Valley which is consistently on sale at your local supermarket, what’s wrong with that?
Nothing of course, but it is worth knowing that to be able to put a product on the shelves of hundreds of supermarkets at a retail price of say £5 or £6 in the UK (where the first £2 or so goes in tax) or 3,000 pesos in Chile, the producer has to have a very large-scale operation so as to achieve extremely low costs. Why does this matter?
Scientific research points to a dramatic decline in insects worldwide – one report quoted widely in the press, such as this article in the Guardian, estimates that in a 27-year period the number of insects in protected areas declined by 75% and it may be even higher in non-protected areas. Another widely report (as in this article published by the BBC) indicates that “40% of species are undergoing dramatic rates of decline“.
The reasons for this decline are most likely:
loss of habitat (urban sprawl and the extension of largescale monoculture farming),
the use of pesticides
and global warming.
Why does it matter?
But why should we care about the loss of insects? Well, some of them, like bees, are needed to pollinate fruit, such as grapes. And we’ve all heard the alarming reports about the worldwide decline in bees – here is just one article on the subject. Other insects perform lowly but essential roles, like processing manure. And some are an essential part of the food chain – small bugs are eaten by larger bugs, which are eaten by birds, for instance. If the small bugs disappear, the larger bugs that eat them and the birds that eat them can also die out.
Meanwhile, those insects that really love eating certain kinds of plants, such as vines, are doing really well, because in a world of huge farms growing just that one kind of plant, they can easily zone in on great expanses of their favourite crop and feed and reproduce to their heart’s content and, because little else thrives in a monoculture, there may not be a predator around to interrupt them. Also, as the BBC report highlighted,
“Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly, will disappear.”
What’s the link between the production of (budget) wine and bugs dying?
So to go back to our large-scale wineries. Many of them have miles of beautiful, orderly rows of vineyards, stretching as far as the eye can see, all the vines uniformly trained along trellis and all carefully linked to a drip watering system. When you see mile after mile of uninterrupted vineyards (or indeed mile after mile of any crop – wheat, rapeseed, cotton, soya), you can be sure that they have very low biodiversity, especially if they are very neat and tidy, without a single weed or flower between the rows and no trees in sight. That’s because there is no habitat there for the majority of bugs and birds – other than those that like to feed on that particular crop, in this case vines.
If those vineyards are growing grapes for low-price wines, they need to get the maximum amount of grapes out of those vines for the lowest possible cost. So that means using fertilizers and water to make sure they get a lot of big, juicy grapes. And to keep labour costs down, they will mechanize whatever they can. The Australians are said to have got this down to a fine art, but you can find this sort of operation in Argentina, Chile, California, Spain and elsewhere. The distance between the rows of vines is just enough for the machinery to pass through. The drip irrigation systems are often controlled centrally. All they need is a couple of people driving very sophisticated machines along the rows at different times of the year to mechanically plough the soil, prune the excess growth, spray with chemicals and harvest the grapes.
Trellising vines, drip irrigation and the use of machinery in vineyards aren’t bad things – please don’t misunderstand me. Trellising ensures the grapes are positioned well for ripening and they can be manually or mechanically managed. Drip irrigation is a water-efficient way of irrigating vines. Mechanization – particularly in areas where there is a shortage of people willing to pick fruit or where labour costs are very high – can sometimes be the only sensible solution. It’s a highly efficient way of managing vines and, in the case of harvesting, means the grapes are picked and processed faster, which makes them less likely to oxidize or start to ferment before getting to the winery.
However, a very large vineyard is easy for marauding pests to find, presenting a lovely big juicy target for moths, wasps, tiny spiders, sharpshooters and a host of other nasty bugs to come and feed. And, whereas the owner or the viticulturist at a small-scale winery probably walks along his/her vines regularly and is therefore likely to be able to detect and deal with a problem early, those people driving up and down on their tractors all day long may not notice the problem until it has grown to major proportions. What some wineries therefore do is preventive spraying to make sure no problems arise. After all, if they have contracts with a large supermarket chain to deliver a certain amount of wine at a certain price point and they fail to deliver, they can be subject to major penalty clauses.
And where the vineyards are uninterrupted by any other vegetation and are managed with lots of agrochemicals, they are contributing towards the decline in insect life and other species.
We need to remember too that the biodiversity isn’t all above ground – there is a lot going on in the soil beneath our feet – or at least there is in healthy soil. The state of the soil is a hot issue for many people in wine, who argue that healthy soil should be teeming with life (such as worms which help aerate the soil, and microorganisms that process waste and produce hummus). Compaction by heavy machinery and sustained use of chemicals can make the soil an unfriendly or even toxic place for these creatures.
There are wineries of all sizes that are concerned about these issues and who take measures to mitigate their impact, for instance by installing wildlife corridors or leaving some parts of the vineyard with native vegetation. Some even use animals in preference to machinery in the vineyards – hens and other birds scratch around for pests, alpacas or sheep munch on weeds, horses are used for heavier jobs like ploughing and all of them contribute manure, which can be rotted down and used to add fertility to the soil.
Some wineries have joined voluntary sustainability schemes where they pledge to be careful in their use of chemicals, recycle waste and water and use a range of techniques to increase biodiversity, such as encouraging weeds to grow between the rows of vines.
Other wineries have gone a step further and become certified organic or biodynamic. What this gives you, as a consumer, is a much clearer idea of exactly what standards have been used to make that bottle of wine, because to be labelled as “organic”, “biodynamic” or “made with organic grapes”, the winery has to prove to an independent body that they have followed a specific set of rules.
So what does it mean for a wine to be labelled organic or biodynamic? This is complex and could be an article in itself. To put it briefly, organic producers need to have a plan that limits their use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and looks for other ways to encourage plant health, while taking care of the environment. One of the world’s major certifying bodies for organic produce, the Soil Association states:
“Organic wine is as natural as possible, made using organically grown grapes or other fruit from a vineyard or farm that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health. (…) Organic wine makers use the minimum amount of additives and processing aids required to produce an optimum quality wine.”
Biodynamic wine producers have to meet the standards for organic production and then have a whole heap of additional rules. The following quote comes from a very informative page by Demeter, the certifying body for biodynamic production.
“In practice, Biodynamic farming meets the organic standard including the prohibition of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but goes much further. The integration of animals and animal feeds, perennial plants, flowers and trees, water features, and composting is emphasized. Dependence on imported materials for fertility and pest control is reduced. Water conservation is considered. Farms are required to maintain at least 10% of total acreage as a biodiversity set-aside.”
The bottom line is this: we are living in a world that is changing fast, with climate change and large scale extinctions, including insects and nobody is quite sure what the impact of all this is going to be, but it is likely to be considerable. Organic and biodynamic wines cost more than the most economical wines in the supermarket because there is more manual labour involved in their process (manual weeding, natural pest control) and the amount of grapes produced from each hectare is lower (especially where land is set aside for wildlife). What is more, even large organic producers like Emiliana in Chile have not reached the scale of the real giants of the viticultural world and so they cannot leverage the same economies of scale. So if you want to buy this type of wine, it is going to cost a bit more.
Each of us makes our own purchasing decisions based on what we feel is important and what we can afford. My suggestion is that you just take a moment to check out the products before you buy by looking at the producer’s website so you can make an informed decision. Organic, biodynamic or otherwise, if a winery is taking steps to encourage biodiversity or to be careful with the environment, they will say so.
Alpacas at Emiliana, who help keep weeds down without compacting the soil
More information about insect and bee loss and what you can do about it
So, here we are again, marking the transition from one year to the next. How do you feel about it? Positive about the future? Glad to see the end of a difficult year? Or sorry to say goodbye to a year full of special times? I had one of those moments of rare insight yesterday when I realised that in my rush to get where I’m going, I’ve stopped pausing along the way to take in the view around me. And so 2016, 2017 and 2018 all seem like treadmill years shaped by duties, challenges and uncertainties and 2019 looks like more of the same.
Of course what this reflects is my attitude to life and its ups and downs and, to be fair, the challenge of shoehorning WSET Diploma studies into an already busy life. So, even though I have the big final WSET diploma exam in June, my goal in 2019 is to try to keep a sense of perspective and enjoy the ride on this rollercoaster of life instead of clinging on for dear life with my eyes shut, waiting for the crash!
Of course there have been plenty of highlights in 2018. I passed two more WSET exams (spirits and sparkling wine) and miraculously got my Chilean driving licence too. I had a blast with Amanda Barnes visiting vineyards in Maule and meeting some of the people who make those delicious, concentrated old-vine Carignan wines labelled as Vigno. Other Chilean highlights include tasting Pandolfi Price wines with Seattle Yang and her husband, sipping red Burgundy with Marcela Burgos at Les Dix Vins in Santiago, the annual sparkling wine tasting in December, the Veuve Clicquot NV brought by John Ewer and Kate Whitlock to our Christmas lunch and a visit to Matetic’s boutique hotel Casona.
I also enjoyed a few action-packed post-exam days in London when I went to Australian and Beaujolais wine events, tasted Californian Cabernet, Tawny Port and South African Chenin Blanc in get-togethers with fellow Diploma students Suzanne Fagerang from Sweden, Jorge Miguel Jimenez Garavito from Peru and Elizaveta Bacheyeva from Russia. Then there was a crazy curry evening with Amanda and her partner, where we quaffed Russian sparkling and aged Portuguese white.
I tasted many fantastic wines during the year but I think my most memorable was a bottle kindly transported halfway around the world by Kathy Baxter and Cecilia Benevides from Kathy’s home country of New Zealand. Johanneshof Cellars Gewurztraminer 2016 from Marlborough has got to be the best Gewürztraminer I’ve ever tried. First there is a complete riot of hedonistic aromas – think honeysuckle, rose petals, orange blossom, citrus fruit notes like grapefruit and lime, ripe stone fruit like apricot, nectarine and peach, as well as fresh grapes and a hint of Turkish delight. Wow! Sometimes Gewürztraminer disappoints in the mouth, with high alcohol and low acidity, but this wine was beautifully balanced with enough acidity to feel taut and to counterbalance a touch of sweetness. Lots of body and a lovely complex flavour, good length and moderate alcohol. All in all, a really special wine and, lucky me, thanks to Kathy and Cecy, I now have a bottle of the 2017 vintage sitting in my cellar!
So here’s looking at the rollercoaster ride that will be 2019, hoping that it will bring us all many thrills and high points. I shall be celebrating the arrival of this New Year with a glass of Matetic Cool Coastal Brut. How about you?
This is a handy guide to understanding terms like in-bottle fermentation and traditional method that you often see on sparkling wine labels.
Actually the biggest clue to what a sparkling wine is going to be like when you taste it can be found in these terms describing how the wine has been made. This is because the way in which the still wine is made into sparkling wine influences the style, aromas and flavours of the wine. So, when you are choosing a sparkling wine, it’s useful to know about the method used for the second fermentation.
Second fermentation methods
1) In many cases, the base wine is put into a special, strong stainless steel tank for the second fermentation, along with the sugar and yeast mix called liqueur de tirage. The fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the tank, making the wine bubbly. When the wine is ready, the Liqueur d’expedition (a sugary/wine mix) is added and it is bottled. This is called the tank method or sometimes the Charmat method and is one of the most common methods around the world for making sparkling wine.
2) The traditional method or in-bottle fermentation method (which used also to be called méthode champenoise) is to bottle the still wine following the first fermentation, add the liqueur de tirage, then put in a temporary cork. Traditionally, the bottles were placed neck first into the holes in a pupitre, a hinged rectangular block. They started in a horizontal position and, over a period of months, were gradually moved by hand until they were upside down, so that the sediment settled in the neck of the bottle. While there are still a small number of companies that still manually riddle their sparkling wines in this way, most use a mechanised system for moving the bottles called a gyropallette.
Once the wine is ready, the cap end of the bottle is submerged in a freezing brine solution to solidify the sediment in the neck. Then, in a quick motion, the temporary cork is removed and the frozen block of sediment is ejected from the bottle (along with some wine) because of the pressure of gas inside. This process is called disgorgement. This leaves some space in the bottle, which is filled with Liqueur d’expedition. Then the wine is corked and muzzled and prepared for sale.
3) The transfer method is a modification on this system, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle but then the contents are disgorged into a tank under pressure, filtered and the liqueur de tirage is added. Then the wine is bottled again. Many bottles with “in-bottle fermentation” on their label may also have been made using this system.
4) Some very cheap sparkling wines are simply carbonated (like fizzy drinks).
5) Finally there are some wines made using the Asti method. Where normally sparkling wine is made from a dry wine which already completed its first fermentation, in the case of an Asti-style of wine, the process takes place in just one fermentation, which is never completed, as the winemaker chills the wine when it reaches around 7%-7% ABV and has achieved the right level of gas. Then it is filtered, bottled and sold for immediate use. So these wines are sweet and relatively low alcohol.
So how to choose a style of sparkling wine to suit your taste?
If you are looking for a fresh sparkling wine with fruity aromas and a clean, refreshing mouth, in the style of the light, fruity Prosecco so popular at the moment, then a tank-fermented wine is a good option.
If you want something more complex, with a denser, creamier mouth and aromas and flavours reminiscent of sponge cake, toast, biscuits or bread, then an in-bottle fermentation wine is a good option. These notes come from the time the wine spends with its yeast sediment in the bottle. Some also argue that the bubbles are finer. Champagne is made in this way, as is Cava from Spain and many premium sparkling wines from many countries of the world. Chile is no exception, producing many very delicious and affordable sparkling wines using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method.
If you fancy trying something a little different, you could try something made with a different variety of grape – in Chile, there are now a number of sparkling wines made with the País grape – check out Miguel Torres’ Estelado or Schwaderer Blanc de Noirs for interesting traditional-method wines from País or Bouchon produces a light tank-fermented style.
Fizz is in fashion and there is ever more choice lining the shelves of supermarkets and wine shops, so how to choose a sparkling wine that suits your taste and budget? Champagne is often the first thing that comes to mind, these days closely followed by Prosecco, but let’s face it, Champagne and Prosecco are wines from just two of the many wine-producing region in this big, wide world of wine and you may find a fizz you like just as much (or more) at a much more affordable price.
But how to choose a sparkling wine to suit you? Over the next few posts, I’ll give the low-down on sparkling wine, demystify some of the jargon and give some pointers to help you find a wine to your taste. Also, in a spirit of selfless public service, some friends and I recently had a tasting panel to review 6 Chilean sparkling wines retailing in Chile at under £10 (US$15), so I’ll be posting the results of that too.
Let’s start with how it’s made
Sparkling wine is regular wine with bubbles. First you make a still wine, then you put it in a very strong, airtight container and add a syrup of sugar, wine and yeast (known as liqueur de tirage) to provoke a second fermentation. This increases the wine’s alcohol content a little more and, more importantly, generates gas, which is trapped by the airtight container and so is contained as bubbles in the wine. When the fermentation has finished, another sugar syrup is usually added, called Liqueur d’expedition or dosage prior to closing the bottle.
Of course, it’s more complex than that, because there are different ways of achieving the second fermentation and each one has an impact on the style, aroma and flavour of the wine. I’ll look at this in more detail in the next post. Also the level of sweetness varies a lot, depending on the amount of Liqueur d’expedition used.
So how can you tell how sweet the wine is?
The following terms are used by sparkling wine producers around the world to tell you how sweet the sparkling wine is.
Number of grams of sugar per litre in the finished wine
Brut Nature/Ultra Brut/Zero
A bone dry wine with very little or no added sugar.
Sparkling wine can be made from any wine grape, but the traditional champagne grapes are still the most popular today: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Prosecco is made with Glera, an aromatic variety with good acidity and a fairly neutral palate, sometimes blended with a little wine from another variety. Some winemakers around the world have experimented with other grapes and here in Chile, these include Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat varieties and País. As with still wines, the choice of grape will have an effect on the aromas and flavours. However, generally the winemaker is looking for a fairly acidic base wine with not too high an alcohol content, because the second fermentation will add more alcohol.
So what do you think? Do you like the full-on acidity of a Nature wine or are you really more of a sweet sparkling wine fan? Have you tried a sparkling wine made with alternative wine grapes and if so, did you like it?
The biggest and best of Chile’s annual wine fairs – Feria de Vinos de Lujo or Luxury Wine Fair- attracted droves of winelovers and glitterati once again in 2017, despite its unfortunate timing just two weeks before Christmas and the sharp rise in the entry price. The draw is the wine, of course, with 80 Chilean wineries offering samples of some of their best wines and the tremendous spread of food put on by the Hotel Santiago. When else can you taste such a range of Chilean wines, some with a retail value well over a hundred – even two hundred – dollars a bottle?
Three of the small companies importing wines from the rest of the world had stands too. In the picture above, Diego Edwards of Edwards Fine Wines is offering Chablis, an Italian orange wine and a newly arrived Grüner Veltliner to those looking to try something different. Meanwhile Les Dix Vins had an unusual white field blend from Alsace and a Cru Bourgeois wine from the Haut-Médoc and Marco de Martino was there with his brand Vigneron Fine Wines (email:firstname.lastname@example.org) offering some enticing French wines and Sherries. For those of us studying wine here in Chile, these are the guys who save the day, as getting hold of non-Chilean wine here is a challenge.
Anyway, on to the Chilean wines being showcased. Let’s set aside the well-known brands of the industrial giants Concha y Toro (one of the world’s largest wine companies, quoted on the New York Stock Exchange) and CCU’s Viña San Pedro Tarapacá, and look at some of the smaller producers.
Spumante de Limarí
This sparkling wine producer got the evening off to a good start with three very seductive traditional-method sparkling wines: Azur, Gemma Brut and Gemma Rosé.
Secano 2015 was one of my highlights from this year’s event. Polkura is a highly respected producer, particularly known for its Syrah wines. Secano is a very tiny production of dry-farmed Syrah vines from Colchagua. A powerful wine, with an enticingly fruity nose and high acidity, tannins and a peppery note, I very much hope to get my hands on a bottle sometime (I gather they are hard to come by!).
I tried a trio of outstanding wines crafted by Stefano Gandolini at this boutique winery in the Leyda Valley: Ventolera Pinot Noir, a delicate wine with floral and red fruit notes and two Chardonnays.
The Private CuvéeChardonnay was kept for two years over its lees in stainless steel and then bottle-aged for a further three years. This was a highly seductive and intense Chardonnay with complex notes of tropical fruit and those creamy notes from the lees.
The Rare Cuvée Chardonnay, which had spent 24 months in new oak, was a more full-on experience with a complex nose of quince and Crème brûlée.
This is an intriguing family-run winery high in the mountains of the Elquí Valley in northern Chile who are using traditional methods of winemaking, including foot-treading the grapes in granite lagares (open vats).
Rhu 2013 is a food-friendly, fragrant red based mainly on Syrah with small contributions of Grenache and Petite Sirah.
Grus 2016 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Malbec with fruit and mineral notes.
Moho 2016 is a nicely balanced Grenache with lovely fresh red fruit.
A Norwegian-owned winery with vineyards in the traditional winemaking areas of Maule, Curicó and Maipo.
Orzada Carmenère 2016 is an unoaked wine made from organic grapes. It has aromas of fresh plummy fruit and tobacco and velvety tannins. Would pair well with red meat.
Winemaker’s Travesty 2016 is a powerful red blend of Carignan, Malbec and Syrah with notes of pepper, violets and dark chocolate. This is a big wine with well-integrated tannins, a cigarbox texture and a long finish.
Aliara 2012 is another wine that packs a punch. A red blend of 40% Malbec, 32% Carignan, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Syrah. Add 18-24 months in new French oak, and you are looking at aromas of toast and spice intermingled with black fruit like blackcurrants and plums (nudging towards dried fruit like prunes) and everything at the high end of the scale: high levels of tannins, acidity, body and a long, long finish. Honestly, even though it’s 5 years old, I’d be inclined to give this one a few more years to evolve.
This is a tiny garage-style operation in Algarrobo making natural red wines from manually destemmed grapes which are fermented in plastic bins with ambient yeasts, then aged in barrels. I tried Pinot Noir 2016, a very fresh and appetising wine that would combine well with a range of food. Very moreish.
I ended the night with a refreshing wine from family winery De Martino: Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2016. With its fresh acidity and notes of chocolate and fresh red fruit, it rounded the evening’s tasting off nicely.
With the excuse of studying for the WSET Diploma, I’ve tasted a greater variety of wines – both Chilean and foreign – this year than ever before. The upside is my knowledge and appreciation of wine have expanded exponentially; the downside is that there has been a tectonic shift in my taste. I’m no longer satisfied with two-dimensional wines that are all fur coat and no knickers, as we say in Yorkshire. I want a wine that is as interesting in the mouth as it is on the nose; one that isn’t a formulaic production by a winemaker compensating for mediocre grapes but really offers something different; a wine that stands out from the rest. Why is that a downside? Well, it means my taste just got more expensive!
Looking back at the wines that really stood out for me this year, I can spot a few trends. Stick-insect thin, searingly acidic wines are out – you won’t spot any Sauvignon Blanc in my top list, for instance. Instead, I’ve been enjoying whites with more personality – oak-fermented Chardonnay and well-crafted Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc wines, for instance. And, bucking fashion, I’ve discovered a taste for well-made sweet wines.
When it comes to the reds, soft tannined Malbecs and interesting red blends are among those that have stolen my heart this year. Here are a just a few highlights.
Top wines from 2017: Sparkling
François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV
This medium gold-coloured wine has a fairly aromatic nose, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There is also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.
This sparkling wine is made from the País (aka Mission, Listán Negro, Criollo) grape and is definitely among the better wines to be produced from this grape variety.
This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol. A superb choice for a special meal or celebration – if you can manage to get hold of a bottle!
Top wines from 2017: whites
Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV
Pandolfi Price makes two superb Chardonnay wines – Larkun is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while this, my favourite, was fermented and aged in oak.
This is a lemon-coloured wine with a deliciously intense nose with layers of aromas: first the fruit – grapefruit, peaches and apples; next some subtle buttery notes from the 24 months this wine spent ageing on its lees; and finally some steely and pebbly mineral notes. In the mouth it is dry, with fresh acidity, very high alcohol – watch out for this one, it’s so easy to keep sipping it without realising it’s a whopping 15%! Full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, and all those fruity and mineral notes are present again in this deliciously satisfying white. No wonder it’s garnered so many international awards and high scores from critics.
Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV
With the current fashion for thin-bodied whites with searing acidity and upfront citrus aromas, opulent, full-bodied Gewürztraminer with its candy store of aromas is decidedly untrendy right now. But hey, who cares about fashion?
This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in its pot pourri of delicious smells: Turkish delight, rose petals, grapes, ginger and ripe peaches, to name just a few – this is about as heady as a wine can get.
This medium-bodied wine is off-dry (a bit sweet), but it has enough acidity to stop it from being cloying. The mouth delivers on the promise on the nose, with a delightful fruitiness and a hint of spice. Medium (+) finish.
I make no apologies for including a fully sweet wine in my list, even though it shows me up as completely untrendy. Who cares about fashion anyway? This wonderful wine, kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin, is made from 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng.
This is a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose is pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.
The sweetness of this full-bodied wine is beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it shows a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.
A huge thank you to Amanda Barnes, who took time out from her schedule to give me a whistle-stop introduction to Mendoza and particularly Argentine Malbec back in April. I tried so many great Malbec wines, it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, so I’m going to confine myself to just a couple.
Matervini Viñas Viejas 2014, Precordillera
Very limited edition – 200 bottles produced. This wine was made from grapes in Matervini’s new Precordillera plot.
A beautiful wine with a mineral nose teems with the biscuity, toasty notes from the barrel-ageing. In the mouth, it is medium-bodied, with fresh acidity, tooth-coating tannins and a long finish.
Kondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV
Deep ruby-coloured wine with a deliciously fruity nose, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There is also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine is dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish is medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.
Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This wine has all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.
This is a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins.
Lorca Poético Cabernet Franc 2013, Mendoza, 14.5% ABV
A deep ruby-coloured wine with lashings of delicious aromas: red fruit like redcurrants and raspberries, blueberries, oak aromas like vanilla and coconut, and a hint of liquorice. This is an exciting wine with fresh acidity, pronounced, ripe tannins and lots of body. In the mouth, there is a moderate cigarbox texture adding complexity to the red fruit and spice flavours.
The Chilean reds
I’ve tasted a whole gammut of Chilean wines this year: the good, the bad and the ugly. A particular low point was a my sustained tasting over the winter of entry level classic Chilean reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others) from several well-known Chilean wineries. Some were pretty awful; none were really worthy of tasting notes. In fact, my favourite wines tended to be less common varieties or from smaller wineries.
Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV
Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and, over the years has garnered my respect by consistently producing very attractive, enjoyable wines with plenty of character.
This wine is a deep purple colour with a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There is a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas are slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and tobacco. This is a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine has lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieves good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.
Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV
Loma Larga has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc. It also produces an oaked version in the Loma Larga range, which is a bigger wine, less restrained but no less delicious.
The nose is rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.
This is a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity makes the palate refreshing and the mouth reveals black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This is a very enjoyable wine.
A delicious red blend of 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines. An eco-friendly ruby-coloured wine with a pleasantly fruity nose with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blueberries. It is dry with ripe, medium (+) tannins, fresh acidity, relatively light body and high alcohol. This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.
Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule / Itata Valleys, 13.5%
This is a smart idea by the team at Ventisquero to make the best of two of Chile’s on-trend “heritage varieties”, both of which can on their own be a little lacklustre. País tends to be rather uninspiring aromatically, whereas Muscat grapes are known for their wonderful aromas but can be rather low in acidity. By putting the two together, Ventisquero has come up with a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries. This is a great wine for sipping, slightly chilled, on a hot day or as a pre-dinner appetiser.
A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico Cinsault 2016, Itata Valley, 13.5% ABV
This was the firm favourite at a Cinsault wine tasting a few months back. A fresh, aromatic Cinsault, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.
Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016, Maule Valley, 14% ABV
A moreish ruby-red blend combining the fresh acidity of Italian classic Barbera with the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours of Spanish icon Garnacha (aka Grenache). This is a food-friendly wine with delicious aromas of red fruit, like strawberry jam, raspberries and red plums, together with rhubarb, intermingled with a subtle herbal note of liquorice or dill and a hint of mushroom and earthiness.
And then, of course, there’s the reds from France…
Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV
A beautiful right-bank Bordeaux made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and blackcurrants. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.
A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.
It’s that time of year again when we all get into a flurry of Christmas shopping, seasonal cooking and planning for the perfect Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sparkling wine for the festive season features high on the shopping list and there’s an ever bigger range to choose from. So here’s a handy guide to help you select a wine that’s right for you. For a full 101 on sparkling wines, how they are made and how to get your head around the terms on the labels, check out my guide: How to choose sparkling wine (1) and How to choose sparkling wine (2).
In time-honoured tradition, a group of us got together to taste just some of the wines on sale and I’d like to say a big thank you to our team of tasters, including Lauren Hand, Ricardo Parada, Yi Wang, Natascha Scott-Stokes and Irina Axenova, for valiently tasting their way through 9 different sparkling wines: 4 Chilean premium wines and 5 wines from Europe.
European sparkling wines for the festive season
Prosecco, currently one of the world’s favourite wines, made in the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy, from Glera grapes in a fresh, uncomplicated style with the second fermentation usually taking place in a tank. We tasted Riccadonna Prosecco Extra Dry. A subtle nose with some notes of apples and a biscuity note, this is a light, easy-to-drink wine suitable for pre-dinner drinks or accompanying light-flavoured bites.
Hailing from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Lambrusco is made from one of several grape varieties that go by the name Lambrusco. It’s usually made into a red sparkling wine but we tried a white one: Chiarli, an off-dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) uncomplicated wine with aromas of sweet red apples. This was among the favourites at our tasting.
Another very classic wine from Italy, Asti is one of a kind, always sweet and low alcohol. This is because the juice is fermented just once, the tank being sealed to keep in the carbon dioxide, and the fermentation is interrupted when the wine reaches around 7% ABV, so it still has plenty of sugar that hasn’t been fermented. Some cheaper styles are still wines, into which carbon dioxide is pumped to make them fizzy. We tasted Riccadonna Asti, a sweet wine that has enough acidity to stop it becoming cloying. Asti is made with Muscat grapes, which make it very aromatic (think grapes, ginger and raisins). This wine would go nicely with dessert.
Another very classic type of sparkling wine, this time from Spain. Cava is always made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method and is usually made from native Spanish grapes, such as Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, though others are permitted. We tried one of the world’s best-selling Cavas, Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Selección Cava. This is the very same wine I bought to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was living in Córdoba in Spain a few moons ago – and it’s still a great party wine. This is a dry sparkling wine with a lightly citrus aroma, zesty acidity and a creamy mouth. A moreish crowd-pleaser.
If you haven’t yet tried a Portuguese sparkling wine, I heartily recommend them. I sampled a few during my visit to Porto, all very elegant, made from native Portuguese grapes using the traditional method (check out the details of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008 and Terras do Demo in this post). We tried Luis Pato Maria Gomes Bruto from the Beiras region, made with 90% Maria Gomes and 10% Sercialinho grapes. This was one of the most aromatic wines in our tasting, with floral notes and just a hint of brioche from the autolysis. A lovely fresh, fruity, dry sparkling wine with plenty of body and lots of personality.
Chilean Premium sparkling wines for the festive season
For this tasting I selected four wines retailing in Chile at between CLP10,000 and $20,000 (US$15-30). All were made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method but the grapes and regions vary.
Calyptra Hera Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2012, Alto Cachapoal
This wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The most complex wine of the selection, with a sweet nose of classic Chardonnay aromas like banana and pineapple, together with brioche notes from the ageing process intermingled with some creamy lees aromas. Dry with high acidity and lots of body, this is a wine with personality and you’ll either love it or hate it. It was my personal favourite of this tasting.
This Brut is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a light and elegant style with subtle notes of fruit and croissant from the autolysis, high acidity. A very refreshing wine that was among the tasting team’s favourites.
Leyda Extra Brut, Leyda
The winery doesn’t specify the grapes on the label or their website. This is a very neutral and correct style of sparkling wine sure to appeal to those looking for a refreshing appetiser. It is dry with delightful acidity and some subtle autolysis notes (biscuits, croissant) in the mouth.
4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and what better way to celebrate than with a glass of País wine, the country’s most traditional variety? This is the easy-to-grow, drought-resistant grape variety that centuries ago the Spanish missionaries took with them to new countries to ensure they had wine to celebrate Mass. In the Canary Islands, it’s known as Listán Prieto o Listán Negro. In California, it’s called Mission, in Argentina, it goes by the name of Criolla Chica and, here in Chile, it’s called País.
For a long time, País was the principal grape variety in red wines here in Chile but, as more fashionable varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot took off, it was left in obscurity.
For many decades, growers could choose either to sell their grapes at a very low price to wine companies for use in cheap red blends or else switch to other, better-selling vine varieties.
In recent years, winemakers have been rediscovering Chile’s heritage varieties; the vines that were languishing in the shadow of the superstar grape varieties. We’ve seen great interest in old vine Carignan and Cinsault wines and País wine has also had a makeover.
Producers have experimented with a range of styles of wine, as you’ll see from the tasting notes below.
Red País wine tasting notes
Bouchon País Salvaje 2016, Maule, 12%
Made from País vines that have gone wild on the Bouchon estate, vinified using carbonic maceration to bring out the maximum fruity flavours and aromas.
This wine is a pale purple colour. It has a pronounced nose with aromas of red fruit, like strawberries, raspberries and cherries, a hint of spice and the tell-tale notes of banana and bubblegum that you get with carbonic maceration.
This is a dry, easy-drinking and fruity wine with good balance and everything in the medium spectrum: tannins, acidity, body, alcohol and finish. A well-accomplished version of País worth trying.
Made from old vines, traditional style of winemaking with minimal intervention.
This is a pale ruby-coloured wine, a little bit cloudy, reflecting the fact that it is unfiltered. The nose is medium in intensity with notes of chocolate, and red fruit like cranberries, redcurrants and raspberries and a floral hint.
In the mouth, it is a dry wine with medium (+) acidity, fairly low tannins that are ripe and integrated, medium body. Flavours of cocoa and red fruit. This is a light and easy-drinking wine.
Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule, 13.5%
Interesting blend: 85% País grapes from Maule, 15% Muscat grapes from Itata Valley. In both cases, these are old vines which have never been irrigated. Muscat grapes are very aromatic, so they contribute extra aromas to the wine.
This wine is pale ruby in colour, almost a rosé. The nose is more pronounced than some of the 100% País wines, with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries.
In the mouth, it is dry with medium (+) tannins and acidity, fairly light body and medium length. The fruit and floral notes come through in the mouth, making this a very pleasant drink.
Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado, Brut, Maule Valley
This was among the first of the new wave of País wines to be launched on the Chilean market and it always scores well in sparkling wine tastings. It’s made from 100% País, using the traditional method of in-bottle fermentation. Miguel Torres is a fair trade producer.
This is a rosé sparkling wine with a pleasing peach colour. It’s a fresh, fruity sparkling wine with fruity aromas, followed by refreshing acidity in the mouth.
This is also made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method from País grapes.
This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol (just 12% ABV). The aromas and flavours are more subtle and complex than Estelado’s, with the classic croissant and biscuity notes from the time spent ageing on its lees (sediment). Well worth trying.
Sparkling wines are best served well chilled and are amongst the most versatile wines to pair with food: check them out with mixed starters or a buffet and you’ll find they will hold their own with pretty much any kind of food.
The red wines will also benefit from being just slightly chilled and can be served just as an aperitif or will pair well with chicken or pork or with casseroles like Chilean favourite Cazuela. My friend Smilja tried it with Yugoslav dish Paprikash (a meat and vegetable casserole) and said that they were a perfect combination.