Pinot Noir: pure strawberry aromas or is there more to it?

Boring and one-dimensional or sublime and velvety? 

I have a confession to make: I used to think that Pinot Noir was dull; a strawberry-scented, flabby drink for lightweight wine consumers.

I had to think again when I realised that some people really rave about it and that, in fact, it is used to make some of the world’s most expensive wines. The turning point came when I tried a sublime, velvety Pinot Noir from New Zealand – it was truly delicious! Since then, I have tasted some really wonderful examples right here in Chile.  So what is going on here?

How can Pinot Noir wines vary so much?

Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously difficult to grow – too warm and they can ripen too quickly, too cold and they may not ripen at all. If there is moisture in the air, rot can get into the tightly packed clusters of thin-skinned grapes and ruin them. Then it takes a skilled winemaker to coax the best out of the grapes.  But when everything turns out right, Pinot Noir can be truly exciting.

Typical Pinot Noir aromas: strawberry jam, earthiness, hint of wood, herbs...
Typical Pinot Noir aromas: strawberry jam, earthiness, hint of wood, herbs…

What is Pinot Noir like?

Pinot Noir is lighter in colour than many other red varieties because of its thin skins. Young Pinot Noirs can be fresh and fruity; an easy-drinking wine to serve chilled as an aperitif. An older one may become more complex and develop gamey, farmyard or earthy aromas. In fact there is a wide range of styles, some with more body and tannins than others.

Pinot Noir goes beautifully with salmon
Pinot Noir goes beautifully with salmon

Pinot Noir is a food-friendly wine. Fruity Pinots go beautifully with salmon or chicken dishes. More complex gamey ones can hold their own with duck or game. You could even try Pinot Noir with a mushroom dish – never the easiest food to pair with.

Some excellent Chilean examples:

Tabalí Talinay Pinot Noir 2014, Limarí Valley

Herbs and fruity on the nose. Lovely, fresh and fruity. [Click here for more information about Viña Tabalí.]

Viña Ventisquero Tara Pinot Noir 2014, Atacama

Exciting, acidic and fresh. On the nose, a herbal touch intermingled with strawberries.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Pinot Noir 2014, Aconcagua Costa

Herbal and fruity notes on the nose. Lovely mouthfeel with fine tannins, fresh and acidic, with a mineral touch.

Kingston Vineyards Alazan Pinot Noir 2013, Casablanca Valley

Fresh and refreshing, with pleasant acidity. Strawberry jam aromas.

Lomas del Valle Pinot Noir 2013

Pale ruby with purple hues, this classic cool climate Pinot Noir unveils strawberry jam and raspberry bubblegum but is surprisingly interesting in the mouth, with high acidity and plenty of red fruit.  [Click here for more information about Viña Loma Larga.]

Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2013, Casablanca

Light purple; classic nose of strawberry flavoured toffee with hints of chocolate and vanilla.  Dry, high acidity, slightly astringent tannins, good alcohol and fruit.  [Click here for more wine tasting notes for Viña Casas del Bosque or here for a review of their tour.]

Casa Marín Pinot Noir 2009

Liquid velvet. Shiny ruby in colour. An intriguing nose of black cherries, cedar and cinnamon and a meaty component with just a touch of farmyard. Very well rounded and velvety in the mouth with high acidity and medium tannins. High alcohol. Long in the finish. [Click here for more wine tasting notes for Viña Casa Marín or here for a review of their tour.]

Hugo Salvestrini
Hugo Salvestrini (photo courtesy of Hugo)

Hugo has been a loyal customer of mine for several years now and, when I set up my new blog, he was among the first people I told about it. Why? Because his passion for telling the world about Chilean wine is patent, as is his openness to new ideas and initiatives.

When Hugo was at Viña Ventisquero, he came up with the ambitious plan of getting Ventisquero wines onto the wine lists of the five restaurants judged the world’s best according to the 2012 ranking in the British “Restaurant Magazine”. His strategy involved contacting the chefs of each restaurant and offering them a trip to Chile. His colleagues thought he was crazy, but Hugo persisted and he achieved his goal.

“You have to believe in yourself,” he said. “Dare to be different.” After graduating with a degree in agronomy with a major in oenology, Hugo landed his first job with Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. “I got that job because I was bold enough to go up and introduce myself at the winery’s stand at an event,” he said.

His career to date shows plenty of bold moves, including taking a couple of years out to do a Wine MBA in Bordeaux. “It was all in English,” he laughs, “so it was hard at first, but I managed.” After the course, he came back to Chile and went into the sales side of the business, first with Viña Undurraga and then Viña Ventisquero.

The vineyard at Talinay: an exceptional landscape (photo courtesy of Viña Tabalí)
The vineyard at Talinay: an exceptional landscape (photo courtesy of Viña Tabalí)

In 2015, Hugo was appointed Export Manager at Tabalí, responsible for Latin America and Europe. He is clearly passionate about his new job. This is a small, high-end winery based in one of Chile’s northernmost wine-producing regions: Limarí, an area better known for producing grapes for Pisco. Tabalí has three areas of vineyards.

Talinay, which is just 12 km from the coast and is within the Fray Jorge National Park, enjoys a much cooler climate than the rest of the valley because of the coastal breezes and morning fogs. Its soil has a high level of limestone, which is uncommon in Chile.

These conditions favour the production of concentrated wines with high natural acidity and great elegance.  These wines have gained international attention, for instance the March 2015 edition of Decanter included Talinay Chardonnay 2013 in its list of the world’s best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy.

Morning fog makes all the difference in these vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Viña Tabalí).
The all-important morning fog makes all the difference in these vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Viña Tabalí).

The Tabalí vineyard lies near the Valle del Encanto, a protected area because of the petroglyphs and other traces of the Molle indigenous culture which are found here. This is mid-Limarí, between the coast and the mountains and the soils are clay and chalk.  There is very little rainfall, so irrigation is essential and thankfully this winter enough rain has fallen to fill up the reservoirs. This is where Tabalí focusses its red wine production – Syrah, Carménère and its iconic blend Payen, as well as its Reserva and Reserva Especial lines of whites.

The third vineyard, Río Hurtado, is located in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 1850 metres and this is where Tabalí produces a Malbec with the name Roca Madre. Following her 2015 trip to Chile, Jancis Robinson described Roca Madre 2013:

“Exceptionally dark purplish crimson. Very sumptuous nose indeed. Lovely polish and spice without any gratuitous oak or winemaking. Pure (and that is the word) spicy fruit. Is it Malbec influence spreading just over the Andes from some of Mendoza’s finest vineyards?! This seems a tad drier than most Mendoza Malbec. Very sophisticated indeed.” *

Hugo Salvestrini: "It's important to have fun (...)". (Photo courtesy of Hugo)
Hugo Salvestrini: “It’s important to have fun”. (Photo courtesy of Hugo)

Passionate as he is about his work and about sharing his knowledge – he teaches on the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) courses in Santiago – Hugo is the first to admit that there is more to life than this. It’s important to have fun, to enjoy life with friends and to try new things.  He enjoys travelling and trying wines from other countries. I asked him to name three wines he had enjoyed recently.  His choices also say a lot about him:

Antisynthesis from Sophenia in Argentina. This is a blend of grapes from a plot of vines in which the Malbec and Cabernet accidentally became intermingled, so the grapes are picked and fermented together. Hugo likes this wine because it is the opposite of the well-known wine produced by the same winery called “Synthesis”.

Tara Chardonnay, one of Viña Ventisquero’s natural and very limited production wines from the Atacama Desert.

Pure carmenère by Château le Geai, an organic winery in Bordeaux which uses horses in the production process and breaks the Bordeaux mould with its single variety wines.

What else would you expect from someone who is drawn to things that are bold and different?


*Tasting note reproduced with permission from

Foods from Chile

Great Chilean wine

People often ask me why Chile? What was it that made me fall in love with this country to the extent that I decided to come and live here? Of course it isn’t easy to pin down what it is that enriches a country and makes it a great place to live but, in my case, the food and wine here were certainly a major element.  Going to the open-air fruit and vegetable markets here is mind-blowing for those of us accustomed to the more modestly stocked market stalls in our own countries and the bog-standard, over-packaged, unappetizing and expensive fare available in the supermarkets. And all those great wines at such affordable prices that you don’t have to think twice!

10 years on and I’m still loving the ability to buy copious quantities of succulent, ripe fruit and vegetables. Mouth-watering tomatoes, lush apricots and peaches, creamy avocadoes, crisp lettuce, celery that actually tastes of something and – well, the list goes on and on. Right now, the orange season is winding down and the first strawberries are arriving.  Time to make jam again!


strawberriesSo why does Chile have such great ingredients? Well, as it is such a long country, Chile has an unusually varied range of climates, which means it can produce a very wide range of crops – such as the Chilean (or mountain) papaya in the arid north, citrus fruit, avocadoes, olives and vines in the pleasant Mediterranean conditions in the long central part of the country and a wide range of berries (raspberries, blueberries etc.) in the cooler central-south area, to name just a few.  As Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons mirror those in the north: apples, grapes and avocadoes are in season here right when they are in short supply in Europe, Asia or North America.

tomatoeslettuceBut, Chile has a few other advantages too. It has some of the most transparent skies on Earth and possesses some of the world’s most significant freshwater reserves. Natural barriers at all four compass points protect Chile, converting it into a phytosanitary island, thereby reducing the incidence of pests and diseases. And fewer threats means less need for chemicals. Indeed organic and biodynamic production are growing here.

Chilean producers are exporting more food and drink products than ever before. Chile’s olive oil is so good, it even exports it to EU countries that are themselves olive oil producers! And most of its honey goes to Germany, where consumers appreciate its high quality. Chile is, in fact, the world’s biggest exporter of fresh blueberries, grapes, cherries, prunes, dried apples, frozen whole salmon and mussels and the second biggest exporter of shelled walnuts, fresh plums, fresh salmon fillet and unshelled almonds.

Foods from Chile



Chile’s export development agency ProChile is spearheading a new campaign called Foods from Chile to tell the world about the range of high-quality products Chile is now exporting. To find out more, visit their website.


For a meal that really showcases foods from Chile, check out my recipes for grilled salmon fillets with crushed Chilote potatoes and Sasha’s asparagus.

salmon fillet, crushed potatoes and asparagus



Chilean salmon and crushed Chilote potatoes
Chilean salmon and crushed Chilote potatoes

This meal uses all Chilean ingredients and really showcases some of the great flavours of Chile. It’s also pretty quick and easy to make, so why not give it a try?

Grilled salmon fillets


  • 500g salmon fillets
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • Sprigs of rosemary and bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
Salmon fillets in marinade
Salmon fillets in marinade
Cooking the salmon
Cooking the salmon


  • Put the salmon fillets in a plastic tub.
  • Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Sprinkle over salt and pepper and garlic.
  • Put on top sprigs of herbs.
  • Cover and leave for an hour or so.
  • Heat olive oil in a frying pan.
  • Place the salmon fillets in the pan.
  • Cover and cook over a low heat until the fillets are cooked through.
  • Serve with mashed potatoes and asparagus.


Crushed Chilote potatoes

Potatoes from the chilean island of Chiloé
Potatoes from the chilean island of Chiloé
Peeled and ready to cook.
Peeled and ready to cook.


  • 3 medium or 6 small potatoes per person (I like to use the ones from Chiloé)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt


  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into more or less similar-sized chunks.
  • Cook until soft.
  • Drain, then put the potatoes back into the pan.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and add salt to taste.
  • Mash to the desired texture.

Asparagus goes very nicely with this meal – check out my recipe for Sasha’s asparagus.

This meal pairs beautifully with Pinot Noir. On this occasion, I served it with silky-smooth and fruity Casa Marin Pinot Noir 2010 and the combination was sublime. It’s a good idea to serve this wine fairly cool and decant it half an hour before serving so it has time to open up.

Chardonnay is also a superb option for this dish. Click here to find out 5 reasons for rediscovering Chardonnay or here for the findings of our Chardonnay panel.


Sasha's asparagus
Sasha’s asparagus

A big thank you to Alexandra Balakireva for this recipe, which adds a little pizzazz to this delicious vegetable.


  • Bunch of asparagus spears, snapped to leave the non-woody part
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • Salt


  • Heat the oil in a frying pan.
  • Sprinkle in the sugar and add a pinch of salt.
  • Sauté the asparagus spears until they start to go a little brown.
  • Add water to half-cover the asparagus.
  • Put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the asparagus spears start to go soft.
  • Serve.

Delicious with Grilled salmon and crushed Chilote potatoes.

Time to relax with friends
Relaxing with friends.

Feel like it’s time to relax and let the worries of the week wash away with good conversation, good wine and good food? Here is a nice, easy recipe if you are looking for inspiration. I love to use the fabulous purple, blue and stripey potatoes from Chiloé, an island just off the coast of Chile, but any potatoes will be fine. In fact you can use other root vegetables if you like.

Potatoes from the chilean island of Chiloé
Potatoes from the chilean island of Chiloé


  • Potatoes – 1 large one or 2-3 small ones per person
  • Extra virgin olive oil (avocado oil is nice too)
  • Sea salt


  • Put the oven on a high heat.
  • Pour some oil onto a baking tray – enough to cover the base and put it in the oven to get nice and hot.
  • Peel the potatoes and chop them into very thin slices – the thinner they are, the faster they’ll cook and the crispier they’ll get.
  • Take the tray out of the oven, make sure the whole base is covered with oil.
  • Quickly put the potato slices on the tray. It’s important that you don’t try to put too many on the tray – each slice must be touching the tray bottom, otherwise they won’t cook evenly.
  • Sprinkle with salt.
  • Put in the oven.
  • After about 10 minutes, take out and turn each potato slice over. Sprinkle with salt.
  • Enjoy!

Serve alone as a snack or with pan-fried fish or steak.


Enjoy this with a glass of whatever suits your mood. A chilled sparkling wine is a good option, such as the following:

Domaine Raab Ramsay Organic Blanc de Blancs, Marga Marga

Traditional, in-bottle fermentation sparkling from an unusual small winery. Very refreshing and quite out of the ordinary.

Apaltagua Costera Extra Brut sparkling wine, Leyda Valley

Interesting and delightfully refreshing; an affordable sparkling wine made using the in-bottle fermentation method. Nice salinity thanks to the coastal origin of the grapes.

Bodega Volcanes de Chile Lava Brut, Casablanca Valley

Lovely, fresh, mineral sparkling from the winery which prides itself of producing wines of volcanic origin.

Perfect for relaxing with friends on a Friday night.
Perfect for relaxing with friends on a Friday night.

Since I discovered just how easy they are to make, I’ve been in search of the perfect beef burger recipe and have experimented with two types: the kind with just meat and seasonings and the kind where you add breadcrumbs or crumbled crackers or savoury biscuits and bind it all together with egg.

Both are pretty good and I think which one you prefer has a lot to do with your budget and how many people you have to feed, as clearly adding breadcrumbs means you get more burgers out of your minced meat.  So here is my recipe which you can do either way. And if you have a great recipe to share, please let me know.


  • 1.5 cups (360g) minced beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper

To make burgers with breadcrumbs, add to the above:

  • 1.5 cups (approx.) breadcrumbs (can also be crumbled up savoury biscuits)
  • 1 egg
Meat-only burgers
Meat-only burgers
Burger mix with egg and breadcrumbs
Burger mix with egg and breadcrumbs


  • Put all the ingredients in a bowl. You may need to adjust the amount of breadcrumbs a little, depending on how wet the mix is. The idea is to have a moist consistency which you can shape with your hands.
  • Divide the mix into the number of burgers you want. I normally make four.
  • Heat some oil in a frying pan.
  • Shape the burgers into rounds with your hands and flatten them so they are burger-shaped.
  • Fry them until they are brown on both sides and cooked through.
  • Serve!
Great with tomatoes
Great with tomatoes

Tastes great with a good Chilean red wine, such as:

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Central Valley

Lovely smooth and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon with good acidity, perfect for unwinding on at the end of a long week.

Echeverria Propuesta 2013: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, Maipo Valley

Lovely nose with plenty of red fruit and vanilla; very pleasant in the mouth with smooth tannins, good acidity and quite long in the finish.

Loma Larga Cabernet Franc 2008, Casablanca Valley

A ruby gem with forest floor, cassis and liquorice. Nicely complex and a great finish, this is a wine that can only get better with time.