Map of Chile courtesy of Free Vector Maps
Map of Chile courtesy of Free Vector Maps

1) Long and lean

A long, narrow country sandwiched between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is 4,300 km (2700 miles) long but at most 240 km (150 miles) wide.  That’s further than the distance from Edinburgh to the Sahara Desert and means that the country has lots of different types of climate, from the world’s driest desert in the north through to Antarctica in the south.

In the middle is a wide belt of land with a Mediterranean climate, perfect for growing grapes, as well as other Mediterranean crops, like olives, citrus fruit, and almonds.

Santa Cruz vineyard Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Santa Cruz vineyard
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

2) Warm and sunny

The grapevines bask in this generous Mediterranean weather. During the long summers, plenty of exposure to sunshine enables the grapes to ripen and develop the sugars which will later become alcohol when the grape juice is made into wine.

In hotter areas, this makes for ripe, fruity and quite potent wines, especially reds. If you’ve seen wines labelled as coming from Rapel, Colchagua, Central Valley, Maipo or Curicó, then they are likely to fall into this category.

Meanwhile, we are seeing some very exciting Chilean wines from areas which are a little cooler, either because they are planted at a higher altitude or are cooled by the sea breezes and coastal fogs coming in from the Pacific Ocean. In these areas, because the grapes ripen more slowly, they retain greater acidity and freshness. These wines tend to be more herbal or spicy and have higher acidity. Look out for wines – particularly whites – from Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda or Aconcagua or reds from Alto Maipo or Apalta, to name just a few areas.

Beautiful snow-capped mountains
In the spring, the ice melts, taking water to Chile’s vineyards and farms.

3) Not too wet

In the winter, rainclouds sweep in from the Pacific Ocean and, when they reach the Andes mountain chain, their moisture falls as snow. This is an area of ice and glaciers and, in the spring, the ice and snow begin to thaw, feeding hundreds of streams and rivers which flow west towards the Pacific Ocean, taking pure, clean, nutrient-rich water to irrigate the plants growing in the valleys.

The water arrives just at the right time for the vines, just when they are starting to grow after their winter dormancy.

However, vines don’t like too much water and they don’t do well with waterlogged roots, so it’s important that the soil drains well.

In most of Chile’s wine producing regions, there is little or no rain in the spring and summer. In many ways, this is good news, as too much water while the fruit is developing and ripening leads to big, over-watery grapes and less interesting wines. Meanwhile rain close to harvest time can cause grapes to split and rot and overly damp conditions during the growing season can cause noble rot (botrytis) and mildew. Many Chilean wineries use controlled drip irrigation to give the vines just the right amount of water to produce concentrated, flavoursome grapes.

Vine unfurling its leaves in spring.
Vine unfurling its leaves in spring.

4) Fit and healthy

Chile’s isolation in the far south of the world, surrounded by the natural barriers of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes mountains to the east, the Atacama Desert to the north and the ice fields and Antarctica to the south, has kept the country largely free of the pests and diseases that have plagued the wine industry in many other parts of the world.  Indeed, Chile is one of the few countries in the world where many vines are still planted on their own roots, rather than on phylloxera aphid-resistant rootstocks. From the consumer’s point of view, that means fewer chemicals are needed to prevent or treat problems.

5) Down to earth

This is a highly seismic area, part of the Pacific ring of fire, home to one of the longest chains of volcanoes in the world, some of which are still active. Centuries of volcanic and seismic activity have created a mountainous country with a wide variety of soil types, many of them ideal for different types of vines.

Vines in autumn (photo courtesy of Nadezda Kuznetsova)
Vines in autumn        Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova


6) Nice and varied

Chile’s wine areas are classified by valley, which run east to west (Andes to Pacific) and also by proximity to the mountains or ocean.  The range of soil types and climate from one valley to another, in fact even in each valley, varies tremendously and this means that the wines themselves can vary tremendously from one vineyard to the next.

Red wine grapes
Red wine grapes

7) Young and adventurous

Chile’s wine industry has undergone a renaissance in recent decades and is blossoming. Each year, more hectares of land are planted with vines. Chilean and international terroir hunters keep widening their search for new areas to plant, where the soil and climate combine to offer conditions for producing grapes which will ultimately produce a wine of unique flavours and aromas. In this search, vines are being planted further north, further south and at higher altitudes than ever before.

Meanwhile, new generations of winemakers are experimenting with different types of grapes, blends and winemaking techniques to produce the biggest range of wines ever seen in Chile.

Tasting time!
Tasting time!

So what are you looking for? A classic lemon-crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca or one with a mineral and almost salty aroma from Leyda? A big, jammy, comforting Syrah from the Central Valley or an elegantly smooth, peppery Syrah from Apalta? An oily-nosed Riesling or a delicately fragrant Viognier? A Mediterranean-style blend? Or perhaps an ice-cold Brut to add a little sparkle to your day?  Whatever your taste in wine, Chile has something for you.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoChile is gearing up for a very special celebration this weekend: Chilean National Wine Day on 4 September. We have already looked at events going on in the Colchagua area, in southern Chile and in the Valparaíso region. Now let’s see how you can celebrate Chilean Wine Day in the Santiago area.

Special events

The independent wineries group MOVI are holding a picnic at the Parque de las Esculturas in Providencia, Santiago this Sunday from 12 noon. This is a free event and people are invited to go along with their picnic. There will be educational stands for children and adults. Event organized by the Municipalidad de Providencia, Pebre, La Ruta de la Vid and MOVI. Contact Daniela Rojas –

The world’s biggest toast! Chile is attempting to make a new world record by having the biggest toast in the Plaza Ñuñoa in Santiago. If you would like to take part, you should register online at this address by midday on Friday.

There will be a free event at Plaza Mori in Providencia on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., with tastings of wines from Itata, live painting competition, craft and tourism displays. The Vinomio wine shop on Antonia Lopez de Bello 090. Will be offering discounts. Contact Sergio Garrido – or tel. 56227353786



Viña Odfjell is offering free tours and tastings on Saturday at 3 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. Places are limited so book by contacting Lorena Vargas – or tel. 228762800

Viña Perez Cruz has free tours and tastings on Saturday and Sunday at 10.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. Places are limited so book by contacting María José Mena – or tel 228242405 ext. 211

Viña Cousiño Macul – 2 for the price of 1 on all regular or premium tours during this week – bookings or phone 23514135 or 23514169. Address: Viña Cousiño Macul. Av. Quilin 7100, Peñalolen.

Viña Santa Rita is offering a 15% discount on its classic tour, plus one extra wine to taste on its tours this Sunday. Its restaurant and shop also have promotions. More information: – 2362 2594

Viña Concha y Toro will be having special events on Sunday at the winery on Avenida Virginia Subercaseaux 210, Pirque, Región Metropolitana. Contact: – 2 24765680

vines at KoyleSpecial sales

There will be a wine sale with tastings this Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Casa Piedra in Santiago. Address: Escrivá de Balaguer 5600, Vitacura

Viña De Martino is having a 30% off sale at its winery shop on Isla de Maipo on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Contact: Yobana Villegas – – 56 2 2577836

Viña Odfjell will have an open house and special sale of wines from on Friday from 12 noon to 7 p.m, Saturday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact: Lorena Vargas – – 228762800

Viña Santa Ema will have special prices this Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Contact:

Sparkling for 2Tastings

Viña Santa Ema will be doing special tastings at 4 p.m. on Friday and 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Contact:

Viña Haras de Pirque is offering free tastings on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact: Anais Reciné – or tel. 2854 79 10 ext 120. They also have a special menu of the day for those who would like to stay for lunch.

More information from nosgustaelvino.

Next post: A Carménère toast to Chilean Wine Day.

Wherever you are and whatever your plans this weekend, I hope you find time to raise a glass to help celebrate Chilean National Wine Day!



Vines at EmilianaCheck out my free, downloadable guide to sustainable winemaking in Chile, featuring details of Chilean organic and biodynamic wineries and why they have opted for environmentally friendly winemaking.

Cristóbal Undurraga of Viña Koyle in Alto Colchagua, for instance,  argues that not only is biodynamic viticulture good for the environment, but it also makes sound commercial sense, as he says yields are now higher than he and his family had ever forecast. He adds that the grapes have good concentration, lower sugar, higher acidity and are ready to be harvested earlier.

I also visited Emiliana Organic Vineyards in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, where I was impressed by the passion and conviction with which the tour guide spoke about biodynamic production. She was emphatic that the vines at Emiliana are tougher and better able to survive problems, such as frost, than those of neighbouring conventional wineries.

Dry-farmed, bush-trained Tempranillo vines at Koyle.
Dry-farmed, bush-trained Tempranillo vines at Koyle.

By way of contrast, I went to a very small winery in the Marga Marga valley, called Domaine Raab Ramsay, which produces organic sparkling wine and cider. It was like entering an enchanted land, filled with the buzz of hundreds of bees gorging on the pollen of the Chilean native woodland surrounding the vineyards.

I am now very proud to present my new e-book Sustainability and wine from Chile, which looks at why Chilean vines need fewer chemicals, what the Chilean wine industry is doing to be more sustainable and which Chilean wineries are biodynamic and why. Please click here if you would like to find out more.

I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you think wineries are doing enough to be sustainable? Have you tried organic or biodynamic wines? If so, what did you think of them? I’d also love to hear from wine professionals with stories to share about sustainability and wine.

More articles about biodynamic and organic wine production in Chile:

I was back at Emiliana on Tuesday. Spring has transformed the landscape, painting it green and dotting it with flowers.
Emiliana in the spring. The landscape is transformed.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoChilean National Wine Day on 4 September is fast approaching and the pace of activities is already picking up. My previous posts have covered some of the events happening in the Colchagua area and in Valparaíso. Here are some of the things going on to celebrate Chilean Wine Day in southern Chile.

autumn at Calyptra
Cochapoal Valley

Tours and tastings

Balduzzi Vineyards and Winery and Casa Donoso Winery in Maule are both offering free tours and tastings between Monday 29 August and Saturday 3 September at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Spaces are limited, so please make sure you book. Contacts are:

  • Viña Balduzzi: Daniela Acuña – – 56732322138
  • Viña Casa Donoso: Juan Pavéz – – 56712341400

Meanwhile in the Curicó area, there will also be tours and tastings. On Sunday 4 September, there will be free tours and tastings at Viña Miguel Torres at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Spaces are limited and must be booked by emailing

Viña San Pedro and Viña Echeverría are also doing tours and tastings, times not confirmed.

Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Colchagua Valley. Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

Tours at independent wineries

On Sunday 4 September, the following independent wineries that form part of MOVI (the Movement of Independent Vintners) in southern Chile are opening their doors for picnics and reasonably priced tastings:

Alchemy Wines in the Cochapoal valley, Viña Laura HartwigOWM Wines and Viña Polkura in the Colchagua Valley

Make your own wine blend

You can make your own wine blend at Viña Estampa on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September from 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Free activity at Viña y Bodega Estampa. Ruta 90, km45, Palmilla. Valle de Colchagua. VI Región

Spaces are limited so please contact: Jennifer Cors – – 56942697322


¡Hora de catar!

Events to celebrate Chilean National Wine Day

  • In Concepción on Friday 2 September from 7 p.m. to midnight, a wine fair attended by independent winemakers from MOVI at the Centro de Eventos Mitrinco, located at km 3, camino a Santa Juana organized by Cava del Pescador, Concepción. Entry costs $15,000 or $10,000 if you buy in advance. Details on facebook page – Contact: Augusto Pescador –
  • There will be a Wine Festival in the Plaza de Armas, Talca, to include food, handicrafts and entertainment, as well as wine. $5,000. Times from 11.30 a.m. until midnight on Saturday and from from 11.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday.
  • Bío Bio 2016 Rural World Exhibition on Saturday 3 September in Ranquil in Chile’s 8th Region. This is a Food and wine fair, including winetastings with winemakers from the area and wine talks and tastings of all kinds of products from this valley. From 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Plaza Parque Estación, Ñipas, Ranquil
  • Puerto Natales is holding a Wine Festival on Sunday 4 September at Espacio Cultural Costanera and local restaurants will be showcasing their cuisine, there will be handicrafts and folk music. This event will be from 10.30 a.m. until 2.30 p.m. at Espacio Cultural Costanera, Calle Pedro Montt Nº 800, Puerto Natales, Magallanes Region. Free entry. More information from: Alejandra Pinilla, Manager of the Chamber of Tourism for Ultima Esperanza – – 56993444575
  • The Outlet de Vinos at Mall Center, Curicó has an event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • There will also be a toast in Curicó’s main square on Sunday.

More information from Nos Gusta El Vino, the official website of Wines of Chile.

Lapostolle winery. Photo courtesy: Sophie Bedouin.
Lapostolle winery. Photo courtesy: Sophie Bedouin.

Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia 2
Vila Nova de Gaia where Port is aged

If  you follow the Douro River downstream, eventually it passes between the twin cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia and reaches the Atlantic Ocean. And it is to Vila Nova de Gaia that Port has traditionally been brought to mature.

If you look across the river at the city, you’ll see that it is peppered with signs bearing the names of famous Port companies, like Graham’s, Dow’s, Offley and Sandeman. These are the shippers’ lodges; cool, dark cellars filled with vats of ageing Port. The lodges often also serve as the shipping companies’ headquarters. There is a good reason for the cellars being here, rather than upriver. Situated by the sea, Vila Nova de Gaia gets the full force of the moist winds blowing off the Atlantic. And it is the moderate coastal temperatures and humidity that make it so perfect for the long, slow process of maturing Port.

There are lots of port lodges you can visit in the city. Sadly I only had time to visit one and I opted for Sandeman’s because of its interesting history and because they are one of the few lodges to offer premium tastings, so I was able to taste four Tawnies of different ages, a real privilege.

Inside Sandeman's lodge
Inside Sandeman’s lodge

Tawny Port tasting at Sandeman’s lodge

Sandeman’s lodge is one of those places that is much bigger on the inside than its front façade suggests. After a quick tour of the small museum, we entered the dark, cool and cavernous storeroom, which seemed to go on forever and was lined with great wooden vats and casks of different sizes, generally of old, neutral oak.

Large vat of ageing Port
Large vat of ageing Port

This is the place where the magic happens to the young, recently fortified wines that arrive each spring from the Douro region.

Depending on the type of Port being made, the fortified wine is stored in large wooden vats or smaller wooden casks for a period of between three and five years, although some are matured for much longer. They are also blends of wines of different ages. For instance the 10-year-old Aged Tawny I tried contained wines of between 9 and 12 years of age, while the 40-year old was a blend of wines of between 30 and 55 years of age.

Tawny Port is so named because of its brown colouring (the older it is, the browner it gets), which comes about because of contact with oxygen. With most types of wine, the winemaker tries to limit the wine’s contact with oxygen, precisely because it makes wine go brown (just like a cut apple exposed to air) and it can make the wine’s fruity aromas and flavours fade away. Too much oxygen contact for a regular wine can also cause the development of unpleasant smells because of bacteria.

Left to right: 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old Tawny
The older the Tawny Port, the browner it becomes. Shown left to right: 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old Tawny

However, the higher alcohol level of fortified wines stops such bacteria from developing and, in the case of certain fortified wines, the winemaker’s goal is the exact opposite. He/she wants to achieve this brown colour and the amazing Christmas pudding aromas and flavours that come as a result of years of ageing with oxygen. So, for the Port wines that are to become tawnies, a space is left at the top of the wooden casks so that the oxygen can gradually work its magic.

Over the years, the port wines are racked off their sediment and put into clean casks or vats and most Ports are clarified and filtered prior to bottling. With only a few exceptions, such as vintage and unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage, most Ports are ready to drink when bottled and are best enjoyed right away rather than stored away.

Tasting tawnies 1Four Tawny Tasting notes

Sandeman’s 10-year old Tawny

Deep ruby colour with orange hues and a pronounced nose of jammy red fruit, like cherries, raspberries and plums, together with notes of prunes, figs and sultanas from the contact with oxygen. This Tawny was beginning to evolve complex aromas of chocolate, liquorice, vanilla and walnuts. In the mouth, the sweetness was nicely balanced by the acidity, the tannins were smooth and tooth-coating and the full body was rich with red fruit, a whole array of dried fruit and chocolate flavours. Delicious.

The Sandeman "Don" was invented in the 1920s to help market the company's twin products of Port and Sherry. The figure is wearing a Portuguese student's cape and a Spanish hat.
The Sandeman “Don” was invented in the 1920s to help market the company’s twin products of Port from Portugal and Sherry from Spain. The figure is wearing a Portuguese student’s cape and a Spanish hat to represent the two countries.

Sandeman’s 20-year old Tawny

Medium amber colour with tawny hues. This wine no longer had those jammy fruit aromas and instead the pronounced nose featured a delicious mixture of chocolate, dried fruit such as figs, prunes, sultanas and walnuts, together with sweet spices (vanilla, cloves and nutmeg) and hints of toffee and caramel. In the mouth, the sweet, rich body was balanced by high acidity and medium, smooth tannins. The flavours resembled a Christmas pudding with a little chocolate thrown in for good measure. Long, pleasurable finish.

Sandeman’s 30-year old Tawny

Medium tawny colour with olive brown hues. The first note on the nose was alcohol, followed by the full range of nuts, especially walnuts and Brazil nuts, together with dried fruit, like sultanas and figs, honey and vanilla. This too was a sweet, full-bodied wine with high acidity giving it the necessary balance. In the mouth, walnuts, almonds, alcohol-soaked prunes and sultanas and figs.

Sandeman’s 40-year old Tawny

Deep tawny in colour with brown hues. Again the nose first revealed alcohol, followed by Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts, then a layer of sultanas, figs, vanilla and honey. Like the 30-year old, this Port was big, full-bodied, with well-integrated tannins and high acidity. Flavours of walnuts, Brazil nuts, figs, sultanas, prunes, honey and vanilla.

More information:

The Douro – the birthplace of Port wine covering how and where Port is made.

Douro still wines from Quinta de Tourais

Sandeman’s website.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoRaise your glass because 4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and there are events all over Chile to celebrate. Here are some of the activities taking place in the Casablanca and Aconcagua Valleys.

Tastings in Casablanca

The Cafetería Entre Cepas on the main square in Casablanca (Plaza de Armas) is opening its doors from 9.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Friday 2, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September. Members of the public are welcome to pop in and taste wine.

Independent wineries

On Sunday 4 September, the following independent wineries from the Valparaíso Region that form part of MOVI (the Movement of Independent Vintners) are opening their doors for picnics and reasonably priced tastings. Details of places and times have not yet been published, check individual websites or MOVI’s Facebook page or Twitter account for more information.

cement egg
Concrete egg at House Casa del Vino
Baby alpaca a Viña Emiliana
Baby alpaca a Viña Emiliana

Free tours and tastings

There are free tours and tastings at many of the vineyards – places are limited and should be booked through the Ruta Del Vino de Casablanca website

  • Estancia El Cuadro –11 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Viña Loma Larga–10.30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday
  • Viña Quintay –11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday
  • House Casa del Vino–12.30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Viña Viñamar–Friday, Saturday and Sunday (time unconfirmed)
  • Emiliana Organic Vineyards–3.30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Viña Indómita- 10.30 a.m. and 12 noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Kingston Family Vineyards–Friday, Saturday and Sunday (time unconfirmed)
  • Viña Veramonte – Friday (time unconfirmed), 3.30 p.m. on Saturday and 12 noon and 2 p.m. on Sunday
  • Viña Casas del Bosque –12 noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Viña Matetic –10 a.m. on Sunday

Quintay visitor centre 2




For information on events in other areas:

My post: Celebrate Chilean Wine Day in Colchagua

Coming soon: Chilean Wine Day in southern Chile and Chilean Wine Day in the Metropolitan Region

Details of events can also be found at the nosgustaelvino website.

Landscape in the Baixo Corgo, the westernmost area of the Douro
Landscape in the Baixo Corgo, the westernmost area of the Douro
Winemaker Fernando José Sampaio
Winemaker Fernando Coelho

I was delighted to have the opportunity to try some Douro still wines from Quinta de Tourais in Cambres in the Baixo Corgo, the westernmost part of the Douro region. The winery has an 8-hectare vineyard densely packed with 37,000 vines, a field blend of around 30 different black and white varieties, most of them more than 60 years old. Traditionally the winery sold on all its production to Port producers. Winemaker Fernando Coelho still sells port grapes to one of the shippers, but he also retains some grapes to make around 15-20,000 bottles of unfortified still wines of his own each year.

Lagar filled with bottles of wine
Lagar filled with bottles of wine

As with Port, the red wine process begins with destemmed black grapes being foot-pressed in open granite lagares. However, as the grapes are fermented to dryness, without the addition of distilled alcohol, the process takes longer – a week or so, the fermentation taking place with the ambient yeasts.

The red wines are matured in oak and have the potential to age for 10-15 years.

The whites are pressed and then fermented in stainless steel.

The rosés are directly pressed and fermented in oak vats.

Tasting notes

Touronio 2015 Rosé

Made with Touriga Nacional, 12.5% ABV

A nice, fresh and fruity rosé, medium salmon in colour with zesty acidity in the mouth. Notes of citrus fruit (grapefruit and lime) and green fruit (apple, pear) were apparent on the nose and again in the mouth. This was a dry wine with medium (+) acidity, medium body and medium finish.

Touronio 2015 White

Field blend of over 10 varieties, many of them old vines. Fermented in stainless steel.

This was a pleasant, easy-drinking wine, pale lemon-green in colour, with notes of tropical and citrus fruit (pineapple and lemons), a floral hint (orange blossom) and red apple apparent. This was a dry wine, with medium acidity, fairly light-bodied and very quaffable.

Touronio 2014 Red

5 varieties (40% Touriga Nacional, 40% Tinta Roriz, 15% Sosāo, 13.5% Touriga Franca, 5% Tinto Cāo)

This was a pleasant fruity red wine, intense ruby in colour and packed with aromas and flavours of oak (cedar and sweet spices such as cinnamon and cloves), red fruit (cherries, raspberries) and black fruit (blackberries, plums). In the mouth it was dry with medium (+) tannins, barely ripe and a little coarse. Medium acidity, medium (+) body. I think this wine needs longer for the aromas and flavours to become better integrated.

Furia 2014

This is the winery’s iconic wine and is a field blend of 20 varieties. 14% ABV. This wine was aged in oak, 30% of it in new barrels.

As with the Touronio red, I felt that this wine really needs more time to become fully integrated. It was medium ruby in colour with a medium (+) intensity nose revealing aromas of red fruit (cherries, raspberries, strawberries), black fruit (bramble),  herbal notes (mint, liquorice) and oak (touch of sweet spice).  It was a dry wine with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) body and high tannins, which were still a little bit astringent but riper than the previous wine. Long finish.

Vino Generoso (20 year old tawny-style for own consumption)

Like many small-scale growers and producers in the Douro, Fernando makes his own port-style wine for personal consumption and he shared a glass with us.

This was medium (+) tawny in colour with a pronounced nose. The first note was alcohol, followed by rich oxidative aromas (coconut, hazelnut, coffee, toffee, Brazil nuts). On the palate, this wine was sweet with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, full body, pronounced flavour intensity with notes of hazelnuts, brazil nuts, toffee, coconut, coffee, toffee and caramel. The wine was very good quality, marred slightly by that initial note of alcohol on the nose. Otherwise it showed excellent concentration and complexity.

More information

Quinta de Tourais website

My post The Douro – the birthplace of Port wine.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoSunday 4 September 2016 is National Chilean Wine Day.  The day was chosen because on 4 September 1545, Pedro de Valdivia, the Governor of Chile, wrote to King Charles V of Spain to ask him to send vines and wines “to evangelize Chile”.  This marked the very beginning of Chilean wine production. Today, 471 years later, Chile is a major wine producer, exporting more than 824 million litres per year.

A whole range of events have been organized right across Chile in honour of this day. I’m going to feature a few of them on my blog over the next week, starting with some of the events that will be taking place in the Colchagua Valley:

There will be a stand in the main square in Santa Cruz with entertainment and many of the wineries from the Colchagua Valley will be there to offer tastings of their wines in a similar format to the annual harvest festival.

For $3,000 pesos, you can buy a tasting ticket and for $5,000 you can get a glass and a tasting ticket. The hours are Friday 2 September from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 3 September from 11.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 4 September from 11.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Full details from the Facebook page of Viñas de Colchagua.

Several of the wineries are also offering free tours during the weekend, including the following:

Viña Ventisquero will be offering free tours at 3.30 p.m. on Saturday 3 September and at 11 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. on Sunday 4 September.

Viña Koyle will also be offering free tours on 3 and 4 September at 10 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

There are a limited number of tickets, which can be booked at or by calling 72-2823199.

Tasting wineViñas Ventisquero and Koyle are also among the wineries that are inviting local institutions to visit them.

Click here for more information about events in Colchagua.

More details of events to celebrate National Chilean Wine Day coming soon. Or check out this website.

Wherever you are in the world, don’t forget to raise your glass on Chilean National Wine Day!

Helen in the Douro valleyIt  alternated torrential rain and sunshine the day I travelled into this, the world’s biggest mountainous vineyard area, totalling 45,000 hectares. The landscape was lush and green and it was hard to imagine the scorching temperatures that can sear the earth in summer, leaving the unwatered vines no option but to root a long way down to find whatever water they can.

Rising 1,400 metres above sea level, the imposing Serra do Marāo and sister mountain chains protect the Douro region from the Atlantic winds and rain that lash against the twin coastal cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia downriver, so I was unlucky with the rain. It seems that, as elsewhere in Europe, summer 2016 has been wetter than usual in this area. Winemaker Fernando José Sampaio at the Quinta de Tourais winery told me it was too soon to tell whether the damp conditions would have an adverse effect on this year’s crops.

This is an area marked by quite extreme temperatures – up to 45°C in summer and below freezing in winter. It’s a tough life for a grapevine, especially with the ban on irrigation.

Different terracing systemsHalf of the vineyards are on slopes of 30% or more and every one of the terraces hugging these hillsides has been built with great effort. The people who originally worked this land first had to manually break up the schist (friable, slate-like rock) and hew out the terraces before they could plant the vines.

Modern socalco system of terrace with a stone retaining wall
Modern socalco system of terrace with a stone retaining wall; the older style socalcos were narrower with just a couple of rows of vines between retaining walls.
Patamar style of terrace with earth banks
Patamar style of terrace with earth banks

There have been a number of different terrace systems over the years. The oldest was the socalco, narrow terraces with stone retaining walls.  The newer type of socalco is wider, with 10 or more rows of vines between each wall.

In the 1980s, many socalcos were destroyed in favour of patamares, terraces with earth banks. Hailed initially as a huge success, they proved to have a number of drawbacks. Some suffered from erosion and collapsed. But the biggest problem was lower vine density, which led to excess vigour.

The new style of vertical planting called Vinha ao alto
The new style of vertical planting called Vinha ao alto

Nowadays there are a number of solutions in use. Narrow patamares on very steep slopes; the newer style socalcos, some with little patamares in between the retaining walls. And vinha ao alto is being used a lot, where the planting is vertical rather than horizontal.

The soil is very poor and acidic, so yields are low, averaging just 4,000kg a hectare. And, because the slopes are so steep, most of the work has to be done by hand. What with low yields and manual labour, the average production costs are €0.77 per kilo in the Douro, making these among the most expensive grapes in the world.

You could be forgiven for wondering why the growers persist under such adverse conditions. The answer is clear: this is the only place in the world that produces the fortified wine known as Port. What is less well-known is that it is also home to some very interesting still and sparkling wines, as I discovered during my trip.


How Port wine is made

The process begins with the harvesting of the grapes. Over 100 black and white varieties are permitted for use in Port but in 1981 a team of experts identified the top five black varieties: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Tinto Câo. Nowadays, when growers renew their plantations, they tend to plant these varieties.

Mostly hand-picked from small plots of land, the grapes arrive at the winery, where they are usually destemmed.

Traditionally the grapes were poured into lagares, open, square-shaped granite pools with knee-high walls and foot-trodden for hours by teams of workers. As the temperature increased, the fermentation would start naturally, using the yeasts present in the grapes and the atmosphere.

Nowadays, some Ports are still foot-trodden but there are a number of other techniques available, such as robotic lagares, where rubber plungers imitate the action of human treading or autovinifiers.

Wooden casks of Port at Quinta do Panascal
Wooden casks of Port at Quinta do Panascal

Whatever the method used, the objective is to extract colour and tannins from the grapes as quickly as possible. This is because, whereas the normal process in winemaking is to ferment the must until the yeasts have converted all the sugar into alcohol and CO2, a process which can take a week to ten days, in the case of Port, the idea is to stop the fermentation whilst there is still a certain level of sugar left – often after just a few days of fermentation. The sugar level and time varies from one producer to another and also depends on the style of Port.

So once the sugar level is right and the wine has an alcohol level of around 5-6% ABV, it is removed from its skins and mixed with distilled grape spirit to bring the alcohol level up to around 19-22% ABV. The yeasts cannot survive at this level of alcohol, so the fermentation stops.

All Ports spend their first winter maturing in large stainless steel or concrete vats or wooden barrels in the Douro region. Traditionally, in the spring, the Port was put in 550-litre wooden barrels called pipes and carried by boat down to the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia to mature in the more moderate, humid conditions on the coast.  Nowadays, it is more often transported by road in tanker trucks. And some Port shippers have invested in air-conditioned wineries in the Douro valley and mature the wine right there.

Boats like these used to transport the pipes (barrels) of Port downriver
Boats like these used to transport the pipes (barrels) of Port downriver

Bibliography: Mayson, Richard, 2016, Port and the Douro. Oxford: Infinite Ideas Limited. This book was a tremendous help in terms of research and information when I was preparing for my trip.

Tasting at Fonseca’s Quinta do Panascal

Siroco bottleBin 27Fonseca Extra Dry White Siroco

2 year-old – bottled unfiltered

Deep lemon with a nose of almonds and savoury notes. Off-dry with high acidity, medium (+) body, medium (+) intensity and notes of almonds.

Bin 27 Ruby Reserve

Medium (-) ruby with a medium (+) nose revealing notes of raisins, sultanas, prunes and tea. Sweet with high levels of tannins, which were a little astringent but well-rounded. High acidity, notes of dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, prunes) and a long finish.


See also: Douro still wines from Quinta de Tourais. Details of a visit to a small winery in Cambres, in the westernmost part of the Douro, the Baixo Corgo.

Coming soon: continuing the journey of Port wine downriver to Vila Nova de Gaia and its sister city Porto.

Ben Gordon (photo credit: Ben Gordon)

The setting sun was casting an orange glow as I met with Ben Gordon outside a café in the Las Condes business district of Santiago. An affable British expat, he has been Managing Director of Bodega Volcanes de Chile since January and I asked him how it was going.

“Really well so far,” he replied, “though of course it’s early days. I have a long-term approach, which means it will take a while for the results to show. But I’m sure it’s the way to go. Many Chilean wineries are more short-term in attitude, tying their distributors into exclusivity agreements and then setting them ambitious sales targets, trying to drive sales. I believe that long-term success lies in building honest, transparent relationships with distributors, where together we set targets that are appropriate to the market and the company, growing the market gradually.”


bottles and mountain
Photo credit: Bodega Volcanes de Chile

Volcanes has taken an interesting approach to its winemaking, seeking out plots of land with volcanic soils and making wines that express the minerality of these soils. One of the most seismic countries in the world, Chile has some 2,900 volcanoes, of which 80 are officially classed as active, so volcanic soil is not in short supply. But this is the first Chilean winery to really pay attention to the possibilities offered by volcanic soils.

The story started in 2009, when Pilar Díaz, a young winemaker at Viña Undurraga, discovered that some of the vineyards owned by the winery had the ability to produce wines with unique expressions of minerality. She invited geologist Gonzalo Heníquez to visit the vineyards, and he confirmed the volcanic soils of the sites and the special conditions that these offered for producing quality wines. That was when this new boutique winery was set up, a sister company to Undurraga within the Grupo Vinos del Pacífico.

Bottle and stone
Photo credit: Bodega Volcanes de Chile

Producing some 15-20,000 9-litre cases of Reserva and premium wine each year, the winery is exporting to a range of countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, focussing its efforts on the on-trade (hotels, bars and restaurants), specialist retail outlets and wine clubs, such as Stone, Vine and Sun in the UK.

Ben was enthusiastic about the range of wines, which he described as “unique, with fresh acidity, and food-friendly”, the kind of wines he likes himself. The range includes 4 reserva and 5 premium wines. Parinacota is a blend of Syrah and Carignan, while the Tectonia line consists of 4 wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre.

Tasting notes

Tectonia Pinot Noir 2014, Biobio Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990, UK £13.50)

An elegant, aromatic Pinot Noir with red fruit, chocolate and violets on the nose, together with a touch of minerality. With reasonable levels of acidity and tannins, this is a versatile, food-friendly wine that you could pair with traditional Pinot Noir companions like salmon or chicken but also with red meat.

Tectonia Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990)

A pleasant, easy-drinking Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of fruit and sweet spices on the nose. With moderate levels of smooth tannins, body and acidity, this Cabernet Sauvignon is for those who prefer a smooth wine without too much oak or tannins.

Tectonia Grenache-Petite Sirah-Mourvèdre 2012, Maule Valley. (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990, UK £12.95)

Wine consists of 45% Grenache from Rapel Valley, 38% Petite Sirah from Maipo Valley and 17% Mourvèdre from Maule Valley.

An enjoyable, well-balanced and concentrated blend of Mediterranean grape varieties. The nose has lots of ripe red fruit aromas, such as raspberries and cherries, intermingled with notes of sweet spices, dark chocolate, smoke and violets from the oak-ageing, plus just that hint of minerality. This wine is nice on its own and, because of its tooth-coating tannins, would pair well with robustly-flavoured dishes, such as steak or a vegetable casserole. Potential for ageing.

Parinacota 2013, Maule Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$12,990, UK £20.50)

Bodega Volcanes de Chile’s icon is a big wine, an intense, concentrated blend of Syrah and Carignan. The nose opens with notes of sour cherries, blueberries and black plums, complemented by oak-ageing notes of vanilla, cedar and dark chocolate, plus hints of liquorice and violets.  The minerality is more noticeable in the mouth, intermingling with the fruit and spice notes. With high acidity, high tannins, full body and a long finish, this is a good choice for accompanying red meat. Potential for ageing.

Bodega Volcanes de Chile wines are available from Jumbo in Chile or Stone, Vine and Sun in the UK.

I asked Ben to name some wines he has enjoyed recently. These were his choices:

  • Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay, Itata Valley.
  • Lagar de Bezaña GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend), Alto Cachapoal
  • Miguel Torres Estelado, sparkling wine made from País
  • Gusbourne sparkling wine, UK.

For more information about Bodega Volcanes de Chile: