sparkling with catIt’s that manic, end-of-year period when we’re all running ourselves ragged finishing up work, cleaning the house, buying gifts and stocking up on food and drink like we’re expecting a siege

…If you could do with a few last-minute ideas for wines for the festive season, feel free to check out the following articles or send me a comment:

Chilean sparkling wines that are refreshing and light on the wallet.

Easy-drinking Chilean Pinot Noir

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile (5-part series)

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Results

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has been a strange year from my perspective, full of ups and downs. And, more than any other year I can remember, this is a year many people have told me that they’ll be glad to wave goodbye to.

Roll on 2017! May it bring you good health, good cheer and, of course, some fabulous glasses of wine!

Helen in the Douro valley
One of my 2016 highlights was a brief visit to the Douro Valley in Portugal, famous for Port wines


line-up-of-bottlesIt’s that cork-popping time of year when many of us choose to celebrate special meals and the arrival of the new year with sparkling wine. We all know that Champagne is cool, of course, while English and Welsh sparkling wines titillate our tastebuds with equal finesse and at a similar cost. Prosecco is an ultra trendy alternative, but here in Chile we have a stonking good range of great sparkling wines which are just as refreshing and don’t break the bank. Recently a specially convened international tasting panel checked out a few at the budget end.

Sparkling wine tasting panel: Jay and Helen
Tasting panel members Carola, Natascha and Kate
Tasting panel members Carola, Natascha and Kate


Many thanks to our Budget Chilean sparkling wine  tasting panel: Kate Whitlock (US), Carola de Rodt (Chile), Natascha Scott-Stokes (UK), Jay (US), John Ewer (Chile/UK)  and Helen Conway (UK).  Thank you especially to John for taking the photos.

We tasted the wines blind so as to not be prejudiced by the brand or label design and each of us awarded a score of between 0 and 10 to each wine (10 being the best). The results are based on the average score for each wine.



Budget Chilean Sparkling Wine Winners

Joint winners with 6.83 points:

  • Miguel Torres Chile Santa Digna Estelado, Brut, 12% ABV, Retails in Chile at CLP$6,790
  • Viñamar Rosé, Casablanca Valley, 12.5% ABV, Retails in Chile at CLP$6,890

Joint third with 5.6 points:

  • Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Devil`s Brut, 12%ABV, Limarí Valley, Retails in Chile at CLP$5,390
  • Bouchon Extra Brut, Itata & Maule Valleys, 11.5% ABV, Retails in Chile at CLP$$6,790


  • Valdivieso Brut Limited, 12% ABV, Retails in Chile at CLP$4,590


  • Viña San Pedro Tarapacá Misiones de Rengo Brut, 12.5% ABV, Retails in Chile at CLP$4,390


This is Hazel, who wanted to join the tasting panel

My tasting notes:

Miguel Torres Chile Santa Digna Estelado, Brut, 12% ABV

País grapes

Refreshing, dry sparkling wine, which opened up more with time.

Viñamar Rosé, Casablanca Valley, 12.5% ABV

100% Pinot Noir

Intriguing biscuity nose, refreshing with a fuller mouthfeel and intriguing fruity notes.

Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Devil`s Brut, 12%ABV, Limarí Valley

Refreshing with citrus aromas and flavours.

Bouchon Extra Brut, 11.5% ABV, Itata & Maule Valleys

Made with País and Cinsault grapes.

Very fresh and fruity sparkling wine.

Valdivieso Brut Limited, 12% ABV

Fresh, high acidity, fairly neutral.

Viña San Pedro Tarapacá Misiones de Rengo Brut, 12.5% ABV

Aromas of apples, which are apparent in the flavour too. Slight aftertaste.

So what about you? What’s your favourite Sparking wine? Do you choose budget alternatives or like to splash out on something special?

budget Chilean sparkling wineFor more information about sparkling wine:

Sparkling wine – let’s get the party started

How to choose sparkling wine (1)  or ¿Cómo elegir un vino espumante? (1), which demystifies terms like “Brut”, “Nature and “Dulce”.

How to choose sparkling wine (2) or ¿Cómo elegir un vino espumante? (2), which talks about the different styles of sparkling wine.

Profile of Daniel Raab of Domaine Raab-Ramsay: Chilean organic sparkling wine producer or Productor de espumante orgánico en Chile.

Sparkling wine tasting panel results or  Resultados de cata de vino espumante.

English-Spanish sparkling wine glossary.

A sparkling toast to the weekend or Un brindis espumante al fin de semana with more sparkling wine recommendations.

Looking for a lighter wine that works as an appetiser or goes well with turkey, salmon or a cheese-based vegetarian dish? Chilean Pinot Noir could be a good option.  This is a wine people either love or hate – partly because it varies tremendously and there are some really awful PN wines out there – but if you find a good one, it’s actually very versatile and food-friendly.

Pinot Noir wine varies enormously depending on how the grapes were grown, what the weather was like and how the wine was made. It can range from light, easy-to-drink, pale ruby coloured wines through to rich, velvety, fuller-bodied, dark ruby treasures. For this tasting panel, we looked at some of the Chilean Pinot Noirs at the lighter end, suitable for drinking slightly chilled on a warm day, as an aperitif or to accompany lighter meals, like fish, chicken or salad. We also discovered that these wines were divine with cheese, especially sheep’s cheese.

pinot-noir-tasting-panelMany thanks to the Pinot Noir tasting panel: Hattie Mills (UK), Smilja Radosav (Yugoslavia), Carola de Rodt (Chile), Irina Axenova (Russia) and Helen Conway (UK).

We tasted the wines blind so as to not be prejudiced by the brand or label design and each of us awarded a score of between 0 and 10 to each wine (10 being the best). The results are based on the average score for each wine.

Line up of Chilean Pinot Noir bottlesWinner: Koyle Costa Pinot Noir 2013, Paredones, Colchagua Valley (Costa). 7.2 points, 14% ABV. Retails in Chile at $15,990

quintay-bottleSecond: Villard Expresión Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Casablanca Valley, 6.6 points. 14% ABV. Retails in Chile at $8,490.

Joint third: Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley, 6 points. 13.5% ABV. Retails in Chile at $7,990.

Attilio & Mochi Tunquen Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, 6 points. 13.8% ABV. Purchased at the winery for $13,000.

Fifth: Montesecano Refugio Pinot Noir 2015, Casablanca Valley, 5.8 points. 12.6%. Retails in Chile at $11,000.

Sixth: Quintay Q Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2015, Casablanca Valley, 5.2 points. 14.5% ABV. Retails in Chile at $10,990

My tasting notes:

Koyle Costa Pinot Noir 2013

This was one of the more fuller-bodied wines of this tasting, with lots of ripe tannins and fresh acidity. The nose was complex with mineral notes intermingled with the fruit. Delicious.

More information about Koyle:

Cristóbal Undurraga: biodynamic winemaker 

Koyle wine tasting at Vinoteca

Villard Expresión Reserve Pinot Noir 2015

Nice, complex, fruity wine with a notes of toast and red fruit on the nose. Fresh, with firm, ripe tannins and medium body.

Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir 2014

Pleasant, fruity wine with a herbal hint on the nose. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins and medium body. Good value and easy-drinking.

Attilio & Mochi Tunquen Pinot Noir 2012

Lots of red fruit aromas, especially strawberries, together with a fresh minerality. Very pleasant Pinot Noir with medium body, acidity and tannins.

Montesecano Refugio Pinot Noir 2015

A very complex and interesting wine with floral and herbal notes – so like a herbal tonic, you almost feel it must be good for you – together with cranberries. Fresh, medium-bodied, with medium acidity.


Fresh acidity and medium body, let down a little by the nose. Not as good as the 2014 vintage.

For more information about Viña Quintay

Casablanca winery visits: Quintay


Other posts about Pinot Noir:

Pinot Noir wine – love it or hate it?

Anyone for Chilean Pinot Noir?

Wondering what to serve with Chilean Pinot Noir? Check out this recipe: Grilled salmon with Chilote potatoes

Tasting fortified wines
Tasting fortified wines with fellow WSET Diploma student Jorge Miguel Jimenez Garavito from Peru

Over the last few posts, we’re looked at sweetening dry wines and making sweet wines by using extra sweet grapes. In this post, we’re going to look at a completely different way of making a sweet wine, where the winemaker stops the fermentation before the yeasts have consumed all the sugars. He or she can do this by making life difficult for the yeasts, so they stop working.  Here are two ways of doing this.

Cool the fermenting wine down

One way to stop the fermentation is to add sulphur dioxide and chill the wine right down, so the yeasts are stunned. There is a risk in this method: when the wine is once again at room temperature, if there are any yeasts still in it, it could start fermenting again, even in the bottle. So when a sweet wine is made in this way, the winemaker needs to take steps to prevent refermentation, such as filtering out all the yeasts and nutrients under very sterile conditions.

As these wines have not completed their fermentation, they are likely to be lower in alcohol than other wines. Examples of wines made in this way include Asti spumante sparkling wine and some sweet or medium-sweet white or rosé wines.

How to drink these wines: these are simple, fruity wines designed to be enjoyed right away, chilled, as an aperitif or with light dishes, such as salad.

Tasting notesFortifying the wine

Another way of stopping the yeasts from fermenting is to increase the level of alcohol to a point where the yeasts can’t survive (15% ABV or more).  You can do this bay adding a distilled spirit, most usually a very strong grape-based spirit (like brandy) but with completely neutral aromas and flavour so that it doesn’t detract from the wine’s aromas and flavours.

Some wines, particularly Sherry, are fortified once the wine has fermented to dryness but many are fortified earlier, while there is still sugar in the must, and so they are sweet. Even if they have residual sugar, fortified wines are stable because the alcohol level is too high for yeasts or microbes to survive. Examples of fortified wines with residual sugar include Port and Madeira from Portugal, Vin doux Naturel from France and Rutherglen Muscat from Australia.

Some of the world’s most famous fortified wines are also made from grapes that have been left to raisin on the vine (just like the late harvest wines we looked at in a previous post). These include Rutherglen Muscat from Australia and Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel from Maury in France.

Fortified wines in themselves vary hugely. A few are meant to be drunk young, while they still have their fresh, fruity aromas and flavours, as is the case with some Muscat wines from France, while others undergo years of ageing under different kinds of conditions to obtain very different styles of wine. The following are just a few examples.

Fortified wine bottlesFortified wine tasting notes

Domaine des Bernadins Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015. 110 grams of residual sugar per litre. 15% ABV.

This is a sweet white wine made in a small appellation in the southern Rhône region of France from Muscat à petits grains grapes, which were harvested late and very sweet. The wine is made and matured in stainless steel tanks, so that it remains very fresh and fruity, without any aromas or flavours from the ageing process.

This wine smells delightful; a heady mix of fresh fruit aromas, such as apricots, peaches and candied grapefruit, some spicy notes like ginger and floral notes like rose. Close your eyes and you might think you are in a market filled with the aromas of freshly made Turkish delight, fresh fruit and flowers. In the mouth, it is beautifully concentrated, with all those sweet fruity flavours and enough acidity to make it a refreshing wine. Lots of body and quite long. Delicious.

How to drink it: lightly chilled with a sweet dessert like Crème brûlée.

Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, 12 Years Old. 270+ grams of residual sugar per litre, 18.5% ABV

Like the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, this is a fortified wine made with Muscat à petits grains grapes (a brown variety), which were left extra time on the vines, though in this case they were left to partially raisinise. However, from the beginning, these sticky sweet pudding wines from Australia are treated completely differently. The wine is aged in large, old oak barrels, which are stored in a warm place and every once in a while, it is decanted from one barrel to another. In fact, the final wine is a blend of wines from different vintages, with an average age of 12.

Over time the oxygen and warmth have interacted with the wine, turning it brown-coloured and changing the original fruity aromas and flavours into complex notes of nuts, dried fruits like raisins and figs, butterscotch, orange marmalade and gingerbread. In the mouth, it is rich, very, very sweet, and chocolately smooth, like liquid comfort food. This is a good option to perk you up after a bad day, especially in winter.

How to drink it: slightly chilled with a very rich dessert like Christmas pudding.

Fortified wines from Madeira
Madeira wines

Henriques & Henriques Malvasia 10 years old from Madeira. Residual sugar of some 110 grams per litre. 20% ABV.

Like the Rutherglen Muscat, this fortified wine has undergone years’ of ageing in large wooden casks where oxygen and warm temperatures have interacted with the wine, making it a dark mahogany colour and changing the aromas and flavours.

Again a really aromatic wine packed with notes resulting from the contact with oxygen and ageing in warm conditions, so think walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sultanas and figs, as well as coffee, dark chocolate, caramel and vanilla. This is a sweet wine with high acidity, high alcohol, full body and pronounced flavour. It tastes like brown sugar, molasses, walnuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts, figs, sultanas and maple syrup. Long finish.

How to drink it: at room temperature with strongly flavoured cheese, fruit cake or treacle tart.

For information about Port and Port wines, check these posts:

Charming Porto – an introduction to the city of Port in Portugal, its food and wines

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

Vila Nova de Gaia where Port is aged, including a tasting of 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman’s Tawny.


For more information about sweet wine:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest Wines

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 4 – Wines with botrytis or noble rot


Santiago tasting panel
Santiago tasting panel members Hattie and Crystal compare notes

In the last three posts, we’ve looked at some of the ways of making sweet wines, particularly by using extra-sweet grapes. There is one other type of very sweet grapes, which are used to make some of the world’s most sophisticated, complex and expensive wines. These are grapes affected by botrytis or noble rot.

Grapes with botrytis
Rotten grapes

Botrytis cinerea is a type of fungus that can devastate your grape crop in damp conditions, like rain. The fungus gets onto the grapes and, if they are wet, the fungus causes them to split open and then grey rot eats its way into them. They effectively go mouldy and smell unpleasant. If grey rot takes hold of the grape crop, they are often a complete write-off.

However, under certain very special conditions, the botrytis works very differently, creating noble rot. When this happens, the skin changes colour and texture, much of the water in the grape is lost and the sugars, acidity and flavours become concentrated. The grapes also gain unique aromas and flavours.

The process occurs at different rates among berries and clusters, so machine harvesting is out. Teams of harvesters have to make several passes (known as “tries” in France) through the vineyard, individually selecting the grapes that are ready each time. It’s labour-intensive and also you need a whole lot of grapes to make just one bottle of wine, and this is why botrytised wines are among the most expensive in the world.

So what are the right conditions for noble rot? Well, firstly you have to have the type of grapes that are liable to rot, particularly thin-skinned berries in tightly-packed bunches, such as Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux, Riesling in Germany and Furmint in Hungary. Next you need to have the right weather cycle, with alternating damp and dry conditions. For instance, foggy mornings to encourage the fungus, followed by sunny, breezy afternoons to dry out the grapes so they don’t split open. Achieve this pattern, cross your fingers and the botrytis will become “noble rot”.

Not very many places in the world have just these right conditions and the following are the most well-known.

Wines with botrytisBordeaux, France

Sauternes, from the Graves district of Bordeaux, is one of the most famous types of botrytised wines. Sémillon is the principal grape, as it is particularly susceptible to botrytis. Sauvignon Blanc is a common partner, adding acidity to the wine. Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris can also be used. The conditions for noble rot don’t occur every year, nor do they affect all parts of the vineyard. If rain sets in, the grapes are lost to grey rot. Some years, there is no botrytis at all.  The grapes are hand-harvested over a long period and produce tiny quantities of wine. The winemaking begins with gentle pressing and then careful fermentation, often in oak barriques and then oak-ageing.  Good Sauternes is golden-coloured and extremely complex.

Tasting note: Château Guiraud Sauternes Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Bordeaux, France. 140 grams of residual sugar per litre. 13.5% ABV

100% botrytis-affected grapes (65% Sémillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc) were hand-harvested and fermented in oak barrels and then aged in barrels for 18-24 months.

Medium gold in colour. Pronounced nose of orange peel, marmalade, honey, grapefruit and a herbal note. Sweet, full-bodied wine with high acidity and pronounced flavours of honey, marmalade, sultanas and other dried fruit with a caramel touch. Long finish. Very complex and delicious.

The Loire, France

Bonnezeaux is an area in the Coteaux du Layon appellation in the Anjou district of the Loire, known for producing sweet wines from Chenin Blanc grapes. Usually they will have been affected by botrytis and are likely to have also been concentrated by shrivelling or raisining on the vine (late harvesting). Chenin Blanc is a grape variety with high acidity and this is important in counter-balancing the sweetness in these wines.

Tasting note: Château de Fesles 2010, Bonnezeaux, Loire, France. 165 grams of residual sugar per litre. 13% ABV

Botrytis-affected Chenin Blanc grapes picked in 6 different tries (passes through the vineyard), matured in oak barrels for 15 months.

Deep golden, the darkest coloured of all the wines we tried at our Santiago sweet wine tasting panel. Pronounced nose of apples and pears, candied peel and nuts with caramel. Sweet, medium (+)-bodied wine with high acidity and pronounced flavours of dried apricots, pears, apples, marmalade, nuts and honey. Long finish. Beautiful, complex and concentrated and the acidity and sweetness are well-balanced, making it a refreshing wine.

Tokaj, Hungary

Tokaj is a wine region in north-eastern Hungary which has been famous for centuries for its sweet wines. These are made of a blend of nobly rotten grapes, particularly Furmint and Hárslevelű.

I will be publishing an introduction to Tokaji wines with tasting notes shortly.

Chilean wine with botrytisChile

Not a major producer of botrytised wines but it is possible to find a few examples from this South American country.

Casas del Bosque Late Harvest 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 214 grams of residual sugar per litre. 11.5% ABV (Half bottle retails in Chile at CLP$10,000 and at £8.59 from UK retailers like Simply Wines Direct)

This wine was made with 100% botrytis-affected Riesling grapes that were harvested very late in the season.

Medium gold in colour with pleasant aromas of stone fruit, like peaches and apricots, together with orange peel and honey. This is a sweet, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and a long finish. Flavours of candied peel, stone fruit and marmalade. Not quite as complex as the French botrytised wines we tried, but very good value.

Drinking botrytised sweet wines: These are wines with great complexity and concentration and will work best with richly-flavoured food, such as pâté de foie gras, goat’s cheese or Peking duck.  Or you could simply enjoy a glass at the end of a good meal in place of dessert.  It’ll be at its best just a little bit chilled, but try not to chill it too much, as that will just dull all those beautiful aromas.


More information about sweet wines:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest Wines

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 5 – chilled or fortified wines