“If you want your wine all polite and well-mannered, you shouldn’t really be drinking Gewürztraminer at all. The magic of Gewürztraminer only really shines out when its sumptuous, exotic perfumes make your head spin and your thoughts go giddy with desire.”
I couldn’t agree more with this quote from Oz Clarke*. These days if a white wine isn’t bone dry, mouth-puckeringly acidic and stick-insect thin, a lot of people just don’t want to know. Well Lafken Gewürztraminer is a wine bucking that trend and I heartily recommend you figuratively kick your shoes off, let your hair down and allow yourself enjoy this opulent delight.
Tasting notes: Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV
This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in this 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.
This is really a very good example of Gewürztraminer, which is a challenging wine to get right, and I really recommend you give it a try.
Some types of Oriental food work well with slightly sweet wines and this was no exception – my friend Smilja and I enjoyed Lafken Gewürztraminer with a mixed Chinese buffet.
Lafken wines seeks to make European-style wines that are as natural as possible. They allow the grapes to ripen to their optimum level, picking them when they are ready, rather than all at once and micro-vinifying small batches in stainless steel.
Wildmakers Sabatico 2014 is a fresh and fruity eco-friendly red wine well worth checking out. It’s a blend of Carignan and Grenache made by Catalan winemaker Luca Hogkinson and his Chilean partner, José Miguel Sotomayor. They call themselves Wildmakers because they aim to produce wines that are as natural as possible and that really express the grapes and the place they were grown.
Tasting notes for Wildmakers Sabatico 2014
This ruby-coloured wine has 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 (14.5%). This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.
This is a food-friendly wine that will pair with a good range of dishes. You might like to try it with pork, turkey or pasta dishes. I enjoyed it with a Mediterranean platter including pan-fried steak, goat’s cheese and olives.
This wine is made from 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines in the Comavida area in the dry coastal sector of the Maule Valley. The vineyards nestle among areas of native plants and trees.
The destemmed grapes underwent a short maceration and a natural fermentation with ambient yeasts in open 600-litre oak barrels. The wine had 12 months of ageing in 600-litre used French oak barrels prior to bottling.
Wildmakers make wines that are as natural as possible. They follow organic practices and believe in taking care of the soil so that the vines grow strong and healthy. In the winery, they don’t add yeasts or other ingredients, beyond a minimal level of sulfites so the wine doesn’t go off. Such low intervention means that each batch of wine will be unique. In fact Wildmakers Sabatico 2015 is a very different wine, heavier, more potent and less fresh, reflecting the hot temperatures that year.
Where you can buy Wildmakers Sabatico 2014
Wildmakers wines are currently only available in Chile and can be found at the following outlets:
In Santiago: Vinomio and Les Dix vin and in the following restaurants: Boragó, Peumayen, 99 Restaurante, Casa Luz, Terruño, Etniko, Adameus, Boca Nariz, La Bodeguilla de Cristobal
Outside of Santiago: La Cava de Viña del Mar, Vinonauta, Santa Cruz, La vino Garage, Cunaco, V de Viinos, Talca and La Cava del pescador, Concepción.
This week, we have two for the price of one: I liked these Pandolfi Price Chardonnay wines so much, that I’m featuring them both. I’ve found that people tend to have strong opinions about Chardonnay: for some it’s their favourite wine, while others have told me they really don’t like it. I think it’s a shame to write it off, as this is one of the most versatile grape varieties, producing several different styles of wine.
These two Pandolfi Price Chardonnay wines are a great example of this. One is oaked, so fuller-bodied, creamier and more complex. The other has no oak influence and is lighter-bodied and refreshing and might well appeal to those who like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, for instance.
Chardonnay is very food-friendly, pairing well with fish, chicken and vegetable dishes, even salads. As it has more body, you could try Los Patricios with a more meaty fish like salmon, chicken in a cheese sauce or vegetarian lasagne, while the lighter-bodied Larkun might pair well with grilled white fish, sautéed chicken breast or salad.
Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV
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.
Pandolfi Price Larkun Chardonnay 2015, Itata Valley, 14% ABV
Pale lemon in colour. The nose is more subtle than Los Patricios, with some aromas of just ripe stone fruit, grapefruit and quince, as well as those mineral notes. This is a dry wine with zesty acidity, medium body and those mineral and fruity notes coming through in the flavour. This is a refreshing Chardonnay, perfect for a hot day on the terrace.
The vineyard is 25 years old and located in Larqui in the Itata Valley, around 60km from the Pacific Ocean. The soils contain basalt, which provides the mineral notes that come through in both wines. The vines have been dry-farmed since 1995 and are grown in a sustainable manner.
The Los Patricios Chardonnay was fermented and aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. Fermenting and ageing a wine in oak tends to give it more body, making it feel more voluminous in your mouth (like drinking cream rather than water). The wine was aged over its lees (in contact with the sediment it naturally produces) and this will have given it more body and a touch of creaminess. The wine also underwent malolactic fermentation (MLF), a process to change the sharp green apple type acidity into a softer, more lactic acidity, giving the wine notes that put you in mind of milk products like cream or butter.
The Larkun Chardonnay was aged for 12 months in stainless steel tanks and did not undergo malolactic fermentation (MLF). This means there will be no oak influence, so the wine retains its fresh fruitiness and the lack of MLF means the acidity remains sharper and more refreshing. This wine was also aged over its lees, which will have given it a bit more body and texture than it would have otherwise have had.
I’ve set myself the challenge over the next few weeks of blind tasting the most common types of Chilean red wine until I can tell them apart in a blind tasting. I’m doing this to become a better wine professional and also to help me pass the terrifying WSET diploma exam when I’ll have to blind taste 12 wines and write intelligently about them. At the least I want to be able to identify any Chilean wines that are included. So I’m starting with the thick-skinned red varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot, Malbec and Syrah.
What is blind tasting anyway?
A couple of people have asked me if blind tasting means you have to wear a blindfold when tasting. Fortunately not, as I’m sure I’d knock over my glass half the time! Actually it just means that you don’t know anything more about the wine in your glass than what you can perceive through your senses. Either you cover up the labels and anything else that could help you identify the wine or somebody else pours the wines into your glasses when you aren’t looking.
It’s quite liberating in a way, as it means that your opinion of the wine won’t be influenced by the label or your perceptions of the wine producer.
Usually you taste several wines (typically between three and six) together in a “flight”. By serving them all together, one into each glass, you can go back and forth, comparing them. Is this one more aromatic? Does that one have more body? Which do you like best?
What are you looking for?
If you’re blind tasting for fun, your objective may be just to see which wine you like best out of a group of wines. There may be a theme, such as all the wines in the flight are Sauvignon Blanc or they are all from Bordeaux.
On the other hand, you may just be faced by a set of glasses of wine without knowing what they are or where they are from. In the WSET diploma exam, the 12 wines could be any white, red or rosé wines from anywhere in the world, including less well-known regions like Mexico or India.
There may be a theme for some of them, eg four Cabernet Sauvignon wines from different countries and in different styles or four wines from Chile (hence my current challenge). In the exam, you have to accurately describe the wine and then take a stab at what variety it is and where it is from, giving reasons for your answer.
Eat your heart out, Sherlock Holmes
OK, I’ve really got nothing on Sherlock Holmes. But I am slowly learning to be a wine detective; to look for all the clues that can help me identify a glass of wine. To do this, it really helps to have a checklist to help you look for clues eg colour, tannins, acidity, body and so on. There are a number of standard ones out there but the one I have to know by heart is the one used by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
By way of example, let’s imagine you have a deep-coloured red wine in front of you. The deep colour tells you it’s likely to be a thick-skinned variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Carmenère, Tannat or Syrah.
What can you smell? If there are aromas that remind you of green pepper, chilli pepper, tomato leaves or similar “vegetal” notes, known technically as “pyrazines”, then it’s from a very special family of grape varieties that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Merlot (and Sauvignon Blanc). So you can rule out Malbec, Tannat and Syrah.
If there is a strong aroma of blackcurrants, then Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong possibility, while aromas of black plums tend to indicate Merlot.
When you taste the wine, the level of tannins and acidity are likely to clinch the matter. If it’s high in both and smells of blackcurrants, then it’s probably Cabernet Sauvignon.
So succeeding in blind tasting is about knowing your grape varieties too. Unfortunately there are rather a lot. To give you an idea, the ultimate guide to varieties is Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including their Origins and Flavours, written by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. 1368 varieties! That’s an awful lot of varieties to learn about and taste! Especially if you live in Chile, where few foreign wines are available. But hey, as with any challenge, you have to start somewhere. And for me, that’s a line-up of Chilean reds. Wish me luck!
It was such a lovely surprise that I had to share this wine with you. Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish) wines generally come from hot places like Spain, the Rhône and Australia. They can be high in alcohol, rather short on acidity and, as this is a thin-skinned variety, light on colour and tannins. All-in-all, there are a lot of rather boring Grenache wines out there. Not a word you could use to describe the seductive Huaso de Sauzal Garnacha.
The secret, apparently, is to use grapes from old vines and to keep the yields low. After years of being treated as only good as a cheap and cheerful component for red blends, Grenache is now being rediscovered around the world.
I haven’t been able to find out very much about this particular wine. I understand it’s been made with grapes from old, dry-farmed vines in the Maule Valley in Chile and produced using traditional winemaking methods, but that is all I can tell you for sure.
This wine would go well with quite a range of different dishes – a vegetable bake or roast red meat, for instance. In my case, it paired beautifully with a mixed buffet – hams, salamis, salad, olives and bread.
The wine is medium ruby in colour, deeper than a lot of Grenache wines. It has a pronounced and complex nose packed with aromas of red and blue fruit: cherries, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries. There’s a herbal hint I can’t quite identify (liquorice, rhubarb?) and a sweet note of baking spice. A hint of violets came through as the wine evolved. This is a dry, medium-bodied wine with fresh acidity and medium tannins and 13.5% alcohol. Nice and flavoursome with lots of sweet and juicy red and blue fruit and some spicy notes. Medium finish.
Looking for a wine with some oomph for the weekend? Well, here’s one I can wholeheartedly recommend: Loma Larga Cabernet Franc 2014. I must confess that Cabernet Franc has become one of my favourite varieties of late. It may be more subtle than its flashy offspring Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s beautifully aromatic and quite versatile.
A while back I featured two Cabernet Franc wines from the Loire and tasted them alongside Loma Larga’s other brand, Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, which had been made in the Loire style. They were light-coloured and delicate with aromas of red fruit. The wine we’re looking at today is made by the same producer from the same grape in the same year but in a whole different style.
I enjoyed this wine with pan-fried fillet of lamb with boiled potatoes, tomato salsa and avocadoes. Alejandra at Loma Larga also suggests pairing it with magret duck breast, fettucini with a pork- or game-based sauce, tomato-based dishes or cheese such as Brie, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Camembert, Manchego and Cougar Gold.
Loma Larga Cabernet Franc is a deep ruby-coloured wine with a pronounced complex nose with layers of aromas. Wine bores like me could easily spend five or more minutes sniffing it to try to separate out and name all those different notes. The first notes are what’s known as “pyrazines”, such as green chilli pepper, tomato leaf and blackcurrant leaf. Next are the aromas of ripe black fruit: blueberries and blackcurrants. Then some lush oak-influenced notes of chocolate, coffee and coconut.
In the mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with high acidity and pronounced, velvety smooth tannins. At 14.5%, the alcohol level is high and the flavour intensity is also high with nice concentration. The mouth is very fresh and packed with juicy black fruit. This is a complex and delicious wine which has plenty of scope for evolving further over time. It’s also unfiltered, so worth decanting before serving.
Why is this wine so different to the Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc? Mainly because of how the wine was made. The winemaker wanted to draw out lots of colour and tannins, so the destemmed grapes underwent a cold soak (maceration) for five days before fermentation, then pump-overs and a rack and return during fermentation and then a further maceration for ten days after the fermentation. Keeping the juice with the skins for such a long time makes for a much darker-coloured wine with more tannins and the pumping over also helps this process.
Then the body was made smoother and rounder and some additional aromas and flavours were added by the wine being aged in French oak barrels for 20 months. 60% of these barrels were new, which means they will have given the wine some aromas like vanilla, toast and cinnamon, while the other 40% were barrels being used for the second time, so they will have less impact on the aromas but contribute to the mouthfeel.
Where can you buy Loma Larga Cabernet Franc?
Here in Chile, Loma Larga wines are on sale at Jumbo and in specialist wine stores like Everwines.
If you live in the US or Europe and would like to find out about direct sales, you can email Alejandra at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Reference price USD24