Top wines from 2017

Tasting Top wines from 2017With the excuse of studying for the WSET Diploma, I’ve tasted a greater variety of wines – both Chilean and foreign – this year than ever before.  The upside is my knowledge and appreciation of wine have expanded exponentially; the downside is that there has been a tectonic shift in my taste. I’m no longer satisfied with two-dimensional wines that are all fur coat and no knickers, as we say in Yorkshire. I want a wine that is as interesting in the mouth as it is on the nose; one that isn’t a formulaic production by a winemaker compensating for mediocre grapes but really offers something different; a wine that stands out from the rest. Why is that a downside? Well, it means my taste just got more expensive!

Looking back at the wines that really stood out for me this year, I can spot a few trends. Stick-insect thin, searingly acidic wines are out – you won’t spot any Sauvignon Blanc in my top list, for instance. Instead, I’ve been enjoying whites with more personality – oak-fermented Chardonnay and well-crafted Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc wines, for instance. And, bucking fashion, I’ve discovered a taste for well-made sweet wines.

When it comes to the reds, soft tannined Malbecs and interesting red blends are among those that have stolen my heart this year. Here are a just a few highlights.

Top wines from 2017: Sparkling

Top wines from 2017

François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV

This medium gold-coloured wine has a fairly aromatic nose, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There is also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.

Read the full feature on Chenin Blanc wines here.

Top wines from 2017

Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir, 12% ABV

This sparkling wine is made from the País (aka Mission, Listán Negro, Criollo) grape and is definitely among the better wines to be produced from this grape variety.

This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol.  A superb choice for a special meal or celebration – if you can manage to get hold of a bottle!


Top wines from 2017: whites

WSET Diploma white wine tasting practice (photo courtesy of Alexandra Balakireva)

Top wines for 2017Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV

Pandolfi Price makes two superb Chardonnay wines – Larkun is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while this, my favourite, was fermented and aged in oak.

This is a lemon-coloured wine with a deliciously intense nose with layers of aromas: first the fruit – grapefruit, peaches and apples; next some subtle buttery notes from the 24 months this wine spent ageing on its lees; and finally some steely and pebbly mineral notes. In the mouth it is dry, with fresh acidity, very high alcohol – watch out for this one, it’s so easy to keep sipping it without realising it’s a whopping 15%!  Full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, and all those fruity and mineral notes are present again in this deliciously satisfying white. No wonder it’s garnered so many international awards and high scores from critics.

Read the full feature on the two Pandolfi Price Chardonnays here.

Top wines from 2017Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV

With the current fashion for thin-bodied whites with searing acidity and upfront citrus aromas, opulent, full-bodied Gewürztraminer with its candy store of aromas is decidedly untrendy right now. But hey, who cares about fashion?

This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in its pot pourri of delicious smells: Turkish delight, rose petals, grapes, ginger and ripe peaches, to name just a few – this is about as heady as a wine can get.

This medium-bodied wine is off-dry (a bit sweet), but it has enough acidity to stop it from being cloying. The mouth delivers on the promise on the nose, with a delightful fruitiness and a hint of spice. Medium (+) finish.

Read the full feature on this wine here.


Top wines from 2017Les Amours de la Reine 2010, Jurançon, 12% ABV

I make no apologies for including a fully sweet wine in my list, even though it shows me up as completely untrendy. Who cares about fashion anyway? This wonderful wine, kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin, is made from 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng. 

This is a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose is pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.

The sweetness of this full-bodied wine is beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it shows a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.

Read the full feature on wines from Bordeaux and SW France here.

Top wines from 2017: reds

Blind tasting of Chinon wines

The Argentine reds

A huge thank you to Amanda Barnes, who took time out from her schedule to give me a whistle-stop introduction to Mendoza and particularly Argentine Malbec back in April. I tried so many great Malbec wines, it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, so I’m going to confine myself to just a couple.

Matervini and Malbec winesMatervini Viñas Viejas 2014, Precordillera

Very limited edition – 200 bottles produced. This wine was made from grapes in Matervini’s new Precordillera plot.

A beautiful wine with a mineral nose teems with the biscuity, toasty notes from the barrel-ageing. In the mouth, it is medium-bodied, with fresh acidity, tooth-coating tannins and a long finish.

Read more about Matervini and their fantastic range of Malbec wines here.

Read more about Malbec wines here.

Kondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV

Deep ruby-coloured wine with a deliciously fruity nose, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There is also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine is dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish is medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon
A bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes just arrived at Mendel

Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza

This wine has all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.

This is a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins.

Read about how Mendel make Cabernet Sauvignon here.

Top wines from 2017Lorca Poético Cabernet Franc 2013, Mendoza, 14.5% ABV

A deep ruby-coloured wine with lashings of delicious aromas: red fruit like redcurrants and raspberries, blueberries, oak aromas like vanilla and coconut, and a hint of liquorice. This is an exciting wine with fresh acidity, pronounced, ripe tannins and lots of body. In the mouth, there is a moderate cigarbox texture adding complexity to the red fruit and spice flavours.

The Chilean reds

I’ve tasted a whole gammut of Chilean wines this year: the good, the bad and the ugly. A particular low point was a my sustained tasting over the winter of entry level classic Chilean reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others) from several well-known Chilean wineries.  Some were pretty awful; none were really worthy of tasting notes. In fact, my favourite wines tended to be less common varieties or from smaller wineries.

Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV

Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and, over the years has garnered my respect by consistently producing very attractive, enjoyable wines with plenty of character.

This wine is a deep purple colour with a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There is a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas are slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and Top wines from 2017tobacco. This is a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine has lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieves good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.

Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV

Loma Larga has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc.  It also produces an oaked version in the Loma Larga range, which is a bigger wine, less restrained but no less delicious.

The nose is rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.

This is a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity makes the palate refreshing and the mouth reveals black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This is a very enjoyable wine.

Read how Lomas del Vallle Cabernet Franc compares with reds from the Loire here.

Wildmakers SabáticoWildmakers Sabatico 2014, Maule Valley, 14.5% ABV

A delicious red blend of 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines. An eco-friendly ruby-coloured wine with a pleasantly fruity nose with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blueberries. It is dry with ripe, medium (+) tannins, fresh acidity, relatively light body and high alcohol. This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.

Read the full feature on this wine here.

Top wines from 2017Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule / Itata Valleys, 13.5%

This is a smart idea by the team at Ventisquero to make the best of two of Chile’s on-trend “heritage varieties”, both of which can on their own be a little lacklustre. País tends to be rather uninspiring aromatically, whereas Muscat grapes are known for their wonderful aromas but can be rather low in acidity. By putting the two together, Ventisquero has come up with a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries. This is a great wine for sipping, slightly chilled, on a hot day or as a pre-dinner appetiser.

Read the full feature on Chilean País wines here.

A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico Cinsault 2016, Itata Valley, 13.5% ABV

This was the firm favourite at a Cinsault wine tasting a few months back. A fresh, aromatic Cinsault, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.

Read the full feature on Chilean Cinsault wines here.

Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016, Maule Valley, 14% ABV

A moreish ruby-red blend combining the fresh acidity of Italian classic Barbera with the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours of Spanish icon Garnacha (aka Grenache).  This is a food-friendly wine with delicious aromas of red fruit, like strawberry jam, raspberries and red plums, together with rhubarb, intermingled with a subtle herbal note of liquorice or dill and a hint of mushroom and earthiness.

Read the full feature on this wine here.

And then, of course, there’s the reds from France…

Top wines from 2017Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV

A beautiful right-bank Bordeaux made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and blackcurrants. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.

A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.

Read the full feature on wines from Bordeaux and SW France here.

What about you? What were your top wines in 2017?

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonIt’s that time of year again when we all get into a flurry of Christmas shopping, seasonal cooking and planning for the perfect Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sparkling wine for the festive season features high on the shopping list and there’s an ever bigger range to choose from. So here’s a handy guide to help you select a wine that’s right for you. For a full 101 on sparkling wines, how they are made and how to get your head around the terms on the labels, check out my guide: How to choose sparkling wine (1) and How to choose sparkling wine (2).

In time-honoured tradition, a group of us got together to taste just some of the wines on sale and I’d like to say a big thank you to our team of tasters, including Lauren Hand, Ricardo Parada, Yi Wang, Natascha Scott-Stokes and Irina Axenova, for valiently tasting their way through 9 different sparkling wines: 4 Chilean premium wines and 5 wines from Europe.

European sparkling wines for the festive season

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonProsecco

Prosecco, currently one of the world’s favourite wines, made in the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy, from Glera grapes in a fresh, uncomplicated style with the second fermentation usually taking place in a tank. We tasted Riccadonna Prosecco Extra Dry. A subtle nose with some notes of apples and a biscuity note, this is a light, easy-to-drink wine suitable for pre-dinner drinks or accompanying light-flavoured bites.

More information about Riccadonna


Hailing from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Lambrusco is made from one of several grape varieties that go by the name Lambrusco. It’s usually made into a red sparkling wine but we tried a white one: Chiarli, an off-dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) uncomplicated wine with aromas of sweet red apples. This was among the favourites at our tasting.


Another very classic wine from Italy, Asti is one of a kind, always sweet and low alcohol. This is because the juice is fermented just once, the tank being sealed to keep in the carbon dioxide, and the fermentation is interrupted when the wine reaches around 7% ABV, so it still has plenty of sugar that hasn’t been fermented.  Some cheaper styles are still wines, into which carbon dioxide is pumped to make them fizzy. We tasted Riccadonna Asti, a sweet wine that has enough acidity to stop it becoming cloying. Asti is made with Muscat grapes, which make it very aromatic (think grapes, ginger and raisins). This wine would go nicely with dessert.

More information about Riccadonna

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonCava

Another very classic type of sparkling wine, this time from Spain. Cava is always made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method and is usually made from native Spanish grapes, such as Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, though others are permitted. We tried one of the world’s best-selling Cavas, Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Selección Cava. This is the very same wine I bought to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was living in Córdoba in Spain a few moons ago – and it’s still a great party wine. This is a dry sparkling wine with a lightly citrus aroma, zesty acidity and a creamy mouth. A moreish crowd-pleaser.

More information about Freixenet Cordon Negro

Portuguese sparkling wine

If you haven’t yet tried a Portuguese sparkling wine, I heartily recommend them. I sampled a few during my visit to Porto, all very elegant, made from native Portuguese grapes using the traditional method (check out the details of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008 and Terras do Demo in this post). We tried Luis Pato Maria Gomes Bruto from the Beiras region, made with 90% Maria Gomes and 10% Sercialinho grapes. This was one of the most aromatic wines in our tasting, with floral notes and just a hint of brioche from the autolysis. A lovely fresh, fruity, dry sparkling wine with plenty of body and lots of personality.

More information about Luis Pato

Sparkling wine for the festive seasonChilean Premium sparkling wines for the festive season

For this tasting I selected four wines retailing in Chile at between CLP10,000 and $20,000 (US$15-30). All were made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method but the grapes and regions vary.

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonCalyptra Hera Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2012, Alto Cachapoal

This wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The most complex wine of the selection, with a sweet nose of classic Chardonnay aromas like banana and pineapple, together with brioche notes from the ageing process intermingled with some creamy lees aromas. Dry with high acidity and lots of body, this is a wine with personality and you’ll either love it or hate it. It was my personal favourite of this tasting.

More information about Calyptra Vineyards and Winery

Miguel Torres Cordillera Brut Blanc de Noir, Curicó

This wine is made from purely Pinot Noir grapes. A lovely fruity nose with notes of sweet red apples, but a dry mouth with high, fresh acidity and medium+ body. Very refreshing and easy to drink.

More information about Miguel Torres

Domaine Dussaillant-Lehmann Brut, Maule

This Brut is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a light and elegant style with subtle notes of fruit and croissant from the autolysis, high acidity. A very refreshing wine that was among the tasting team’s favourites.

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonLeyda Extra Brut, Leyda

The winery doesn’t specify the grapes on the label or their website. This is a very neutral and correct style of sparkling wine sure to appeal to those looking for a refreshing appetiser. It is dry with delightful acidity and some subtle autolysis notes (biscuits, croissant) in the mouth.

More information about Viña Leyda

More ideas for sparkling wines for the festive season:

An aromatic sparkling wine from the Loire

The highly elegant Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir (from the País) grape, if you can get hold of it. Tasting note here.

Domaine Raab-Ramsay, an offbeat Chilean organic sparkling wine producer

What is your favourite sparkling wine? What fizz will you be opening this festive season?

Vinoteca walkaround tasting

Vinoteca walkaround tastingThe golden glow of the late afternoon sun and deep blue backdrop of the Pacific Ocean provided an inviting ambience for the Vinoteca walkaround tasting Noche de Copas at the Sheraton Miramar in Viña del Mar on Friday. Summer-clad locals and tourists strolled from stand to stand, tasting a broad range of wines. The ice cold sparkling and crisp white wines were the firm favourite on this warm evening, with the reds coming into their own after sunset.

Bouchon Family Wines

Bouchon at Vinoteca walkaround tasting
Miriam Alfonso from Bouchon Family Wines

I got my evening off to refreshing start with some crisp whites from Maule-based Bouchon Family Wines.

Tasting notes for Bouchon Family Wines

The Las Mercedes white range from coastal Maule are fresh, light wines made from dry-farmed grapes and subject to a cold maceration followed by stainless steel fermentation to keep them fresh and fruity.

Las Mercedes Sémillon 2015 is a refreshing, light-bodied white with a lemon-fresh nose, perfect as a pre-dinner appetiser or to accompany seafood or salad.

Las Mercedes Sauvignon Blanc 2015 has a light citrus aromas, together with crisp green apple and hint of green chilli pepper. Zesty acidity and an almost savoury flavour make this a good option for pairing with fish or shellfish.

Mingre 2010 is a red blend comprising 40% Carmenère, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. With extended oak-ageing, this is a big wine with grippy tannins and medium + body, ideal for pairing with red meat dishes.

More information about Bouchon Family Wines

Matetic Vineyards

Matetic bottles at Vinoteca walkaround tasting

I’ve featured San Antonio-based biodynamic producer Matetic before and the wines I tasted on Friday were well up to their usual standard.

Tasting notes for Matetic Vineyards

EQ Chardonnay 2015 was made by whole-bunch pressing the grapes and then fermenting the juice with native yeasts in French oak barrels. This was followed by a partial malolactic fermentation and then 11 months’ ageing over the lees with some lees stirring. All this makes for a wine with a rich, complex texture, full body, fresh creamy acidity and moreish aromas of tropical fruit like pineapples and bananas. Perfect for late afternoon.

EQ Pinot Noir 2014 was made with grapes grown in the Casablanca Valley just 10km from the Pacific to ensure slow ripening. The grapes were macerated and fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts and punch-downs were used to extract colour, tannins and aromas. Then the wine was aged for 14 months in French oak. The result is a wine with ripe red fruit aromas, like cherries and raspberries, together with notes of tobacco and forest floor. This is a well-balanced, food-friendly wine that makes for very pleasant drinking.

Corralillo Winemakers Blend 2015 brings together 50% Syrah, 25% Malbec and 25% Cabernet Franc. This is a very elegant red wine with intriguing fresh red fruit and spice aromas, fresh, high acidity, medium body, medium + ripe tannins and a fairly long finish. This wine would pair well with a range of dishes, including beef or lamb, vegetarian casseroles and bakes and highly flavoured pasta dishes.

More information about Matetic Vineyards

Post featuring a visit to Matetic.

Flaherty Wines

Flaherty Wines at Vinoteca walkaround tasting
Antonio Vidal from Flaherty Wines

Flaherty Wines from Aconcagua were among the highlights at the event with three superb red blends.

Tasting notes for Flaherty Wines

Casa del Magnolio was the lightest of the three, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Aconcagua, Petite Sirah and País from Cauquenes in Maule. With a lovely fresh blackcurrant nose, this is a light, fruity and refreshing wine that will go with a wide range of food.

Flaherty 2015 brings together Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo in a rich, fruity wine perfect for red meat dishes.

Flaherty Cauquenes 2015 is a heavyweight wine with great ageing potential made from dry-farmed and bush-trained Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and País from the warm vineyards of Maule, aged in oak barrels. The nose is expressive – dried fruits like figs and prunes, together with tobacco and violets. This wine tops the scale on all aspects: pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity, full body, long finish, very high alcohol (15%). Delicious but really needs pairing with a highly flavoured dish, such as slowed-roasted beef or lamb or a vegetarian bake topped with melted mature Cheddar cheese. I’d be interested to try this in another five years to see how it has evolved.

More information about Flaherty Wines.


More information about Vinoteca, the chain of Chilean wine stores that organized the event.

What wines have you tried lately? Any you’d specially recommend?