Chilean Sauvignon BlancIf you’re looking for a thirst-quenching wine, there’s really nothing to beat a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. And there are some some cool, fresh, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines that can easily hold their own with those from New Zealand or the Loire.

People drinking Sauvignon BlancA few of us got together recently to check out a few of the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines on the market. These are our tasting notes.

Bottles of Sauvignon Blanc

Leyda Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Leyda Valley. 13.5% ABV.  Retails at around CLP6,000.

Pronounced, clean aromas of grass, elderflower and citrus fruit. Clean, sharp and lemon-fresh. A good afternoon thirst-quencher.

Santa Helena Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Central Valley. 14% ABV. Retails at around CLP3,600.

Light, fresh and easy-drinking. The value for money option in our tasting; great for by the pool.

Bottle of white wine

Tabalí Pedregoso Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Coastal Limarí Valley. 14% ABV. Retails at around CLP9,000

A wine with complex layers of aromas: pyrazine notes of green peppers and chilli peppers, herbaceous notes of elderflower and fresh-cut grass and terpenic notes from the fermentation process of passionfruit with citrus notes. The mouth also has more body, suggestive of some time over the lees. An understated and sophisticated tipple for those looking for a wine with character.

Bottle of white wine

Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Parredones, Coastal Colchagua Valley. 13.5% ABV.  Retails at around CLP12,000.

The most aromatic wine in the tasting with prominent upfront notes of tropical fruit like tinned pineapple and passionfruit, followed by a herbaceous layer like an English hedgerow in spring and then those pyrazinic notes of peppers and chilli peppers. In the mouth, nice body and fairly long. This wine was the favourite of the tasting.

Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Leyda Valley. 14% ABV. Retails at around CLP11,000

Another subtle but intriguing tipple with fruit and earthy notes and some personality in the mouth.

How about you? Have you recently tried a Sauvignon Blanc that you would recommend?

Other articles about Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
Websites of the wineries included in the tasting:

 

Carignan vinesIn 2010, a group of wine producers in Chile set up an unprecedented association called Vigno dedicated to just one variety of wine from just one area of Chile. Why? Because they thought that some really special wines could be made from the old and largely unappreciated Carignan vines in a remote, dry area of Maule.

Fast forward nine years to an international Carignan seminar in the Chilean capital of Santiago. It was like the who’s who of Chilean wine: just about everybody who is anybody was there.  I went along on behalf of South America Wine Guide to find out opinions about the future of Carignan in Chile.

Read the full article at South America Wine Guide

Other posts about Carignan

Trip to Maule with 80 Harvests

Morandé Vigno

 

In the quest to bring you the best of Chilean wine, a group of 7 people recently tasted our way through some lighter Chilean red wines. We were looking for wines that can be served slightly chilled in warm weather and that pair well with turkey and other dishes often served for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other festivities. Our tasting panel bravely tasted its way through 8 different Chilean wines made from 4 different grape varieties. Below are the full details of all the wines we tried and at the end I will reveal which two wines were the panel’s favourites.

 

  1. País

For decades País was relegated to an underdog role by Chile’s biggest producers who bought the grapes at rock-bottom prices to bulk out other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon when making Chile’s cheapest red wines. But lately Chile’s third most planted variety has been experiencing a renaissance, with producers  experimenting with different wine styles with País in the starring role. País wines tend to be light, easy-drinking reds with some fruity aromas. We tried two brands.

Bouchon País Salvaje 2018. Maule Valley.

Retails around CLP$10,000. 12.5% ABV

Family firm based in Maule, making a range of wines from grapes grown in Maule. This particular wine is made from grapes from País vines that have self-seeded and run wild, climbing trees. The grapes are destemmed using a zaranda. Fermented in cement vats with native yeasts. 50% underwent carbonic maceration. This wine is unfiltered.

Tasting note: A fresh, fruity, pale-coloured wine; very easy-drinking.

Bouchon’s Pais Salvaje website

Cacique Maravilla 2019. Yumbel, Itata, Ñuble Region.

Retails around CLP$6,000 12.2% ABV

This is a very long-standing family vineyard that is proud to still be making wines from the old vines and using the traditional methods that have passed down through the family. This wine is made with 100% País grapes.

Tasting note: rather denser than the País Salvaje with rustic tannins, medium acidity and red fruit flavours.

Cacique Maravilla’s website

  1. Cinsault

Cinsault is light-skinned with soft, fruity aromas and is widely used in blends in southern France and a few other warm climate areas around the world. If the vines are allowed produce too many grapes, the wines can be boring. But when yields are low – for instance when the grapes come from old vines, like the ones in Itata – it can make deliciously fresh, tasty wines with lovely aromas of red fruit and wild herbs. We tried two different Cinsault wines.

Pedro Parra Imaginador 2017. Itata, Ñuble Region.

Retails around CLP$15,000. 14% ABV

Pedro Parra is a highly respected Chilean expert on terroir (finding the ideal place for growing wine grapes). This is his own family project in his home area. He has sourced grapes from 4 different local vineyards. These are all old vineyards with old vines, trained in a bush or gobelet form and dry-farmed (not irrigated).  The wine has been fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and cement vats (no oak) to retain freshness and fruity aromas.

Tasting note: Fresh, crunchy red fruit profile with an intriguingly smoky note. Mineral and taut red fruit flavours with light tannins. Delicious!

Pedro Parra’s website

Dagaz Cinsault 2018. Itata, Ñuble Region.

Retails around CLP$15,000. 13% ABV

Like the Pedro Parra wine, this is made from bush-trained vines in dry inland areas of Itata. This wine has had 6 months’ ageing in a mixture of stainless steel vats and neutral, used oak barrels.

Tasting note: Also fruity but overall a denser wine than the Pedro Parra with more tannins and body, most likely reflecting heavier extraction techniques and the use of oak. A pleasant, fruity wine.

Dagaz Wines’ website

  1. Grenache (Garnacha)

Grenache is widely planted in Spain and France, where, like Cinsault, it has traditionally been used in blends. It is a tricky grape to get right but if you do, it can make an exciting and seductive red wines. There are just a few being made here in Chile and they can be hard to get hold of – the Perez Cruz we tried is probably the most widely available.

Perez Cruz Grenache 2018, Maipo Andes, Metropolitan Region.

Retails around CLP$15,000. The bottle label says 14% ABV but online info suggests it’s actually 14.9%!!

85% Garnacha, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre. 14 months’ ageing, 100% in French oak, half new and half second use, so this wine should have a notable oak influence (aromas of spices, toast) and a smoothness in the mouth.

Tasting note: Beautiful strawberry and chocolate nose and smooth palate with medium tannins and just enough acidity to keep it interesting. Very delicious and moreish.

Perez Cruz website

  1. Pinot Noir

Another fiddly variety that is difficult to get right. People seem to either absolutely adore it or else detest it. Given that the styles of wine it can make can vary hugely, as can the pricetag, then perhaps that is no surprise. In Chile, you can find everything from rich and mouthfilling Pinot Noirs with aromas like strawberry jam and toast through to subtle and lighter-bodied wines with a whole myriad of aromas ranging from mushrooms, through leather, damp leaves and game, through to a downright farmyardy manure-type odour. There are around 4,000 hectares of Pinot Noir in Chile but a lot more are being planted, mostly in coastal, mountainous or southerly regions, as Pinot Noir does best in cool climate conditions. We tasted three Chilean Pinot Noirs.

Aquitania Sol de Sol Pinot Noir 2012, Malleco, La Araucanía Region.

Retails around CLP$20,000. 13.5% ABV

This project was at one time one of Chile’s southernmost but now there are increasing numbers of wineries moving south as the climate gets warmer and drier and because cool-climate wines are fashionable around the world. This wine has had 12 months’ French oak ageing.

Tasting note: A supple, smooth wine with high acidity and a subtle red fruit profile.

Aquitania’s website

Montesecano Refugio Pinot Noir 2018, Casablanca Valley.

Retails around CLP$14,500. 12% ABV

This is a small vineyard recently planted in the Casablanca area where they are making very natural wines with no sulphur and no oak. The wines are aged in cement eggs.

Tasting note: Slightly cloudy. The nose reveals medicinal spice and red fruit, as well as a mineral note. Crisp and fresh and just a little bit funky.

Montesecano’s website

Koyle Costa Pinot Noir 2014, Colchagua Costa.

Retails at CLP$15,000. 14% ABV

Koyle is a small family winery led by Cristóbal Undurraga and based in Colchagua Alto, following biodynamic and sustainable principles. These grapes are brought from vineyards nearer the coast. The grapes are harvested in 2 different lots from 2 different plots with different solar exposure to get a different flavour profile. Ageing: 50% in barrels, 50% concrete eggs for 12 months.

Tasting note: Sophisticated nose of red fruit, mineral notes and a hint of toast. Slightly bitter note in the mouth but overall very pleasant, with fresh acidity and fine tannins.

Koyle website

Tasting panel favourites:

Perez Cruz Grenache 2018 was the universal favourite and Pedro Parra’s Imaginador 2017 came out the strong second choice.  Both delicious wines, well worth trying.

 

WOW I PASSED! Now what?

Have you ever been so focussed on achieving something that when you actually succeeded, you didn’t know what to do next?  I had such a moment back in 2003 when I finished walking the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. After 40 days and 770km, it felt amazing to totter, footsore and pink-faced, into the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. But part of me also felt rather deflated because it meant I had to figure out my next destination without a map or yellow arrows to point the way. As Antonio Machado’s poem states:

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar”  (“Traveller, there is no road; you make your path as you walk”).

Just over a year later, I emigrated to Chile.

I’m having another “what now?” moment again, 16 years on (though I don’t imagine moving to another country this time!!). I’ve just completed another big challenge – this time studying alongside full-time work – and now I’ve finished I find I have free time on my hands and a head full of geeky knowledge and am wondering what to do about it. The course was the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits, their top qualification. It took three years of blood, sweat, tears and more money than I care to think about. But I’ve done it; I’ve passed.

So what now? First, I need to take a breath and get back into the routine of normal life. I need to get back on track with friends I’ve been neglecting, recoup my depleted finances and thank my translation clients for remaining loyal over the years, despite my periodic disappearances to sit exams in London.

Of course I also have a whole heap of wine-related ambitions. I’d love to go and visit all the wine regions I’ve learned about and taste wines with the Master of Wine candidates in Santiago. I really want to get some hands-on experience in a vineyard (or several) and sooner or later I’m going to make my own garage wine just for the hell of it.

But for now my biggest ambition is to share some of the wonderful things I have learned about wine. In addition to writing for my blog, I am very proud to be helping wine journalist Amanda Barnes with her publications: Around the World in 80 Harvests and South America Wine Guide, mostly as sub-editor, but also doing a little research and some writing. And I am also just developing a brand new service: wine events like tastings or presentations for small groups in English or Spanish.  I’m completely open to ideas about this so please get in touch if you have any suggestions or want to find out more.

Here’s a handy bilingual guide to some of the sparkling wine jargon you might come across.  Let me know if you come across more terms that need to be added.

Blanc de Blancs

A wine made only from white grapes, often 100% Chardonnay.

Blanc de Blancs

Un vino elaborado solo con uvas blancas, con frecuencia 100% Chardonnay.

Blanc de Noirs

A wine made only from black grapes, typically Pinot Noir. This is still a white wine, irrespective of the type of grapes used.

Blanc de Noirs

Un vino elaborado solo a partir de uvas negras, típicamente Pinot Noir. Este sigue siendo un vino blanco, independientemente del tipo de uvas utilizadas.

Disgorgement

The process in in-bottle fermentation where the temporary cork is removed from the bottle and the frozen block of sediment is ejected from the bottle (along with some wine) because of the pressure of gas inside.

Degüelle

El proceso de fermentación en botella en que se retira el corcho temporal y el bloque congelado de sedimento es expulsado de la botella (junto con algo de vino) debido a la presión del gas en el interior.

Gyropallette

A mechanized version of a pupitre.

Giropalet

Una versión mecanizada del pupitre.

Liqueur de tirage

A syrup of sugar, wine and yeast added to provoke the second fermentation.

Licor de tiraje

Un sirope de vino, vino y levadura que se añade para provocar la segunda fermentación.

Liqueur d’expedition

This is a syrup added to the wine after the second fermentation is complete. Except in the case of Nature wines, this is a mix of sugar and wine, known as the dosage. The amount of sugar depends on the style of sparkling wine require.

Licor de expedición

Este es un sirope que se añade al vino después de completada la segunda fermentación. Excepto en el caso de los vinos naturales, esta es una mezcla de azúcar y vino conocida como la dosificación. La cantidad de azúcar depende del estilo de vino espumante requerido.

Millésime

A vintage from one specific year which has been designated to be of a good enough standard. Not every year is good enough to qualify.

Millésime

Un vintage de un año especifico que ha sido designado por ser de un estándar lo suficientemente bueno. No todos los años son los suficientemente buenos para calificar.

Non-Vintage

A blend of wines from different years. This term must also be used even if the wine is a blend of vintage years.

Non-Vintage

Una mezcla de vinos de distintos años. Este término también debe usarse incluso si el vino es una mezcla de años vintage.

Pupitre

A hinged rectangular block with holes into which the bottles are placed by the neck. The bottles start in a horizontal position and are gradually moved by hand until they are upside down, so that the sediment settles in the neck of the bottle.

Pupitre

Un bloque rectangular articulado con orificios en los que se colocan las botellas por el cuello. Las botellas empiezan en posición horizontal y son movidas gradualmente a mano hasta que quedan boca abajo, de forma que el sedimento se acumula en el cuello de la botella.

Rosé

A wine made via either the saignée method (where the skins spend some time in contact with the juice) or where some red wine is added to the white to make a pink drink.

Rosé / rosado

Un vino elaborado a través del método por sangrado o saignée (en que los orujos pasan un tiempo en contacto con el jugo) o al añadir vino tinto al blanco para conseguir una bebida rosada.

Tank method / Charmat method

When the second fermentation takes place in a special, strong stainless steel tank.

Método tanque /método charmat

Cuando la segunda fermentación ocurre en un tanque especial fuerte de acero inoxidable.

Traditional method or in-bottle fermentation

Where the second fermentation to make a wine fizzy takes place in a bottle.

Método tradicional o fermentación en botella

Cuando la segunda fermentación para hacer que el vino tenga burbujas se realiza en una botella.

Chile produces far more red wine than white, but it is well worth checking out those whites it does produce. Here’s a handy guide to the 5 most planted varieties.

Sauvignon Blanc

Chile has developed its own style of this, one of the world’s favourite white varieties. Pronounced aromas of citrus fruit, like lemon and grapefruit, notes of pineapple and a hint of green chilli pepper are accompanied by refreshing zesty acidity in the mouth. A real thirst-quencher.

Chardonnay grapes

Chardonnay

Are you a fan of steely Chablis, subtle white Burgundy or opulent Californian Chardonnay? If so, you may well find a Chilean Chardonnay to suit your tastes. Winemakers here make this chameleon grape into every style, from lean and unoaked through to much softer, creamier and fuller-bodied wines. A good option with fish, chicken and creamy dishes.

Muscat (Moscato)

Muscat comes in many varieties, all of them beautifully aromatic (think flowers, grapes and spices like ginger). Chile has several varieties, with Muscat of Alexandria being the most planted. Muscat grapes are used to make Chile’s own grape brandy Pisco, as well as sweet or dry white wines, which tend to be medium to low in acidity but heady in aroma.

Riesling

This elegant, fragrant grape makes very refreshing wines, which are usually dry in Chile.  Riesling fans use words like “racy” and “steely” to describe their favourite tipple, which will often have citrus notes and maybe just a whiff of kerosene. Well-made Riesling ages well and can develop complex notes of honey and nuts over time. You can also find a few delicious Late Harvest and botrytized Riesling wines in Chile. The grape’s natural acidity balances out the sweetness making for a very seductive and sophisticated drink. These complex sweet wines pair well with cheese and desserts.

Sémillon

Once widely grown in Chile, most vines were removed in favour of trendier grapes, but if you look hard you may find a bottle. This is a versatile, refreshing variety that can make some very elegant wines in both lean and fuller-bodied styles.

It says a lot about Marcela Burgos and her ability to be concise and to the point, that we managed to shoehorn her interview into just 20 minutes before the other MW candidates arrived for a blind wine tasting.  Marcela is one of those women who exude self-confidence and a sense of purpose, so in her presence I always feel like I need to pull my socks up and get on with things. No shilly-shallying about. A typical teacher vibe, actually, now I come to think about it.

No surprise then that Marcela is the owner of the Conservatorio de Vino school in Santiago offering Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses and occasional masterclasses. Marcela set up the school six years ago and is in the enviable position of having waiting lists for some courses, while others sell out soon after the dates are publicized.

What makes the Conservatorio de Vino so successful?

“Three things,” she says. “Firstly, I directly import the wines for the course tastings from the United States, so students can sample a really great range of wines. Secondly, unlike some wine schools, my courses have a gradual format – one or two evening classes a week. This means that students can review the material between classes and it also tends to fit better with their family and work commitments. Thirdly, I have a great team of teachers with first-hand knowledge of the wine industry, like Master of Wine candidates Marco de Martino (de Martino winery) and Fernando Almeda (former Technical Director of Miguel Torres Chile).”

So how did she get into this industry in the first place? She smiles, “I had just graduated with a business degree and was looking for a glamourous job, so I wrote to all the wineries on the Wines of Chile list.” Her first job at Los Boldos winery marked a key moment in her career. During the year she worked there, she had long conversations with the French winemaker, who told her about the world of wine outside of Chile.

Marcela’s next stop was a visit to the French white wine enclave of Alsace, followed by a year studying German in Munich, where she developed her ongoing love affair with German Riesling – especially from the Mosel.

“Riesling is a superlative variety,” she extols, “and Mosel Riesling evolves like a poem.”

Her career was set after a period living in Canada, where she worked her way through the WSET courses, completing WSET Level 4 (the Diploma) in London. Then, six years ago, after coming back to Chile and starting a family, she opened up the Conservatorio de Vino.

So what are her ambitions for the future?

“The Master of Wine programme, of course,” she says. Marcela is one of a very select handful of people in Chile on the extremely challenging MW programme who are seeking to join the 382 people around the world who currently hold this highly prestigious wine qualification.

She also writes features about Chile’s wine industry for Meininger’s Wine Business International, something she really enjoys. And she is confident that the Conservatorio de Vino will continue to grow over the coming years, offering the WSET Diploma, which is not currently available anywhere in South America, and increasing the number of WSET courses she runs each year.“Also I’ve just added the new WSET spirits qualifications and the demand is very strong, so I expect to see lots of growth there.”

And the final question: what are her favourite wines? Other than Mosel Riesling, red Burgundy tops her list, especially Chambolle-Musigny because it is so fragrant and evolves in the glass. And in terms of Chilean wine, aside from the Riesling wines from Chile’s coolest climate areas like the far south, she highlights Carignan from Maule because of its concentration and fresh, nicely balanced acidity. What an excellent choice!

More information about:

The Conservatorio de Vino

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses

Master of Wine programme

Maule and its Carignan wines

Wine and bugs

 

Native Chilean bee in my garden

People often ask me why they should pay more for a bottle of wine. I understand their point; we all have a limited budget that we need to cover all of life’s necessities and hopefully a few little extras, like wine. And if your tipple of choice is a highly affordable Shiraz from South Australia, Zinfandel from California or Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Central Valley which is consistently on sale at your local supermarket, what’s wrong with that?

Nothing of course, but it is worth knowing that to be able to put a product on the shelves of hundreds of supermarkets at a retail price of say £5 or £6 in the UK (where the first £2 or so goes in tax) or 3,000 pesos in Chile, the producer has to have a very large-scale operation so as to achieve extremely low costs. Why does this matter?

Scientific research points to a dramatic decline in insects worldwide – one report quoted widely in the press, such as this article in the Guardian, estimates that in a 27-year period the number of insects in protected areas declined by 75% and it may be even higher in non-protected areas. Another widely report (as in this article published by the BBC) indicates that “40% of species are undergoing dramatic rates of decline“.

The reasons for this decline are most likely:

  • loss of habitat (urban sprawl and the extension of largescale monoculture farming),
  • the use of pesticides
  • and global warming.
honey bee busy pollinating a boysenberry flower

Why does it matter?

But why should we care about the loss of insects? Well, some of them, like bees, are needed to pollinate fruit, such as grapes. And we’ve all heard the alarming reports about the worldwide decline in bees – here is just one article on the subject. Other insects perform lowly but essential roles, like processing manure. And some are an essential part of the food chain – small bugs are eaten by larger bugs, which are eaten by birds, for instance. If the small bugs disappear, the larger bugs that eat them and the birds that eat them can also die out.

Meanwhile, those insects that really love eating certain kinds of plants, such as vines, are doing really well, because in a world of huge farms growing just that one kind of plant, they can easily zone in on great expanses of their favourite crop and feed and reproduce to their heart’s content and, because little else thrives in a monoculture, there may not be a predator around to interrupt them. Also, as the BBC report highlighted,

“Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly, will disappear.”

What’s the link between the production of (budget) wine and bugs dying?

So to go back to our large-scale wineries. Many of them have miles of beautiful, orderly rows of vineyards, stretching as far as the eye can see, all the vines uniformly trained along trellis and all carefully linked to a drip watering system. When you see mile after mile of uninterrupted vineyards (or indeed mile after mile of any crop – wheat, rapeseed, cotton, soya), you can be sure that they have very low biodiversity, especially if they are very neat and tidy, without a single weed or flower between the rows and no trees in sight. That’s because there is no habitat there for the majority of bugs and birds – other than those that like to feed on that particular crop, in this case vines.

If those vineyards are growing grapes for low-price wines, they need to get the maximum amount of grapes out of those vines for the lowest possible cost. So that means using fertilizers and water to make sure they get a lot of big, juicy grapes. And to keep labour costs down, they will mechanize whatever they can.  The Australians are said to have got this down to a fine art, but you can find this sort of operation in Argentina, Chile, California, Spain and elsewhere. The distance between the rows of vines is just enough for the machinery to pass through. The drip irrigation systems are often controlled centrally. All they need is a couple of people driving very sophisticated machines along the rows at different times of the year to mechanically plough the soil, prune the excess growth, spray with chemicals and harvest the grapes.

Trellising vines, drip irrigation and the use of machinery in vineyards aren’t bad things – please don’t misunderstand me. Trellising ensures the grapes are positioned well for ripening and they can be manually or mechanically managed. Drip irrigation is a water-efficient way of irrigating vines. Mechanization – particularly in areas where there is a shortage of people willing to pick fruit or where labour costs are very high – can sometimes be the only sensible solution. It’s a highly efficient way of managing vines and, in the case of harvesting, means the grapes are picked and processed faster, which makes them less likely to oxidize or start to ferment before getting to the winery.

However, a very large vineyard is easy for marauding pests to find, presenting a lovely big juicy target for moths, wasps, tiny spiders, sharpshooters and a host of other nasty bugs to come and feed. And, whereas the owner or the viticulturist at a small-scale winery probably walks along his/her vines regularly and is therefore likely to be able to detect and deal with a problem early, those people driving up and down on their tractors all day long may not notice the problem until it has grown to major proportions. What some wineries therefore do is preventive spraying to make sure no problems arise.  After all, if they have contracts with a large supermarket chain to deliver a certain amount of wine at a certain price point and they fail to deliver, they can be subject to major penalty clauses.

And where the vineyards are uninterrupted by any other vegetation and are managed with lots of agrochemicals, they are contributing towards the decline in insect life and other species.

We need to remember too that the biodiversity isn’t all above ground – there is a lot going on in the soil beneath our feet – or at least there is in healthy soil. The state of the soil is a hot issue for many people in wine, who argue that healthy soil should be teeming with life (such as worms which help aerate the soil, and microorganisms that process waste and produce hummus). Compaction by heavy machinery and sustained use of chemicals can make the soil an unfriendly or even toxic place for these creatures.

A range of birds wander around the vineyards and gardens pecking at the soil at Emiliana in Chile

There are wineries of all sizes that are concerned about these issues and who take measures to mitigate their impact, for instance by installing wildlife corridors or leaving some parts of the vineyard with native vegetation. Some even use animals in preference to machinery in the vineyards – hens and other birds scratch around for pests, alpacas or sheep munch on weeds, horses are used for heavier jobs like ploughing and all of them contribute manure, which can be rotted down and used to add fertility to the soil.

Some wineries have joined voluntary sustainability schemes where they pledge to be careful in their use of chemicals, recycle waste and water and use a range of techniques to increase biodiversity, such as encouraging weeds to grow between the rows of vines.

Wild plants between the rows at Koyle, biodynamic producer in Chile

Other wineries have gone a step further and become certified organic or biodynamic. What this gives you, as a consumer, is a much clearer idea of exactly what standards have been used to make that bottle of wine, because to be labelled as “organic”, “biodynamic” or “made with organic grapes”, the winery has to prove to an independent body that they have followed a specific set of rules.

So what does it mean for a wine to be labelled organic or biodynamic? This is complex and could be an article in itself. To put it briefly, organic producers need to have a plan that limits their use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and looks for other ways to encourage plant health, while taking care of the environment. One of the world’s major certifying bodies for organic produce, the Soil Association states:

“Organic wine is as natural as possible, made using organically grown grapes or other fruit from a vineyard or farm that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health. (…) Organic wine makers use the minimum amount of additives and processing aids required to produce an optimum quality wine.”

Source: Soil Association organic standards. Food and drink. Revision 17.7 November 2018. https://www.soilassociation.org/media/15883/food-and-drink-standards.pdf

Here are some of the EU rules for organic production: https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/farming/organic-farming/organic-production-and-products_en#organicproductionrules

Biodynamic wine producers have to meet the standards for organic production and then have a whole heap of additional rules. The following quote comes from a very informative page by Demeter, the certifying body for biodynamic production.

https://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-FAQ-Wine.pdf

“In practice, Biodynamic farming meets the organic standard including the prohibition of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but goes much further. The integration of animals and animal feeds, perennial plants, flowers and trees, water features, and composting is emphasized. Dependence on imported materials for fertility and pest control is reduced. Water conservation is considered. Farms are required to maintain at least 10% of total acreage as a biodiversity set-aside.”

The bottom line is this: we are living in a world that is changing fast, with climate change and large scale extinctions, including insects and nobody is quite sure what the impact of all this is going to be, but it is likely to be considerable. Organic and biodynamic wines cost more than the most economical wines in the supermarket because there is more manual labour involved in their process (manual weeding, natural pest control) and the amount of grapes produced from each hectare is lower (especially where land is set aside for wildlife).  What is more, even large organic producers like Emiliana in Chile have not reached the scale of the real giants of the viticultural world and so they cannot leverage the same economies of scale. So if you want to buy this type of wine, it is going to cost a bit more.

Each of us makes our own purchasing decisions based on what we feel is important and what we can afford. My suggestion is that you just take a moment to check out the products before you buy by looking at the producer’s website so you can make an informed decision. Organic, biodynamic or otherwise, if a winery is taking steps to encourage biodiversity or to be careful with the environment, they will say so.

Alpacas at Emiliana, who help keep weeds down without compacting the soil

More information about insect and bee loss and what you can do about it

BBC article on insect decline and the growth in pests

The Guardian on insect decline

US Environmental Agency on bee decline and why it is happening

Ohio State University on bee decline and what we can do about it

More information about soil health

Article in Decanter

More information about organic and biodynamic wine production

Demeter USA FAQs

EU rules on organic production

Soil Association organic standards. Food and drink. Revision 17.7 November 2018.

 

Chile is now the world’s fourth biggest exporter of bottled wine and its wine industry is more dynamic and varied than ever before. Winemakers are now producing dry and sweet, still and sparkling, white, rosé, red and even the odd amber-coloured wine from more than 70 different varieties. However, red wines are still very much in the majority, accounting for 74% of Chile’s vineyard area, while just 26% of it is planted with whites. Here’s a quick overview of 10 of its top red varieties – some more indepth articles will be coming soon.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Chile has an incredible 43,000 hectares of this, the world’s most planted variety, ranking only second after France in terms of area planted. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in Chile’s Mediterranean climate, producing blackcurrant-fragranced, juicy wines with high tannins and acidity. Some are lighter-bodied and fruity, while others are big, mouth-drying wines; both styles pair well with red meat and other strongly flavoured food.

Merlot

Another arrival from Bordeaux, Merlot tends to be softer and more velvety than Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas and flavours of black plums and other black fruit. A comforting red wine and a good option for red meat, casseroles or richly flavoured oven-bakes.

Carmenère grapes
Carmenère grapes

Carmenère

This is the Bordeaux variety that was thought extinct until a wine grape expert discovered it among Merlot vines in Chile in the 1980s.  It thrives in warm temperatures and makes wines with softly spicy aromas, smooth body and rounded tannins, a good choice for accompanying spicy dishes.

Malbec

Like its neighbour, Argentina, Chile makes some very fine Malbec wines. When the grapes are from warmer areas, the wines are more opulent, with lower acidity and lots of black fruit aromas. Those from vineyards cooled by being close to the ocean or high in the mountains can make lighter, more elegant wines with refreshing acidity and floral and red and black fruit aromas.

Syrah (Shiraz)

Like Merlot, Syrah wines are influenced by the climate in the vineyard, so a wine from a coastal or high-altitude vineyard may have aromas of black pepper, red and black fruit and firm acidity, while one from a warmer area can be big, generous and jammy. Try pairing it with lamb or an aubergine bake.

País

Centuries ago, Spanish missionaries took this drought-resistant variety with them to new countries so they could make communion wine. It now goes by different names in places as varied as California, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. País is the third most planted variety in Chile and winemakers are now experimenting with new styles of wine, including refreshing sparkling wines and light, fruity reds.

Cinsault

A Mediterranean variety much used in red blends in southern France, some old-vine Cinsault is now being made into outstanding rosé and red wines here in Chile. Ruby-coloured, with lovely aromas of red fruit and wild herbs, they make delicious lighter wines with fresh acidity, ideal as an aperitif or for accompanying lighter meals, like salad, chicken or fish.

Flight of Carignan wine
Flight of Odfjell Orzada Carignan

Carignan

A warm-climate variety that is at its best made from the small, concentrated grapes of old, unirrigated vines in the Maule region. These are wines with aromas and flavours of wild herbs and red and black fruit, refreshing acidity, high tannins and good body, great with dishes containing red meat or tomato sauces. Watch out for wines labelled “Vigno”, an association of 16 producers who are making very special old-vine Carignan wines.

For more information about Vigno and old-vine Carignan from Maule, check out my post Trip to Maule with 80 Harvests or a whole series of articles published at Around the World in 80 Harvests.

Blind tasting of Chinon wines
Cabernet Franc tasting

Cabernet Franc

It can be easy to overlook the elegant father of the all-popular Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are some superb wines being made with it in Chile. Depending on the winemaking, it can be a soft, paler-coloured wine in a refreshing style or denser and bigger-bodied. Either way, look out for soft red fruit aromas (like raspberries), a hint of green peppers and a lovely smooth texture in the mouth that pairs well with a range of food.

Grenache (Garnacha)

A warm climate variety well-known in southern France and Spain, Grenache can make seductive red wines packed with red fruit aromas and flavours, like strawberries and raspberries. These wines can be high in alcohol and are usually best enjoyed young.

A version of this article was published first by The Best of Santiago.

Celebrating the New Year

Schwaderer País sparkling wineSo, here we are again, marking the transition from one year to the next. How do you feel about it? Positive about the future? Glad to see the end of a difficult year? Or sorry to say goodbye to a year full of special times? I had one of those moments of rare insight yesterday when I realised that in my rush to get where I’m going, I’ve stopped pausing along the way to take in the view around me. And so 2016, 2017 and 2018 all seem like treadmill years shaped by duties, challenges and uncertainties and 2019 looks like more of the same.

Of course what this reflects is my attitude to life and its ups and downs and, to be fair, the challenge of shoehorning WSET Diploma studies into an already busy life. So, even though I have the big final WSET diploma exam in June, my goal in 2019 is to try to keep a sense of perspective and enjoy the ride on this rollercoaster of life instead of clinging on for dear life with my eyes shut, waiting for the crash!

Studying for the WSET Diploma sparkling exam in June

Of course there have been plenty of highlights in 2018. I passed two more WSET exams (spirits and sparkling wine) and miraculously got my Chilean driving licence too. I had a blast with Amanda Barnes visiting vineyards in Maule and meeting some of the people who make those delicious, concentrated old-vine Carignan wines labelled as Vigno. Other Chilean highlights include tasting Pandolfi Price wines with Seattle Yang and her husband, sipping red Burgundy with Marcela Burgos at Les Dix Vins in Santiago, the annual sparkling wine tasting in December, the Veuve Clicquot NV brought by John Ewer and Kate Whitlock to our Christmas lunch and a visit to Matetic’s boutique hotel Casona.

Amanda among the wildflowers that flank this Vigno vineyard in Maule

I also enjoyed a few action-packed post-exam days in London when I went to Australian and Beaujolais wine events, tasted Californian Cabernet, Tawny Port and South African Chenin Blanc in get-togethers with fellow Diploma students Suzanne Fagerang from Sweden, Jorge Miguel Jimenez Garavito from Peru and Elizaveta Bacheyeva from Russia. Then there was a crazy curry evening with Amanda and her partner, where we quaffed Russian sparkling and aged Portuguese white.

Post exam drinks with Suzanne Fagerang
Post exam drinks with Suzanne Fagerang

I’m very proud to have had several posts published on Amanda’s site Around the World in 80 Harvests and also a couple by The Best of Santiago.

I tasted many fantastic wines during the year but I think my most memorable was a bottle kindly transported halfway around the world by Kathy Baxter and Cecilia Benevides from Kathy’s home country of New Zealand. Johanneshof Cellars Gewurztraminer 2016 from Marlborough has got to be the best Gewürztraminer I’ve ever tried. First there is a complete riot of hedonistic aromas – think honeysuckle, rose petals, orange blossom, citrus fruit notes like grapefruit and lime, ripe stone fruit like apricot, nectarine and peach, as well as fresh grapes and a hint of Turkish delight. Wow! Sometimes Gewürztraminer disappoints in the mouth, with high alcohol and low acidity, but this wine was beautifully balanced with enough acidity to feel taut and to counterbalance a touch of sweetness. Lots of body and a lovely complex flavour, good length and moderate alcohol.  All in all, a really special wine and, lucky me, thanks to Kathy and Cecy, I now have a bottle of the 2017 vintage sitting in my cellar!

So here’s looking at the rollercoaster ride that will be 2019, hoping that it will bring us all many thrills and high points. I shall be celebrating the arrival of this New Year with a glass of Matetic Cool Coastal Brut. How about you?