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.

Chilean Sauvignon BlancChile 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?

Picture this: It’s 11 a.m. and the sun is already high in the cloudless sky, but you’re nice and cool, sitting in the shade of a mature Acacia tree, and there’s a hint of a breeze gently ruffling your hair. It’s quiet; just the sound of running water from the Californian poppy-fringed fountain and some birds singing nearby. You are surrounded by cottage gardens with roses interspersed by marigolds, just going-over irises and drifts of purple and pink statice. This could almost be England on a warm day in late May. However, the line of young olive trees, the huge centennial cactus and the Chilean native trees give it away: this peaceful oasis is, in fact, in Chile, a mere hour and a half away from Santiago.

Casona MateticThis is the setting of Casona, the 10-room boutique hotel belonging to biodynamic wine producer Viña Matetic. When I visited, I found everything just so: from the deliciously soft superking bed with its smooth cotton sheets to the ultra-clean swimming pool and, of course, those lovely gardens.

Breakfast and dinner is served in a hotel guests-only dining area with attentive waiters. The menu was interesting and varied, including vegetarian and healthy options. We were entertained by a handsome bird called a rufous-tailed plantcutter (known locally as “rara”), which kept head-butting the windows, seemingly without coming to any harm.

RaraAll in all, we found it really quite hard to tear ourselves away for the winery tour, but it was well worth the effort. When you visit the winery, situated at the top of a hill a full nine kilometres away from the hotel, you truly appreciate the scale of this operation, which spreads out as far as the eye can see. Viña Matetic is, in fact, part of a very large, family-owned estate which has herds of cattle and blueberry and eucalyptus plantations as well as its 160 hectares of biodynamically-farmed vineyards.

In fact, the vineyards are sufficiently spread out to fall into two appellations: San Antonio and Casablanca. Here they grow Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and a little Gewürztraminer and Riesling. They also bring Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère grapes from a warmer region to round out their range.

The winery building design is very interesting, using gravitational design to reduce the need for electric pumps and local stone and maximum airflows to keep the barrel room cool and humid. As in the hotel, everything is well thought-through and very orderly.

Of course no winery visit is complete without a tasting. The winery lived up to its reputation for well-made, clean, fresh, mostly single variety wines and we enjoyed a crisp and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, a well-balanced and seductive Chardonnay, a red fruit and herbal Pinot Noir and a rich and complex cool-climate Syrah, all from their EQ range.

drinking sparkling wineI also checked out Matetic’s Coastal Brut, a traditional-method sparkling wine made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which has almost two years of lees-ageing prior to disgorgement (rather longer than many sparkling wines). Deliciously complex and refreshing, this sparkler was definitely my favourite from their range.

swimming pool

So, imagine this: you’ve swum a couple of laps in the swimming pool, done the winery tour and tasting. You’ve enjoyed dinner with a glass or two of wine and feel pleasantly tired and replete. You stroll by the light of the moon through the quiet gardens back to your room, close the door and the shutters on the windows. All is peaceful; there’s not a sound to disturb your sleep in that big, soft bed. What a pleasant way to round off your stay in this oasis of calm.

This article was first published by The Best of Santiago.

More information about Matetic Casona.

Other posts featuring Matetic:

On the road with 80 Harvests

Vinoteca Walkaround Tasting

Sparkling wine for the festive seasonEvery year, we get a group of people together to nobly taste their way through a selection of Chilean sparkling wines to choose the ones they like the most. This year 10 people of 4 different nationalities rose to the challenge and checked out 6 premium, in-bottle fermented sparkling wines (3 white, 3 rosé) and 6 budget sparkling wines.  Here are the results.

Cheers to the intrepid tasting panel!

Premium sparkling wines

Overall winner: Loma Larga Cabernet Franc Brut Nature. 12.9% ABV

The winner: Loma Larga Cabernet Franc Brut Nature

Made with 100% Cabernet Franc grapes from the Casablanca Valley, which were directly pressed to get a pale pink colour.  Being Brut Nature, this has no extra sugar added and it is an intriguing wine with a mixture of savoury and fruity notes, as well as clear notes from the 12 months it spent on its lees following the in-bottle fermentation. A delightful, fresh and food-friendly wine, it’s worth making the effort to get a bottle of this limited production wine, which can be bought directly from the winery. Reference price CLP$18,000.

Loma Larga website

Second: Montes Sparkling Angel Brut. 12.5% ABV

This is a white, traditional method sparkling wine made with 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from Zapallar, very near the coast. This coastal influence will help ensure that the fruit is fresh, with zesty acidity. The wine spent 3 years on the lees before disgorgement, making for some rich, complex, biscuity, toasty notes. Very delicious. Bought from La Cav for $14,290.

Montes website

Third: Azur Brut. 12% ABV

Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from a cool-climate area in the Limarí Valley, this wine spent 36 months on the lees. This is a real crowd-pleaser, with a nicely balanced and complex nose and deliciously fresh mouth. Available from supermarkets in Chile for $21,990.

Spumante Limari website

Fourth: Inicio Rosé Extra Brut.  12.5% ABV.

This is a rosé sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley. The clusters were direct-pressed, hence the pale rosé colour. The base wine was oak-aged over its lees for 6-9 months, with lees stirring. This has resulted in much more body and creaminess in the mouth and added some brioche notes. The wine then had its second fermentation in the bottle and spent 24 months on its lees before disgorgement, adding biscuit and toast notes. This was a very interesting wine that got mixed results in the tasting. I found it very exciting and would be interested to see if the wine evolves further in the bottle. Lovely fresh acidity, lots of body and layers of complex flavours, including those toast and spongecake aromas intermingled with red fruit. Bought from La Cav for CLP$16,000.

OC Wines website

Fifth: Matetic Coastal Brut. 12.5% ABV

Made from biodynamically-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from the San Antonio Valley, this wine spent almost 2 years on the lees, lending it some creamy, brioche notes. This is a beautifully refreshing wine with a long finish. Available from the winery or from Vinoteca. Reference price CLP$24,000.

Matetic website

Sixth: Levita Syrah Rosé Brut. 11.5% ABV

This is a sparkling wine made by two women from 100% organic Syrah grapes from the Maipo Valley. The crushed grapes had a 2-3 hour maceration to give the juice its rosé colour. The base wine spent 7 months over its lees before the second fermentation, which have added to the texture in the mouth. The wine spent 12 months on its lees before disgorgement. This wine has layers of biscuit and black fruit aromas, lots of texture in the mouth and a long finish. Definitely worth trying. This wine is available at La Cav. Reference price CLP$17,990.

Mujer Andina website

Budget sparkling wines (under CLP$10,000 per bottle)

Lineup of budget sparkling wines

Overall winner: Miguel Torres Estelado Extra Brut. 12% ABV

We were all agreed that this wine was head and shoulders ahead of the other budget wines in this tasting. Made with organic País grapes from the Maule Valley, it is also the only one in this price bracket to have had in-bottle fermentation and spent 18 months on its lees.  Some complexity, with subtle citrus and stone fruit flavours alongside some biscuity notes revealing the lees-ageing. Nice and fresh with a creamy mousse. Widely available. Reference price: CLP$10,000.

Miguel Torres website

Second: Amaral Brut. 12.5% ABV

This wine from Viña Montgras is made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the Leyda Valley. It was made using the tank method. A fresh and fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with salads or buffet food. Widely available. Reference price CLP$8,000.

Viña Montgras website

Third: Carmen Brut Special Cuvée. 12.1% ABV

I couldn’t find any information about this wine, beyond that it is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.  Easy-drinking but the sugar-acidity balance wasn’t quite there. Sweet, ripe fruit flavours. Available from supermarkets. Reference price: CLP$8,000.

Fourth: Echeverría Nina Brut. 12.5% ABV

100% Chardonnay grapes from the Curicó Valley, made using the tank method. With apple flavours and a creamy mousse; this is an easy-drinking option that will work well alone or with a range of foods. Available from supermarkets. Reference price: CLP$7,000

Echeverría website

Fifth: Bouchon Extra Brut. 11.5% ABV

50% País  and 50% Cinsault from the Maule & Itata Valleys. Made using the tank method.  Simple and easy to drink. Available from supermarkets. Reference price: $8,500

Bouchon website

Sixth: Casillera del Diablo, The Devil´s Brut. 12% ABV

This sparkling wine from one of the world’ biggest wine companies, Viña Concha y Toro is made with grapes (unspecified varieties) from the Limarí Valley. This is a very simple wine, which got extremely low scores in our tasting. It has artificial, sweetshop type aromas and flavours (think lemon sherbert) but is fairly fresh and easy-drinking. Honestly, whatever style of sparkling wine you like, you can find something with more personality than this wine in this price bracket. Widely available from supermarkets. Reference price: CLP5,600

Concha y Toro website

I’d love to hear what sparkling wine you choose to celebrate with these holidays! Feel free to drop me a line.

Other posts about sparkling wine:

English-Spanish Sparkling wine glossary

How to choose sparkling wine (1)

How to choose sparkling wine (2)