So, 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!
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
All 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.
I 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.
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.
Every 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.
Premium sparkling wines
Overall winner: Loma Larga Cabernet Franc Brut Nature. 12.9% ABV
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Budget sparkling wines (under CLP$10,000 per bottle)
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.
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.
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
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
This is a handy guide to understanding terms like in-bottle fermentation and traditional method that you often see on sparkling wine labels.
Actually the biggest clue to what a sparkling wine is going to be like when you taste it can be found in these terms describing how the wine has been made. This is because the way in which the still wine is made into sparkling wine influences the style, aromas and flavours of the wine. So, when you are choosing a sparkling wine, it’s useful to know about the method used for the second fermentation.
Second fermentation methods
1) In many cases, the base wine is put into a special, strong stainless steel tank for the second fermentation, along with the sugar and yeast mix called liqueur de tirage. The fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the tank, making the wine bubbly. When the wine is ready, the Liqueur d’expedition (a sugary/wine mix) is added and it is bottled. This is called the tank method or sometimes the Charmat method and is one of the most common methods around the world for making sparkling wine.
2) The traditional method or in-bottle fermentation method (which used also to be called méthode champenoise) is to bottle the still wine following the first fermentation, add the liqueur de tirage, then put in a temporary cork. Traditionally, the bottles were placed neck first into the holes in a pupitre, a hinged rectangular block. They started in a horizontal position and, over a period of months, were gradually moved by hand until they were upside down, so that the sediment settled in the neck of the bottle. While there are still a small number of companies that still manually riddle their sparkling wines in this way, most use a mechanised system for moving the bottles called a gyropallette.
Once the wine is ready, the cap end of the bottle is submerged in a freezing brine solution to solidify the sediment in the neck. Then, in a quick motion, the temporary cork is removed and the frozen block of sediment is ejected from the bottle (along with some wine) because of the pressure of gas inside. This process is called disgorgement. This leaves some space in the bottle, which is filled with Liqueur d’expedition. Then the wine is corked and muzzled and prepared for sale.
3) The transfer method is a modification on this system, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle but then the contents are disgorged into a tank under pressure, filtered and the liqueur de tirage is added. Then the wine is bottled again. Many bottles with “in-bottle fermentation” on their label may also have been made using this system.
4) Some very cheap sparkling wines are simply carbonated (like fizzy drinks).
5) Finally there are some wines made using the Asti method. Where normally sparkling wine is made from a dry wine which already completed its first fermentation, in the case of an Asti-style of wine, the process takes place in just one fermentation, which is never completed, as the winemaker chills the wine when it reaches around 7%-7% ABV and has achieved the right level of gas. Then it is filtered, bottled and sold for immediate use. So these wines are sweet and relatively low alcohol.
So how to choose a style of sparkling wine to suit your taste?
If you are looking for a fresh sparkling wine with fruity aromas and a clean, refreshing mouth, in the style of the light, fruity Prosecco so popular at the moment, then a tank-fermented wine is a good option.
If you want something more complex, with a denser, creamier mouth and aromas and flavours reminiscent of sponge cake, toast, biscuits or bread, then an in-bottle fermentation wine is a good option. These notes come from the time the wine spends with its yeast sediment in the bottle. Some also argue that the bubbles are finer. Champagne is made in this way, as is Cava from Spain and many premium sparkling wines from many countries of the world. Chile is no exception, producing many very delicious and affordable sparkling wines using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method.
If you fancy trying something a little different, you could try something made with a different variety of grape – in Chile, there are now a number of sparkling wines made with the País grape – check out Miguel Torres’ Estelado or Schwaderer Blanc de Noirs for interesting traditional-method wines from País or Bouchon produces a light tank-fermented style.
Fizz is in fashion and there is ever more choice lining the shelves of supermarkets and wine shops, so how to choose a sparkling wine that suits your taste and budget? Champagne is often the first thing that comes to mind, these days closely followed by Prosecco, but let’s face it, Champagne and Prosecco are wines from just two of the many wine-producing region in this big, wide world of wine and you may find a fizz you like just as much (or more) at a much more affordable price.
But how to choose a sparkling wine to suit you? Over the next few posts, I’ll give the low-down on sparkling wine, demystify some of the jargon and give some pointers to help you find a wine to your taste. Also, in a spirit of selfless public service, some friends and I recently had a tasting panel to review 6 Chilean sparkling wines retailing in Chile at under £10 (US$15), so I’ll be posting the results of that too.
Let’s start with how it’s made
Sparkling wine is regular wine with bubbles. First you make a still wine, then you put it in a very strong, airtight container and add a syrup of sugar, wine and yeast (known as liqueur de tirage) to provoke a second fermentation. This increases the wine’s alcohol content a little more and, more importantly, generates gas, which is trapped by the airtight container and so is contained as bubbles in the wine. When the fermentation has finished, another sugar syrup is usually added, called Liqueur d’expedition or dosage prior to closing the bottle.
Of course, it’s more complex than that, because there are different ways of achieving the second fermentation and each one has an impact on the style, aroma and flavour of the wine. I’ll look at this in more detail in the next post. Also the level of sweetness varies a lot, depending on the amount of Liqueur d’expedition used.
So how can you tell how sweet the wine is?
The following terms are used by sparkling wine producers around the world to tell you how sweet the sparkling wine is.
Number of grams of sugar per litre in the finished wine
Brut Nature/Ultra Brut/Zero
A bone dry wine with very little or no added sugar.
Sparkling wine can be made from any wine grape, but the traditional champagne grapes are still the most popular today: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Prosecco is made with Glera, an aromatic variety with good acidity and a fairly neutral palate, sometimes blended with a little wine from another variety. Some winemakers around the world have experimented with other grapes and here in Chile, these include Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat varieties and País. As with still wines, the choice of grape will have an effect on the aromas and flavours. However, generally the winemaker is looking for a fairly acidic base wine with not too high an alcohol content, because the second fermentation will add more alcohol.
So what do you think? Do you like the full-on acidity of a Nature wine or are you really more of a sweet sparkling wine fan? Have you tried a sparkling wine made with alternative wine grapes and if so, did you like it?
The idea behind this handy English-Spanish sparkling wine glossary is to help you understand foreign sparkling wine labels or for use by anyone studying wine. Comments and suggestions are very welcome.
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.
Sparkling wine made in Catalonia in Spain, usually from the Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo grape varieties but others can be used. Cava is produced in the same way as Champagne, with in-bottle fermentation. It tends to be less complex than Champagne.
Vino espumante elaborado en la región de Cataluña, en España, generalmente a partir de las cepas Macabeu, Parellada y Xarel-lo pero también pueden usarse otras. El Cava se produce de la misma forma que el Champagne, con fermentación en botella. Tiende a ser menos complejo que el Champagne.
Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. It is always made using the traditional or in-bottle method and only three grapes are allowed: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne tends to be complex with aromas such as sponge cake or toast and a creamy mouthfeel.
Vino espumante elaborado en la región de Champagne en Francia. Siempre se elabora usando el método tradicional o en botella y solo se permite el uso de tres uvas: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir y Pinot Meunier. El Champagne tiende a ser complejo con aromas como bizcocho o tostada y con un toque cremoso en boca.
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.
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.
A mechanized version of a pupitre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A blend of wines from different years. This term must also be used even if the wine is a blend of vintage years.
Una mezcla de vinos de distintos años. Este término también debe usarse incluso si el vino es una mezcla de años vintage.
Wine (still or sparkling) from the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy. Most Prosecco is sparkling wine made using the tank (Charmat) method from Glera grapes, sometimes blended with other grape varieties. It tends to be light and fruity.
Vino (tranquilo o espumante) de las regiones de Veneto y Friuli Venezia Giulia en Italia. La mayoría del Prosecco es vino espumante elaborado por el método de tanque (Charmat) con uvas Glera, a veces mezclado con otras variedades. Tiende a ser ligero y frutal.
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.
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.
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.
For more information about sparkling wine, check out these posts in English or Spanish:
Our trip to Maule had as much to do with tradition, people and sustainability as it did with wine. So it’s fitting that our first stop on the way there was at Miguel Torres Chile, a winery that champions Fair Trade and sustainable winemaking, where technical director Fernando Almeda was able to give us his take on organic viticulture and the need to pay grape producers a fair rate for their grapes. It was the start of a three-day trip to Maule by Amanda Barnes’ Around the World in 80 Harvests project to find out about the Vigno project to rescue traditionally farmed old vineyards there. As the 80 Harvests’ editor and occasional contributor, I was delighted to be invited along too.
And so, as we fortified ourselves over a superb lunch and winetasting in Miguel Torres’ restaurant, Fernando gave us some first insights into Maule, one of Chile’s oldest and most traditional wine regions, and the Vigno project. Then we piled into his car and headed south into the dry landscapes of Maule for the first of many vineyard visits: Miguel Torres’ vineyard in Huerta de Maule (shown in the photo below).
Our journey was into the area known as Maule Secano (dry Maule), where there are still many small family-owned and run vineyards that continue to grow the varieties of vines that were planted there long ago, using traditional techniques. The vines are trained in a free-standing bush shape and have no irrigation other than the rain that comes in winter. These vines – mainly País (the variety brought by the Jesuit priests to countries across the Americas and known by a different name in each country), Carignan and Moscatel – are tough and able to withstand the heat and drought that other varieties cannot and so are well-suited to this arid land where water is scarce and summer temperatures can easily reach 37°C.
Over the three days we visited several different vineyards in the company of different winemakers and were struck by how peaceful they all were. There is little mechanisation here – much of the land is still worked by horses – and the landscape is a far cry from the neat rows of vines trained along wires that you find in many of Chile’s wine regions.
The bush-trained vines and gentle farming techniques mean that there is space here too for wild flowers and animals – check out the photo below of a nest of quail’s eggs we found hidden in the shade of one vine.
On our second day, we explored vineyards in the Truquilemu, Sauzal and Melozal areas with De Martino winemaker Eduardo Jordán and doctorate student Gastón Gutierrez, who has been involved in a Universidad de Talca project to map the different terroirs of old-vine Carignan in this area.
Eduardo explained that the traditional grape varieties planted in this area fell out of favour some decades ago, as the big wineries further north began to focus their efforts on producing internationally popular varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. This left the Maulino grape producers with a problem: what to do with grapes that the wineries would only buy at such low prices, the producers couldn’t make ends meet? “Rip them out”, you might suggest, “plant something else”, but actually the only crops that really cope there are these tough old vines and olives.
Some families have struggled on anyway, some have indeed ripped out their vines and taken government subsidies to plant eucalyptus and pine trees for the cellulose industry and others have simply had to abandon their land and go and find work in the city to support their families. By the start of the new Millennium, the prospects for Maule Secano really weren’t looking good.
A few wineries whose commercial acumen is accompanied by a social conscience began to look for innovative ways to use the much maligned grapes of this part of Chile to produce interesting wines, while also boosting the local economy and enabling growers to earn enough to live on. There are a number of interesting projects – Miguel Torres seems to be involved in all of them – but perhaps the most interesting of all has been the Vigno project.
Vigno came about after a couple of winemakers realised that the old Carignan vines could actually made some pretty decent wine and began to appreciate that the old, traditional ways of farming vines might have something to recommend them after all. They experimented with these concentrated grapes and the results were so interesting, more wineries joined in. But it took Andrés Sánchez of Gillmore to propose something radically new – an association of wineries under the joint banner of Vigno. To get the full picture about this fascinating project, check out these articles: What is VIGNO? and VIGNO: Coming of Age.
We spent the third day in Cauquenes, in the southernmost part of the region with Odfjell winemaker Arnaud Hereu and viticulturist Sebastián Bustamante. Odfjell has a large vineyard in this area, which it is cultivating using biodynamic techniques. In addition to their plots of Carignan vines, they grafted international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Merlot onto old País vines some 11 years ago and, now they are established, are gradually converting them back to dry-farming.
Throughout our stay, we experienced the warm hospitality of Daniella Gillmore and Andrés Sánchez at the Gillmore Winery, staying in their comfortable hotel and eating with the family. And on the last night, Don Francisco Gillmore, the founder of Gillmore, selected some very special wines from his cellar to share with us.
A very peaceful oasis of green, this site has a natural spring with waters that are thought to have curative powers. The spring feeds into a pond which is visited by a range of different animals and birds, including the ducks in the photo below, black-necked swans, and a Chilean ostrich known as ñandu.
Every evening during our trip to Maule, we tasted different Vigno wines, with vertical tastings introduced by the winemaker with whom we had spent that day. What was really notable during our visit is that each of the people we met was passionate about Maule, old-vine Carignan and Vigno and this transcended any rivalry that could have existed between competing wineries.
Together we opened and tasted wines from almost all the 16 Vigno producers (to read the tasting notes, check out this post). The winemakers discussed all the wines objectively without any bias in favour of their own wines. One of the things they all said they appreciated about Vigno is the chance to share knowledge and ideas and get feedback from their peers.
Given that Vigno is largely or wholly old-vine Carignan, the range of different wine styles is actually quite extraordinary and, if you can track them down, I do recommend giving them a try.
Beside a real appreciation of the Vigno wines, I came away from our trip to Maule with a sense of the warm hospitality of the people and of the gentle way of life, which is far more in harmony with nature and the world around it than that in many other places in the world. The old farming methods passed down from one generation to the next and for long viewed with scorn by modern viticulturists and winemakers have indeed passed the test of time.
The biggest and best of Chile’s annual wine fairs – Feria de Vinos de Lujo or Luxury Wine Fair- attracted droves of winelovers and glitterati once again in 2017, despite its unfortunate timing just two weeks before Christmas and the sharp rise in the entry price. The draw is the wine, of course, with 80 Chilean wineries offering samples of some of their best wines and the tremendous spread of food put on by the Hotel Santiago. When else can you taste such a range of Chilean wines, some with a retail value well over a hundred – even two hundred – dollars a bottle?
Three of the small companies importing wines from the rest of the world had stands too. In the picture above, Diego Edwards of Edwards Fine Wines is offering Chablis, an Italian orange wine and a newly arrived Grüner Veltliner to those looking to try something different. Meanwhile Les Dix Vins had an unusual white field blend from Alsace and a Cru Bourgeois wine from the Haut-Médoc and Marco de Martino was there with his brand Vigneron Fine Wines (email:firstname.lastname@example.org) offering some enticing French wines and Sherries. For those of us studying wine here in Chile, these are the guys who save the day, as getting hold of non-Chilean wine here is a challenge.
Anyway, on to the Chilean wines being showcased. Let’s set aside the well-known brands of the industrial giants Concha y Toro (one of the world’s largest wine companies, quoted on the New York Stock Exchange) and CCU’s Viña San Pedro Tarapacá, and look at some of the smaller producers.
Spumante de Limarí
This sparkling wine producer got the evening off to a good start with three very seductive traditional-method sparkling wines: Azur, Gemma Brut and Gemma Rosé.
Secano 2015 was one of my highlights from this year’s event. Polkura is a highly respected producer, particularly known for its Syrah wines. Secano is a very tiny production of dry-farmed Syrah vines from Colchagua. A powerful wine, with an enticingly fruity nose and high acidity, tannins and a peppery note, I very much hope to get my hands on a bottle sometime (I gather they are hard to come by!).
I tried a trio of outstanding wines crafted by Stefano Gandolini at this boutique winery in the Leyda Valley: Ventolera Pinot Noir, a delicate wine with floral and red fruit notes and two Chardonnays.
The Private CuvéeChardonnay was kept for two years over its lees in stainless steel and then bottle-aged for a further three years. This was a highly seductive and intense Chardonnay with complex notes of tropical fruit and those creamy notes from the lees.
The Rare Cuvée Chardonnay, which had spent 24 months in new oak, was a more full-on experience with a complex nose of quince and Crème brûlée.
This is an intriguing family-run winery high in the mountains of the Elquí Valley in northern Chile who are using traditional methods of winemaking, including foot-treading the grapes in granite lagares (open vats).
Rhu 2013 is a food-friendly, fragrant red based mainly on Syrah with small contributions of Grenache and Petite Sirah.
Grus 2016 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Malbec with fruit and mineral notes.
Moho 2016 is a nicely balanced Grenache with lovely fresh red fruit.
A Norwegian-owned winery with vineyards in the traditional winemaking areas of Maule, Curicó and Maipo.
Orzada Carmenère 2016 is an unoaked wine made from organic grapes. It has aromas of fresh plummy fruit and tobacco and velvety tannins. Would pair well with red meat.
Winemaker’s Travesty 2016 is a powerful red blend of Carignan, Malbec and Syrah with notes of pepper, violets and dark chocolate. This is a big wine with well-integrated tannins, a cigarbox texture and a long finish.
Aliara 2012 is another wine that packs a punch. A red blend of 40% Malbec, 32% Carignan, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Syrah. Add 18-24 months in new French oak, and you are looking at aromas of toast and spice intermingled with black fruit like blackcurrants and plums (nudging towards dried fruit like prunes) and everything at the high end of the scale: high levels of tannins, acidity, body and a long, long finish. Honestly, even though it’s 5 years old, I’d be inclined to give this one a few more years to evolve.
This is a tiny garage-style operation in Algarrobo making natural red wines from manually destemmed grapes which are fermented in plastic bins with ambient yeasts, then aged in barrels. I tried Pinot Noir 2016, a very fresh and appetising wine that would combine well with a range of food. Very moreish.
I ended the night with a refreshing wine from family winery De Martino: Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2016. With its fresh acidity and notes of chocolate and fresh red fruit, it rounded the evening’s tasting off nicely.
With the excuse of studying for the WSET Diploma, I’ve tasted a greater variety of wines – both Chilean and foreign – this year than ever before. The upside is my knowledge and appreciation of wine have expanded exponentially; the downside is that there has been a tectonic shift in my taste. I’m no longer satisfied with two-dimensional wines that are all fur coat and no knickers, as we say in Yorkshire. I want a wine that is as interesting in the mouth as it is on the nose; one that isn’t a formulaic production by a winemaker compensating for mediocre grapes but really offers something different; a wine that stands out from the rest. Why is that a downside? Well, it means my taste just got more expensive!
Looking back at the wines that really stood out for me this year, I can spot a few trends. Stick-insect thin, searingly acidic wines are out – you won’t spot any Sauvignon Blanc in my top list, for instance. Instead, I’ve been enjoying whites with more personality – oak-fermented Chardonnay and well-crafted Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc wines, for instance. And, bucking fashion, I’ve discovered a taste for well-made sweet wines.
When it comes to the reds, soft tannined Malbecs and interesting red blends are among those that have stolen my heart this year. Here are a just a few highlights.
Top wines from 2017: Sparkling
François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV
This medium gold-coloured wine has a fairly aromatic nose, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There is also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.
This sparkling wine is made from the País (aka Mission, Listán Negro, Criollo) grape and is definitely among the better wines to be produced from this grape variety.
This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol. A superb choice for a special meal or celebration – if you can manage to get hold of a bottle!
Top wines from 2017: whites
Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV
Pandolfi Price makes two superb Chardonnay wines – Larkun is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while this, my favourite, was fermented and aged in oak.
This is a lemon-coloured wine with a deliciously intense nose with layers of aromas: first the fruit – grapefruit, peaches and apples; next some subtle buttery notes from the 24 months this wine spent ageing on its lees; and finally some steely and pebbly mineral notes. In the mouth it is dry, with fresh acidity, very high alcohol – watch out for this one, it’s so easy to keep sipping it without realising it’s a whopping 15%! Full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, and all those fruity and mineral notes are present again in this deliciously satisfying white. No wonder it’s garnered so many international awards and high scores from critics.
Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV
With the current fashion for thin-bodied whites with searing acidity and upfront citrus aromas, opulent, full-bodied Gewürztraminer with its candy store of aromas is decidedly untrendy right now. But hey, who cares about fashion?
This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in its pot pourri of delicious smells: Turkish delight, rose petals, grapes, ginger and ripe peaches, to name just a few – this is about as heady as a wine can get.
This medium-bodied wine is off-dry (a bit sweet), but it has enough acidity to stop it from being cloying. The mouth delivers on the promise on the nose, with a delightful fruitiness and a hint of spice. Medium (+) finish.
I make no apologies for including a fully sweet wine in my list, even though it shows me up as completely untrendy. Who cares about fashion anyway? This wonderful wine, kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin, is made from 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng.
This is a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose is pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.
The sweetness of this full-bodied wine is beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it shows a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.
A huge thank you to Amanda Barnes, who took time out from her schedule to give me a whistle-stop introduction to Mendoza and particularly Argentine Malbec back in April. I tried so many great Malbec wines, it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, so I’m going to confine myself to just a couple.
Matervini Viñas Viejas 2014, Precordillera
Very limited edition – 200 bottles produced. This wine was made from grapes in Matervini’s new Precordillera plot.
A beautiful wine with a mineral nose teems with the biscuity, toasty notes from the barrel-ageing. In the mouth, it is medium-bodied, with fresh acidity, tooth-coating tannins and a long finish.
Kondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV
Deep ruby-coloured wine with a deliciously fruity nose, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There is also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine is dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish is medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.
Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This wine has all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.
This is a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins.
Lorca Poético Cabernet Franc 2013, Mendoza, 14.5% ABV
A deep ruby-coloured wine with lashings of delicious aromas: red fruit like redcurrants and raspberries, blueberries, oak aromas like vanilla and coconut, and a hint of liquorice. This is an exciting wine with fresh acidity, pronounced, ripe tannins and lots of body. In the mouth, there is a moderate cigarbox texture adding complexity to the red fruit and spice flavours.
The Chilean reds
I’ve tasted a whole gammut of Chilean wines this year: the good, the bad and the ugly. A particular low point was a my sustained tasting over the winter of entry level classic Chilean reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others) from several well-known Chilean wineries. Some were pretty awful; none were really worthy of tasting notes. In fact, my favourite wines tended to be less common varieties or from smaller wineries.
Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV
Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and, over the years has garnered my respect by consistently producing very attractive, enjoyable wines with plenty of character.
This wine is a deep purple colour with a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There is a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas are slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and tobacco. This is a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine has lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieves good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.
Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV
Loma Larga has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc. It also produces an oaked version in the Loma Larga range, which is a bigger wine, less restrained but no less delicious.
The nose is rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.
This is a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity makes the palate refreshing and the mouth reveals black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This is a very enjoyable wine.
A delicious red blend of 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines. An eco-friendly ruby-coloured wine with a pleasantly fruity nose with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blueberries. It is dry with ripe, medium (+) tannins, fresh acidity, relatively light body and high alcohol. This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.
Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule / Itata Valleys, 13.5%
This is a smart idea by the team at Ventisquero to make the best of two of Chile’s on-trend “heritage varieties”, both of which can on their own be a little lacklustre. País tends to be rather uninspiring aromatically, whereas Muscat grapes are known for their wonderful aromas but can be rather low in acidity. By putting the two together, Ventisquero has come up with a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries. This is a great wine for sipping, slightly chilled, on a hot day or as a pre-dinner appetiser.
A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico Cinsault 2016, Itata Valley, 13.5% ABV
This was the firm favourite at a Cinsault wine tasting a few months back. A fresh, aromatic Cinsault, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.
Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016, Maule Valley, 14% ABV
A moreish ruby-red blend combining the fresh acidity of Italian classic Barbera with the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours of Spanish icon Garnacha (aka Grenache). This is a food-friendly wine with delicious aromas of red fruit, like strawberry jam, raspberries and red plums, together with rhubarb, intermingled with a subtle herbal note of liquorice or dill and a hint of mushroom and earthiness.
And then, of course, there’s the reds from France…
Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV
A beautiful right-bank Bordeaux made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and blackcurrants. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.
A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.
It’s that time of year again when we all get into a flurry of Christmas shopping, seasonal cooking and planning for the perfect Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sparkling wine for the festive season features high on the shopping list and there’s an ever bigger range to choose from. So here’s a handy guide to help you select a wine that’s right for you. For a full 101 on sparkling wines, how they are made and how to get your head around the terms on the labels, check out my guide: How to choose sparkling wine (1) and How to choose sparkling wine (2).
In time-honoured tradition, a group of us got together to taste just some of the wines on sale and I’d like to say a big thank you to our team of tasters, including Lauren Hand, Ricardo Parada, Yi Wang, Natascha Scott-Stokes and Irina Axenova, for valiently tasting their way through 9 different sparkling wines: 4 Chilean premium wines and 5 wines from Europe.
European sparkling wines for the festive season
Prosecco, currently one of the world’s favourite wines, made in the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy, from Glera grapes in a fresh, uncomplicated style with the second fermentation usually taking place in a tank. We tasted Riccadonna Prosecco Extra Dry. A subtle nose with some notes of apples and a biscuity note, this is a light, easy-to-drink wine suitable for pre-dinner drinks or accompanying light-flavoured bites.
Hailing from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Lambrusco is made from one of several grape varieties that go by the name Lambrusco. It’s usually made into a red sparkling wine but we tried a white one: Chiarli, an off-dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) uncomplicated wine with aromas of sweet red apples. This was among the favourites at our tasting.
Another very classic wine from Italy, Asti is one of a kind, always sweet and low alcohol. This is because the juice is fermented just once, the tank being sealed to keep in the carbon dioxide, and the fermentation is interrupted when the wine reaches around 7% ABV, so it still has plenty of sugar that hasn’t been fermented. Some cheaper styles are still wines, into which carbon dioxide is pumped to make them fizzy. We tasted Riccadonna Asti, a sweet wine that has enough acidity to stop it becoming cloying. Asti is made with Muscat grapes, which make it very aromatic (think grapes, ginger and raisins). This wine would go nicely with dessert.
Another very classic type of sparkling wine, this time from Spain. Cava is always made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method and is usually made from native Spanish grapes, such as Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, though others are permitted. We tried one of the world’s best-selling Cavas, Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Selección Cava. This is the very same wine I bought to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was living in Córdoba in Spain a few moons ago – and it’s still a great party wine. This is a dry sparkling wine with a lightly citrus aroma, zesty acidity and a creamy mouth. A moreish crowd-pleaser.
If you haven’t yet tried a Portuguese sparkling wine, I heartily recommend them. I sampled a few during my visit to Porto, all very elegant, made from native Portuguese grapes using the traditional method (check out the details of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008 and Terras do Demo in this post). We tried Luis Pato Maria Gomes Bruto from the Beiras region, made with 90% Maria Gomes and 10% Sercialinho grapes. This was one of the most aromatic wines in our tasting, with floral notes and just a hint of brioche from the autolysis. A lovely fresh, fruity, dry sparkling wine with plenty of body and lots of personality.
Chilean Premium sparkling wines for the festive season
For this tasting I selected four wines retailing in Chile at between CLP10,000 and $20,000 (US$15-30). All were made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method but the grapes and regions vary.
Calyptra Hera Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2012, Alto Cachapoal
This wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The most complex wine of the selection, with a sweet nose of classic Chardonnay aromas like banana and pineapple, together with brioche notes from the ageing process intermingled with some creamy lees aromas. Dry with high acidity and lots of body, this is a wine with personality and you’ll either love it or hate it. It was my personal favourite of this tasting.
This Brut is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a light and elegant style with subtle notes of fruit and croissant from the autolysis, high acidity. A very refreshing wine that was among the tasting team’s favourites.
Leyda Extra Brut, Leyda
The winery doesn’t specify the grapes on the label or their website. This is a very neutral and correct style of sparkling wine sure to appeal to those looking for a refreshing appetiser. It is dry with delightful acidity and some subtle autolysis notes (biscuits, croissant) in the mouth.