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.

Here are some of the EU rules for organic production:

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.

“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

Really cool article about bees and their contribution to pollinating food.

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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)


Diego looks at EsteladoThis 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.

Bottles in a pupitre at Domaine Raab Ramsay
Bottles in a pupitre at Domaine Raab Ramsay



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.

Sediment in the neck of the bottle. (Photo courtesy: Nadezda Kuznetsova)

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.

sparkling wine from the Loire

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.

To discover how to tell how sweet a sparkling wine is, check out my post How to choose sparkling wine (1).

English-Spanish Sparkling wine glossary


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.

Schwaderer País sparkling wineLet’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.

Name Description 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. 0-2
Extra Brut Very dry wine 0-6
Brut Dry wine 0-15
Extra-Sec / Extra dry Off dry to medium wine 12-20
Sec / Dry / Secco / Seco / Trocken Medium wine 17-35
Demi-Sec / Riche / Halbtrocken / Semi-Dulce / Abbocato Sweet wine 33-50
Doux / Sweet / Dolce / Dulce Very sweet wine 50+
Chardonnay grapes

What varieties of grapes are used?

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?

How to choose sparkling wine (2)

English-Spanish Sparkling wine glossary

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.

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.


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:

How to choose sparkling wine (1)  or ¿Cómo elegir un vino espumante? (1), which demystifies terms like “Brut”, “Nature and “Dulce”.

How to choose sparkling wine (2) or ¿Cómo elegir un vino espumante? (2), which talks about the different styles of sparkling wine.

Trip to Maule with 80 HarvestsOur  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).

Fernando Almeda in one of Miguel Torres’ Maule vineyards

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.

Amanda among the aromatic wildflowers that flank this Vigno vineyard and which are thought to add herbal aromas to the wine

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.

Bush-trained vines offer the shelter for a quail to lay its eggs

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.

Winemaker Arnaud Hereu in Odfjell’s biodynamic vineyards in Maule

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.


Francisco Gillmore in his wine cellar

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.

In Maule with 80 Harvests

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.

In Maule with 80 Harvests
Eduardo Jordán, De Martino winemaker, presenting their Vigno wines

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.

More information about Gillmore Wines, or their Tabonko hotel.

For more information about Vigno, Carignan and the Maule wine region, check out these 80 Harvest articles:

Other posts about Carignan:


Chile's Luxury Wine Fair

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?

Chile's Luxury Wine FairThree 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: 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.

Check out Spumante de Limarí’s website here.


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!).

Check out Polkura’s website here.


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 Cuvée Chardonnay 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.

For more information about Ventolera see the website of GVV here.

Luxury Wine FairViñedos de Alcohuaz

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.

Check out Viñedos de Alcohuaz’s website here.


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.

Check out Odfjell’s website here.

Luxury Wine Fair
Roberto Carrancá and Javiera Fuentes of Tinta Tinto

Tinta Tinto

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.

More information about Tinta Tinto here.

De Martino

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.

Find out more about De Martino here.

Events of this sort are a fantastic way to try a lot of new wines but the downside is that, however hard you try, you really can’t do them all justice. Still, there’s always next time!

Do you go to wine fairs? If so, do you have a favourite and why?