There are good reasons why Chardonnay is among the world’s favourite white wine varieties: it can produce generous amounts of grapes, grow well in different types of soil and climate, and be made into many styles of wine. So it’s hardly surprising that it’s the world’s second most-planted white vinifera grape variety and fifth most-planted overall. In fact, there are few wine-producing countries that do not have at least some Chardonnay planted and, in regions like California and Burgundy, it’s the main white variety. Here in Chile, it’s the second most-planted white variety (after Sauvignon Blanc) and 11,000 hectares or 30% of all the white wine grape varieties planted here in 2018 were Chardonnay.

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

What words best describe Chardonnay?

  • Lean, with taut acidity and subtle aromas of green apples and citrus fruit along with wet stones?
  • Full-bodied and creamy with flavours like peaches, apricots, toast and butterscotch?
  • Dull, everyday white wine with no particular smell?
  • Still or sparkling wine?

The answer is it can be all of these things. This is such a versatile variety that it’s difficult to generalize.  It varies greatly depending on where and how it’s grown and what the winemaker decides to do with it.

So how is Chardonnay wine affected by where it comes from?

When grown in a cooler climate, Chardonnay tends to have high acidity, lean body and green and citrus fruit aromas (apples, pears, lemons, limes), although this is not an especially aromatic grape.  Here in Chile and over the Andes in Argentina, you’ll find lots of examples of Chardonnay from cooler locations at altitude or near the coast which have these characteristics.

Chardonnay wines that come from a warmer climate conditions often have a more stone fruit profile, like peaches, apricots and quince, and maybe even melon. This riper, sunkissed fruit tends to be higher in sugar too, which means more body and higher alcohol. When the grapes are very ripe, the acidity will also be lower so they lack that taut, sharp acidity you can find in cooler-climate wines. However, some winemakers add tartaric acid to correct the acidity level. Chilean wines labelled Central Valley may well have this riper profile.

Limestone soil at Talinay in the Limarí Valley

Soil and location also have their impact on the wine. Chardonnay seems to especially shine in soils with some chalk or limestone content. For instance some of the world’s most renowned Chardonnays are from Burgundy in France, where the climate is only just warm enough to ripen grapes and the soils in many areas have a chalk or limestone content. Here in Chile, the team at Tabalí in the Limarí Valley were quick to recognise the potential of the limestone soils and cool coastal climate in the Talinay area of the valley and plant Chardonnay there. This area now produces some of Chile’s finest Chardonnays: fresh, lean wines with complex layers of aromas including wet stones and a saline hint.


Tabalí’s Talinay unique vineyard – cool-climate conditions surrounded by desert

However, this is not the whole story. While some winemakers take a hand’s-off approach so that their wines reflect the climate and soils of the place they come from, others use a whole range of techniques to give the wines a different style.

How can the wine be influenced by the winemaker?

Here are just a few of the techniques the winemaker can choose.

  • If you leave the skins in contact with the juice for a little while before pressing the grapes and putting the juice into the fermentation tank, it adds a different texture and some aromas and can add a little bitterness.
  • If you ferment and/or age the wine in oak containers, this will add body and texture to the wine.
  • If some or all of the oak is new (not previously used), you will add a layer of extra aromas and flavours to the wine, like vanilla, cinnamon and cedar.
  • Some winemakers like to work with the sediment in the wine, known as lees. By stirring this up regularly, suspending it in the must, the wine will become creamier and gain some yeasty or even lactic aromas.

    Concrete egg
  • Some winemakers are now fermenting some of their Chardonnay in concrete eggs because the shape keeps the wine moving and hence the lees remain suspended in the wine.
  • All winemakers have to decide whether or not to let the wine go through partial or full malolactic fermentation (MLF), where lactic acid bacteria convert the sharp malic acidity (which is like tart, unripe green apples) to a more lactic flavour profile, with notes of cream and butterscotch.

Chardonnay is an obliging variety that can take any and all of these techniques, which would overpower some other white varieties.  For a couple of decades big-bodied, oaked, butterscotchy, high alcohol Chardonnays were all the rage, sometimes with a hint of sweetness. And it was these wines, particularly some of the hugely popular entry-level ones that provoked the snobbish backlash known as ABC (Anything But Chardonnay).

Things have moved on and these days there is a Chardonnay to suit everyone’s taste.  And let’s not forget that Chardonnay is one of the classic varieties used to make Champagne and many other sparkling wines around the world, including here in Chile. Chardonnay truly is the queen of versatility

All in all, those 11,000 hectares of Chardonnay vines in Chile are certainly being put to good use. If you’re wondering where to start, here are just a few Chilean Chardonnays worth checking out:

Top wines for 2017
At the premium end:

Pandolfi Price in the Itata Valley is a small-scale producer making very two very fine Chardonnays: Trabun (unoaked) and Los Patricios (oaked). Click here to visit their website.

Tabalí in the Limarí Valley has a good range of Chardonnays but the pick has to be the creamy, fresh and vibrant Talinay. Check out their website here.

Villard Fine Wines‘ Le Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley shows lovely balance and is a very fresh, restrained style of wine that would pair well with many different types of cuisine. Click here to visit their website.

Kingston Family Vineyards, also in the Casablanca Valley, makes two super Chardonnays – CJ’s Barrel and Sabino. Check out their website here.

De Martino Legado Chardonnay
Lower budget but still intesting:

Veramonte Ritual Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley. This is their website.

De Martino Legado Chardonnary from the Limarí Valley. Check out their website.

What style of Chardonnay do you like best?

We’ve all heard about small businesses that have been hard-hit in one way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic. This week I was inspired by the positive attitude of the woman owner of one such company here in Chile: Andrea (Andi) Jure, who makes and sells sparkling wines through her business Mujer Andina based in Paine near to Santiago.

Prior to the pandemic, restaurants accounted for a significant share of Andi’s sales and, of course, those sales dried up when the restaurants were all closed in mid-March, meaning a major loss in income. The schools closed at that time too, so Andi’s three children, like so many others around the world, have been stuck at home 24/7 since then, needing extra attention.  And, of course, the pandemic hit Chile right at the busiest period in the winemaking calendar, so not only did Andi have to contend with lost sales and the increased needs of her family, but also grapes arriving and fermentation vats to keep an eye on, so it was a busy time in the cellar too. It all added up to a stressful situation.  Andi, however, refused to let it get her down.

“Once I’ve embarked on something, I don’t get off – unless the boat actually sinks, of course,” she laughs. “And you know, sometimes things don’t work out but you just have to keep going.”

So she launched a whole new social media strategy with home delivery to consumers across Chile with innovative ideas like hand-painting bottles to order. And it’s a strategy that has proved effective, making her products better-known. Plus a second order came in from a distributor in New York, so the future is looking a whole lot brighter for Andi and her wines.

Bottle of Ai! sparkling wineThere are currently two Mujer Andina wines on the market, both sparkling.

Ai! is a tank-method wine made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir grapes from Biobio and is intended to be a fun sparkling suitable for any occasion. Hence the playful label depicting a woman falling into a glass of sparkling wine and the name “Ai!”, which is a very Chilean word meaning “wow” or “mmm”, as in “¡Ai, qué rico!” (mmm, how delicious!).

Ai! is certainly a very quaffable and refreshing sparkling wine, hand’s down better than a lot of the industrialized sparkling wines in the same price bracket. The nose is lightly citrussy – think sherbet lemon – and it’s very fresh in the mouth, with the acidity and sugar well-balanced.  A good choice for parties or a hot day on the terrace.

Bottle of Levita sparkling wineLevita is in a whole other category. It’s a beautiful salmon-coloured sparkling made from organic Syrah grapes. The wine spends a few months over its lees before the second, in-bottle fermentation and another period on the lees to enhance the complexity and mouthfeel. The nose is expressive with notes of red apples and pears, canned strawberries and cherries intermingled with delicious leesy notes like Danish pastries. This is a crisp, dry, creamy-textured wine that will pair with a wide range of food. Check it out with smoked salmon, prawn brochettes, creamy cheese or even Thai dishes.

Andi continues to be upbeat and is full of plans for the future. There are three non-sparkling wines under development – a rosé, a Pinot Noir and a Carmenère and she also has plans to expand her sparkling range down the line.  Mujer Andina is definitely a brand worth keeping your eye on.

I asked Andi what advice she would give to another woman thinking about setting up her own business:

“Choose something that makes you happy. Believe in yourself. Be honest and honourable. And don’t wait for things to come to you; you have to work for them.”

Sage advice indeed.

Finally, I asked her to tell me about three wines she had enjoyed recently:

  • Grand Vin de Château Léoville Las Cases in Bordeaux
  • Marcela Chandia’s wines La Confundida Carmenère or El Consentido Cabernet Sauvignon, because they are elegant and fruity, with just the right level of oak.
  • Weichafe Sauvignon Blanc to pair with seafood.
Find out more about Mujer Andina
Other posts about sparkling wine

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

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

Read the full article at South America Wine Guide

Other posts about Carignan

Trip to Maule with 80 Harvests

Morandé Vigno


WOW I PASSED! Now what?

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

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

Just over a year later, I emigrated to Chile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes the Conservatorio de Vino so successful?

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

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

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

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

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

So what are her ambitions for the future?

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

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

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

More information about:

The Conservatorio de Vino

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses

Master of Wine programme

Maule and its Carignan wines

Wine and bugs


Native Chilean bee in my garden

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

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

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

The reasons for this decline are most likely:

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

Why does it matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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?

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

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?