4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and what better way to celebrate than with a glass of País wine, the country’s most traditional variety? This is the easy-to-grow, drought-resistant grape variety that centuries ago the Spanish missionaries took with them to new countries to ensure they had wine to celebrate Mass. In the Canary Islands, it’s known as Listán Prieto o Listán Negro. In California, it’s called Mission, in Argentina, it goes by the name of Criolla Chica and, here in Chile, it’s called País.

Cluster of País grapes

For a long time, País was the principal grape variety in red wines here in Chile but, as more fashionable varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot took off,  it was left in obscurity.

For many decades, growers could choose either to sell their grapes at a very low price to wine companies for use in cheap red blends or else switch to other, better-selling vine varieties.

In recent years, winemakers have been rediscovering Chile’s heritage varieties; the vines that were languishing in the shadow of the superstar grape varieties. We’ve seen great interest in old vine Carignan and Cinsault wines and País wine has also had a makeover.

Producers have experimented with a range of styles of wine, as you’ll see from the tasting notes below.

 

Red País wine tasting notes

Bouchon País Salvaje 2016, Maule, 12%

Made from País vines that have gone wild on the Bouchon estate, vinified using carbonic maceration to bring out the maximum fruity flavours and aromas.

This wine is a pale purple colour. It has a pronounced nose with aromas of red fruit, like strawberries, raspberries and cherries, a hint of spice and the tell-tale notes of banana and bubblegum that you get with carbonic maceration.

This is a dry, easy-drinking and fruity wine with good balance and everything in the medium spectrum: tannins, acidity, body, alcohol and finish. A well-accomplished version of País worth trying.

More information about País Salvaje.

Huaso de Sauzal País wineHuaso de Sauzal País 2014, Maule, 13.5%

Made from old vines, traditional style of winemaking with minimal intervention.

This is a pale ruby-coloured wine, a little bit cloudy, reflecting the fact that it is unfiltered. The nose is medium in intensity with notes of chocolate, and red fruit like cranberries, redcurrants and raspberries and a floral hint.

In the mouth, it is a dry wine with medium (+) acidity, fairly low tannins that are ripe and integrated, medium body. Flavours of cocoa and red fruit. This is a light and easy-drinking wine.

Post on Huaso de Sauzal Garnacha.

A los Viñateros Bravos País wine

 

A Los Viñateros Bravos País Volcánico 2016, Itata Valley, 12.5%

This is a pale ruby-coloured wine with a medium nose featuring notes of cocoa, sour cherries, rhubarb and hints of baking spices.

This is a dry wine with medium body and medium (+) acidity. The tannins are on the low side and a little astringent. The mouth features flavours of sour cherries and cocoa powder.

Tasting notes for A Los Viñateros Bravos Cinsault.Ventisquero País wine

 

 

Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule, 13.5%

Interesting blend: 85% País grapes from Maule, 15% Muscat grapes from Itata Valley. In both cases, these are old vines which have never been irrigated. Muscat grapes are very aromatic, so they contribute extra aromas to the wine.

This wine is pale ruby in colour, almost a rosé. The nose is more pronounced than some of the 100% País wines, with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries.

In the mouth, it is dry with medium (+) tannins and acidity, fairly light body and medium length. The fruit and floral notes come through in the mouth, making this a very pleasant drink.

More information about Ventisquero País Moscatel.

 

Schwaderer País sparkling wine

Sparkling País wine tasting notes

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado, Brut, Maule Valley

This was among the first of the new wave of País wines to be launched on the Chilean market and it always scores well in sparkling wine tastings. It’s made from 100% País, using the traditional method of in-bottle fermentation. Miguel Torres is a fair trade producer.

This is a rosé sparkling wine with a pleasing peach colour. It’s a fresh, fruity sparkling wine with fruity aromas, followed by refreshing acidity in the mouth.

More information about Miguel Torres Estelado.

Schwaderer sparkling País wineSchwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir

This is also made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method from País grapes. 

This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol (just 12% ABV). The aromas and flavours are more subtle and complex than Estelado’s, with the classic croissant and biscuity notes from the time spent ageing on its lees (sediment). Well worth trying.

More information about Schwaderer wines.

Food pairing

All of these wines work well as aperitifs.

Sparkling wines are best served well chilled and are amongst the most versatile wines to pair with food: check them out with mixed starters or a buffet and you’ll find they will hold their own with pretty much any kind of food.

The red wines will also benefit from being just slightly chilled and can be served just as an aperitif or will pair well with chicken or pork or with casseroles like Chilean favourite Cazuela. My friend Smilja tried it with Yugoslav dish Paprikash (a meat and vegetable casserole) and said that they were a perfect combination.

Other post

Seductively fruity Cinsault wine from Chile

 

Jorge Lopez, owner of Cava del Pescador
Jorge López, owner of Cava del Pescador

It was one of those bright winter days of beautiful sunshine but freezing temperatures in Viña del Mar. I’d spent most of the morning standing in queues in different banks around town, so I was glad to get to the Cava del Pescador shop and sit down. Owner Jorge López says his goal is to make his new wine store feel welcoming and he certainly achieves that. The place is cosily inviting with its wooden floors and shelves of intriguing bottles.

Looking into Cava del PescadorBut probably the biggest asset is Jorge himself with his quietly affable and friendly manner. He told me that many people like to come in and just talk and so he takes the time to listen to them, whether they want to give him their point of view on politics or discuss wine. “Some of them leave without buying anything, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe they’ll come back another time or tell their friends about the friendly wine store.”

The store is run along similar lines to its namesake, the Cava del Pescador in Concepción. It offers wines from smaller and less well-known Chilean producers; you won’t find much overlap with the wines you can buy in the supermarkets or established chains like Vinoteca. And with many bottles in the 9,000 to 20,000 pesos bracket, this wine store won’t appeal to those on a very tight budget.

But if you’re looking for something rather special, you may well find it here. There are some real hard-to-track-down gems, like Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay, consistently rated among Chile’s best Chardonnays by the likes of Decanter magazine.

Glasses lined up for Cava del Pescador tasting

A different winemaker is invited to present his or her wines at an informal tasting event each week, usually on a Thursday evening. There are 25 spaces for each tasting, booked on a first-come, first-served basis at a cost of 5,000 pesos per person. The format is very informal and clearly popular, with many tastings oversubscribed. Everyone stands around a central table with a platter of nibbles and tastes each wine, while the winemaker tells them a little about what they are tasting. I went along to a tasting of Kingston Family Vineyard wines, an hour-long session including 4 wines. It seemed to be a good way to get to try different wines and see what you like.

The store opened in late January, so it’s early days yet, but Jorge and his wife have plenty of plans for the future: “we’d like to open a wine bar, where people can have a glass of wine and a platter of food. But first, we’re planning to hold a wine fair, hopefully in November. And we’re going to do it right, avoiding the mistakes of the other events, where people have to fight to get to the stands and everyone ends up drinking too much as there are no spittoons and not enough food.”

For a long time, the Viña and Valparaíso area had very little choice for wine-lovers, so the arrival of this new store with a very different range of wines and lots of wine-related events is very welcome. I, for one, hope that Jorge´s business prospers as more choice for consumers can only be positive.

Wine brands to watch out for at Cava del Pescador Viña del Mar:

Casa Marín, Kingston Family Vineyards, Pandolfi Price, Schwaderer, Kingston Family Vineyards, de los Viñateros Bravos, Bodegas Re.

More information about Cava del Pescador:

Posts featuring wines stocked at Cava del Pescador:

Seductively fruity Cinsault wine from Chile

On the road with 80 harvests

Casa Marín Wine Tasting

Pinot Noir wine – love it or hate it?

Casablanca winery visits: Kingston

Casablanca winery visits: Bodegas Re

Chile-based British expat Guy Hooper

Yesterday I got the news that I’ve made it through the first year of the WSET Diploma. This is me celebrating in style, together with Poppy, who just had to get in on the action.

Such a relief!  I posted off my 3,000 word assignment on the packaging of wines and spirits back in April, so it’s been a long wait to know whether I’d passed that part of the business unit. Prior to that, there was an exam on viticulture and winemaking in June and two exams in November: one on fortified wines and one based on a business case study.

So now I have three of the six units under my belt and can get ready to face the next three. The exams on spirits and sparkling wine will be next June. But the biggie will be the fearsome light wines of the world unit in January 2019. This accounts for 50% of the entire course marks and has a high failure rate. To pass, we need to have detailed knowledge about most of the world’s wine regions (climate, soil, types of grapes, styles of wine, main producers etc.). And, of course, we have to blind taste 12 different wines and write intelligent notes about them. No small challenge!

Back in March last year, I marked the start of my WSET Diploma studies with a cheeky little sparkling Cinsault. Last night I marked the halfway point with another Chilean sparkling wine: Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir made from the País grape.

This was a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol (just 12% ABV), well worth trying. On sale at la Cava del Pescador in Viña del Mar.

For more information about the WSET Diploma (or more properly the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits, check out this article.

Santiago Achával, Matervini and Malbec wine
Santiago Achával

It’s often said that it’s your second or even your third business that is the winner; the one that you get right, because you can apply all you’ve learned along the way. So when Stolichnaya vodka owners SPI Group bought the renowned Mendoza winery Achával-Ferrer, the question was what were the men who had founded and built this winery going to do next? Two of them, Santiago Achával, who also owns a small winery in California, and Italian-born Roberto Cipresso, who has a number of ventures in his home country, decided to invest all that experience in starting up a new winery together: Matervini. And they chose to locate it within spitting distance of their former venture in Luján de Cuyo. But they didn’t just set out to replicate their former business; instead they took three very significant strategic decisions.

Eco-friendly

The first was to make the new winery as environmentally-friendly as possible. Matervini is self-sufficient in hot water from photovoltaic panels and in solar electricity – in fact it even injects electricity into the national grid. The winery recycles its grey water for irrigating the gardens and also composts its organic waste, taking care to get a good mix that can enrich the soil. They use intervine planting during winter – grass where they want to reduce vine vigour or barley or rye where they want to add nutrients to the soil. These crops are ploughed back into the soil around the time the vines begin to flower.

In autumn, the climbers die back, revealing the murals on the winery walls

Meanwhile, some thought has gone into the winery building design. Close to the building are wire panels, which in spring and summer are covered with deciduous or annual climbing plants to give shade, reducing the need for air conditioning. In autumn, the leaves fall or the annual plants die back, leaving the panels bare and revealing the murals on the walls behind. The weaker sunshine of autumn and winter reaches the building, helping raise temperatures inside.

Wine club

The second decision was to take a business model that is far more common in the United States than in South America: the wine club. Instead of looking to market their wines to retailers or through distributors, Matervini sells them directly to the public, offering worldwide shipping and deals for members. The winery – like Kingston Family Vineyards in Chile’s Casablanca Valley – ships wine to its base in the United States, facilitating onward shipment to its base of customers there.

Matervini and MalbecMatervini and Malbec, Malbec and more Malbec

The third decision was to make Matervini a Malbec project. We had the good fortune to taste the wines with Santiago himself and hear first-hand how each was made. Exuding calm self-confidence and genial good humour, he told us that Matervini’s strategy is to make great Malbec wines, each one unique because it expresses the place it comes from.

“I get tired of journalists asking me the same question: ‘What’s next after Malbec?’ I always reply ‘More Malbec!’

His argument, teemed with the wines we tasted, was pretty compelling. We tasted 6 different Matervini Malbec wines, all but one from 2014. Each had been made in the same way and, according to Santiago, the only differentiating factor was that each was from a different place. And he was right, as you can see from the tasting notes below, each of them was quite different.

Matervini and Malbec winesPrecordillera

Santiago became especially enthusiastic when talking about planting in the Precordillera area, a mountain chain parallel to but lower than the Andes. He explained that this is especially interesting because of the benefits of growing at altitude and also because the soils come predominantly from one type of stone rather than being a broad mix of different types of rock. He feels this gives each wine a greater chance of expressing its origin.

His latest project has been to plant three plots totalling 20 hectares in the Precordillera. One has east-facing slopes of fractured basalt with 2mm of limestone on top and the first wines have been produced from these vines. The other two plots, which are not yet producing wine, are an east-west-facing hillside with friable limestone that is 40-50 million years old in thin vertical layers with oxidation on one side oxidising; and a north-facing slope of hard grey limestone encrusted with silica magnesium from the deep seabed 450 million years ago, when the continents were still joined up.

“I believe that the wines from these plots are going to be the ones that really make the winery,” he concluded. He may well be right.

Tasting notes

Tinto, Chacayes 2014.

This wine comes from a high altitude area of the Uco Valley in Mendoza.

This wine was medium ruby in colour with a pleasant nose of fresh black plums and floral notes. The wine was dry and well-balanced with medium levels of tannins, body, acidity and alcohol and a medium finish.  Very pleasant.

AntesAndes Valle de Canota 2014.

This wine comes from Las Heras, the foot of Villavicencio in the Pre-cordillera,

This wine had a particularly floral nose, very pleasant. The tannins were finer and better integrated than in the Tinto from Chacayes. The wine had fresh acidity, some mineral notes in the mouth and medium body. A very elegant style of Malbec.

AntesAndes Valles Calchaquíes 2014

This is another wine from the Pre-cordillera range, beetween Cafayate and Molinos in Salta in northern Argentina.  The vines are planted at an altitude of 2400 metres.

The nose of this wine was different again, with forest floor and mineral notes. The wine had more body and acidity and chewy tannins. Lots of fresh fruit flavours in the mouth and a long finish.

Alteza 2013 (the only wine in the tasting not from 2014).

This wine is also from the Pre-cordillera area in northern Argentina at a place called Yacochuya in the Cafayate area of Salta. The vineyards is planted at 2200 metres above sea level and so, as is the case with Calchaquíes, the cooler temperatures at altitude compensate for the northerly latitude, which might otherwise make the climate too warm for producing quality wines.

There is an unusual aspect to the winemaking for Alteza. In a bid to control the spread of pests and diseases, there are strict controls over moving fruit from one province to another in Argentina and so it is not possible to transport grapes from Salta to Mendoza. However, Matervini doesn’t have winemaking facilities in Salta, so they needed to find a way around the problem. The solution they came up with is novel. It is fine for the winery to transport grape must. So, the grapes are put into small, 1000-litre stainless steel tanks, which are put into a refrigerated truck and transported at a low temperature. And the driver and winemaker make the journey slowly from Salta, stopping every three hours to manually punch down the cap of grape skins that have floated to the top of each tank. This is a novel type of cold soak, allowing the colour and tannins to seep from the skins into the must prior to fermentation at the winery.

This wine was deeper in colour. The nose was more subtle but particularly floral with notes of violets, as well as the characteristic black plum aromas of Malbec. This was a bigger wine, with more body and higher acidity than the previous examples. The tannins were medium and fine. Pleasant plum fruit and mineral flavours and a fairly long finish.

Finca 2014

This wine comes from the Perdriel área of Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza where the winery is based. It is made from grapes from very old vines (80 or more years), sometimes with a small batch of wine from newer vines blended in.

This wine was medium ruby in colour. A fairly pronounced nose featuring notes from the oak ageing, like vanilla and cinnamon, as well as black plums. This medium-bodied wine had medium acidity and medium, velvety tannins. It featured black and red fruit and some spicy flavours from the oak.

Viñas Viejas 2014

Very limited edition – 200 bottles produced. This wine was made from grapes in Matervini’s new Precordillera plot.

A beautiful wine with a mineral nose teemed with the biscuity, toasty notes from the barrel-ageing. In the mouth, it was medium-bodied, with fresh acidity, tooth-coating tannins and a long finish.

More information:

Musing on Mendoza, Malbec and age

The lowdown on the Mendoza wine region

The rich fruitiness of Malbec wine

Matervini website

Malbec vinesIt may be a traditional French variety, but it is Argentina that has really put Malbec wine on the shopping list of red wine lovers in recent years. Malbec has come into its own in the warm climate of Argentina, where it can ripen fully, making richly comforting, fruity red wines that pair well with a whole range of foods, from barbecued beef through to cheesy vegetarian bakes. Malbec’s other stronghold is Cahors in South-West France. Meanwhile Chile, inspired by its neighbour’s success, has also begun to produce some excellent examples. So what is Malbec wine all about?

Looking inside a glass of Malbec wineThe colour can range from moderate ruby through to deep, inky purple. In fact, its full-on purple hue is one of the ways to tell it apart from other red wines, like Merlot.

Ripe Malbec naturally tends to be very fruity, with aromas covering the whole berry spectrum from red fruit like raspberries, through blueberries to rich black fruit, like blackberries, black cherries, currants, raisins and plums. Rich, ripe plum is one of the most common descriptors for Malbec from Argentina. The fruit can be almost jammy if it is from an area with a very warm climate and ripens just that tiny bit too long. From cooler plots, such as those at a higher altitude, or when the grapes are harvested at a lower ripeness level, the aromas will tend to be more of fresh, ripe fruit.

Glass of Malbec wineIts fruitiness can, however, be modified by the use of oak. The more traditional styles of Malbec in Argentina tend to use lots and lots of oak. Using oak gives a Malbec wine complexity, smooth, rich body and soft, velvety tannins. Oak barrels that have already been used one or more times add fewer or even no aromas and flavours. But when the oak is new, it also gives the wine aromas like toast, vanilla, baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and even smoke or dark chocolate. Sometimes these oak-derived aromas and flavours can dominate over the natural fruitiness of the grapes.  This depends very much on the style the winemaker is looking for and you can now find a whole spectrum of Malbec wine styles – from the fruity explosion of wines that have seen little or no oak, through delightfully complex examples where the fruit and oak are nicely balanced right through to those where all you can discern is the oak.

Lots and lots of Malbec vines

Where the Malbec grapes have been grown at higher altitude, they can have a more floral, delicate fruitiness, which is very elegant.  Many argue that Malbec is also good at expressing terroir, and so the aromas and flavours will differ according to the soil. In my upcoming post about the Matervini winery, I’ll be looking at just how Malbec can vary from one place to another.

Malbec is generally a dry wine with medium to medium+ tannins that are ripe and velvety. The acidity is also normally in the medium to medium+ region; rarely higher and this, together with the tannin levels, makes this a softer, easier-drinking wine than many Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Alcohol, however, can range from medium+ to high. The wine can be quite full-bodied and, if it has seen a lot of oak, it may have that cigarbox texture that makes your mouth feel completely dry. The finish can be medium to long.

In short, Malbec wine is a lovely, easy-to-drink, fruity and aromatic wine that is food-friendly and comforting. I’ve tasted a range of Malbec wines from Argentina and Chile to bring you a range of tasting notes.

Argentine Malbec wine tasting notes

Mendel Malbec wineMendel Malbec 2015, Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, 14.5% ABV

From 87-year old vines at a site at an altitude of 980 metres in the Mayor Drummond area of Luján de Cuyo. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks with daily punch-downs, followed by 12 months’ ageing in oak barrels – 33% of them new, 33% second use and 33% third use.

This wine was a deep purple colour. The nose was very pleasant and complex. The first layer of aromas are from all that oak: notes of toast, vanilla, cloves, smoke and leather. Next came the fruit: very ripe black plums, black cherries and blueberries. This was a dry wine with medium+ acidity, medium+, fine, ripe and well-integrated tannins and high alcohol. In the mouth, it was full-bodied with that cigarbox drying sensation and flavours of spices like cinnamon, together with all those fruity flavours of plums, black cherries and blueberries. Medium + finish. A very pleasant, well-balanced Malbec, worthy of some further ageing.

 

Catena La Consulta Malbec 2015, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 13% ABV

This wine comes from a vineyard at an altitude of 1095m. After fermentation, the wine was aged for 12 months in oak barrels, 35% of them new.

This wine was deep purple in colour. It had a pronounced nose of plums, with some floral notes (violets), together with some cinnamon and nutmeg from the oak-ageing. The wine was dry, with medium, fine tannins, medium acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, and medium flavour intensity, revealing flavours of black plums and blackcurrants. The finish was medium +. This was a softer, less intense wine than the Mendel, but had a delicious floral and fruity elegance.

Kondor Malbec wineKondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV

There is little information available about this wine and I was unable to find a website for it. The label revealed that the grapes were grown at 1200 metres above sea level.

This wine was a deep ruby colour. The nose was very fruity and delicious, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There was also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine was dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish was medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.

Malbec winesLuigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines, Malbec 2014, 13.7% ABV

This is a blend made from grapes from different plots at an average altitude of 960 metres in Luján de Cuyo and Maipú, Mendoza. The vines are an average of 30 years old. The fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks, then 50% of the wine was aged for 8 months in second-use American oak barrels.

This wine was a medium+ ruby in colour with some earthy, terracotta hues. The nose was medium and revealed the fruit first: black plums, black cherries and blueberries. Then came a more subtle layer of aromas from the oak-ageing: toast, vanilla, cinnamon and leather. This wine was dry with medium+, grippy tannins, medium acidity and medium body. The mouth was moderate in intensity with black fruit flavours again apparent (plums, blueberries, blackberries). The finish was medium. This was an easy-drinking but less concentrated style of Malbec wine.

 

Chilean Malbec wine tasting notes

Koyle Royale Malbec 2011, Alto Colchagua, 14.5% ABV

Deep purple color. Pronounced, fruit-forward wine with plums, blueberries, black cherries. Subtle spicy note (cinnamon and leather). This was a dry wine with medium+ ripe, fine tannins and medium+ acidity. Full-bodied, with high alcohol and good flavour intensity. Lots of dark fruit flavours, a cigarbox texture some of those oaky flavours of cinnamon and leather.  A very rich, comforting wine, great for accompanying a hearty, full-flavoured meal – red meat or vegetable bake au gratin.

Loma Larga Malbec wineLoma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV

This wine was a deep purple colour. The medium+ nose revealed a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There was a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas were slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and tobacco. This was a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine had lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieved good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.

More information about Argentina and Argentine wines:

Musing on Mendoza, Malbec and age

The lowdown on the Mendoza wine region

More information about the wineries featured:

Mendel

Catena

Luigi Bosca

Koyle

Loma Larga

Have you ever wondered how a bunch of freshly harvested grapes like this…..

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine

 

 

 

gets made into a bottle of wine like this?

 

 

 

 

 

Well this is how the Mendel winery in Mendoza makes their Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Moving the grapes on arrival

 

 

The grapes arrive at the winery in these plastic bins loaded on a truck.

These Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had just come in from the Perdriel area of Mendoza.

The bins of grapes are removed by forklift and weighed.

 

The grapes go into the destemmer

 

 

The bins of grapes are next taken for processing. Here you can see the man pouring the clusters of grapes into a destemmer.

These are whole bunches of grapes still attached to their stems. If all the stems go into the winemaking tank with the grapes, the wine may well have a bitter flavour, so normally wineries prefer to remove most or all of the stems before processing the grapes.  That’s what this machine does.

 

The individual grapes come out onto this vibrating table. These young women are sorting them and removing any under-ripe or bad grapes and anything else that might be in amongst the grapes, like leaves.

Women sort the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

The grapes then pass on onto a conveyor, which moves them up into a stainless steel tank. A lot of wineries these days like to use stainless steel tanks because it is easy to keep them clean and free from harmful bacteria, stop oxygen getting in and also to control the temperature.

At Mendel, they add yeasts to the tank full of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, set the temperature to 25°C-27°C and close the lid, so fermentation can start.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine in the tankThis tank shows Cabernet Sauvignon a few days into the fermentation process.  During the fermentation, grape skins and flesh float to the top of the tank and form a mass there, known as the “cap”, which you can see clearly here.

It’s important to break up this cap and stir the solids into the liquid again for several reasons. One key one is that it is the skins that give the wine its colour and most of its tannins and, by stirring them up, you make a richer, more colourful wine. So the winery staff do punch-downs twice a day, pushing through the cap and stirring it all up.

After the fermentation finishes, the wine and skins are left in the tank for 3-5 weeks to macerate. During this time, the final colour and tannins are imparted and the tannins have time to mellow a little.

The Cabernet Sauvignon wine is then transferred (“racked”) into brand new oak barrels for 12 months.  Oak-ageing is a magical process which changes the wine. If the barrel is new, as in this case, the oak lends spicy flavours and aromas to the wine (think cinnamon and vanilla, even cedar or sandalwood and toast). Also during barrel-ageing, tiny amounts of oxygen enter the wine through the wood and they subtly change it, making it more mellow and rounded and reducing any astringency.

Barrel roomIn the photo, Luis Perocco, Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Mendel, is showing us one of the rooms in which barrels of wine are maturing.

Not all types of wine grapes suit oak-ageing but the classic Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) are amongst those that do.

After the barrel ageing, the winemaker tastes the different batches of Cabernet Sauvignon wine and makes a blend. Then the wine is bottled and the bottles stored in a cool, dry place to mature in bottle for 6-9 months before being released for sale.

Tasting note

We tasted the 2015 vintage of Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon wine, which had recently been released.

It had all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.

This was a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins. It would benefit from a few years’ of further ageing.

For more information about Mendel, check out their website.

Posts to come:

Over the next few posts, I’ll be writing about my short but action-packed trip to Mendoza, including details of visits to a number of wineries, including Mendel.

 

sparkling with catIt’s that manic, end-of-year period when we’re all running ourselves ragged finishing up work, cleaning the house, buying gifts and stocking up on food and drink like we’re expecting a siege

…If you could do with a few last-minute ideas for wines for the festive season, feel free to check out the following articles or send me a comment:

Chilean sparkling wines that are refreshing and light on the wallet.

Easy-drinking Chilean Pinot Noir

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile (5-part series)

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Results

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has been a strange year from my perspective, full of ups and downs. And, more than any other year I can remember, this is a year many people have told me that they’ll be glad to wave goodbye to.

Roll on 2017! May it bring you good health, good cheer and, of course, some fabulous glasses of wine!

Helen in the Douro valley
One of my 2016 highlights was a brief visit to the Douro Valley in Portugal, famous for Port wines

 

Tasting fortified wines
Tasting fortified wines with fellow WSET Diploma student Jorge Miguel Jimenez Garavito from Peru

Over the last few posts, we’re looked at sweetening dry wines and making sweet wines by using extra sweet grapes. In this post, we’re going to look at a completely different way of making a sweet wine, where the winemaker stops the fermentation before the yeasts have consumed all the sugars. He or she can do this by making life difficult for the yeasts, so they stop working.  Here are two ways of doing this.

Cool the fermenting wine down

One way to stop the fermentation is to add sulphur dioxide and chill the wine right down, so the yeasts are stunned. There is a risk in this method: when the wine is once again at room temperature, if there are any yeasts still in it, it could start fermenting again, even in the bottle. So when a sweet wine is made in this way, the winemaker needs to take steps to prevent refermentation, such as filtering out all the yeasts and nutrients under very sterile conditions.

As these wines have not completed their fermentation, they are likely to be lower in alcohol than other wines. Examples of wines made in this way include Asti spumante sparkling wine and some sweet or medium-sweet white or rosé wines.

How to drink these wines: these are simple, fruity wines designed to be enjoyed right away, chilled, as an aperitif or with light dishes, such as salad.

Tasting notesFortifying the wine

Another way of stopping the yeasts from fermenting is to increase the level of alcohol to a point where the yeasts can’t survive (15% ABV or more).  You can do this bay adding a distilled spirit, most usually a very strong grape-based spirit (like brandy) but with completely neutral aromas and flavour so that it doesn’t detract from the wine’s aromas and flavours.

Some wines, particularly Sherry, are fortified once the wine has fermented to dryness but many are fortified earlier, while there is still sugar in the must, and so they are sweet. Even if they have residual sugar, fortified wines are stable because the alcohol level is too high for yeasts or microbes to survive. Examples of fortified wines with residual sugar include Port and Madeira from Portugal, Vin doux Naturel from France and Rutherglen Muscat from Australia.

Some of the world’s most famous fortified wines are also made from grapes that have been left to raisin on the vine (just like the late harvest wines we looked at in a previous post). These include Rutherglen Muscat from Australia and Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel from Maury in France.

Fortified wines in themselves vary hugely. A few are meant to be drunk young, while they still have their fresh, fruity aromas and flavours, as is the case with some Muscat wines from France, while others undergo years of ageing under different kinds of conditions to obtain very different styles of wine. The following are just a few examples.

Fortified wine bottlesFortified wine tasting notes

Domaine des Bernadins Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015. 110 grams of residual sugar per litre. 15% ABV.

This is a sweet white wine made in a small appellation in the southern Rhône region of France from Muscat à petits grains grapes, which were harvested late and very sweet. The wine is made and matured in stainless steel tanks, so that it remains very fresh and fruity, without any aromas or flavours from the ageing process.

This wine smells delightful; a heady mix of fresh fruit aromas, such as apricots, peaches and candied grapefruit, some spicy notes like ginger and floral notes like rose. Close your eyes and you might think you are in a market filled with the aromas of freshly made Turkish delight, fresh fruit and flowers. In the mouth, it is beautifully concentrated, with all those sweet fruity flavours and enough acidity to make it a refreshing wine. Lots of body and quite long. Delicious.

How to drink it: lightly chilled with a sweet dessert like Crème brûlée.

Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, 12 Years Old. 270+ grams of residual sugar per litre, 18.5% ABV

Like the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, this is a fortified wine made with Muscat à petits grains grapes (a brown variety), which were left extra time on the vines, though in this case they were left to partially raisinise. However, from the beginning, these sticky sweet pudding wines from Australia are treated completely differently. The wine is aged in large, old oak barrels, which are stored in a warm place and every once in a while, it is decanted from one barrel to another. In fact, the final wine is a blend of wines from different vintages, with an average age of 12.

Over time the oxygen and warmth have interacted with the wine, turning it brown-coloured and changing the original fruity aromas and flavours into complex notes of nuts, dried fruits like raisins and figs, butterscotch, orange marmalade and gingerbread. In the mouth, it is rich, very, very sweet, and chocolately smooth, like liquid comfort food. This is a good option to perk you up after a bad day, especially in winter.

How to drink it: slightly chilled with a very rich dessert like Christmas pudding.

Fortified wines from Madeira
Madeira wines

Henriques & Henriques Malvasia 10 years old from Madeira. Residual sugar of some 110 grams per litre. 20% ABV.

Like the Rutherglen Muscat, this fortified wine has undergone years’ of ageing in large wooden casks where oxygen and warm temperatures have interacted with the wine, making it a dark mahogany colour and changing the aromas and flavours.

Again a really aromatic wine packed with notes resulting from the contact with oxygen and ageing in warm conditions, so think walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sultanas and figs, as well as coffee, dark chocolate, caramel and vanilla. This is a sweet wine with high acidity, high alcohol, full body and pronounced flavour. It tastes like brown sugar, molasses, walnuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts, figs, sultanas and maple syrup. Long finish.

How to drink it: at room temperature with strongly flavoured cheese, fruit cake or treacle tart.

For information about Port and Port wines, check these posts:

Charming Porto – an introduction to the city of Port in Portugal, its food and wines

The Douro – the birthplace of Port wine covering how and where Port is made.

Vila Nova de Gaia where Port is aged, including a tasting of 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman’s Tawny.

 

For more information about sweet wine:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest Wines

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 4 – Wines with botrytis or noble rot

 

Santiago tasting panel
Santiago tasting panel members Hattie and Crystal compare notes

In the last three posts, we’ve looked at some of the ways of making sweet wines, particularly by using extra-sweet grapes. There is one other type of very sweet grapes, which are used to make some of the world’s most sophisticated, complex and expensive wines. These are grapes affected by botrytis or noble rot.

Grapes with botrytis
Rotten grapes

Botrytis cinerea is a type of fungus that can devastate your grape crop in damp conditions, like rain. The fungus gets onto the grapes and, if they are wet, the fungus causes them to split open and then grey rot eats its way into them. They effectively go mouldy and smell unpleasant. If grey rot takes hold of the grape crop, they are often a complete write-off.

However, under certain very special conditions, the botrytis works very differently, creating noble rot. When this happens, the skin changes colour and texture, much of the water in the grape is lost and the sugars, acidity and flavours become concentrated. The grapes also gain unique aromas and flavours.

The process occurs at different rates among berries and clusters, so machine harvesting is out. Teams of harvesters have to make several passes (known as “tries” in France) through the vineyard, individually selecting the grapes that are ready each time. It’s labour-intensive and also you need a whole lot of grapes to make just one bottle of wine, and this is why botrytised wines are among the most expensive in the world.

So what are the right conditions for noble rot? Well, firstly you have to have the type of grapes that are liable to rot, particularly thin-skinned berries in tightly-packed bunches, such as Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux, Riesling in Germany and Furmint in Hungary. Next you need to have the right weather cycle, with alternating damp and dry conditions. For instance, foggy mornings to encourage the fungus, followed by sunny, breezy afternoons to dry out the grapes so they don’t split open. Achieve this pattern, cross your fingers and the botrytis will become “noble rot”.

Not very many places in the world have just these right conditions and the following are the most well-known.

Wines with botrytisBordeaux, France

Sauternes, from the Graves district of Bordeaux, is one of the most famous types of botrytised wines. Sémillon is the principal grape, as it is particularly susceptible to botrytis. Sauvignon Blanc is a common partner, adding acidity to the wine. Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris can also be used. The conditions for noble rot don’t occur every year, nor do they affect all parts of the vineyard. If rain sets in, the grapes are lost to grey rot. Some years, there is no botrytis at all.  The grapes are hand-harvested over a long period and produce tiny quantities of wine. The winemaking begins with gentle pressing and then careful fermentation, often in oak barriques and then oak-ageing.  Good Sauternes is golden-coloured and extremely complex.

Tasting note: Château Guiraud Sauternes Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Bordeaux, France. 140 grams of residual sugar per litre. 13.5% ABV

100% botrytis-affected grapes (65% Sémillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc) were hand-harvested and fermented in oak barrels and then aged in barrels for 18-24 months.

Medium gold in colour. Pronounced nose of orange peel, marmalade, honey, grapefruit and a herbal note. Sweet, full-bodied wine with high acidity and pronounced flavours of honey, marmalade, sultanas and other dried fruit with a caramel touch. Long finish. Very complex and delicious.

The Loire, France

Bonnezeaux is an area in the Coteaux du Layon appellation in the Anjou district of the Loire, known for producing sweet wines from Chenin Blanc grapes. Usually they will have been affected by botrytis and are likely to have also been concentrated by shrivelling or raisining on the vine (late harvesting). Chenin Blanc is a grape variety with high acidity and this is important in counter-balancing the sweetness in these wines.

Tasting note: Château de Fesles 2010, Bonnezeaux, Loire, France. 165 grams of residual sugar per litre. 13% ABV

Botrytis-affected Chenin Blanc grapes picked in 6 different tries (passes through the vineyard), matured in oak barrels for 15 months.

Deep golden, the darkest coloured of all the wines we tried at our Santiago sweet wine tasting panel. Pronounced nose of apples and pears, candied peel and nuts with caramel. Sweet, medium (+)-bodied wine with high acidity and pronounced flavours of dried apricots, pears, apples, marmalade, nuts and honey. Long finish. Beautiful, complex and concentrated and the acidity and sweetness are well-balanced, making it a refreshing wine.

Tokaj, Hungary

Tokaj is a wine region in north-eastern Hungary which has been famous for centuries for its sweet wines. These are made of a blend of nobly rotten grapes, particularly Furmint and Hárslevelű.

I will be publishing an introduction to Tokaji wines with tasting notes shortly.

Chilean wine with botrytisChile

Not a major producer of botrytised wines but it is possible to find a few examples from this South American country.

Casas del Bosque Late Harvest 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 214 grams of residual sugar per litre. 11.5% ABV (Half bottle retails in Chile at CLP$10,000 and at £8.59 from UK retailers like Simply Wines Direct)

This wine was made with 100% botrytis-affected Riesling grapes that were harvested very late in the season.

Medium gold in colour with pleasant aromas of stone fruit, like peaches and apricots, together with orange peel and honey. This is a sweet, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and a long finish. Flavours of candied peel, stone fruit and marmalade. Not quite as complex as the French botrytised wines we tried, but very good value.

Drinking botrytised sweet wines: These are wines with great complexity and concentration and will work best with richly-flavoured food, such as pâté de foie gras, goat’s cheese or Peking duck.  Or you could simply enjoy a glass at the end of a good meal in place of dessert.  It’ll be at its best just a little bit chilled, but try not to chill it too much, as that will just dull all those beautiful aromas.

 

More information about sweet wines:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest Wines

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 5 – chilled or fortified wines

Sweet wine tasting team
Santiago sweet wine tasting panel hard at work

In the last post we looked at late harvest wines, where the grapes are left longer on the vine so they become very sweet. Today, in the third in our series on sweet wines, we are going to look at two other ways of producing extra-sweet grapes in order to make sweet wine: drying the grapes to make a syrupy style of wine or freezing them to make Icewine.

Sun- or air-dried grapes

In some parts of the world the harvested grapes are hung or laid out on mats either outdoors in the sun or in a well-ventilated winery loft and allowed to partially dry or “raisinise”. During this process, the grapes will start to shrivel, literally like raisins or sultanas, losing water. With less water content, the sugars, flavours and acidity in each grape will become more concentrated. The grapes will become darker in colour and the flavours will change. When the half-dried grapes are pressed to make the wine, there will, of course, be much less juice than if the grapes had not been dried and this juice will be thicker and sticky and more difficult to ferment.

Pedro Ximénez wineExamples include Vin Santo and Recioto from Italy and Pedro Ximénez and Moscato wines from southern Spain.

Tasting note: Harveys 30-year-old VORS Pedro Xíménez, Jerez, Spain. 16% ABV.

Dark brown in colour, this is a dense, mouth-filling, lusciously sweet fortified wine with aromas and flavours like molasses, figs, liquorice and vanilla.

When to drink it: This wine will hold its own alongside any pudding, however sticky and sweet it is; think sticky toffee pudding.

Icewine or Eiswein

Icewine from Canada and the United States or Eiswein from Germany and Austria is another very special type of wine. The grapes are left until they freeze on the vine and then are picked and pressed quickly, while still frozen, so the water crystals remain in the press and only a very concentrated must passes through to be fermented. Icewine (or Eiswein) usually has pure fruit flavours and aromas and high acidity. Canada also produces sparkling and red icewines.

IcewineTasting note: Heinz Eifel 2014 Eiswein, Rheinhessen, Germany. 9% ABV

Blend of Silvaner and Riesling grapes, hand-picked and pressed while frozen.

This wine was a pale gold colour and showed a touch of petillance (light bubbles). Pronounced aromas of stewed pears and some spicy notes like cinnamon. This wine had purer flavours of pear drops, stewed pears and apples and quince jam with just a hint of minerality. The sweetness and acidity were nicely balanced and the body was much lighter than the other wines in the tasting. This was also the lowest in alcohol.

When to drink it: This wine would pair nicely with a pork-based pâté or an apple-based dessert.

For more information about sweet wines:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest Wines

Sweet wines 4 – Wines with botrytis or noble rot

Sweet wines 5 – chilled or fortified wines