Top wines from 2017

Tasting Top wines from 2017With the excuse of studying for the WSET Diploma, I’ve tasted a greater variety of wines – both Chilean and foreign – this year than ever before.  The upside is my knowledge and appreciation of wine have expanded exponentially; the downside is that there has been a tectonic shift in my taste. I’m no longer satisfied with two-dimensional wines that are all fur coat and no knickers, as we say in Yorkshire. I want a wine that is as interesting in the mouth as it is on the nose; one that isn’t a formulaic production by a winemaker compensating for mediocre grapes but really offers something different; a wine that stands out from the rest. Why is that a downside? Well, it means my taste just got more expensive!

Looking back at the wines that really stood out for me this year, I can spot a few trends. Stick-insect thin, searingly acidic wines are out – you won’t spot any Sauvignon Blanc in my top list, for instance. Instead, I’ve been enjoying whites with more personality – oak-fermented Chardonnay and well-crafted Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc wines, for instance. And, bucking fashion, I’ve discovered a taste for well-made sweet wines.

When it comes to the reds, soft tannined Malbecs and interesting red blends are among those that have stolen my heart this year. Here are a just a few highlights.

Top wines from 2017: Sparkling

Top wines from 2017

François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV

This medium gold-coloured wine has a fairly aromatic nose, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There is also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.

Read the full feature on Chenin Blanc wines here.

Top wines from 2017

Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir, 12% ABV

This sparkling wine is made from the País (aka Mission, Listán Negro, Criollo) grape and is definitely among the better wines to be produced from this grape variety.

This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol.  A superb choice for a special meal or celebration – if you can manage to get hold of a bottle!


Top wines from 2017: whites

WSET Diploma white wine tasting practice (photo courtesy of Alexandra Balakireva)

Top wines for 2017Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV

Pandolfi Price makes two superb Chardonnay wines – Larkun is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while this, my favourite, was fermented and aged in oak.

This is a lemon-coloured wine with a deliciously intense nose with layers of aromas: first the fruit – grapefruit, peaches and apples; next some subtle buttery notes from the 24 months this wine spent ageing on its lees; and finally some steely and pebbly mineral notes. In the mouth it is dry, with fresh acidity, very high alcohol – watch out for this one, it’s so easy to keep sipping it without realising it’s a whopping 15%!  Full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, and all those fruity and mineral notes are present again in this deliciously satisfying white. No wonder it’s garnered so many international awards and high scores from critics.

Read the full feature on the two Pandolfi Price Chardonnays here.

Top wines from 2017Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV

With the current fashion for thin-bodied whites with searing acidity and upfront citrus aromas, opulent, full-bodied Gewürztraminer with its candy store of aromas is decidedly untrendy right now. But hey, who cares about fashion?

This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in its pot pourri of delicious smells: Turkish delight, rose petals, grapes, ginger and ripe peaches, to name just a few – this is about as heady as a wine can get.

This medium-bodied wine is off-dry (a bit sweet), but it has enough acidity to stop it from being cloying. The mouth delivers on the promise on the nose, with a delightful fruitiness and a hint of spice. Medium (+) finish.

Read the full feature on this wine here.


Top wines from 2017Les Amours de la Reine 2010, Jurançon, 12% ABV

I make no apologies for including a fully sweet wine in my list, even though it shows me up as completely untrendy. Who cares about fashion anyway? This wonderful wine, kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin, is made from 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng. 

This is a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose is pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.

The sweetness of this full-bodied wine is beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it shows a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.

Read the full feature on wines from Bordeaux and SW France here.

Top wines from 2017: reds

Blind tasting of Chinon wines

The Argentine reds

A huge thank you to Amanda Barnes, who took time out from her schedule to give me a whistle-stop introduction to Mendoza and particularly Argentine Malbec back in April. I tried so many great Malbec wines, it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, so I’m going to confine myself to just a couple.

Matervini and Malbec winesMatervini Viñas Viejas 2014, Precordillera

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

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

Read more about Matervini and their fantastic range of Malbec wines here.

Read more about Malbec wines here.

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

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

Cabernet Sauvignon
A bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes just arrived at Mendel

Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza

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

This is a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins.

Read about how Mendel make Cabernet Sauvignon here.

Top wines from 2017Lorca Poético Cabernet Franc 2013, Mendoza, 14.5% ABV

A deep ruby-coloured wine with lashings of delicious aromas: red fruit like redcurrants and raspberries, blueberries, oak aromas like vanilla and coconut, and a hint of liquorice. This is an exciting wine with fresh acidity, pronounced, ripe tannins and lots of body. In the mouth, there is a moderate cigarbox texture adding complexity to the red fruit and spice flavours.

The Chilean reds

I’ve tasted a whole gammut of Chilean wines this year: the good, the bad and the ugly. A particular low point was a my sustained tasting over the winter of entry level classic Chilean reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others) from several well-known Chilean wineries.  Some were pretty awful; none were really worthy of tasting notes. In fact, my favourite wines tended to be less common varieties or from smaller wineries.

Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV

Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and, over the years has garnered my respect by consistently producing very attractive, enjoyable wines with plenty of character.

This wine is a deep purple colour with a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There is a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas are slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and Top wines from 2017tobacco. This is a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine has lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieves good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.

Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV

Loma Larga has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc.  It also produces an oaked version in the Loma Larga range, which is a bigger wine, less restrained but no less delicious.

The nose is rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.

This is a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity makes the palate refreshing and the mouth reveals black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This is a very enjoyable wine.

Read how Lomas del Vallle Cabernet Franc compares with reds from the Loire here.

Wildmakers SabáticoWildmakers Sabatico 2014, Maule Valley, 14.5% ABV

A delicious red blend of 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines. An eco-friendly ruby-coloured wine with a pleasantly fruity nose with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blueberries. It is dry with ripe, medium (+) tannins, fresh acidity, relatively light body and high alcohol. This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.

Read the full feature on this wine here.

Top wines from 2017Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule / Itata Valleys, 13.5%

This is a smart idea by the team at Ventisquero to make the best of two of Chile’s on-trend “heritage varieties”, both of which can on their own be a little lacklustre. País tends to be rather uninspiring aromatically, whereas Muscat grapes are known for their wonderful aromas but can be rather low in acidity. By putting the two together, Ventisquero has come up with a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries. This is a great wine for sipping, slightly chilled, on a hot day or as a pre-dinner appetiser.

Read the full feature on Chilean País wines here.

A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico Cinsault 2016, Itata Valley, 13.5% ABV

This was the firm favourite at a Cinsault wine tasting a few months back. A fresh, aromatic Cinsault, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.

Read the full feature on Chilean Cinsault wines here.

Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016, Maule Valley, 14% ABV

A moreish ruby-red blend combining the fresh acidity of Italian classic Barbera with the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours of Spanish icon Garnacha (aka Grenache).  This is a food-friendly wine with delicious aromas of red fruit, like strawberry jam, raspberries and red plums, together with rhubarb, intermingled with a subtle herbal note of liquorice or dill and a hint of mushroom and earthiness.

Read the full feature on this wine here.

And then, of course, there’s the reds from France…

Top wines from 2017Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV

A beautiful right-bank Bordeaux made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and blackcurrants. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.

A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.

Read the full feature on wines from Bordeaux and SW France here.

What about you? What were your top wines in 2017?

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonIt’s that time of year again when we all get into a flurry of Christmas shopping, seasonal cooking and planning for the perfect Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sparkling wine for the festive season features high on the shopping list and there’s an ever bigger range to choose from. So here’s a handy guide to help you select a wine that’s right for you. For a full 101 on sparkling wines, how they are made and how to get your head around the terms on the labels, check out my guide: How to choose sparkling wine (1) and How to choose sparkling wine (2).

In time-honoured tradition, a group of us got together to taste just some of the wines on sale and I’d like to say a big thank you to our team of tasters, including Lauren Hand, Ricardo Parada, Yi Wang, Natascha Scott-Stokes and Irina Axenova, for valiently tasting their way through 9 different sparkling wines: 4 Chilean premium wines and 5 wines from Europe.

European sparkling wines for the festive season

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonProsecco

Prosecco, currently one of the world’s favourite wines, made in the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy, from Glera grapes in a fresh, uncomplicated style with the second fermentation usually taking place in a tank. We tasted Riccadonna Prosecco Extra Dry. A subtle nose with some notes of apples and a biscuity note, this is a light, easy-to-drink wine suitable for pre-dinner drinks or accompanying light-flavoured bites.

More information about Riccadonna


Hailing from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Lambrusco is made from one of several grape varieties that go by the name Lambrusco. It’s usually made into a red sparkling wine but we tried a white one: Chiarli, an off-dry, lightly sparkling (frizzante) uncomplicated wine with aromas of sweet red apples. This was among the favourites at our tasting.


Another very classic wine from Italy, Asti is one of a kind, always sweet and low alcohol. This is because the juice is fermented just once, the tank being sealed to keep in the carbon dioxide, and the fermentation is interrupted when the wine reaches around 7% ABV, so it still has plenty of sugar that hasn’t been fermented.  Some cheaper styles are still wines, into which carbon dioxide is pumped to make them fizzy. We tasted Riccadonna Asti, a sweet wine that has enough acidity to stop it becoming cloying. Asti is made with Muscat grapes, which make it very aromatic (think grapes, ginger and raisins). This wine would go nicely with dessert.

More information about Riccadonna

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonCava

Another very classic type of sparkling wine, this time from Spain. Cava is always made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method and is usually made from native Spanish grapes, such as Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada, though others are permitted. We tried one of the world’s best-selling Cavas, Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Selección Cava. This is the very same wine I bought to celebrate my 21st birthday when I was living in Córdoba in Spain a few moons ago – and it’s still a great party wine. This is a dry sparkling wine with a lightly citrus aroma, zesty acidity and a creamy mouth. A moreish crowd-pleaser.

More information about Freixenet Cordon Negro

Portuguese sparkling wine

If you haven’t yet tried a Portuguese sparkling wine, I heartily recommend them. I sampled a few during my visit to Porto, all very elegant, made from native Portuguese grapes using the traditional method (check out the details of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008 and Terras do Demo in this post). We tried Luis Pato Maria Gomes Bruto from the Beiras region, made with 90% Maria Gomes and 10% Sercialinho grapes. This was one of the most aromatic wines in our tasting, with floral notes and just a hint of brioche from the autolysis. A lovely fresh, fruity, dry sparkling wine with plenty of body and lots of personality.

More information about Luis Pato

Sparkling wine for the festive seasonChilean Premium sparkling wines for the festive season

For this tasting I selected four wines retailing in Chile at between CLP10,000 and $20,000 (US$15-30). All were made using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method but the grapes and regions vary.

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonCalyptra Hera Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2012, Alto Cachapoal

This wine is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The most complex wine of the selection, with a sweet nose of classic Chardonnay aromas like banana and pineapple, together with brioche notes from the ageing process intermingled with some creamy lees aromas. Dry with high acidity and lots of body, this is a wine with personality and you’ll either love it or hate it. It was my personal favourite of this tasting.

More information about Calyptra Vineyards and Winery

Miguel Torres Cordillera Brut Blanc de Noir, Curicó

This wine is made from purely Pinot Noir grapes. A lovely fruity nose with notes of sweet red apples, but a dry mouth with high, fresh acidity and medium+ body. Very refreshing and easy to drink.

More information about Miguel Torres

Domaine Dussaillant-Lehmann Brut, Maule

This Brut is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a light and elegant style with subtle notes of fruit and croissant from the autolysis, high acidity. A very refreshing wine that was among the tasting team’s favourites.

Sparkling wines for the festive seasonLeyda Extra Brut, Leyda

The winery doesn’t specify the grapes on the label or their website. This is a very neutral and correct style of sparkling wine sure to appeal to those looking for a refreshing appetiser. It is dry with delightful acidity and some subtle autolysis notes (biscuits, croissant) in the mouth.

More information about Viña Leyda

More ideas for sparkling wines for the festive season:

An aromatic sparkling wine from the Loire

The highly elegant Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir (from the País) grape, if you can get hold of it. Tasting note here.

Domaine Raab-Ramsay, an offbeat Chilean organic sparkling wine producer

What is your favourite sparkling wine? What fizz will you be opening this festive season?

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.


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:



Luigi Bosca


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