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

Sweet wines including late harvestIn the last post we looked at how sophisticated and versatile sweet wines can be, combining with different types of food and making for a delicious aperitif or after-dinner drink. Many sweet wines are made with grapes that are much sweeter than normal. In fact, they are so sweet that the fermentation stops naturally before the yeasts have converted all the sugars.  There are four main ways of getting such high levels of sugar and today we’re going to look at the one used for late harvest wine. 

To make this kind of wine, you leave the grapes hanging on the vine for longer than usual, well past normal ripeness. As time goes by, the grapes start to shrivel or raisinise, losing water, and the juice becomes concentrated, with very high level of sugars and more fructose than regular, normally ripe grapes.

The yeasts that convert the sugar in grape juice or must into alcohol prefer glucose to fructose, so they convert the fructose last. If there is a lot of fructose in the juice, they may not manage to ferment it completely. Also, as there is a high sugar level, some wines can reach an alcohol level (around 14%-15% ABV) where the yeast action stops, even if there is still some sugar left.  Whatever the alcohol level, the end result is a wine that is sweet because it still retains some of the grape’s sugar.

A producer needs to have confidence that the weather will stay dry to leave the grapes on the vine once they are ripe, as damp conditions will probably cause the grapes to rot. Late harvest wines are therefore more often made in places with reliably dry autumn weather, including Alsace in France, where they are known as Vendange Tardive, and Chile.

The sugar that remains in the wine is called residual sugar and is measured in grams per litre. For instance, the Chilean Late Harvest wines detailed below have 100 grams per litre of sugar, while Royal Tokaji Eszencia is almost five times as sweet with 468 grams per litre. Looking at the level of residual sugar tells you how sweet the wine will be, although how you perceive the sweetness will also depend on the acidity level.

lujuriaChilean Late Harvest wines worth trying.

Casa Silva Late Harvest 2014, Colchagua Valley, 12.5% ABV. (Half bottle retails at CLP$8,000 – $10,500 in Chile, £8.50 at UK stockists, such as Whitmore and White)

This wine is a blend of late-harvested grapes: 56% Sémillon and 44% Gewürztraminer. It has 100 grams of residual sugar per litre.

This is a lovely aromatic wine with notes of honey, white blossom, lychee and passionfruit, candied orange peel, spicy notes of ginger and a touch of caramel. It is full-bodied, fruity and quite lusciously sweet but the high acidity helps balance this. Long finish.

Casas Patronales Lujuria Late Harvest 2013, Maule Valley, 12.5% ABV. (500ml bottle retails at CLP$7,000 – 9,000 in Chile)

75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Riesling. 100 grams of residual sugar per litre.

This is a pale golden colour and the aromas are pure and fruity, featuring notes of stone fruit, like peaches and apricots, citrus fruit, such as pineapple, as well as ripe pears and quince jam. Sweet, with high acidity and lovely concentrated fruit flavours. This wine feels lighter and more refreshing than the Casa Silva wine, though it has the same sugar level, so here the acidity is making it feel different.

When to drink late harvest wine: These wines will pair well with a range of cheeses or sweet pastries.

More about sweet wines:

Sweet wines – sophisticated and versatile.

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 4 – Wines with botrytis or noble rot

Sweet wines 5 – chilled or fortified wines

If you’re looking for a drink with a difference, look no further! Sweet wines may not be the first thing that springs to mind but trust me, some of these wines are the height of sophistication and a whole lot more versatile than you might imagine.  So varied is this category of wines, I have decided to dedicate a series of five posts to them.

sweet wines: niepoort-colheita PortSweet wines are untrendy right now and you may be wondering why they are worth a five-day feature. But just think – this is a category of wines that covers a huge range of styles, including some of the world’s most sophisticated, complex and expensive wines. Yes, some sickly sweet, almost undrinkable wines do exist, but there are also sublime wines that can make the perfect finishing touch to a special meal. For instance, check out a Riesling Late Harvest with chicken liver pâté, a rich Ruby Port with a selection of mature cheese or a Rutherglen Muscat with Christmas pudding.  And Oriental dishes or meals which combine meat or cheese with fruit (such as Roquefort with figs or roast duck with orange sauce) often work best with a medium-sweet or sweet wine, balanced by high acidity, especially those with botrytis, like Sauternes.

tasting-at-the-wset-school-in-london
Back to school: learning to taste fortified wines at the WSET School in London

Lately I’ve been trying all sorts of sweet wines and have been blown away by how amazingly diverse and super cool they can be. So, over the next few posts, I’m going to look at the main types of sweet wine and how to choose one that’s right for each occasion. The key to knowing what sweet wine will suit you and the food you are planning is knowing how each type is made, so let’s go right back to basics.

Wine is naturally dry

Grape juice contains sugars (glucose and fructose). When grape juice (known as must) is fermented, the yeasts in the fermentation vat convert these sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Normally, the fermentation continues until virtually all the sugars have gone. When the yeasts have nothing left to feed on, they die off naturally and the end result is a dry wine. Most wine is made in this way.

Sweet wines - Eszencia from Tokaj
One of the world’s ultimate sweet wines: Eszencia from Tokaj in Hungary

So how come some wines are sweet?

There are several ways of making sweet wines and each results in a very different style of wine:

  1. You can sweeten dry wine
  2. You can use grapes that are extra sweet because they are harvested later than normal, sun- or air-dried after harvest, affected by botrytis (noble rot) or left on the vine to freeze
  3. You can stop the fermentation early, before all the sugars have been converted, by cooling the wine down or fortifying it.

Over the next few posts, we’ll look at each of these methods and the kind of wines that result, starting with the most simple option.

1 You can sweeten dry wine

You can add sugar into a dry wine in the form of unfermented grape juice – specifically rectified concentrated grape must (RCGM) or sweet grape juice (süssreserve). Wines with added grape juice are likely to have simple grape aromas which may complement or even overpower the aromas of the wine itself.

Wines sweetened in this way taste differently because of the type of sugar they have. When grape must is fermented, the yeasts convert the glucose first, so if there is sugar left when the fermentation stops, it will be mainly fructose, which tastes more fruity and refreshing than glucose. However, when unfermented grape juice is added to a dry wine, it will have equal amounts of glucose and fructose and so be less fruity and refreshing.

German wines made from Riesling are among those that can be sweetened in this way and the naturally high acidity of the wine will counterbalance the sweetness, making for a refreshing, steely wine, which can have apple, peach or citrus aromas, minerality and, with age, a faint kerosene tang.

When to drink these wines: Serve a chilled off-dry or semi-sweet Riesling as an aperitif, with salads or trout.

More information about sweet wines: 

Sweet wines 2 – Late Harvest wines

Sweet wines 3 – Sun-dried or Icewine

Sweet wines 4 – Wines with botrytis or noble rot

Sweet wines 5 – chilled or fortified wines

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

It’s a challenge to explore the world of fine wine if you live in Chile. Forget the supermarkets: you can count on one hand the wines that don’t hail from Chile or Argentina. When I signed up for the WSET Diploma late last year, I toured the biggest wine stores in the nation’s capital, Santiago, and found their foreign wine sections very limited.  So discovering Edwards Fine Wines was a real breakthrough for me as I will only pass my exams if I get practice in tasting wines from around the world.

diego-edwards
Diego Edwards

EF Wines is a small company that imports fine wines from Europe and sells them via email and social media to wine aficionados here in Chile. So I went to the avant-garde Barrio Italia district of Santiago to talk to the company’s founder, Diego Edwards, and asked him how it all started.

“I used to work for Viña Santa Rita and I travelled a lot with my job. Visiting different countries, I had the chance to try some fantastic wines. I also realized that in other countries, even those that produce wine, it is possible to buy wines from around the world. So I knew that there must be a market for foreign wines in Chile too. But at that time nobody offered them.”

So two and a half years ago, Diego and his father Eduardo set up Edwards Fine Wines. Diego is responsible for buying, marketing and selling the wines, while Eduardo takes care of the administration. Their philosophy is to bring in a portfolio of carefully selected wines, mainly from small producers and their list reads like a who’s who of the major European wine regions.

I asked him if the paperwork involved in importing small amounts of bottled wine from many different suppliers isn’t a headache, but he smiled and said “you’ve just got to be well organized.”

Diego with Christian Moueix of Chataux Lafluer Petrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa
Diego with Christian Moueix of Chataux Lafluer Petrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa

Diego travels each year to different wine regions and selects wines, buying small lots; for instance this year he went to Bordeaux and the Loire in France and Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy.

chateau-guiraudHe buys some wines en primeur, a common practice for European wine merchants but quite a novelty in Chile. It entails taking a gamble by buying a new wine from its French producer before it has finished developing, so you can’t be completely sure how it will turn out. The upside is you buy it at an advantageous price. The wine you have bought remains at the winery until it is ready for release and only then will you know if you have made a good purchase.

Fortunes are made by some en primeur buyers who buy these new wines at good prices and then a few years later are able to sell the bottles at far higher prices. Diego says that he has no intention of doing this: he wants to offer fair prices to his customers so that they keep coming back for more. Hence the Château Guiraud Sauternes that was awarded 97 points by Wine Spectator and 99 by James Suckling was still available at a just about accessible price (53,600 pesos for a full bottle) to my wine tasting group recently.

So who are EF Wines’ clients, I wondered. “Wine lovers, restaurants and sommeliers,” Diego told me. “Perhaps because we are on social media, our clients are mostly younger people, people with a real interest in wine.” French and Italian restaurants are an important part of their clientele too, as they buy wines to complement their cuisine.

He is happy that the company is growing organically and sees the arrival of other wine importers as good for business. “Of course, we are just small and bringing in small lots of wine; the arrival of other companies only raises the profile of foreign wines. There’s plenty of room for all of us.”

Pinot Noir tasting: EF Wines provided the two from Burgundy
A recent Pinot Noir tasting: EF Wines provided the two wines from Burgundy

Find out more:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter: @DiegoEdwardsS
  • Email: ventas@efwines.cl

I asked Diego to name some wines he had really enjoyed recently. These were his choices:

  • Canto a Lo Divino from Viñateros Bravos in Itata Valley, Chile. This is a Cinsault, 2014 vintage.
  • Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in the Bolgheri DOC in Tuscany. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc.
  • Cabernet Franc from Vulturwines.
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

There is more Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the world than any other variety: 290,000 hectares in 2010. It’s the number one variety in Chile and, with over 40,000 hectares dedicated to this variety, Chile has the second largest area of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the world, after France, the birthplace of this traditional grape.

Time to eat

 

Much loved by the Chilean people, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice for accompanying barbecues, and, above all, for the annual national 18th September holiday, when the country downs tools for the best part of a week to eat, drink and be merry in celebration of the country’s independence.

Cabernet Sauvignon is beloved because it is a grape you can rely on for certain characteristics wherever in the world it comes from: the classic blackcurrant aroma, high tannins and medium to high acidity. The acidity level depends on how warm it is where the grapes were grown. If they are from a hotter climate, the wine will have lower acidity. With its thick, highly-coloured blue grapes, it gives deep-coloured wines.

When aged in oak, it can gain aromas of toast, coffee, vanilla or nuts, the mouth can become rounder and the tannins smoother.  Over time, the wine might develop notes of tobacco.

18 wineFresh and fruity or big and beefy?

Some Cabernet Sauvignon wines are made to have a lighter body, moderate, smooth tannins, refreshing acidity and lots of fruit aromas and flavours.  This style is quite versatile and will pair with lots of different dishes, especially red meat.

At the opposite extreme are full-bodied, tannic wines with oak-ageing, which can have a thick, “cigarbox” feel in the mouth, almost like you swallowed an ashtray. This is a style people either love or hate; it’s certainly very good with fatty, full-flavoured meat dishes.

Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon
Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon

Bordeaux blends

Cabernet Sauvignon originates in France and is one of the main grapes used for making red wine from Bordeaux, along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As in much of Europe, Bordeaux wines are blends for two reasons. Firstly Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late in the season and needs warmth to ripen fully. In cooler, damper years, it can fail to ripen fully in Bordeaux and so the other grapes grown in the region help make up for its underripe flavours and tannins. Secondly, by blending different varieties, a more complex and sophisticated wine is obtained. In a classic Bordeaux blend, the Cabernet Sauvignon will provide tannins and colour, while the plump and fruity Merlot rounds it out. Petit Verdot and/or Cabernet Franc are often used to give spice or perfume to the wine.

Many countries around the world, including Chile, make “Bordeaux blends” featuring Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and sometimes a touch of the other grapes. The result is usually a sophisticated wine with lots of upfront fruity aromas, some cigarbox notes and a meat-friendly mouth featuring lots of body, tannins and acidity that make such wines age well.

What style of Cabernet Sauvignon do you like? Do you have a favourite?


Our tasting panels have been hard at work this month, tasting Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

The first panel test-drove budget Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon during a barbecue and ranked them in order of how well they paired with barbecued meat. See the results here.

The second panel blind tasted mid-price Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines. See the results here.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoSunday 4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and there are events all over Chile this week to celebrate.  As Carménère wine has a very special association with Chile, it seems like a great choice for toasting this important day in the wine calendar.

For details of just some of the events going on around Chile, see my posts on the Chilean Wine Day in Valparaíso Region, the Chilean Wine Day in the Santiago area, Celebrate Chilean Wine Day in Colchagua and Chilean Wine Day in southern Chile or check out nosgustaelvino.

vina-santa-cruz_vista7-(1)What is the big association between Chile and Carménère anyway?

Once upon a time, vast swathes of France were planted with many different varieties of vines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carménère, to name but a few. Then, in 1863, vines began to die, but nobody knew why. First one vineyard, then another and soon vast areas of vines began to be wiped out by an invisible disease.  By the time the small, yellow, root-eating Phylloxera louse had been identified and a solution found, French wine production had been devastated and Carménère wiped out.

Time went by and the French wine industry recovered, its vast acres now planted with the same noble varieties grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, Carménère being a notable exception. As far as the world knew, Carménère had become extinct.

The twist in the story of Carménère came over a century later on the other side of the world, when some Chilean vines thought to be Merlot were actually identified as this long-lost variety.

Many regard Carménère as Chile’s flagship variety: certainly Chile leads the way in terms of number of Carménère vines planted – with 10,000 hectares in 2012. There are some plantings of the variety in France and Italy and DNA profiling recently led to a similar surprise discovery of Carménère vines, this time in China, where they are called Cabernet Gernischt.

which carménèreSo what’s Carménère like?

This deeply coloured grape needs a long growing season to reach its full potential and thrives in many of Chile’s warmer wine regions, such as Maipo, Rapel, Colchagua, Curicó and Maule. The best results come from plantings where the vigour is controlled.

Ripe Carménère contributes spicy aromas and flavours, such as black pepper, red and black fruit, herbal and smoky qualities to a wine. Depending on its level of oak-ageing, it may also have chocolate, coffee and leathery notes too. It tends to be an accessible and easy to drink smooth red wine with well-rounded tannins. If the grapes were a little underripe when picked, the wine can have herbaceous aromas and flavours like green peppers or olives.

Carménère pairs well with smoked, grilled or roasted meats, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and veal and holds its own with spicy food, like Indian and Mexican food.

Tasting carmenereFellow British expat Natascha Scott-Stokes and I recently tasted three Chilean Carménère wines that retail under $10,000 Chilean pesos. Here are our tasting notes.

Viña Von Siebenthal Carmenère 2013, Aconcagua Valley, 14% ABV (Retail price CLP$9,990 in Chile, £16.00 from Highbury Vintners)

85% Carménère, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10 months oak-ageing.

Deep ruby colour. An enticing nose in which aromas of sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and cedar, intermingled with fresh fruit, like raspberries and black cherries. In the mouth, it was medium-bodied with fine, ripe tannins, refreshing acidity and the same seductive mixture of fruit and spice flavours.

Natascha: “If I were going to buy a wine for a special dinner, this is the one I would choose.”

trio of carmenereApaltagua Envero Carmenere 2014, Colchagua Valley, 14% ABV. (Retail price CLP$7,990 in Chile, £11.95 from Stone, Vine & Sun)

90% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep purple colour. A pronounced, very fruity nose featuring notes of blackcurrants, blueberries and plums, with a touch of spice from oak ageing. This wine had high acidity, high levels of rather coarse, grippy tannins and plenty of body. Very fruity in the mouth with a slightly bitter note in the aftertaste. Overall a very pleasant wine and a good example of Chilean Carménère.

De Martino Gran Reserva Legado Carmenere 2014, Maipo Valley (Retail price CLP8,440, 2012 vintage retails at £7.65 at Berry, Bros & Rudd)

Deep purple colour. Pronounced, complex nose which was slow to open. Indeed this wine smelled and tasted better the day after we opened it. Upfront farmyard and forest floor aromas with the fruity aromas slow to appear. With high acidity, high levels of smooth tannins, this was a bigger, heavier wine and would pair well with rich food.

…And here are two more Carménère wines you might like to try:

QueulatViña Ventisquero Queulat Carmenere 2014, Maipo Valley, 13.5% (CLP$7,790)

85% Carménère, 15% Syrah

An expressive nose with notes of black fruit, like plums, black cherries and blueberries, some sweet spice from the oak ageing and a herbaceous touch. With refreshing acidity, plenty of body and smooth, ripe tannins, this is a good choice for accompanying barbecued meat or other full-flavoured meals.

Koyle Single Vineyard Carmenere 2013, Los Lingues, Alto Colchagua. (CLP$8,490)

This wine included 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec to contribute aroma and tension.

A nice, concentrated example of Chilean Carménère with lots of black and red fruit aromas and flavours, such as blueberries and raspberries, a touch of minerality and some spicy notes like black pepper, and just a hint of forest floor. With a good level of acidity, high levels of somewhat astringent tannins and all those primary fruit, mineral and spice flavours, this wine has the potential to benefit from further ageing.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing this weekend, I hope you’ll find time to raise a glass of your favourite Chilean wine in celebration of Chilean National Wine Day! Cheers!

Map of Chile courtesy of Free Vector Maps
Map of Chile courtesy of Free Vector Maps

1) Long and lean

A long, narrow country sandwiched between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is 4,300 km (2700 miles) long but at most 240 km (150 miles) wide.  That’s further than the distance from Edinburgh to the Sahara Desert and means that the country has lots of different types of climate, from the world’s driest desert in the north through to Antarctica in the south.

In the middle is a wide belt of land with a Mediterranean climate, perfect for growing grapes, as well as other Mediterranean crops, like olives, citrus fruit, and almonds.

Santa Cruz vineyard Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Santa Cruz vineyard
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

2) Warm and sunny

The grapevines bask in this generous Mediterranean weather. During the long summers, plenty of exposure to sunshine enables the grapes to ripen and develop the sugars which will later become alcohol when the grape juice is made into wine.

In hotter areas, this makes for ripe, fruity and quite potent wines, especially reds. If you’ve seen wines labelled as coming from Rapel, Colchagua, Central Valley, Maipo or Curicó, then they are likely to fall into this category.

Meanwhile, we are seeing some very exciting Chilean wines from areas which are a little cooler, either because they are planted at a higher altitude or are cooled by the sea breezes and coastal fogs coming in from the Pacific Ocean. In these areas, because the grapes ripen more slowly, they retain greater acidity and freshness. These wines tend to be more herbal or spicy and have higher acidity. Look out for wines – particularly whites – from Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda or Aconcagua or reds from Alto Maipo or Apalta, to name just a few areas.

Beautiful snow-capped mountains
In the spring, the ice melts, taking water to Chile’s vineyards and farms.

3) Not too wet

In the winter, rainclouds sweep in from the Pacific Ocean and, when they reach the Andes mountain chain, their moisture falls as snow. This is an area of ice and glaciers and, in the spring, the ice and snow begin to thaw, feeding hundreds of streams and rivers which flow west towards the Pacific Ocean, taking pure, clean, nutrient-rich water to irrigate the plants growing in the valleys.

The water arrives just at the right time for the vines, just when they are starting to grow after their winter dormancy.

However, vines don’t like too much water and they don’t do well with waterlogged roots, so it’s important that the soil drains well.

In most of Chile’s wine producing regions, there is little or no rain in the spring and summer. In many ways, this is good news, as too much water while the fruit is developing and ripening leads to big, over-watery grapes and less interesting wines. Meanwhile rain close to harvest time can cause grapes to split and rot and overly damp conditions during the growing season can cause noble rot (botrytis) and mildew. Many Chilean wineries use controlled drip irrigation to give the vines just the right amount of water to produce concentrated, flavoursome grapes.

Vine unfurling its leaves in spring.
Vine unfurling its leaves in spring.

4) Fit and healthy

Chile’s isolation in the far south of the world, surrounded by the natural barriers of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes mountains to the east, the Atacama Desert to the north and the ice fields and Antarctica to the south, has kept the country largely free of the pests and diseases that have plagued the wine industry in many other parts of the world.  Indeed, Chile is one of the few countries in the world where many vines are still planted on their own roots, rather than on phylloxera aphid-resistant rootstocks. From the consumer’s point of view, that means fewer chemicals are needed to prevent or treat problems.

5) Down to earth

This is a highly seismic area, part of the Pacific ring of fire, home to one of the longest chains of volcanoes in the world, some of which are still active. Centuries of volcanic and seismic activity have created a mountainous country with a wide variety of soil types, many of them ideal for different types of vines.

Vines in autumn (photo courtesy of Nadezda Kuznetsova)
Vines in autumn        Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

 

6) Nice and varied

Chile’s wine areas are classified by valley, which run east to west (Andes to Pacific) and also by proximity to the mountains or ocean.  The range of soil types and climate from one valley to another, in fact even in each valley, varies tremendously and this means that the wines themselves can vary tremendously from one vineyard to the next.

Red wine grapes
Red wine grapes

7) Young and adventurous

Chile’s wine industry has undergone a renaissance in recent decades and is blossoming. Each year, more hectares of land are planted with vines. Chilean and international terroir hunters keep widening their search for new areas to plant, where the soil and climate combine to offer conditions for producing grapes which will ultimately produce a wine of unique flavours and aromas. In this search, vines are being planted further north, further south and at higher altitudes than ever before.

Meanwhile, new generations of winemakers are experimenting with different types of grapes, blends and winemaking techniques to produce the biggest range of wines ever seen in Chile.

Tasting time!
Tasting time!

So what are you looking for? A classic lemon-crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca or one with a mineral and almost salty aroma from Leyda? A big, jammy, comforting Syrah from the Central Valley or an elegantly smooth, peppery Syrah from Apalta? An oily-nosed Riesling or a delicately fragrant Viognier? A Mediterranean-style blend? Or perhaps an ice-cold Brut to add a little sparkle to your day?  Whatever your taste in wine, Chile has something for you.

Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoChile is gearing up for a very special celebration this weekend: Chilean National Wine Day on 4 September. We have already looked at events going on in the Colchagua area, in southern Chile and in the Valparaíso region. Now let’s see how you can celebrate Chilean Wine Day in the Santiago area.

Special events

The independent wineries group MOVI are holding a picnic at the Parque de las Esculturas in Providencia, Santiago this Sunday from 12 noon. This is a free event and people are invited to go along with their picnic. There will be educational stands for children and adults. Event organized by the Municipalidad de Providencia, Pebre, La Ruta de la Vid and MOVI. Contact Daniela Rojas – drojas@lagardebezana.cl

The world’s biggest toast! Chile is attempting to make a new world record by having the biggest toast in the Plaza Ñuñoa in Santiago. If you would like to take part, you should register online at this address by midday on Friday.

There will be a free event at Plaza Mori in Providencia on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., with tastings of wines from Itata, live painting competition, craft and tourism displays. The Vinomio wine shop on Antonia Lopez de Bello 090. Will be offering discounts. Contact Sergio Garrido – sergio@vinomio.cl or tel. 56227353786

 

vina-santa-cruz_vista7-(1)Tours

Viña Odfjell is offering free tours and tastings on Saturday at 3 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. Places are limited so book by contacting Lorena Vargas – tours@odfjellvineyards.cl or tel. 228762800

Viña Perez Cruz has free tours and tastings on Saturday and Sunday at 10.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. Places are limited so book by contacting María José Mena – turismo@perezcruz.com or tel 228242405 ext. 211

Viña Cousiño Macul – 2 for the price of 1 on all regular or premium tours during this week – bookings ventas@cousinomacul.cl or phone 23514135 or 23514169. Address: Viña Cousiño Macul. Av. Quilin 7100, Peñalolen.

Viña Santa Rita is offering a 15% discount on its classic tour, plus one extra wine to taste on its tours this Sunday. Its restaurant and shop also have promotions. More information: reservas@santarita.cl – 2362 2594

Viña Concha y Toro will be having special events on Sunday at the winery on Avenida Virginia Subercaseaux 210, Pirque, Región Metropolitana. Contact: reserva@conchaytoro.cl – 2 24765680

vines at KoyleSpecial sales

There will be a wine sale with tastings this Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Casa Piedra in Santiago. Address: Escrivá de Balaguer 5600, Vitacura

Viña De Martino is having a 30% off sale at its winery shop on Isla de Maipo on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Contact: Yobana Villegas – wineshop@demartino.cl – 56 2 2577836

Viña Odfjell will have an open house and special sale of wines from on Friday from 12 noon to 7 p.m, Saturday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact: Lorena Vargas – tours@odfjellvineyards.cl – 228762800

Viña Santa Ema will have special prices this Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Contact: wineshop@santaema.cl

Sparkling for 2Tastings

Viña Santa Ema will be doing special tastings at 4 p.m. on Friday and 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Contact: wineshop@santaema.cl

Viña Haras de Pirque is offering free tastings on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact: Anais Reciné – reservas@harasdepirque.com or tel. 2854 79 10 ext 120. They also have a special menu of the day for those who would like to stay for lunch.

More information from nosgustaelvino.

Next post: A Carménère toast to Chilean Wine Day.

Wherever you are and whatever your plans this weekend, I hope you find time to raise a glass to help celebrate Chilean National Wine Day!

 

 

Vines at EmilianaCheck out my free, downloadable guide to sustainable winemaking in Chile, featuring details of Chilean organic and biodynamic wineries and why they have opted for environmentally friendly winemaking.

Cristóbal Undurraga of Viña Koyle in Alto Colchagua, for instance,  argues that not only is biodynamic viticulture good for the environment, but it also makes sound commercial sense, as he says yields are now higher than he and his family had ever forecast. He adds that the grapes have good concentration, lower sugar, higher acidity and are ready to be harvested earlier.

I also visited Emiliana Organic Vineyards in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, where I was impressed by the passion and conviction with which the tour guide spoke about biodynamic production. She was emphatic that the vines at Emiliana are tougher and better able to survive problems, such as frost, than those of neighbouring conventional wineries.

Dry-farmed, bush-trained Tempranillo vines at Koyle.
Dry-farmed, bush-trained Tempranillo vines at Koyle.

By way of contrast, I went to a very small winery in the Marga Marga valley, called Domaine Raab Ramsay, which produces organic sparkling wine and cider. It was like entering an enchanted land, filled with the buzz of hundreds of bees gorging on the pollen of the Chilean native woodland surrounding the vineyards.

I am now very proud to present my new e-book Sustainability and wine from Chile, which looks at why Chilean vines need fewer chemicals, what the Chilean wine industry is doing to be more sustainable and which Chilean wineries are biodynamic and why. Please click here if you would like to find out more.

I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you think wineries are doing enough to be sustainable? Have you tried organic or biodynamic wines? If so, what did you think of them? I’d also love to hear from wine professionals with stories to share about sustainability and wine.

More articles about biodynamic and organic wine production in Chile:

I was back at Emiliana on Tuesday. Spring has transformed the landscape, painting it green and dotting it with flowers.
Emiliana in the spring. The landscape is transformed.