Discover wine regions, winemakers and wines as we travel around the world in 80 harvests. Articles, videos and photography on global wine regions in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa.
South America’s wine regions don’t ever sit still. They are constantly on the move and in the last two decades we have seen several new wine regions emerge in previously unimaginable locations: the Atacama desert, Patagonia and in the heights of the Andes mountains where Inca ruins lay. Last week I gave a masterclass and South America tasting at London Wine Fair to discuss and demonstrate exactly how far producers are pushing boundaries.
You can watch the full masterclass here (and you can thank my lovely brother for filming it and adding the pretty flowers/paw prints on the corners ).
I was honoured to be able to present on behalf of the Circle of Wine Writers and absolutely thrilled to see so many esteemed colleagues and wine experts attend the tasting. I can tell you it is just a little bit more nerve racking when you have Steven Spurrier in the front row!
The greatest honour of all was to be able to present these producers’ wines, all of whom went to great efforts to send them half way across the globe to make the tasting in time. So I wanted to share some insight into why I picked the flight we tasted, and why these wines demonstrate how South America’s winemaking and viticulture boundaries are being broken.
South America masterclass wines: Pushing the boundaries
I split my South America tasting into the three frontiers of traditional viticulture that are being challenged: the Patagonian frontier, the coastal frontier and the altitude frontier. For each map I’ve indicated where new plantations are happening and where traditional regions are.
Wines are in order of service (which you can follow on the video link above too).
The Patagonian Frontier
Patagonia is a shared territory between Chile and Argentina, and in wine terms Patagonia begins at Rio Negro and Neuquén in Argentina and in Chile, where they are a little more modest, we consider the Osorno area the beginning of Patagonian wines (rather than Bio Bio, which is almost parallel to Neuquén).
On the Chilean side Patagonia is cool and wet, whereas on the Argentine side Patagonia is cool and dry. There have been developments on either side which are exciting and commercial wine releases from Viedma, Chubut and Osorno region, and there are experimental plantations even further south including at Chile Chico – which is the southernmost vineyard in the world.
Casa Silva, Lago Ranco Riesling 2016
Casa Silva is a long-running family-owned winery in Colchagua. They make plenty of wine and have a wide, quite classic, portfolio from the Central Valleys, so it impressed me when they stuck their neck out to make a wine from virgin territories in Patagonia – on the family estate at Lago Ranco. Climate change is making Patagonia more viable for wine production however this site also uses the moderating effect of the lake and they planted their vines on the volcanic slopes for better exposure and drainage. Casa Silva produce a smart Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Lago Ranco and this Riesling is the newest release – only launched a couple months ago. It’s part of a very exciting tribe of Rieslings coming from Chile today (not just from Patagonia, but also the Andes and coast) and I think it shows great typicity of the variety but also of the place – with some of the more delicate aromatics you get in the south and a spine of acidity. A harmonious wine and an exciting addition to the growing Lago Ranco portfolio.
Coastal vineyards and wine regions are certainly the fasting growing in South America, and that is largely to do with Chile. However coastal wine regions in Chile are surprisingly young, only starting in the 1980s when Pablo Morande‘s pioneered a vineyard in Casablanca. Since then however we have seen extensive coastal vineyard plantations in Chile, most notably in Casablanca, neighbouring San Antonio (where sub-region Leyda is well-known) and in Limarí further north. The coastal mountain range in Chile runs along all the central valley regions and there have also been several coastal developments in the traditionally Entre Cordillera or Andes wine regions of Colchagua and Aconcagua (where the coastal wine regions are Colchagua Costa and Aconcagua Costa). I also marked Itata and Maule on the map because some new vineyards are being planted there practically facing the coast, which is another exciting coastal development.
The most traditional and oldest coastal region of South America is, of course, Peru. However Uruguay is probably the most extensive traditional coastal region, with its main wine region Canelones only some 40km from the coast. Uruguay has seen much more coastal development happening further along the coastline in recent years, and Argentina is now producing its very first coastal wines in history.
Bodega Bouza, Pan de Azucar Riesling 2016
Bodega Bouza is a family winery that became well known for their Albariño which they produce near Montevideo and Canelones, a bit further inland. However the wine I picked is from their young Pan de Azucar vineyard in Maldonado – one of Uruguay’s newest and most important coastal regions. They have a handful of great wines coming from this 2010 vineyard, including super Tannat and Merlot, but we tasted their Riesling which I think has fantastic Riesling typicity but also a really great weight in the palate and distinct character not only due to its maritime influence but for its special syenite soils. Uruguay is a playground of different soil types – incredibly diverse for its diminutive size – and this wine exemplifies the movement happening in Uruguay today where producers are looking for new terroirs that can produce exciting wines. This wine was one of the favourites of the tasting.
This is a really exciting project for Argentina, and I’m happy to explain why. Although the wines are quite classic in style, these are the first and practically only coastal wines that exist in Argentina. Owned by Trapiche, one of the biggest wine producers in Argentina, this is a more boutique affair with 25 hectares planted in Chapadmalal, Buenos Aires province. There is a mild, maritime climate being only 6 kilometers from the Atlantic coast and the wines are more similar to Uruguayan wines than to any Chilean/Pacific counterpart. Their Sauvignon Blanc has more bright and fresh aromatics without being overwhelming or tiring (like so many coastal Sauvignon Blancs can be, in my opinion). I love the impact this has within Argentina. As a country where it is nigh impossible to get imported wines, Costa y Pampa offers a rare chance for sommeliers and wine students to try something from the coast – and I really think that should be celebrated. Trapiche fortunately have the budget and logistics to be able to plant in new territories, but with the success of these wines I’m sure we’re going to see more coastal vineyards in the not-so-distant future in Argentina.
This is another case of a larger winery, Viña Ventisquero, breaking the rules and creating a boutique project in an off-the-beaten-path area. You can’t get much more off-the-beaten-path than this location: on the edge of the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The Tara vineyard is extreme in terms of soils, in terms of sunshine and in terms of how dry the region is. However the cold Humboldt Current and Pacific Ocean mean that a thick camanchaca coastal fog bathes the vines every morning and keeps the evening temperatures cool so the grapes ripen nicely. This Chardonnay is unfiltered, foot-trodden and made in an artisanal way, which is another reason why it proves an interesting departure on Ventisquero’s usual style. I love the salinity and texture to this wine, it is appetizing and makes me hungry while drinking it!
I always knew this would be wine that would generate the most conversation in the tasting (it’s hard not to with an orange wine, right?) But for me this wine represents something really important happening in South America at the moment – the re-appropriation of old vines and traditional varieties. Quebranta and Torrontes are typically only used for Pisco-production in Peru but winemakers Matias Michelini (from Argentina) and Pepe Moquillaza (from Peru) wanted to make a wine that really embodies the varieties and their potential to make characterful wines. Coming from the coastal region of Ica, these vines are all on their own roots (pie franco) and 30-years-old. The wine reflects the wild landscape, the salinity of the soils and the rusticity of these criolla varieties. I’m thrilled to see this Peruvian wine with such identity and complexity. If you’ve ever had real Peruvian cuisine, you’ll understand why a true Peruvian shouldn’t be any less complex and unique. Go big or go home, I say.
Co-ferment Quebranta & Torrontes.
60 days on skins (33% whole bunch)
6 months neutral oak. Alc. 12.7%
Total Acidity: 6.1 Reducing sugars 3.1g/l
MIMO = Matias MIchelini, Pepe MOquillaza
The Altitude Frontier
Planting at altitude is nothing new in South America. The first vines were planted near Cuzco in Peru 500 years ago… they didn’t survive but altitude plantings in Bolivia (where every vineyard is above 1600m) and Argentina have thrived over the last couple of centuries. While planting at high altitude is traditional, it is also a very new movement too.
Vineyard plantings in Salta have more than doubled in the last 17 years, making Cafayate one of the fastest growing wine regions in Argentina today. And further south in Mendoza we are seeing higher and higher vineyards in the Uco Valley and also in other areas of Mendoza above the city and in Uspallata en-route to mount Aconcagua. On the other side of the Andes we are also seeing altitude developments in Chile – notably in Elqui, Limarí and Cachapoal. The climb uphill is not just about cooler temperatures but also about more interesting soils, and of course the all-important water access.
In Brazil and Uruguay, although the mountains are much smaller, there have also been several higher altitude developments and in particular in Brazil which is why I chose a wine from Serra da Mantiqueira as the first in the tasting.
Casa Verrone, Syrah Speciale 2016
This smaller family producer planted this vineyard in 2010 on one of the highest mountain ranges in Brazil – the Serra da Mantiqueira, in the Sao Paolo region. Altitude is one way of finding cooler temperatures in the sub-tropical climate of Brazil, but what’s also innovative about this wine is the winter harvest technique. Casa Verrone prunes their vines in the summer and allows the fruit to grow in the winter months of June and July when the temperatures are typically much cooler and the skies are sunny and dry. This gives the vines a longer growing season and produces more balanced fruit and I think that is particularly evident in this Syrah which is fruit-driven but quite juicy and bright.
Winter harvest. 840m altitude.
12 months French oak. Alc. 14%
pH: 3.85, Total Acidity: 3.9
Residual Sugar: 1.3g/l
Casa Veronne, www.casaverrone.com.br
£16. Seeking representation: firstname.lastname@example.org
De Martino Alto de Toro Syrah 2011
This is a vineyard I love and have visited several times because it is just so remarkable. The highest altitude vineyard in Chile, the Alcohuaz vineyards sit proud at up to 2200m above sea-level at the end of the Elqui valley. Owned by Viñedos de Alcohuaz, this fruit is purchased by De Martino winery (whose winemaker Marcelo Retamal happens to be co-owner of Viñedos de Alcohuaz) and 2011 was the first commercial vintage from this young vineyard. The wine shows that great intensity of this vineyard – the pure sunlight and luminosity, the cold evenings, the extreme winters and the poor, granite soils. It was such a pleasure to taste this wine with some age on it because it really shows a remarkable wine from a remarkable location that may well be new, but already has the potential to age. This was another favourite in the tasting.
This is something I’m planning to cover in my upcoming guide to South American wine. But, in a nutshell, I think we’re sure to see more developments at altitude, more along the coastline and further penetration of Patagonia for viticulture. The refocus on traditional wine regions and varieties is also something to be followed very closely in South America. There’s an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experimentation of the current generation of winemakers in South America which is driving them to push the boundaries more than ever before. And this is why, I believe, that South America is one of the most dynamic wine continents today.
The extensive and hugely varied Loire wine region can be difficult to get to grips with, so we’ve put together this Loire Fast Facts feature to provide a clear insight into the region and its wines. As it’s such a large and diverse region, we have divided it into the four main sub-regions and prepared fast fact features for each. Our guide to the Loire includes an overview of the region to give you some initial insight, while the fast facts for each area enter into greater detail.
Photo credit: Domaine des Génaudières, Pays Nantais
Where is it?
The Loire is one of France’s biggest wine regions, following the course of the Loire (France’s longest river, with a total length of 1,000 km) until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Brittany. The Loire River is roughly in the centre of France and crosses major historical cities, including Orléans, Blois, Tours and Angers. The map below from Loire Valley Wines (the official website of the Interloire organization) gives you a good idea of the size of this region.
Loire Valley Key Figures
No. 1 Biggest producer of French AOC white wines
No. 1 Biggest AOC region for French sparkling wines (excluding Champagne)
No. 2 Second biggest producer of French AOC rosé wines
No. 3 Third in France in terms of production with 2.4 million hectolitres
No. 4 Fourth biggest French region in terms of wine-growing area – 70,000 ha
61 Appellations and Denominations
420 million bottles per year.
160 trading companies
Source: 2016 figures from the website of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau, which is the marketing representative of Interloire and the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre (BIVC) in the United States.
The sub-regions of the Loire
The Loire River and its many tributaries play a key role in climate fluctuation and wine diversity throughout the wine-producing district. The region stretches from the Central Loire, which is very much in the centre of France, to the south of Paris and has a semi-continental climate with greater temperature fluctuations, and, as you travel westwards along the river towards the Atlantic Ocean, the climate becomes more maritime, with more moderate temperatures and greater humidity.
The Loire wine-producing district is divided into 4 main regions :
This is the westernmost sub-region and the most influenced by the Atlantic. This is an area with rocky soils and a moderate, moist climate. Melon de Borgogne is the most-grown grape, made into dry white wines known as Muscadet that pair well with seafood.
These are two smaller regions that together make up the next sub-region, which still has a maritime influence. This is a very varied area in terms of mesoclimate and soils, with a wide range of grape varieties and wine styles. Key among them are white wines (sweet, dry, still and sparkling) made from Chenin Blanc and reds and rosés from Cabernet Franc and other varieties.
This is the next sub-region along and marks the transition point between climate type – this becomes more continental – soils, grapes and wines. This area is most known for its Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines but also produces good Sauvignon Blanc, rosé and sparkling wines.
The Central Loire is the furthest inland and the climate is sub-continental with significant temperature differences. The soils are varied and include some Kimmeridgian clay, so in terms of climate and soils, the Central Loire has plenty in common with Chablis in Burgundy, just 100km away. The Central Loire is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, though it also produces some red wines.
The region has a lot of small vineyard areas, many of which are family-owned.
Viticultural methods vary but many have adopted sustainable techniques, including organic or biodynamic production.
Guyot training is common across all sub-regions.
Viticultural challenges vary by sub-region; botrytis and other fungal problems can arise in the humid conditions in some sites in Pays Nantais and Anjou while spring frost can be more of an issue in the continental climate of Touraine and Central Loire.
Producers in the Loire have had to become more competitive in recent decades and this has led to a renaissance in all aspects of grape-growing and wine production, including:
a range of techniques to control vine vigour and ensure lower yields so that the grapes that are harvested are riper and have more aromas and flavours.
taking care to harvest riper grapes, even though this may mean making several passes through the vineyard, for intance with Chenin Blanc, which tends to ripen unevenly.
Winemakers are experimenting with techniques to produce more exciting wines, including:
some skin contact for white wines,
increasing use of oak (some new) for fermentation and/or ageing for both whites and reds
better extraction of tannins and colour for red wines
partial or complete MLF in white wines
leaving some whites over their lees to add complexity and texture
Loire guide: Grape varieties and wine styles
There are a very wide variety of grape varieties grown across the Loire region and these are detailed in the fast facts feature for each sub-region.
White wines account for over half of the region’s production and can vary from bone-dry to lusciously sweet. The region is also an important producer of red, rosé and sparkling wines.
The first vineyards were planted by the Romans in the Nantes area, but viticulture in the Loire began to grow from around 500 A.D. onwards. As was the case in the rest of France, the production of wine and the habit of consuming it tended to spread with Christianity, as each new abbey or monastery that was founded planted its own vineyards.
Proximity to a river has always been an important factor in viticulture because of the water’s moderating effect on the climate and its ability to increase solar exposure in areas where grapes might not otherwise ripen. But historically, there was an even more critical reason for planting vineyards near rivers: the ability to transport the wine at a time easily and quickly by boat or barge, when the alternative was a horse-drawn cart ambling slowly along poor-quality roads. It is therefore no coincidence that viticulture spread along the Loire and its tributaries rather than into areas further away from the river. As it grew, the wine that wasn’t locally consumed was shipped downriver to Nantes and much of this was exported on the ships carrying locally extracted salt to different markets in northern Europe.
The big break for wine producers in the Loire came in 1154 when Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, became King of England. He served wines from the Loire at court and helped create demand for them in England.
The French Revolution had a huge impact on wine production, by sweeping away some of the restrictions and taxes that had existed before and also, very importantly, by transforming land ownership in France. The two main reasons why today small (or even tiny) vineyard holdings are common in much of France, including the Loire, have their roots in the changes that took place at that time. Firstly, the property of the church and the aristocracy and anyone who emigrated from France during the revolution was seized and auctioned off in small lots with the goal of raising the maximum amount of money. Those who were able to buy these properties, including vineyard areas, were mostly reasonably well-off middle-class people.
Secondly, a law was passed in 1793 which decreed that when a person died, his or her possessions should be divided equally among all offspring, regardless of gender or age. This meant that with each generation, a plot of land would be further sub-divided. Many a fair-sized family holding in France has thus gradually been divided to the point where many individuals each own just a few rows of vines.
In the late 19th century, phylloxera devastated many of the vines in the Loire, as elsewhere across Europe. Viticulturists slowly replanted their vineyards, using the American rootstocks that could resist this devastating louse. And it was then that vineyards took on the form that we take for granted today – neat rows of vines, all of the same variety – rather than the intermingled “field blends” that had previously been planted in no particular pattern.
Sometimes a visit into wine country is ultimately about indulging – and a trip to L’And Vineyards in Portugal’s Alentejo couldn’t be anything but. This vineyard came onto the map as such because of its kitchen – where an innovative young Portuguese chef created a tasting menu combining local Alentejo ingredients and flavours with an Asian-inspired twist. Miguel Laffan was the first chef in the Alentejo to be awarded a Michelin star, catapulting one of Portugal’s poorest and least populated regions into the limelight and putting it on the bucket list for foodies and wine lovers.
The brand new hotel – just 7 years young – has its luxury villas smartly landscaped into the sloping hillsides overlooking a lake, outdoor swimming pool and a garden of old vines (where several different varieties have been ‘re-homed’). Each suite features an enormous living room, private plunge pool and some have a remote-controlled ‘sky ceiling’ directly above the bed where you can roll back the ceiling to uncover a pristine patch of Portuguese sunshine and blue sky by day, or a star-filled sky by night. While the spa resort certainly demands some attention, most of the buzz is actually about the restaurant, where chef Miguel’s 24-strong team serve up a tasting menu of 8 courses and wines – each offering a different taste of Alentejo and beyond.
L’And Vineyards: creative pairings & colourful reinventions of Portuguese cuisine
I settled down to my table under hanging copper chandeliers and was served an array of salted and spiced local almonds, local olive oil and my own pot of delicious local cheese (of the best kind – the kind you have to eat with a spoon). It was served with a rich Douro sparkling white, and followed by a tasty array of beautifully presented bites – a Magdalena cake mashed with smoked sausage and topped with a fresh pea ice cream; a pastry cigar filled with perfectly seasoned veal tartare; a steamed oyster served in a flavourful Japanese dashi which was an umami explosion in the mouth; and finally flaked cod encased in cuttlefish ink pastry.
This was before the menu had even officially began…
The first dish of the tasting menu is what Miguel calls his ‘surf ‘n turf’ option. A slender slice of pork terrine is topped with a tartare of langoustine and dressed with puree of carrot, bergamot and fennel and a passionfruit coulis. If those words aren’t making your mouth water, then you can add a tropical and fresh glass of Alentejo Verdelho on top. The richness of the pork was cut with bright fresh fruit flavours on the plate and glass, and translucent langoustine was the cherry on the cake. Miguel says that the langoustine here “have so much flavour they are better served raw!” Amen to that.
Next up was Miguel’s take on a traditional ‘empada’ (pie) from the Alentejo region. The big difference is the bun: an ‘empada’ typically uses a thick pie pastry but in this case, the bun was a steamed bao bun filled with traditional game-stuffing and then served with a rich miso beneath and foie gras shaved over the top. It’s a flavourful interpretation of a traditional dish which paired nicely with a slightly salty, coastal Chardonnay from Lisbon.
Now before describing the next dish, I should explain that every single meal I’ve ever eaten at a dinner table in Portugal has soup as one course. So it was no surprise that even in a Michelin star restaurant in Portugal, soup is part of the menu. The surprise, however, is that Miguel channels his flair for Asian cuisine in this ‘Taiwan Soup’. An aromatic and rich TUM YUM broth, this dish is comfort in a bowl. A perfectly rolled fold of angel hair noodles with delicate prawns and baby mushrooms bring a delicacy to this otherwise sumptuous dish. The L’And sommelier team pairs this with a wine that they describe as slightly ‘spicier’ – an Alvarinho from Vinho Verde. I am not sure I would describe Albariño as spicy, but the aromatic fruit and creamy lees actually worked beautifully with the lime zest and coconut milk in the broth.
The next dish was a striking plate of lobster with seaweed powder, butter sauce and fennel tartare – a delicious combination of buttery lobster (with butter) and irresistible aniseed notes. Paired with a more austere Douro white blend – this is a case of mountain meets sea with delicious results.
The fish continued into the next dish in one of Portugal’s cuisine staples – cod. Served with a creamy foam, rich oyster tartare and fresh seasonal spring-time greens and herbs, my mind would automatically send me to a white wine pairing but the sommelier’s choice of a light and crunchy red blend from Casa do Mouraz in the Dao was spot on. It also really pleased me to see Casa do Mouraz on the menu because this is a winery I had written about last year when they were hit by devastating fires which destroyed their winery, vines and wines. They are still fundraising to try and rebuild their wine production, so any support through donations, purchase power or otherwise is definitely a good thing.
The next wine in the menu came from a more local producer, back in the Alentejo, Quinta de la Torre 2014 whose Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouchet blend offered a complex and suitable companion to a smoked, tandoori lamb fillet with exotic tamarind and saffron sides. Alicante Bouchet is one of the highlights of the red wine scene in Alentejo and it was great to taste it in this setting, and with a little bit of age which had already added appetising leather and spice aromas.
And to end the meal, you really can’t skip a fortified wine in Portugal. To seal the menu, a glass of Carcavelos – a deliciously nutty, fruity and sweet blend, this is southern Portugal’s answer to a tawny Port and quite scrumptious. Especially when served with playful desserts like banana ice-cream and honeycomb, followed by a ‘lychee in the sky’ dessert of pear, lychee, yoghurt and caramelised pinenut. The finish delivered showmanship and flavour.
After my delicious wine dinner – which I’m not embarrassed to admit I enjoyed on a romantic evening all to myself – I wobbled to my room, threw myself onto the bed, opened the sky ceiling and enjoyed a wine-induced starry slumber, still savouring all the flavours from this very special part of land in the Alentejo.
A post shared by Amanda Barnes (@amanda_wine) on May 13, 2018 at 11:29am PDT
I enjoyed a Sunday morning tasting with L’And Vineyards’ resident wine expert Cristina Oliveira to discuss some of the different wine styles and varieties found in the Alentejo wine region. Here’s our live video interview and wine tasting:
How Miguel Laffan found his food-home in Alentejo
Born in the coastal region of Cascais near Lisbon, chef Miguel Laffan is actually best known for his culinary adventures in the Alentejo region where he made his name – and his Michelin star – at L’And Vineyards restaurant. I interviewed him in the garden about some of his culinary inspirations and the beautiful ingredients you can find in Alentejo (along with some of his favourite wine pairings!)
My visit to L’And Vineyards was in association with Wine Paths: offering luxury and exclusive wine tours and experiences in wine regions around the world. You can book your own visit online here.
What are the different styles of Port, and how do you make them? Having made Port for the best part of 25 years, Portuguese winemaker Nicholas Delaforce knows a thing or two about Port. I interviewed him from the balcony of Niepoort’s Quinta de Napoles where we discussed the major styles of Port, how Port wines have changed and evolved over time and when he decides to declare a vintage or not.
We also get the scoop on his favourite styles of Port and which one he would recommend buying to get the most value for your money.
You can find out more about Niepoort’s Port production online
The soils of the Douro are world famous. The Douro schist soils, in particular, are known for their great ability to retain water and give life to vineyards that would otherwise be too dry to produce fruit. Quinta do Crasto is on the right bank of the Douro between Régua and Pinhão and has four vineyards in the Douro, including some very old vines (over 100 years old).
I interviewed winemaker Manuel Lobos in their Vinha da Ponte vineyard, just a stone’s throw from the winery, where they have 109-year-old vines that have found their home in brown schist soils. The high density vineyard has to be taken care of with painstaking manual labour (employing the use of horses once a year to turn the grass back into the soils) and viticulture is only possible because of the socalcos (stone retaining walls).
In this live video stream from the vineyards, Manuel explains why the Douro schist soils are essential for quality wine production and some of the diversity of soils you find in the Douro’s wine regions.
Wine recommendations from Quinta do Crasto
The view from Quinta do Crasto
Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2012
This field blend is only made in special years, and comes from their 109-year-old vineyard (the Douro schist in the video above) with over a dozen native varieties in the blend. I love the style of this wine – it is full bodied but still has bright red berry fruit and floral notes giving it a vibrancy, which is backed by spice, length and complexity from 20 months in oak.
Crasto Red 2015
This is their entry-level red, and it’s a great introduction into a modern style of Douro red. Purple in hue, there’s lots of berry and spice on the nose but the finish is smooth and with well-integrated and polished tannins. I also tried the 2005 vintage, which was holding up surprisingly well considering this is a wine that costs less than $15 USD.
Late Bottle Vintage 2000
It’s not all wine at Quinta do Crasto, and their Port production is actually growing. Quinta do Crasto’s LBV offers great value and an opportunity to drink an unfiltered, rich Port with brooding graphite notes under the plush fruit and spice.
Crasto Superiore White 2016
With creamy notes overriding the fresh floral and white orchard fruit aromas, this is a mouthwatering blend of Viosinho and Verdelho. Full bodied but with bright aromas and a salty freshness on the finish, this is an appetising wine. They source this fruit from their high altitude vineyard – 600m above the river level – where the cooler temperatures help retain a naturally higher acidity.
Wine geeks, check out their special lees-rolling technique:
Mendoza may be a sleepy agricultural region by the quiet foothills of the Andes, but it is now also home to the world’s first open source winery. OpenVino at Costaflores Organic Vineyard in Lujan de Cuyo is the brainchild of US expat and IT expert Mike Barrow, and as of 6 May 2018 he’s opening up all his books for the world to see and launching his entire 2018 wine production as a wine-backed crypto asset.
What is an open source winery?
Open source is usually used in software when the source code is made available for use or modification by the public. In the case of the winery, it means everything is available for the public to see. And that doesn’t just mean his accounting will be visible to the world, but you can also track the temperature of the fermentation tank or the temperature underground in the vineyard; you’ll be able to see how much the vines have been irrigated and what treatments the vineyard workers have used, in what quantity and when, throughout the year; there’s a weather cam outside and there’s an indoor camera inside showing you exactly what’s going on in the winery at all times. Every piece of data and information collected about the production of the wine is visible for everyone to see at any moment – entirely open source.
“I know lots of wineries that have interesting blogs about their viticulture, but I know of none that open their books, their accounting ledger, for all to see,” Mike explains of the pioneering project. “If we are going to talk about organic viticulture, or fair-trade…this is the real deal. And we are using new low-cost technologies to bring the Internet-of-things to the vines.”
Mike explains the concept of an open source winery here in this video:
Why an open source winery? - YouTube
What is a wine-backed crypto asset?
The other novel component of OpenVino is that the entirety of the 2018 vintage will be sold as a wine-backed crypto asset, another first in the wine industry. Each bottle of wine made will represent one token – an MTB coin. The cost of that token is going to be set at the cost price (which will be approximately 100 Argentine pesos before tax, estimates Mike) and the entire production will be sold as coins on 6th May in their ICO sale.
The fun part is that now all these tokens go onto an exchange. The price of the token, or wine bottles, are now free to market fluctuations and – as Mike puts it – the new owners of the tokens are able to ‘pocket the difference’ by selling the tokens at any point, or can exchange them for their bottle of wine when the 2018 vintage is released in 2021.
Mike’s goal is to ‘qualify value and honesty in wine’ rather than drive the price up through its tokenisation, and having his wine bottles on an openly visible exchange is part of the intrigue for him: “Some day, I want to be able answer questions like: ‘Where did the bottles that left the winery end up? What did the people that drank them feel and think? What foods and friendships…or sad moments did they share with those bottles?’ When someone asks me the price of my wine, I want to be able to say, ‘I don’t know…let’s look up the value online’, and have logic and reasoning behind that answer.”
He explains more in this video:
Wine coins and the Blockchain - YouTube
What’s the point of the project?
‘Cypto asset’ and ‘open source’ might feel like buzz words inappropriately inserted into the traditional idioms of wine, but what excites me about the OpenVino project is that it offers some much-needed transparency in an industry that is often obscured by smoke and marketing heists.
Of course, this strategy of making an open source winery is perhaps only possible for a small to medium-sized producer. But what OpenVino should, or hopes to, do, is make every single step of the wine production – from the vine to the bottle – visible to the consumer, and in doing so it will make the industry more accountable to the truth and transparency:
“When I try to communicate my passion for my product, explaining them what our vineyard is like, how organic viticulture works, how our wines are made…,” says Mike, “I want a mechanism in place so that the people I am talking to, know for certain that I am not bullshitting them.”
OpenVino goes live with the open source winery data and the ICO sale of MTB tokens on 6th May.
Mauro Von Siebenthal is a man of fine tastes: he knows all the scores of Beethoven, has a penchant for oil paintings and has been collecting Bordeaux wines since before he was old enough to drink. Born and raised in Switzerland, he spent the first half of his professional life working as a successful lawyer in Switzerland and the other half he has dedicated to running his boutique winery in Aconcagua Valley, Chile.
Viña Von Siebenthal is his home today, where he and his son manage a modest but strictly premium wine production. “Tatay was one of the first Chilean wines to be priced over $200 USD the bottle,” Mauro tells me as he syphons off a sample of Tatay Carmenere from the 2016 vintage – still waiting in barrel for full maturity. Long ageing periods and extended barrel time is a trademark of Viña Von Siebenthal and a look around the barrel room is dizzying. “We have more barrels than wine!” he laughs.
Patience is part of the art in Viña Von Siebenthal. And a taste of their 2010 Toknar – a single variety Petit Verdot – still reveals the wine to be in its youth, hinting towards great ageing potential. “When I arrived, I mistakenly thought Chilean wines couldn’t age – but in fact they age extremely well.”
His wines are mainly composed of Bordeaux and Rhone varieties – including one white wine, a voluptuous Viognier – each expressing the sunny climate and luminosity of Aconcagua Valley.
In our interview below, Mauro explains why Aconcagua Valley captured his imagination and offered an instant emotional connection:
Realising a dream in Chile: Mauro Von Siebenthal interview - YouTube
My visit to Viña Von Siebenthal was in association with Wine Paths: offering luxury and exclusive wine tours and experiences in wine regions around the world.
This week I headed out to the Uco Valley in Mendoza to visit one of Argentina’s most modern and architecturally striking wineries – Bodega Diamandes. It’s always a pleasure to visit the beautiful Clos de los 7 estate in Vista Flores, especially on a gorgeous Autumn day, but it also happened to be Malbec Day, or rather Malbec Week, in Argentina – offering the perfect excuse to drink some.
Owned by a Belgian family, Bodega Diamandes is the newest – and only New World – winery in a small family portfolio which includes Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere and Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt in Bordeaux. It was through the family’s relationship with famous Bordeaux winemaking consultant Michel Rolland that they first set their sights on buying property in Mendoza’s Uco Valley but, as Veronique Bonnie explains in the video below, the family had a personal connection with Argentina long before:
I also caught up with their Argentine winemaker, Ramiro Balliro, to talk about Malbec and why this variety has become Argentina’s most famous export. At least I thought it was Argentina’s most famous export, until Ramiro challenged me with some other famous Argentine exports beginning with M: Messi, Manu Ginóbili, Maradona… Either way, we both agreed that it was a good excuse to drink some Malbec:
Much of my Malbec (and wine tasting) was actually over lunch in the winery restaurant where a five-course meal is paired with their Vista Flores wines.
You can scope out some of the pairings in the gallery and take a quick look at one of the pairings – the holy grail of Argentine food and wine experiences – Malbec and steak:
A bright Viognier with attractive notes of stone fruits and white flowers, back by a fresh acidity that gives it a precise and lean finish.
Diamandes Grande Reserve Chardonnay 2016
There’s a fullness and complexity to this Chardonnay achieved from oak-ageing in barrels however on the nose this white wine still shows plenty of bright citrus and stone fruit aromas, as well as a crisp acidity on the palate.
Diamandes Malbec 2014
Bright red fruits and light floral notes show this Malbec as youthful, despite being four years old today. There is spice and structure from oak ageing, but ultimately this is a Malbec which is perfect to enjoy today.
Diamandes Grande Reserve 2013
A blend of mainly Malbec with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, this blend has more time in barrel and offers much fuller and concentrated fruit. The Cabernet gives it a spicy backbone which nicely frames the fleshier fruits of the Malbec. Ageworthy.
My visit to Diamandes was in association with Wine Paths: offering luxury and exclusive wine tours and experiences in wine regions around the world.
2017 was a complicated and challenging year for BC although wine quality looks promising as local producers affirm in this Okanagan harvest report 2017 written by Julian Park:
The year started with large amounts of snow and cold weather. The snow melt led to floods and excessive vegetative growth that resulted in several wildfires throughout the year. While the climate presented challenges in the region, winemakers have fortunately not expressed any fears of smoke taint or damage and many are reporting one of their best vintages in recent years.
Most vineyards experienced decreased yields of up to 20% compared to an average harvest but the quality of juice was very good.
“This was a challenging year, but we couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome and quality of fruit we received. The season started slowly as the record snow melted slowly. Then we had to contend with a rainy, overcast spring. We put a huge amount of work into controlling powdery mildew, including several extra sprays and starting shoot and leaf thinning early to ensure we managed disease pressure.
“We had record-high temperatures throughout July and August, but the intense wildfires generated so much smoke that we ended up with the equivalent of more than two weeks of overcast days. In the end, our efforts paid off, and we had a beautiful harvest of clean, ripe fruit, from our early-ripening Siegerrebe through to our early October harvests of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They’re all tasting great, so far.We can’t wait to pour our first estate-grown wines!”
“The vintage started off great in April with an early bud break for us. We also had a minimal amount of rain in June. The remainder of the summer remained hot without rain. In September and October we had cooler temperatures but again without much rain. This was ideal for reaching our desired sugar levels. It also helped to produce great phenolic, perfect acidity & flavourful grapes. In my opinion, aromatic Whites and Rose’s will be the stars of the 2017 vintage.
“It’s always difficult to judge a vintage until it’s bottled and aged. However, I feel this year’s wines will be one of the smoothest we have seen in many years due to the hard work of our growers on the Naramata Bench and winemaking in our cellar.”
“The 2017 growing season started out slower than most previous years, with a very, very rainy spring. We started to get worried as it was behind previous years and we started thinking we were going to need to drop some crop, but then BOOM we had so much sunshine and beautiful heat and no rain from May 16th until October!
“The fires didn’t really affect us, we did overhead irrigate a couple of times just to drag down some of the smoke and to clear the grapes and vines of any potential ash coating. Suddenly, we had our best crop ever. We believe the Vintage 2017 will be our very best so far. The grapes were picked at the ‘exact numbers’ and flavours were very impressive, and our yield was fabulous too.”
Okanagan harvest report and photos by Julian Park
Julian is a Wine Enthusiast who enjoys talking to winemakers and telling stories about the vineyards, winemaking process and the wines. Born in Australia he has travelled through the wine regions of three continents. In 2015, after retiring from a Phoenix based Process Automation Company, he moved to Kelowna and started the BC Wine Trends blog to promote BC wines.