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Chilean Wines: Sustainability is a Long Game

January 22, 2022 Leave a comment

Sustainability is a journey.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Sustainability is a long game.

Have you ever dieted in your life? Did you achieve the intended results (let’s say, lose 20 pounds)? Did you go back where you started shortly after you stopped the diet? Of course, you already heard this a million times and you know what I’m going to say – diets don’t work. You need to change your lifestyle if you want those lost pounds to never come back, because the diet is a hack, and as such, it can give you only a quick and non-lasting, non-sustainable result.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

When I think of sustainability my first thought goes to the vineyard. How vineyard integrates into the environment, how vineyard, land, soil, and everything around can happily co-exist now and in the future. My second obvious thought goes to the winery operation – sustainable energy use, recycling, waste reduction.

In 2011, the Chilean wine industry defined its Sustainability Code, a voluntary certification system aimed to improve sustainable practices in the wine companies in Chile. In 2011, it all started in the vineyard. Today, the Sustainability Code for the Chilean Wine Industry (SCWI) represents a colorful flower, consisting of 4 areas, and featuring 351 individual requirements:

  • Viticulture (98 individual requirements /Green)
  • Vinification, Bottling, and facility operations (65 individual requirements /Red)
  • Social (118 individual requirements /Orange)
  • Wine Tourism (70 individual requirements /Purple) — new category added in 2020

In the ten years since its inception, SCWI has been adopted by all the country’s leading wine producers and accounts for 80% of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Wines from certified producers come from 123,550 acres of vineyards, out of 485,000 acres of total vineyard space in Chile, so roughly 25%.

The certification is done by the accredited international bodies (ECOCERT from France, NSF from the USA, and SGS from Switzerland, a few more should be added soon), and it is an ongoing process, as re-certification has to be done every two years. Certification has a substantial cost, so Vinos de Chile has a special program in place to help small and medium producers to achieve certification. To date, 80 wineries achieved full certification – if you will look at the list, you will see a lot of familiar names. Some, such as Casa Lapostole, one of the most famous Chilean wineries, use its own set of sustainability rules.

I had an opportunity last year to taste a number of wines from the certified sustainable Chilean wineries. Let’s talk about them.

Viñedos Emiliana (now known as Emiliana Organic Vineyards) was founded in 1986. However it is interesting that if you will check the history section on Emiliana’s website, the time count starts from 1998 – this is when Emiliana began its journey to convert into a sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winery. In 2001, Emiliana became 1st winery in Chile, and 7th in the world to obtain ISO 14001 certification in environmental management. Two years later, Emiliana produced its first organic wines (Coyam was one of them). In 2006, the winery obtained its Demeter certification and produced its first biodynamic wine, 2003 Gê. Moving forward, Emiliana obtained multiple certifications in social responsibility, fair trade, carbon neutrality, and more. As a fun fact, with 2,760 acres in size, Emiliana is the largest biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyard in the world.

The wine I tasted for this post was 2018 Coyam. Back in 2015, the 2011 Coyam was my wine of the year. The 2018 Coyam was good, but really needed lots of time to open up.

2018 Emeliana Coyam Colchagua Valley DO (14.4% ABV, $35, 42% Syrah, 39% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Garnacha, 3% Malbec, 3% Carignan, 1% Tempranillo, 1% Mourvedre, organic vineyards, vegan)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, cherries, cassis
Beautiful, cassis, mint, medium-plus body, good balance, good acidity
8, these are the 3rd day notes, this wine needs time.

Viu Manent‘s history began in 1935, when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons founded Bodegas Viu, bottling and selling their own wines. In 1966, Miguel Viu-Manent, one of the sons, acquired an estate in Colchagua Valley which also included 375 acres of vineyards, planted with pre-phylloxera vines. In 1993, Viu Manent became the first Chilean winery to produce, bottle, and label Malbec under its name. In 2001, as a tribute to the founder, Miguel Viu-Manent, Viu Manent produced its single-block Malbec from approximately 100 years old vines. In 2003, the winery started producing its Secreto de Viu Manent line of wines. In 2007, Viu Manent joined the environmental biodiversity program run in Chile by the University Austral of Chile’s Ecology & Biodiversity Institute. In 2018, 3 solar panel energy plants were put into production at the winery and in the vineyards. The winery also participates in wastewater and solid waste management programs and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

2019 Viu Manent Secreto Malbec Valle de Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $15, Malbec 85%, 15% “Secret”)
Dark garnet, almost black
Raspberries, blackberries, cigar box
Fresh raspberries on the palate, fresh, open, good minerality, a bit astringent on the finish even on the second day. Needs time.
7+ On the second day
8- on the third day

Viña Maquis, an estate located between two rivers, the Tinguiririca River and the Chimbarongo Creek, traces its roots to the 18th century when Jesuit priests were producing noble wines on the property. In the 19th century, the property belonged to the two Chilean presidents who even hosted cabinet meetings at that location. In 1916, the property was acquired by the Hurtado family with the goal of producing fine wines. Viña Maquis was one of the first wineries to obtain sustainability certification. They use in the vineyard energy recovery system based on geothermal heat pump technology for which the winery won the 2013 Innovation Prize for energy saving and carbon footprint reduction awarded by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce. They also use biological corridors which host beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and more than 2,600 sheep help control the weeds and fertilize the vineyards.

2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $24, 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carménère, 3% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Cassis, cassis leaves, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, crisp, medium body.
7+/8-

Concha y Toro is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, founded in 1883 by Melchor Concha y Toro with a dream of producing the best wines. He brought in vines from the Bordeaux and built the winery with all the best equipment at a time. As Concha y Toro was transitioning from a family business to a corporation, 50 years later the wine export started, the Netherlands being a first international destination. In 1987, Concha y Toro released the first vintage of its iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor, named in the honor of the founder. In 2020, James Suckling awarded 2018 Don Melchor a perfect 100 score.

In 2021, Concha y Toro received B Corporation Certification, which recognizes companies around the world that meet the highest standards of environmental management, governance, and social performance. This B Corporation certification included metrics such as 100% drip irrigation, 97% of waste reused/ recycled, 24% reduction of waste over 2018, 83% of energy coming from renewable sources. Concha y Toro also works with the scientific community and Wines of Chile to develop a measurable roadmap for carbon footprint reduction.

2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Riserva DO Marchigue (13.5% ABV, $17, 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carmenere, 2.5% Syrah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Summer meadows, a touch of cassis, hint of mint
Open, fresh with happily gripping tannins (French oak), firm structure, fresh fruit, needs time
8-, will be great with the steak.
8+ second/ third day – wine became more integrated, polished, layered, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

In 1885, Francisco Undurraga imported vines from France and Germany and founded the Viña Undurraga winery. In 1903, Viña Undurraga became the first Chilean winery to export its wines to the USA. In 1942, under the management of Pedro Undurraga Fernández, the winery becomes a pioneer in exporting Chilean wines, reaching more than 60 countries. In 2006, the Los Lingues far was acquired, giving a start to Viña Koyle, which in 2009 started the transition to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture.

2019 Viña Koyle Carmenere Gran Reserva Alto Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $17, 85% Carmenere, 9% Tempranillo, 6% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cassis, a hint of underbrush, fresh dark fruit, inviting
Fresh berries, dark chocolate, a hint of sweet tobacco, round, succulent, excellent t balance, medium-long finish
8, excellent

In 1874, the winemaker Don Franciso de Rojas founded the winery in Maipo Valley which he called Viña de Rojas. In 1876, one of his wines received Silver Medal at a competition in Philadelphia in the USA. Now here is the rare happenstance with the transition of the name from Viña de Rojas to Viña Tarapacá. In 1892, the winery was acquired by Don Antonio Zavala and it became Viña Zavala. After the divorce, the winery became alimony assigned to his wife, who renamed the winery Viña Tarapacá ex Zavala to express her gratitude to her divorce lawyer Don Arturo Alessandri who had a nickname “The Lion of Tarapacá”. In 1992, the winery was acquired by the holding company with a focus on international expansion. In the same year, the winery acquired El Rosario Estate, 6,500 acres parcel, out of which 1530 acres are planted with vines, right in the heart of Maipo Valley. In 2008, Viña Tarapacá became a part of VSPT Group, the second-largest exporter of Chilean wines.

The winery holds a large number of environmental and sustainability certifications, and in 2016 it also became the Chilean winery to build a hydroelectric plant, capable of supplying 60% of all winery’s energy needs.

2018 Viña Tarapacá Red Wine Blend Gran Reserva Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $20, 31% Cabernet Franc, 26% Syrah, 22% Carmenere, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, organic wine)
Dark garnet, almost black
Delicious nose of mint, currant, a touch of sweet basil and thyme
Ripe berries, firm structure, gripping tannins, a touch of cherries and black pepper, good acidity, excellent balance.
8+, delicious, but will be amazing in 10-15 years.

Here you go, my friends. Chilean wineries take sustainability seriously and show the world how it should be done. And they also support it with delicious wines. Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Made With Organic Grapes: A Few Wines From Chile

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Chile is a unique winemaking place.

So is each and every wine region in the world – each wine region, big, small, or tiny, can safely state the same – they all have something unique about them, aren’t they?

But really, Chile is unique.

Chile is literally the only wine region in the world untouched by the blight of phylloxera. While it is a big deal, it is not all.

It is easy to grow grapes organically in Chile. The absolute majority of the rain falls in winter, and Chilean vineyards generally enjoy the dry growing season. Dry growing season means no need to worry about fungi, which is where most of the “inorganic” efforts typically go. And Chilean winemakers take advantage of this fact, actively pursuing organic, sustainable, and biodynamic winemaking. Taking its inspiration from the association of organic winegrowers of New Zealand, leading Chilean wineries, such as Viña Emiliana, Odfell, Koyle, Viña Miguel Torres Chile, are all joining forces to create a similar organization that will help with the promotion of Chilean organic wines around the world.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of Chilean organic wines.

Viñedos Veramonte was founded by Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, in 1990, one of the first wineries in Casablanca Valley. Veramonte’s journey started with Sauvignon Blanc, gradually adding all of the traditional Chilean varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and more. In 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT® organic certification, after 6 years-long journey. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming (full Demeter’s biodynamic certification is the next goal). The wine I had an opportunity to taste was Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon:

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, made with organic grapes, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, tobacco
A touch of cassis, tart, medium body, minerality, green notes
7/7+, I would prefer more fruit

The same Agustin Huneeus founded Primus winery more than 20 years ago. The word Primus comes from Latin and it means “the first” or “the first among others”.  Primus was one of the very first to create the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, which became the standard wine of the winery throughout all the years, joined by single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere wines. The fruit for The Blend comes from Marchigue, a sub-region of Colchagua, and Maipo, from all-organic vineyards.

2018 Primus Red Blend Apalta Colchagua Valley (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carménère, 10% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark ruby
Cassis, Cherries
Soft, easy to drink, medium body, cassis, cherries, well balanced
8-, good aging potential

Ritual is located in the eastern corner of the Casablanca Valley, not far from the Pacific Ocean. All organic vineyards are surrounded by 6,000 acres of natural forest, which enforces biodiversity and helps with organic and sustainable farming. The estate approaches organic winemaking from all possible angles, making compost from stems and pomace, using cover crops to protect the soil, using sheep to mow the grass and fertilize. Everything in the vineyard and in the winery is done in full harmony with nature.

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, certified organic vineyards)
Dark garnet
Smoke, plums, minerality
Cherries, plums, violets, herbs, round, soft, restrained, good acidity, clean finish, perfectly balanced.
8, a long-haul wine. Should definitely improve over the next 5-7 years, might be considerably longer.

Here you are my friends – a few of the organic wines from Chile which you should feel good about drinking.

It is not just organic – Chile is leading the world in sustainable winemaking, and we will talk about it in a few days. Stay tuned…
.

Vilarnau Cavas – Always a Pleasure for an Eye, and Now Organic Too

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

Here we go – I’m following up a post about Cava with another post about Cava.

Oh well…

It is really appropriate to drink bubbles every day. Really. And it is even triple appropriate to drink bubbles around holidays. And gift them. And every day has something worthy of a celebration. So yeah, let’s talk again about Cava.

First, a pleasure for an eye – take a look – aren’t these bottles gorgeous? I would certainly use them as a decoration if the content wouldn’t be so good. I love this Trencadis design of the bottles – “Trencadís” is a kind of mosaic that is created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, used by Catalan architects Antoni GaudÍ and Josep MarÍa Pujol in many of their designs. I talked about the trencadís extensively in a few of the older posts (in 2017 and 2018), so I would like to direct you there if you want to learn more.

Now, you still have a ground for complaint – I already talked about Vilarnau Cavas less than 6 months ago – what gives? Are there not enough wines to discuss?

Yes, you are right. Or, almost right, to be more precise. The reason to talk about Vilarnau now is a significant change – all of the Vilarnau wines are now made with organic grapes.

Why would winery change its [successful] ways to become organic? What can be a motivation for that? Is that organic wine any different from non-organic wine? I decided to ask  all these questions (virtually) Eva Plazas, Cavas Vilarnau Winemaker – and here is our short dialog:

1. When did you start the transition to using organic grapes? 
In 2013 we started and the first 100% organic harvest was in 2016, as the whole process requires 3 years to achieve a validates [TaV – Certifiable] conversion. 
 

2. Why is using organic grapes important for you?

Organic viticulture is essential to help protect and preserve the environment – the flora and fauna that live within and around the vineyard and help it to improve. By not applying pesticides or insecticides, working with plant covers etc… the balance within the vineyard is greatly improved.
 
3. Can you taste the difference? 
NO 😊 I really mean it – it is probably impossible to do in a blind setting, to put two identical Cavas, one made with organic grapes and one which is not, and taste the difference, but based on your experience – do the final wines taste differently or is the difference simply in the knowledge that one is made using organic grapes and one is not? Totally agree, in a tasting it is impossible to detect whether a cava is organic or not, but it is true that over time the vineyard is balanced and the quality of the grapes (if we do not have heavy rains and there are no attacks of mildew) the balance and quality of the grapes certainly improve.
 
4. Is the whole range of Vilarnau Cavas already using organic grapes (talking about new vintages)? 
Yes, yes the whole range
 
5. Did you have to make any changes in the winemaking process since you started using the organic grapes? 
Yessss! The regulations that apply in making organic cavas or organic wines are restrictive with some winemaking products. For example, the use of:
Maceration enzymes with beta-glucoside activity
• PVPP for clarification.
• Metatartaric acid …

I have stopped using these products or have looked for alternatives to proteins with the animal origin, using pea or potato proteins instead, that is why all Vilarnau cavas are now Vegan too.

So now that you know of all the motivation behind the organic Cavas, I would like to do something I have never done before. Let me explain.
I would like to bring these Cavas to your attention right now in case you are looking for a last-minute present for someone for Christmas or a New Year – I’m sure these bottles will brighten up anyone’s day. At the same time, I plan to open two of the organic samples I received in a few days, but, again, I don’t want to wait with the post. So here is what I will do.
I will copy the tasting notes from my earlier post this year in here. And then I will add the tasting notes for the organic cavas, and we will be able to see if I will perceive these wines differently. Here we go – the notes from June 2021:

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Light gold
Herbal, earthy, apple, lemon
Fresh, clean, apples, creamy, good body
7+, perfect for every day

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Salmon pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of gunflint
Fresh strawberries, crisp, clean, energetic, delicious.
8, excellent

Now, a placeholder for the wines to be tasted in a week  – updated on December 29, 2021

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle, Organic grapes, Vegan)
Light golden color, small persistent bubbles
Freshly toasted bread, gunflint, medium intensity
Freshly toasted bread, a hint of granny smith apples, a hint of gunflint and minerality, nice creaminess
7+/8-, simply delightful

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Delicat Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle, Organic grapes, Vegan)
Salmon pink color, small persistent bubbles
Clean strawberry aromas, a distant hint of onion peel, open, fresh, and inviting
Fresh strawberries, round, tart, clean, crisp, good acidity
8-/8, outstanding
Here you are, my friends. You still have time to look up these beautiful bottles, make a present for yourself, or surprise your friends and family – and then we will be able to compare notes…
To be continued…
12/29/21
if you ask if I tasted the difference between those wines earlier this year and the wines I tasted now, I wouldn’t be able to confirm or deny it. The wines I tasted before were outstanding, and these wines are also outstanding. The good part is that you don’t need to choose – Cava Vilarnau is made with organic grapes from now on, and you don’t need to think much about it – just enjoy.

Leading The Charge: From Sustainable to Organic

October 17, 2021 1 comment

Sustainability is the trend. A global trend, across countries and across industries. We, humans, want to make sure that there will be some inhabitable Earth left for future generations.

When it comes to grape growing and winemaking, sustainability is a major trend, with many winemaking countries and regions adding new sustainable vineyards and wineries at double-digit annual percentage rates.

For New Zealand wineries and vineyards, sustainability is done and over with – New Zealand wineries started sustainability journey in 1995. In 2016, 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area (about 89,000 acres) was sustainable winegrowing certified, which is based on the data collected from 1,918 vineyards and 254 wineries (the data is based on the 2016 New Zealand winegrowing sustainability report). Sustainability certification is based on a number of key aspects, such as land management, water consumption management, pest and disease management, treatment of the people, business practices, and many more (you can find all the information in the report).

The forward movement doesn’t stop in the New Zealand winemaking industry. Next frontier – organic grape growing and winemaking. Organic grape growing imposes further restrictions on what can and can’t be used to produce healthy grapes, and it takes on average 3 years to convert from sustainable to organic methods, but New Zealand winemakers are used to the challenge.

At the end of September, the New Zealand organic winemaking was celebrated via the Organic Wine Week, consisting of a series of tastings and presentations by New Zealand’s vignerons. I attended one of the events (virtual, of course), where we could learn about the development of organic winemaking in New Zealand. Just to share some numbers, there are currently 45 fully organic certified wineries, plus another 7 which produce wines mostly from organic grapes, offering a total of 102 organic wine labels. There are a bit more than 6,000 acres of organic and biodynamic certified vineyards, including about 1,000 acres in conversion (as we mentioned before, it takes about 3 years to convert vineyard from sustainable to organic). If you are interested in learning more details about New Zealand organic wine production, I would highly recommend checking this dedicated website of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand –  I have to honestly say that when it comes to the well-presented, comprehensive winemaking region information, New Zealand wine associations do by far the best job out there – you need to check this for yourself.

If you ever looked at the labels of organic wines sold in the US, you probably noticed that many bottles say “made with organic grapes”, instead of simply been “organic”. I was curious to understand the significance of such wording, and it was perfectly explained during the seminar. It appears that based on the US organic labeling laws, to be just called “organic wine”, it is not enough to just use the certified organic grapes – the winemaking processes have a number of additional restrictions, particularly the use of sulfites is not allowed. It is very difficult to make good wine without the use of sulfites, thus most of the winemakers prefer to simply use a statement “made with organic grapes” instead of going the full circle and sacrifice the quality of their wines. I was happy to finally learn about this designation, as I tasted lots of “made with organic grapes” wines this year and always was wondering about such a specific wording.

As part of the seminar, I was also happy to receive samples of the New Zealand organic wines, which were packaged in tiny bottles. Definitely an interesting concept – and I understand the logic behind it – however, I’m really curious if such a format can negatively affect the taste of wine – take a look at my notes below particularly for the Chardonnay.

Here are the extended tasting notes for the wines – as a side note, all of these wines are vegan-friendly:

2019 Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (13% ABV)
Straw pale color.
Clean, restrained nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, mineral notes
Restrained palate, crisp, acidic, uncharacteristic for the Sauvignon Blanc wine, more Muscadet-like

2019 Millton Chenin Blanc Te Arai Vineyard Gisborne (12% ABV, Demeter certified biodynamic)
Light golden color
A touch of gunflint and barnyard.
Whitestone fruit, unripe apricot, a hint of honey, medium to full body, granny smith apples over the long finish. “Te Arai” roughly translates to “the place where you pause before going on toward the land of eternal sunshine.”

2020 Te Whare Ra TORU Marlboro (13.4% ABV, 67% Gewurztraminer, 22% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris, 1150 cases produced)
Very light straw color, almost like water
Playful floral nose, tropical fruit, intense
Well-balanced palate, honey, honeysuckle, round, plump, viscous, stays with your palate.
Unusual
Toru means “three” in Maori – the wine is made out of 3 grapes. All grapes are co-fermented at the winery.

2019 Greenhough Chardonnay Hope Vineyard Nelson (13.85% ABV)
light golden color
Heavy nose of gunflint, a touch of barnyard, nothing else is coming through.
A touch of vanilla, bitter on the palate, all covered in acidity. Chardonnay profile is coming through. Very acidic finish, really not enjoyable overall

2019 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert Central Otago (13.5% ABV, biodynamic)
Brilliant Ruby color
Intense nose of sweet plums, licorice, graphite
Light, spicy, creamy, red fruit, underbrush, tart cherries came later, good finish, delicious.

2016 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay (13% ABV, 110 cases produced)
Dark purple ink, almost black
Fresh, red and black fruit, fresh lacquer (I know it doesn’t sound right)
Black pepper, clean, intense black fruit, perfect balance, medium to full body, liquid black pepper.
Impressive wine. Selection of the best barrels from the vintage. Vines planted in 1984

As you can see, Sauvignon Blanc and TORU were two of my favorite whites. I love Central Otago Pinot Noir, and Felton Road is one of my perennial favorites, so I’m happy that the wine was as good as I was expecting it to be. New Zealand Syrah is still not a “thing” here in the USA, but the rendition presented in the tasting (Stonecroft) was outstanding – I would be happy to drink such a wine on a regular occasion.

Organic winemaking is good for the Earth, and it is good for the people. New Zealand is leading the way towards organic viticulture, but the other regions are definitely catching up – for example, Chile is rapidly advancing its sustainable and organic winemaking (we will talk about Chilean sustainable and organic wines in the next few posts). And this is something I’m happy to raise my glass to. Cheers!

 

 

Made With Organic Grapes: Domaine Bousquet

August 3, 2021 Leave a comment

Today we will be talking about two subjects we already discussed in the past. The first subject is the wines made from organic grapes. Organic grapes are becoming more and more available, and winemakers around the world are more eager to use organic grapes in winemaking, especially as wine consumers happily embrace the trend.

The second subject is the wines of Domaine Bousquet in Argentina. Last time we talked about unpretentious and delicious Domaine Bousquet bubbles, sparkling wines well suitable for every day. Today we want to continue that conversation and talk about few more wines.

The organic viticulture is fair and square a centerpiece of Domaine Bousquet winemaking. The picture below perfectly summarizes it – these are all the certifications that the domain already has:

Source: Domaine Bousquet website

Organic viticulture is only a stepping stone for Domaine Bousquet – the goal is to convert to biodynamic farming in 2021/2022, which is not an easy task, considering the sheer size of Domaine Bousquet’s vineyards (more than 500 acres) and the fact that biodynamic viticulture is 30% more labor-intense compared with traditional methods, and 15% more intense than sustainable. But once you get on this road, there is no turning back.

Organic/sustainable/biodynamic is an important part, but still only a part of the story. The terroir is essential, and it is a classic combination of the soil and climate which contributes to the quality of the Domaine Bousquet wines. Many of the Domain Bousquet vineyards are located in the Gualtallary region of Uco Valley, at an altitude of about 4,200 feet. The high altitude by itself doesn’t guarantee the quality of the wines, but it helps. Domaine’s vineyards are located on the patches of sandy soils, which are great for the vines as they limit the spread of the disease, provide good drainage and force the vines to work hard to get to the water.

Gaultallary offers a desert-like climate, with constant winds blowing for the Andes, and less than 8 inches of rain being total precipitation for the year. In such conditions, it is important that Domaine Bousquet vineyards are located in areas with access to the ground water – not everybody in the Gaultallary is that lucky. And then there are Zonda winds (Zonda in local dialect means “The Witch’s Wind”, which are showing up in the spring, and they are dry (relative humidity of 0), strong, and unpredictable – but they help to reduce the crop size and concentrate the flavor.

Domaine Bousquet produces about 10 different lines of wines. I was able to taste wine belonging to the 4 different lines (samples). Below are my notes.

First, 2 wines from the Premium selection:

2021 Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc Tupungato Uco Valley (12.5% ABV, $13)
Straw pale
Ultimately inviting nose, a touch of fresh grass, lemon, uplifting intensity.
Crisp, clean, lemony, grassy, tart, fresh, pure delight.
8+, perfect, delicious.

2019 Domaine Bosquet Cabernet Sauvignon Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (14% ABV, $13, no oak – unusual)
Dark Ruby
A touch of bell pepper, dark berries, medium-plus intensity
Bell pepper, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, good energy, good balance
8-/8, easy to drink. And I have to say that unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon is mind-boggling.

Next were two wines form the Reserve line:

2019 Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18)
Straw pale
Vanilla, a hint of butter, inviting, generous
Crisp, vibrant, a touch of butter and vanilla, tightly weaves around the citrus core. Excellent balance, delicious.
8+, superb. If this wine can age, it might be amazing, if this bright acidity will evolve into the honey note as it works with the best Chardonnays.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Pinot Noir Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18, 6-8 months in French oak)
Dark ruby
Not very expressive, a hint of tart cherries
Tart cherries, bright acidity, crisp, tart
7/7+, not my wine, but should be okay as food wine or for those who like austere, bone-dry wines.

Next was the wine from the Gaia line – the wines dedicated to the goddess of Earth, Gaia, sporting a very attractive label. This is the second time I was able to taste the wine from the Gaia line – the first was Gaia Rosé, which was excellent.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc Gualtallary Vineyards (15% ABV, $20, 8-10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A touch of barnyard, earthy notes, dark berries
Dark fruit, explicit minerality, a distant hint of bell pepper, mint, dense, good structure
8-, not the most striking Cab Franc, but interesting on its own

And the last one for today – the wine from the Gran series:

2018 Domaine Bousquet Gran-Malbec Valley de Uco (14.5% ABV, $25, 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black with purple hues
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, cassis, intense, powerful
Beautiful fruit on the palate, firm structure, big, brooding, perfectly balanced
8+, outstanding

Here you are, my friends – more organic wines you can choose from. As an added bonus, with Domaine Bousquet, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy delicious organic wines any time you want. Cheers!

Made With Organic Grapes: Red, White, and Rosé

June 3, 2021 2 comments

Have you looked attentively at the wine labels lately? I don’t know about you, but “made with organic grapes” is something I see on more and more wine labels. Red, white, Rosé, bubbles – no exception. As winemaking methods are advancing, organic viticulture is almost becoming a new norm.

While “organic” and “sustainable” are not the same, organic designation is often a stepping stone toward sustainable and biodynamic viticulture. Sustainability seems to be the word of the day, not only in the viticulture but all areas of human activities – but this is a wine blog, so let’s just stay with our beloved subject here.

A few weeks ago, I shared my impressions of the organic wines of Viñedos Veramonte from Chile. As I believe we are looking at the trend, let’s continue our search for organic grapes, and let’s take a quick trip to the old continent – Italy, to be more precise. Once we are in Italy, let’s go to Sicily, where Cantine Ermes had been producing wines since 1998.

Cantine Ermes is a coop-type winery. The numbers behind Cantine Ermes are quite impressive – 2,355 associates, 9 cellars, more than 25,000 acres of land under vineyards, and about 12M bottles annually are sold in 25 countries. Despite its sheer size, Cantine Ermes practices organic and sustainable farming and has tight control over all steps of wine production.

Two wines I tasted brilliantly represented Sicily, made from the local grapes:

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Nerello Mascalese Terre Siciliane IGT (13.5% ABV, $13)
Ruby red
The nose of freshly crushed berries, cherries, and eucalyptus.
Playful on the palate, a touch of fresh cherries, intense tobacco, minerality, medium body, clean acidity, good balance.
8-/8, perfect on its own, but will play well with food.

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Grillo Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV, $13)
Light Golden
Fresh lemon, Whitestone fruit, medium+ intensity, inviting
Crisp, clean, fresh lemon, nicely present body, a touch of white plum, good minerality, a hint of sweetness
8/8+, superb, delicious white wine all around.

We are continuing our organic grape quest by going west and leaving the old continent and arriving at Mendoza in Argentina. Earlier this year I discussed sparkling wines of Domaine Bousquet – the product of the obsession of the French winemaker Jean Bousquet, who fell in love with the raw beauty of Gualtallary Valley in Mendoza. Interestingly enough, two sparkling wines I was talking about before were also made from organic grapes – I guess I simply didn’t see it as a trend yet.

Gaia Rosé is the inaugural vintage of the wine made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the vineyards in the Uco Valley located at the 4,000 feet/1,200 meters elevation. The wine takes its name from Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth and an inspiration for the Bousquet family. Just take a look at this beautiful bottle and tell me that you will be able to resist the urge to grab this bottle off the shelf at the first sight.

Here are my thoughts about the wine:

2020 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Pinot Noir Rosé Gualtallary Vineyards Mendoza Argentina (13.1% ABV, $20, vegan friendly)
Light salmon pink
Complex, onion peel, a touch of strawberries
Fresh Strawberries, grapefruit, bright acidity, a touch of sweetness, firm, present
8, delicious. Unusual

Here you are, my friends. Red, white, and Rosé from around the world. made from organic grapes, delicious, affordable, with a great QPR. What else should wine lovers want?

Made With Organic Grapes: Viñedos Veramonte

May 14, 2021 2 comments

“Made with organic grapes”. If you see these words on the wine label, are you more inclined to buy it, less inclined, or indifferent? Are you willing to pay more for the organic bottle of wine, as we accustomed now for the meat and produce?

Organic production implies that no synthetic pesticides, fungicides, insecticides were used in farming. It doesn’t mean that no pesticides etc. were used at all – it only bans the use of synthetics, and natural pesticides, etc. can still be used. Truth be told, organic doesn’t automatically mean better for consumers or the environment – even natural pesticides can have bad consequences – you can learn more in this excellent in-depth article.

When talking about organic wines, we need to keep in mind that “organic” is only a part of the story of the “better wines”. Sustainable viticulture, which doesn’t always overlap with organic, and then biodynamics, which again may or may not intersect with the other two, are important to take into account when talking about wines that are better for humans and the environment. Though considering the title – made with organic grapes – let’s stick to that part of the story.

How to convey the organic farming concept in one picture. Source: Viñedos Veramonte

I remember the early days of seeing “organic” on the wine labels. Most of the organic wines I tasted 10-15 years ago were undrinkable. The “Organic” label is a big selling factor in itself, and I can only assume that some of the winemakers decided that good tasting wine is not a necessity if the wine is labeled as organic (I will refrain from putting names on the table, even though it is difficult to resist the urge). Even today, when “organic” designation is not just a marketing gimmick (in most of the cases), wine consumers seek first familiar producers, grapes, and region – the “organic” designation comes to a play only after all other requirements had been satisfied, as a “nice to have”. Of course, in the world of wine, most of the concepts are multidimensional, so I don’t want to oversimplify the “organic wine” – it goes well beyond of choice of pesticides and fertilizers, it also includes “no added sulfites” and other factors – but then again this is not the organic wine 101 post, so let’s leave this discussion for some other time too.

Lately, I tasted quite a few of the organic wines and was pleasantly surprised not only with the taste but also with the QPR (Quality Price Ratio) – while labeled “organic”, most of the wines didn’t command the premiums on the scale of organic apples or meat, and thus offer a great QPR. Here I want to share with you my encounter with delicious organic wines suitable for any budget. Let’s talk about it.

Source: Viñedos Veramonte

Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, planted 100 acres of Sauvignon Blanc in the northern part of Casablanca valley in the late 1980s. In 1990, he founded Viñedos Veramonte, which became one of the first wineries in the region. From the moment the winery was found, the focus was on growing grapes in harmony with nature. After 6 years of hard work, in 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT®organic certification, one of the most respected in the world. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming, with the aim to also become fully Demeter’s biodynamic certified. The organic practices don’t stop at the vineyard – natural yeast and low intervention methods are used to produce the wine.

Can you taste all this care and attention in the glass? I think you can. I had the pleasure of trying a number of Veramonte wines (samples), and I think they were consistently delicious while offering an unbeatable QPR – see for yourself:

2019 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, Vegan, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Distant hint of Whitestone fruit, a touch of cassis
Crisp, fresh, creamy, lemon notes, a touch of herbs – excellent
8/8-, perfect for summer, perfect for winter.

2020 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale color
Touch of freshly cut grass, cat pee, medium+ intensity
Creamy and balanced on the palate, lemony acidity, freshly cut grass, elegant, restrained.
8/8+, outstanding.

2018 Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva Casablanca Valley (14.5% ABV, $12.99, 8 months in oak, organic grapes)
Pale Ruby color
Touch of smoke, earthy undertones, classic Pinot
After about an hour – plums, earthy, medium body, well present sapidity, good acidity, good balance
8-, nicely drinkable

2018 Veramonte Carménere Reserva Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Dark garnet, practically black.
Mint, black currant leaves
Black currant, coffee, very focused, good acidity, the wine shows tight, like a spring ready to snap.
8-, herbal notes are prevalent. Will see how it will be on the second day.
Second day- very concentrated, espresso, cherry pit. Good balance, but asking for the food to pair.

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, 8 months in French oak, organic grapes)
Dark garnet
Cassis, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis and bell pepper on the palate, good balance, good acidity, medium body.
8, very enjoyable.

When it comes to organic wines, Viñedos Veramonte delivers wines you can drink every day and feel good about yourself, nature, and your wallet. Isn’t that a great combo?

What do you think of organic wines? Do you actually seek them out? Do you have any favorites?

Hey, Rioja, What’s New?

April 20, 2021 2 comments

I love Rioja.

But you already know that.

Well-made Rioja, opened in its due time, is one of the ultimate indulgences wine lovers can experience. I can bet this is also nothing new for you.

So what’s new with Rioja?

Every new vintage of any wine is unique and different, true, but talking about new vintages unquestionably banal. How about then Rioja made from organic grapes? What do you think about classic Rioja made from organic grapes – and timely conversation during April, the Earth Month?

CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España, one of the oldest producers in Rioja (CVNE celebrated 140th anniversary last year), requires no introduction to any Spanish wine lover. CVNE produces a number of different Rioja lines – Cune, Viña Real, Imperial, Contino are some of the best known. Now, the Cune line has brand new Rioja to brag about – the first Rioja red wine made with organic grapes. The wine is made out of 100% Tempranillo (not very common) from the vineyards which were organically farmed, from the vintage with an Excellent rating (2019 was rated Excellent by Rioja DOC). The wine is also Vegan certified, and even sports the label produced from recycled materials. Most importantly, this is a simple, and tasty wine:

2019 CVNE Cune Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $15, 100% Tempranillo, organic grapes, Vegan certified, wild yeast fermentation, 4 months aging in oak)
Dark ruby with purple hues
Dark berries and cedar box
Soft, round, good acidity, soft ripe fruit, medium-long finish mostly acidic.
7+, food-friendly, simple, and easy to drink.

Back in 1915, CVNE produced Rioja’s first white wine – Monopole. It was not only the first white Rioja – this was the first white wine produced in Spain.

I had the pleasure of tasting many vintages of CVNE Monopole, and I have to honestly say that this 2020 was by far my favorite Monopole I tasted – I know I said talking about new vintages is banal, and here I am, yeah. Oh well. The wine needed a bit of time to open, but after 20 minutes in the glass, it was absolutely beautiful.

2020 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Viura, Vegan certified)
Straw pale, literally clear
Explicit minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, tight, lean, hint of whitestone fruit, explicit minerality.
8+, outstanding.

Bodegas Beronia is much younger than CVNE, founded in 1973 by a group of friends from the Basque country. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass’s portfolio, and at that point, Bodegas Beronia wines appeared on the international market.

Bodegas Beronia is known for its innovative approach to winemaking. Rioja wines are traditionally aged in American oak, which gave them a rustic, “traditional” taste profile. Recently, many winemakers switched to using the French oak, which gives the Rioja more of the international, “modern” taste profile, making wines also more approachable at a younger age. Bodegas Beronia pioneered the use of specially made barrels, which use both American and French oak in its construction, to create a unique taste profile, an intersection of tradition and modernity.

In this release of 2017 Crianza, Bodegas Beronia recognized the new realities of 2021, where people have to spend more time by themselves, and added the 375 ml, a half bottle to the portfolio, making it easier for the wine lovers to open a bottle for a solo night.

2017 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $14.99/750ml bottle, $7.99/375ml bottle, 94% Tempranillo, 5% garnacha, 1% Mazuelo)
Ruby red
Freshly crushed red berries, a touch of barnyard, smoke, earthy
Red fruit, eucalyptus, clean acidity, excellent balance.
7+ at the moment, needs time

There you have it, my friends. A brand new organic wine from Rioja, a superb white Rioja, and a thoughtful Rioja, coming in different formats, all reasonably priced, perfectly suited for life at the moment. Cheers!

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