The Wine Regions of Chile

Chile is one of South America’s most important wine-producing countries. It is home to a wide range of terroirs, and an equally wide range of wine styles. 

The Chilean viticultural industry is often associated in export markets with consistent, good-value wines, but some world-class reds are also made, commanding high prices. For red wines the initial export mainstays have been Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Like many New World countries Chile has adopted a signature grape variety.  In this case it is Carmenère, which was once widely grown in Bordeaux, France.   The French variety was virtually wiped out following the European phylloxera outbreaks of the 19th Century.  However, it was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s.

Pinot Noir from the cooler parts of Chile is beginning to make an impression and Syrah is increasing in popularity in many regions offering a wide variety of styles. Other varietals grown in Chile include Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

White wine varietals include Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Viognier, Riesling and Semillon are among those varieties grown on a smaller scale.

Chile has been producing wine since the first European settlers arrived in the mid-16th Century. However, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that viticulture began to expand in Chile, mainly due to the spread of wealth associated with mining. European trends started to infiltrate.

Throughout the 20th Century, Chilean wine was limited to a domestic market, but a push toward quality in the latter half of the century saw an uptake in the international market. Whereas Chilean winemakers had traditionally used tanks and barrels made of beech wood, in the 1980s stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels were introduced, marking the start of a technology-driven era.

Aconcagua Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot are grown in this region.  ‘Sena’, a wine produced as a joint venture between Vina Errazuriz and Robert Mondavi, came to the region in 2004.


The Atacama wine region in Chile’s far north produces large quantities of table grapes and other fruit. However wine production is on a smaller scale. Red wine grapes cultivated here include Pinot Noir and Syrah. White wine is made mainly from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Corporate giant, Viña Ventisquero, is the major player here.

The region also produces Pisco, the Chilean eau-de-vie. This is a brandy-like spirit which has been distilled in Chile since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century.

Bío Bío Valley

This region has enjoyed a dramatic rise to fame since the year 2000. There is an international appetite for its crisp, aromatic wine styles. Bío Bío has provided an excellent place for Chilean winegrowers to work with varieties such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier.

Cachapoal Valley

Cachapoal Valley is a central wine zone in Chile that forms the northern half of the Rapel Valley region. The most noteworthy wines from the region are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère. However, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay are also grown there.

One of Chile’s up-and-coming wine districts, Peumo, is located in Cachapoal Valley. Peumo wines now include some of the country’s finest Carmenère wines.

Casablanca Valley

This wine-growing region of Chile is best known for its crisp white wines, most notably Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It has attracted considerable investment from wine companies based in other regions and from other countries.

The region is relatively new by Chilean standards as the Casablanca Valley’s first vineyards were planted in the 1980s during the revitalization of the Chilean wine industry.

It is the region’s cooler climate that makes Casablanca’s white wines stand out from their local rivals. With a longer ripening period, the white grapes have more time to develop greater flavor complexity, while maintaining sugars and acids in balance.

The difference between Casablanca’s climate and that of Chile’s more southerly regions led the prestigious Casa Lapostolle to choose the valley as the exclusive source of grapes for its Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay. The region is now growing a wide range of white grapes, notably aromatics such as Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, and is at the heart of Chile’s efforts to prove that it is able to excel at more than just red wines.

Central Valley

The Central Valley (El Valle Central) of Chile is one of the most important wine-producing areas in South America in terms of volume. It is also one of the largest wine regions, stretching from the Maipo Valley, just south of the capital of Santiago, to the southern end of the Maule Valley.

The Central Valley is home to a variety of grapes, but is dominated by the internationally popular Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Chile’s ‘icon’ grape, Carmenère, is also of importance here. The cooler corners of the Central Valley are being increasingly developed, as winemakers experiment with varieties such as Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

A wide variety of wine styles and quality can be found in this large area, including the fashionable, and relatively expensive Bordeaux-style wines.

Because the area covered is so large and the terrain so varied, the name ‘Central Valley’ on a label is unlikely to communicate anything specific about the style of wine in the bottle. Also, with a number of independently recognized sub-regions now in place, such as Colchagua and Cachapoal, most wines of any quality are able to specify their sub-region of origin rather than the generic Central Valley. As a result, the Central Valley title is mostly used for mass-produced wines made from a range of sources.

Choapa Valley

Choapa Valley is one of Chile’s newest wine regions, located north of Santiago in the narrowest part of the country. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have proved well suited to the terroir here, producing smoky, elegant wines with characters of dark fruit.

One of Chile’s largest commercial producers, De Martino, has helped put the region on the map by producing a Choapa Valley Syrah that has already garnered international attention.

Colchagua Valley

This region in central Chile is one of South America’s most promising wine regions. Some of Chile’s finest red wines are made in the valley, mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Syrah grapes.

The dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec and Merlot in the warmer east is mirrored by that of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the ocean-cooled west.

Curico Valley

Curico Valley is a wine-producing region in central Chile, located roughly 185 km south of the capital, Santiago. It is divided into two sub-regions: Teno in the north and Lontue in the south. The valley is known for its reliable, good-value everyday wines, particularly the reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Curico’s vineyards are planted with more varieties than anywhere else in Chile.  However, the dominant grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Curico may have yet to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon to rival Maipo’s red wines and its Sauvignon Blanc still does not match the fresh, complex style found in Casablanca, but the valley is one of Chile’s workhorse regions and its output is consistent and reliable.

Elqui Valley

The Elqui Valley wine region is located 400 km north of Santiago, at the very southern edge of the Atacama Desert. It is Chile’s northernmost wine region. Traditionally the region focused exclusively on producing Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco, but today Elqui Valley vineyards are producing bright, intensely aromatic wines, most notably from Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah grapes.

Alongside Sauvignon and Syrah, the Elqui Valley is also home to plantings of Chardonnay, Carmenere and Pedro Ximenez. It is one of Chile’s up-and-coming regions, and its wines are attracting attention from international critics and consumers alike.

Itata Valley

Itata Valley is a wine region in the southern end of Chile’s long, thin wine producing zone. This historical, cool-climate region is dominated by plantings of Carignan, Muscat of Alexandria and Pais (aka Mission, aimed more at domestic consumption), although producers are beginning to plant more modern grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The first vines are said to have arrived in the Itata Valley the 1550s, potentially making the region one of the first to be planted with vines in Chile. By the 20th Century, the region was associated with the production of bulk wine, which is evidenced by the large amounts of Pais and Muscat of Alexandria vines still planted here. The region became unfashionable in the 1980s as Chilean producers started to put quality before quantity. It is now beginning to make a comeback with plantings of more internationally accepted varietals.

Leyda Valley

Leyda Valley is a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley wine region in Chile, located just 90 km west Santiago. This cool-climate region produces bright, vibrant wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The region is also provides some excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Limari Valley

Limarí Valley is one of the northernmost winegrowing regions in Chile, located 320 km north of  Santiago.

Chardonnay is the mainstay in Limari Valley wines, producing wines with a certain minerality thanks to the relatively cool climate and the limestone content in the soil. Syrah is also successful here, producing savory styles in the cooler, coastal vineyards and fuller, fruit-driven styles in warmer, inland sites. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Chile’s most successful varieties, also feature alongside the Chilean signature grape, Carmenère.

Historically, the grapes grown in Limarí’s vineyards were either eaten as table grapes or were distilled into Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco. Even today, as winemakers continue to seek out new spots within the valley, less than 20 percent of the region’s grape output is used for quality wine production.

Maipo Valley

Maipo Valley is one of Chile’s most important wine-producing regions. Located just south of Santiago, Maipo Valley is home to some of the country’s most prestigious wines. It is often described as the ‘Bordeaux of South America’, and rich, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon is the most celebrated wine style.

The region can be roughly separated into three broad areas: Alto Maipo, Central Maipo and Maipo Bajo.

Alto Maipo

The vineyards of Alto Maipo run along the eastern edge of the Andes Mountains which encompasses the sub-regions of Puente Alto and Pirque,  and is the most prestigious of Maipo’s viticultural areas. It is here that the vineyards of Don Melchor, Almaviva and Vinedo Chadwick can be found.

Central Maipo

Central Maipo is the lower-lying ground just to the west of Alto Maipo, surrounding the towns of Buin and Paine. Cabernet Sauvignon is still the most-grown grape variety, but there are also substantial plantings of Carmenère vines, as the warmer climate is well suited to this iconic Chilean grape variety.

Maipo Bajo

Maipo Bajo centres on the towns of Isla de Maipo and Talagante. The wine industry here is more concerned with winemaking than viticulture, and while there are a few vineyards, there are many wineries. Undurraga and De Martino are just two of the names that can be found in this part of Chile, making wines with grapes from all over the country.

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, a wide range of grape varieties are planted in the Maipo Valley including Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Malleco Valley

Malleco Valley is a southern wine-growing region in Chile, some 540 km south of Santiago. Crisp, fresh wines are produced here including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

The wine industry in Malleco Valley is still in its infancy with less than 100 acres being grown here.

Maule Valley

Maule Valley is the largest wine-producing region in Chile other than the Central Valley, of which it is a part. It has 75,000 acres of vineyards, and has traditionally been associated with quantity rather than quality. But this is rapidly changing – the bulk-producing Pais vine is gradually being replaced with more international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, and careful winemaking practices are being employed to make some world-class red wines from old-vine Carignan.

It has only been in the past 20 years that Maule has made a move toward quality, pioneered by the Kendall-Jackson empire of California, which set up a winery here in the mid-1990s.

Rapel Valley

Rapel Valley is a large wine-producing region in Chile’s Central Valley. The area produces roughly a quarter of all Chilean wine. The warm, dry region makes a wide range of wine styles, ranging from everyday wines to some of Chile’s most expensive and prestigious offerings.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carmenère are the most important grape varieties planted here. In general terms, Rapel Valley wines are produced primarily from red varieties, but there are some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Malbec production is also on the rise.

San Antonio Valley

This is a small wine region in Chile, located to the west of Santiago. A new addition to the Chilean national vineyard, the region stands out as being able to produce quality Pinot Noir along with internationally respected white wines including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The San Antonio Valley also produces quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balanced in sugar and acids, as well as aromatic white varieties.

San Antonio valley is small when compared to the sprawling regions at the center of Chilean wine growing.  It is home to a limited number of producers.

Final Thoughts

Not taking anything away from the other varietals, but my personal preference is for the Malbec wines, which are found in Colchagua Valley and to a lesser extent in Rapel Valley.  I find them flavourful, but not overpowering.  Malbec , like many of the Chilean reds, is warm and comforting, particularly during the winter months when it is cold and blustery outside. 

Sláinte mhaith

French Versus Italian Wine

Italy and France are two of the world’s finest wine producing countries, for both quality and quantity.  Italy has made wines longer and is a larger producer of wine, but France is more renowned for its creation of premium wines.  So does one rein superior to the other?  I really don’t believe so but here are some of the facts to help you to decide for yourself.

Traditional Sparkling Wine

To begin the France Italy showdown are sparkling wines that are produced using the traditional method – Champagne versus Franciacorta.  Both wines utilize a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle.  It is the most labour intensive process that creates the most complex textured wines.

Champagne is considered the home of traditionally prepared sparkling wine and has the most stringent regulations for production.  These rules dictate both blending practices and aging requirements.

Franciacorta, though less famous than Champagne, uses the same type of grapes and may even have a longer aging process.  Given the warmer climate, the grapes are riper but do not have the same vibrancy as the French wine.  However, it is worth considering that a Franciacorta sparkler will have a more favourable price point than a similar one from Champagne.

Great-Value Sparkling Wine

Both France’s Crémant and Italy’s Prosecco share the versatility provided by the more expensive traditional sparkling wines but at a much gentler price. 

Crémant wines are produced using the traditional method but with less restrictions than Champagne.

Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method which conducts the second fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle.  Some of the finer Proseccos are aged several years to create a more complex flavorful wine.

The price of both the French and Italian versions is comparable.

Notable Styles

France’s Châteauneuf-Du-Pape and Italy’s Amarone are premium wines from their respective regions and are considered to be among the finest wines in the world.  They are both full-bodied and smooth.

The wines from Châteauneuf-Du-Pape are a blend which has the Grenache grape as the principal grape.  The balance of the wine often consists of a combination of Mourvèdre, Counoise, Vaccarèse, and Muscardine. 

The region produces intense, powerful wines with great body.  Many of these offerings may be drunk when released or retained for quite a few years.

Italy’s Amarone wines are made from grapes from the most mature vines which are harvested late to ensure ripeness.  The grapes are then dried on racks or hooks for about 120 days in order to obtain a higher concentration of sugar and flavour.  During this process 30% to 40% of the grapes’ weight is lost which is part of the reason for this wine selling at a higher price.

Though the cost of both of these wines can run over $100, the average price is in the $50 range.  Whether one wine is preferred over the other will depend on your personal taste.

Challenging Grapes

France’s gentle flavoured Pinot Noir and Italy’s bold Nebbiolo grape share two things in common; they are both very difficult grapes to grow; and they are among the most sought after grapes in the world.

The majority of France’s Pinot Noir grapes are grown in Burgundy.

The Italian Nebbiolo grape is grown exclusively in Piedmont and is used in the creation of Barolo wine.

The two types of wine, apart from both being red, are vastly different in intensity, richness, and flavour.  It would not be fair to try and compare or rate one against the other.  They each stand on their own merits.

Notable Regions

The most recognized wine region within each country is France’s Bordeaux and Italy’s Tuscany.  These regions are home to some of the world’s most expensive sought after wines.  However, they also offer an enticing array of wines at a wide range of price points.

The wines of Bordeaux consist of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The region is divided into 2 sectors – the left bank and the right bank – by the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers.  The left bank wines will contain a higher concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon while the right bank wines contain a greater proportion of Merlot.

The wines of Bordeaux have extraordinary consistency of balance and structure, irrelevant of the price point.

The signature grape of Tuscany is the Sangiovese, which is the basis of 3 of Italy’s most famous wines, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello.  There are also other wines consisting of a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

There are a great variety of styles , flavours, techniques and price points, all containing the definitive Tuscan identity.

There is no winner or loser in this comparison.  It comes down to a matter of personal taste.

The White Pinot

France’s Pinot Gris and Italy’s Pinot Grigio are the same grape but are produced in different styles.  The Pinot Gris is produced in the Alsace region of France whereas Pinot Grigio is associated with northern Italy.

Pinot Gris is produced in a range of styles ranging from dry to sweet.  They contain a distinct richness, weight, spiciness, and complexity that is said not to exist in the Italian version.  The French version of the grape has more potential for aging as well.

The Italian Pinot Grigio is light and zesty and makes a great sipping wine.  It is said to have subtle floral and fruit aromas and flavours.

Aromatic Whites

Aromatic whites are typically those wines producing the aroma of flowers and herbs.  Such wines are normally not aged in oak barrels.

France’s Sauvignon Blanc is the noted white wine grape of Bordeaux and the Loire.  It is renowned for the hint of lime, green apple, peach and tropical fruit, as well as its herb and grassy notes.

Italy’s Vermentino wine is light and refreshing.  It is also complex and layered displaying fruit tones, mineral and herbal notes.

As I stated earlier, I don’t believe there is a winner or a loser.  Both countries provide their own uniqueness and distinct flavours through their wine offerings.  There are no comparisons for a French Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-Du-Pape but the same can be said for an Italian Borolo or Chianti.  Whether a French wine is preferred over an Italian wine or vice versa is a matter of personal taste.

To simply say that one country is superior to the other and ignore the offerings of the other would be a travesty.  Such a person would be denying her/himself the opportunity to indulge in some great tasting wines.

Sláinte mhaith

A Private Wine Cellar

There seems to be a certain romantic flair to owning your own wine cellar.  However, there is a very practical side to this as well.  The price of wine has been increasing exponentially since before the year 2000.  As a result, many wines have become prohibitively expensive and even more so in the past couple of years with the U.S. imposing trade restrictions on wine imports.  This has resulted in reduced sales of, and decreased profit margins for international wine producers which have led to further increases in wine prices.

Many wines are now prohibitively expensive, even those that have been aged just a few years in the bottle.  The solution requires individuals to purchase cellarable wines at a young age and store them until they attain the desirable age for consumption.

The simplest storage option would be to purchase a wine fridge.  This provides a relatively inexpensive solution but is really only practical for short term storage for a minimal number of bottles of wine.

If you are looking to cellar more than just a few bottles for a significant period of time, I recommend doing what I have done, convert or construct a room for the purpose of storing wine.  Such a room needs to meet certain criteria necessary for the preservation of wine.  Things that need to be taken into account are temperature, light, humidity, odours, storage, and record-keeping.


Wine that is being stored for a long period of time should be stored at a temperature between 45 oF to 68oF or 7oC to 20oC.  Ideally the temperature should be maintained between 55oF and 57oF or 13oC to 14oC.

Temperature fluctuation between hot and cold can have more of an impact on wine than the actual temperature.  If the temperature rises and falls quickly with the change of season, negative or positive pressure can occur within the bottle.  This would place pressure and strain on the cork which can result in air seepage that would compromises the quality of the wine.


Colour, taste and smell are all impacted by light filtering into the wine bottle.  Therefore the storage area should not be infiltrated by outside light.  Artificial lighting should only be switched on when necessary and fluorescent lighting should never be used.


According to the experts the level of humidity of the cellar should be between 75% and 85%.  The higher than normal humidity level is required in order to prevent the corks from drying out and shrinking which could result in spoilage of the wine.

Such high levels can result in mold and other moisture related issues so I have opted to maintain humidity at a slightly lower level; between 62% and 65%.  I have maintained these levels for the past 10 years and have had no issues with either the wine or the building structure.  


Although wine corks prevent the wine from escaping from the bottle they don’t prevent gases from penetrating through.  Therefore things such as paint, sealant, cleaning agents or air fresheners should not be used or stored within the wine storage area.

Storage Position

Wine bottles should be stored on their side for a couple of reasons.  The most obvious of which is to ensure that the cork remains moist and doesn’t dry out and as a result shrink.  If the cork shrinks and allows oxygen into the bottle, the wine quickly spoils. 

Even though not all wine has a cork any more, another reason for laying a bottle on its side is to allow for the equal distribution of the sediment that is often found in a wine with high tannin content.  During the aging process the tannins can solidify and drop to the bottom.  With the bottle lying on its side, the solids are distributed more evenly, keeping the flavour of the wine consistent.

Once you have placed your bottle in its resting place, it should not be disturbed until you retrieve it to drink.  You don’t want to shake up the tannins that have been slowly settling in the bottle.


The wine cellar is pretty much rendered useless unless you have a way of knowing which wines should be held, which ones are drinkable, and the final date the wine should be consumed by.  This can be done in a couple of different ways. 

If you have a small collection, each bottle or shelf can be labelled with the “drink from” date and the “drink by” date.  For a larger collection the wine should be catalogued in either a cellar book or an electronic spreadsheet.  Cellar inventory books can often be purchased at stationery stores, kitchen supply shops or specialty book stores. 

Personally, I have used a spreadsheet for this purpose for the last dozen or more years.  In addition to tracking the consumption dates, I also track the label name, vintner name, varietal, country of origin, year produced, reviewer notes, and a few other facts.

The big advantage to having your own personal wine cellar is that you can drink wines of a vintage you would otherwise consider an extravagance.  It is very satisfying to open an aged bottle of wine that would have a current purchase price (if you could even locate one) in the hundred to two hundred dollar range knowing that you purchased it for much less.

Generally speaking, I am able to locate cellarable wines at my local liquor store at a cost ranging from $17 to $50.  When selecting wines to cellar you can spend as little or as much as you like.

However, when laying down a wine it is important to understand the difference between the length of time a wine can be cellared before it begins to deteriorate and the time it needs to reach its peak.  That is a discussion for another day.

Also a discussion for another day would be identifying and understanding the requirements for creating a proper storage facility.

Sláinte mhaith

Enjoying the Wines You Love

This week I am going to examine how best to showcase your favourite wines.  To do this I will look at the various types of wine and identify when they are best served and which foods are best paired with them.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine can be dry or sweet, light or full-bodied.  Any high quality dry sparkling wine makes an excellent aperitif.  However, if appetizers are not being served along with the wine then it is best to serve one containing a lower level of acidity in order to prevent guests from having stomach irritation.

The most renowned sparkling wine is Champagne.  The amount of sweetness and acidity determine whether Champagne is well suited to be served with food.  Dry (Brut) Champagne can contain a significant amount of sugar which does not bode well with an appetizer such as caviar.  When accompanying foods such as this, extra dry (extra brut) Champagne is recommended.

Sparkling wines are seen as a good fit for festivities and celebrations though their use need not be limited to such occasions.  The only word of caution is that when opting to serve a sparkling wine as part of an event, ensure any appetizers and subsequent menu are appropriately matched.

Acidic sparkling wines can be a good choice to serve along with the main course when serving fish or seafood.  Moderately spiced Asian cuisine can also be paired well with an acidic sparkling wine.

A medium dry sparkling wine can be a good choice to serve with a dessert such as a fruit tart. 

Light Acidic White Wines

Light acidic white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Alsace, Mosel, Muscadet and Grüner Veltliner.

Wines in this category have a sharpness that is fresh and fruity but a light taste and aroma.  The alcohol level is generally 12% or less.

Since these wines have a relatively high level of acidity, they go very well with fish, both heavy and oily fish, such as salmon, as well as light delicate fish such as sole.  Any white meat and poultry, and creamy soups and most salads pair well with these wines.

Sauvignon Blanc goes well with sushi and fresh herbs such as mint, basil, tarragon, and cilantro.  Riesling, on the other hand is best suited with fruity side dishes. 

Full-Bodied, Wood-Aged Whites

Typical full-bodied, wood-aged whites include Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grenache Blanc.

These white wines that have been aged in oak barrels will generally have an alcohol content of 13% or more, and a complex flavour.  These wines will have a high tannin content generated from being aged in the oak.

The acidity levels in these wines will be at a moderate level.  The wine will be full-bodied, even at a young age and many will have good potential for bottle aging.

Because of the high level of alcohol these wines don’t pair well with fish.  They tend to make fish taste oily.  Salty and spicy foods should be avoided as well.   Shellfish on the other hand can be complimented by these wines.

Dishes containing cream and butter are good choices to serve with a full-bodied, wood-aged white.

Highly Aromatic Whites

Highly aromatic white wines including Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Viognier  have luxurious, exotic and fragrant aromas.  These wines generally have high alcohol content and low acidity.

The aromatic characteristics of these wines limit the type of food they should accompany.  The delicate flavours of oysters, white fish, veal and subtle sauces should be avoided.  Distinctively sour foods should also be avoided.

To be paired with one of these wines, food needs to have richness and either be a little sweet or have a fairly high fat content.   Foods that are mildly spicy, a little salty, or have a smoky taste, would also pair well.  Ethnic, fusion, Thai, or even Tex-Mex cooking will go well with these wines.  Also strong flavoured cheeses are a good match.  Exotic fruits such as mango, papaya or guava will go particularly well with a Gewürztraminer. 

Young, Light, Fruity Reds

Examples of young, light, fruity reds are Gamay, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Bardolino, and Valpolicella.  Such wines are ideal to serve alongside simple dishes.  Particularly well suited are foods with a relatively high fat content, such as braised meats, sausages, ragouts, stews, and dishes accompanied by butter or cream sauces.  They also pair well with pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.  Fried or grilled seafood is also well complimented with one of these wines.

Rosé wine can be substituted in place of any of the reds in this group.

Spicy, Silky Reds

Wines that are considered as spicy, silky reds include Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, Pinotage, and Chianti.  The tannin content in these wines will be lower than those found in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

Foods that include sauces made with cream, butter or egg yolks should be avoided.  Foods to be paired with these wines include young fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, as well as lean meats.  Pizza can also pair well, especially with Chianti.

A fruity Pinot Noir is well suited to serve with Asian inspired foods.

Luxurious Velvety Reds

Merlot, Zinfandel and St. Laurent wines are included in this category.  These wines are fairly universal and are appropriate for most occasions and time of the year.  The acidity level of these wines tends to be low.  The sweet fruitiness of these wines goes well with similarly structured dishes that are not overly heavy.

Zinfandel wines are often reminiscent of jam and match well to seasoned foods.

Tannic Rich Reds

Tannic rich red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, many Bordeauxs, Northern Rhône wines, Rioja, Australian Shiraz, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  These wines have a high tannin and alcohol content (generally 13% or more).  When pairing with food it is important to avoid those containing milk fats such as butter or cream.  These foods will make the alcohol taste particularly strong.

Salty foods should also be avoided as the high alcohol level will create a bitter taste in the wine.

Tannic rich reds are well suited with burgers, beef burritos, ribs and other red meat dishes.

Mature Wines

Mature wines are generally those wines that have aged beyond what is considered to be the typical age for consumption.  Mature wines will be those that have both a high tannin content and a high alcohol level.

Wines well suited for aging include whites such as oaked Chardonnay and some German Rieslings, as well as reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Syrah.

Generally speaking, aged wines, red or white, are best served on their own without food accompaniment.  Both the bouquet and flavour are too subtle to be lost serving them with food.  The texture, taste, and aroma of the wine become more delicate with each year it is aged.  If you do serve these wines with food be sure to avoid fatty, strong smelling, acidic, sweet, or spicy dishes.

Order is Important

Whenever serving wine there are some general principles that will help ensure you have an enjoyable experience. 

Be sure to serve light, fresh ones ahead of luxurious alcohol-rich ones.  Wines aged in wood barrels are best served after those that have matured in a stainless steel container.  The sweeter the wine the closer it should be served toward the end of the meal.  Finally, bottle-matured wine should be served before an equally good younger wine.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Competitions and Awards

The 2020 wine award competition season is now underway.  The number of wine competitions each year has been on the rise.  While no one really knows how many there are, the number has grown rapidly in the past several years. In many cases, over half of entrants are getting medals.

At the same time, the 10 most respected international wine competitions have similarly seen an increase in the number of wines entered each year.

The arguably top award events, where competitors appear by invitation only are:

  • Sommeliers Choice Awards
  • London Wine Competition
  • Decanter World Wine Awards
  • International Wine Challenge
  • International Wine & Spirit Competition
  • San Francisco International Wine Competition
  • Cyprus Wine Competition
  • The Balkans International Wine Competition
  • The Berlin Wine Trophy
  • The International Wine Contest Bucharest
  • USA Wine Ratings
  • Brazilian Sparkling Contest
  • Thessaloniki International Wine & Spirits Competition

And for those that don’t get to go to the big leagues there are national and regional competitions.  In many of these competitions wineries only need to register and pay the entry fee in order to partake. In Canada there are:

  • National Wine Awards of Canada
  • All Canadian Wine Championships
  • Ontario Wine Awards
  • British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards

Entry to national or regional competitions is often limited to those wineries produced in the named region.

There are also a few competitions which are limited to one type of wine, like the Canberra Riesling Challenge in Australia or Chardonnays du Monde in France.

Are the results from wine competitions something you should pay attention to when searching for wines to enjoy?   Here is some information to help you decide.

How They Work

Wine competitions are blind tastings in that the judges don’t know whose wine they are tasting. All of the wine samples are poured by staff members in a separate room.  The glasses are identical and coded by number or letter, and then brought to the judges’ tables – normally about 10 glasses at a time.

Within the parameters of each competition, it is really the wineries themselves that determine the wines that are tasted.  Some wineries submit many wines in many competitions; others just a few wines in a few competitions; and still others don’t take part at all.  The decision may depend on the winery’s size, marketing strategy, or opinion about the value of wine competitions in its overall business plan or philosophy. It comes down to a question as to whether the associated costs return appropriate business value.

The judges are a diverse group of “wine experts” from many different professional areas, whether they be wine makers, wine educators, wine writers, sommeliers, or wine retailers.  They all have two things in common: a passion for wine, and daily exposure to it.  In most competitions the judges also represent many regions and countries, which provides a broader perspective and protects against viticultural prejudice. Some judges have specific academic credentials like Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, but the majority are simply individuals whose profession involves regular wine tastings.  Ideally, the panels have judges from different aspects of wine’s professional life because they bring different perspectives to the event.

Judging occurs in two phases, the medal round, and the “sweepstakes”.  For the medal round, the judges are split into panels of 2 to 6 people.  Some competitions prefer the odd numbers because it’s easier to get a decision by a simple majority.  Others prefer panels of 4 because when there is a split, it must resolved by discussion and consensus.

Each wine is judged on its own merits, colour, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, finish (aftertaste), and overall quality.  In a particular flight, there might be 1 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals, for example, and 4 receiving no award; but there are no predetermined numbers or percentages of medals. 

Normally, sparkling wines and white wines are tasted first, followed by Rosé and red, and finally dessert wines.  When there are different levels of sweetness, with Riesling for example, the wines are tasted from dry to sweet, because tasting the sweeter wines first would make the dry wines taste bitter.

The judges are presented with flights (groupings) of about 10 wines of the same type (e.g. Chardonnay) in coded glasses which each judge separately tastes in silence, making notes and deciding on the appropriate medal for each wine on its own merits, Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Award. Some competitions have a Double Gold category, which requires unanimity among panelists that the wine deserves a Gold medal, whereas a Gold medal just requires a majority.  Simplistically, you might consider Double Gold as “exceptional”, Gold as “excellent”, Silver as “very good”, and Bronze as “good”.

When all judges have finished tasting, they compare notes to decide on a final, group medal for each wine.  When there is agreement on their individual scores (80-90% of the time in most cases), no discussion is needed and the medal is assigned.  When there is significant disagreement, the judges discuss and often retaste the wine to arrive at a consensus

In addition to the medals given to each wine, the panels normally determine which Gold medal wines advance to the “sweepstakes” round to determine the Best of Class, Best of Category, and at some competitions Best of Show.  The “sweepstakes” round is the grand finale of the competition, with all judges tasting all the wines that have been advanced.

In the “sweepstakes” round all of the wines to be tasted are the best wines of the competition.  One way to determine the best wines in large categories is by “acclamation voting”.  Each judge may vote as many times as he or she likes, since the wines are of different types (Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon etc.).   

Many competitions end with a Best of Category (e.g., Red, White, Rosé), and some also select a “Best of Show” among them as well.

Interpreting the Results

A wine competition is one moment in time.  The results reflect the collective opinions of expert judges about a specific group of wines on a particular day.  But there is a lot of consistency among different competitions held in different places at different times, so wine competitions do provide good guidance for purchasing wines.

Wine competitions provide a unique blend of objective and subjective opinions.  The objectivity involves several people in a blind tasting process which eliminates personal bias for a region or winery.  The subjectivity involves the personal taste sensitivities and preferences of different people.

The judging panel may be as few as two or up to six tasters or even more; the larger the panel, the less discussion.  Differences in judges’ tastes can relate to where they live; Europe, Australia, North America, or South America.  Taste can even differ based on a region within a country.

There are also differences between people who are wine makers or vineyard owners and those who are sommeliers, retailers, or writers. The winery related judges tend to focus on the technical qualities of the wine, whereas the consumer-focused ones are looking for a good wine for their customers to enjoy.

Over the years due to changes in the industry the wines from around the world have become so much better.  There used to be much more variation in quality, but research into grape growing and winemaking, plus the commitment to quality by producers worldwide has raised the bar, making it harder to distinguish and identify what separates a Gold from a Silver, or a Silver from a Bronze.  This is good for consumers, and it’s good for producers because consumers are more likely to see wine as a positive experience.

A medal can be of great value to a winery, otherwise they wouldn’t be paying the registration fee per wine to enter. Getting a medal can translate into higher wine sales, since the medal is usually mentioned in press releases and shown on the winery website.

However the all-important question is whether a wine is or isn’t an award winner, impacts your decision to purchase a particular bottle of wine.  The decision is yours.

It remains to be seen how COVID-19 will impact this year’s competitions.  While some of the European events have already taken place others, such as the Ontario Wine Awards, are being postponed until further notice.

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