With the excuse of studying for the WSET Diploma, I’ve tasted a greater variety of wines – both Chilean and foreign – this year than ever before. The upside is my knowledge and appreciation of wine have expanded exponentially; the downside is that there has been a tectonic shift in my taste. I’m no longer satisfied with two-dimensional wines that are all fur coat and no knickers, as we say in Yorkshire. I want a wine that is as interesting in the mouth as it is on the nose; one that isn’t a formulaic production by a winemaker compensating for mediocre grapes but really offers something different; a wine that stands out from the rest. Why is that a downside? Well, it means my taste just got more expensive!
Looking back at the wines that really stood out for me this year, I can spot a few trends. Stick-insect thin, searingly acidic wines are out – you won’t spot any Sauvignon Blanc in my top list, for instance. Instead, I’ve been enjoying whites with more personality – oak-fermented Chardonnay and well-crafted Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc wines, for instance. And, bucking fashion, I’ve discovered a taste for well-made sweet wines.
When it comes to the reds, soft tannined Malbecs and interesting red blends are among those that have stolen my heart this year. Here are a just a few highlights.
Top wines from 2017: Sparkling
François Chidaine Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV, Montlouis-sur-Loire. 12% ABV
This medium gold-coloured wine has a fairly aromatic nose, featuring notes of cooked apples and pears, ripe quince and peaches, as well as secondary notes from the in-bottle fermentation (toast, brioche and yeast). There is also some honey from the bottle-ageing. This was a dry sparkling wine with high acidity, full body and a long finish. It had good balance and medium alcohol. Absolutely delicious and so much more interesting than the many very neutral styles of sparkling wine so in vogue. I would definitely pick this wine for a special celebration.
Schwaderer Brut Blanc de Noir, 12% ABV
This sparkling wine is made from the País (aka Mission, Listán Negro, Criollo) grape and is definitely among the better wines to be produced from this grape variety.
This is a lovely, elegant, very transparent sparkling wine with soft bubbles and moderate alcohol. A superb choice for a special meal or celebration – if you can manage to get hold of a bottle!
Top wines from 2017: whites
Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2014, Itata Valley, 15% ABV
Pandolfi Price makes two superb Chardonnay wines – Larkun is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while this, my favourite, was fermented and aged in oak.
This is a lemon-coloured wine with a deliciously intense nose with layers of aromas: first the fruit – grapefruit, peaches and apples; next some subtle buttery notes from the 24 months this wine spent ageing on its lees; and finally some steely and pebbly mineral notes. In the mouth it is dry, with fresh acidity, very high alcohol – watch out for this one, it’s so easy to keep sipping it without realising it’s a whopping 15%! Full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, and all those fruity and mineral notes are present again in this deliciously satisfying white. No wonder it’s garnered so many international awards and high scores from critics.
Lafken Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca Valley, 13% ABV
With the current fashion for thin-bodied whites with searing acidity and upfront citrus aromas, opulent, full-bodied Gewürztraminer with its candy store of aromas is decidedly untrendy right now. But hey, who cares about fashion?
This pale golden-coloured wine is worth trying for its aroma alone. Just close your eyes and breath in its pot pourri of delicious smells: Turkish delight, rose petals, grapes, ginger and ripe peaches, to name just a few – this is about as heady as a wine can get.
This medium-bodied wine is off-dry (a bit sweet), but it has enough acidity to stop it from being cloying. The mouth delivers on the promise on the nose, with a delightful fruitiness and a hint of spice. Medium (+) finish.
Les Amours de la Reine 2010, Jurançon, 12% ABV
I make no apologies for including a fully sweet wine in my list, even though it shows me up as completely untrendy. Who cares about fashion anyway? This wonderful wine, kindly donated by Sophie Bedouin, is made from 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng.
This is a lovely sweet, golden-coloured wine. The nose is pronounced, complex and concentrated with a wide variety of different aromas, most particularly of exotic and tropical fruit, such as bananas, cherimoya, mango, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, together with dried apricots and apples, as well as some floral notes (orange blossom). There were also some honey aromas, with hints of marmalade and a touch of spice (ginger) from the bottle-ageing.
The sweetness of this full-bodied wine is beautifully offset by its high acidity, making it fresh and stopping it from being cloyingly sweet. In the mouth it shows a delicious range of exotic and tropical fruit, such as tinned pineapple, grapefruit, bananas, mango and passionfruit, as well as candied apricots and apples, a floral hint of orange blossom, some honeyed notes and a touch of ginger.
Top wines from 2017: reds
The Argentine reds
A huge thank you to Amanda Barnes, who took time out from her schedule to give me a whistle-stop introduction to Mendoza and particularly Argentine Malbec back in April. I tried so many great Malbec wines, it’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, so I’m going to confine myself to just a couple.
Matervini Viñas Viejas 2014, Precordillera
Very limited edition – 200 bottles produced. This wine was made from grapes in Matervini’s new Precordillera plot.
A beautiful wine with a mineral nose teems with the biscuity, toasty notes from the barrel-ageing. In the mouth, it is medium-bodied, with fresh acidity, tooth-coating tannins and a long finish.
Kondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV
Deep ruby-coloured wine with a deliciously fruity nose, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There is also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine is dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish is medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.
Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
This wine has all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.
This is a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins.
Lorca Poético Cabernet Franc 2013, Mendoza, 14.5% ABV
A deep ruby-coloured wine with lashings of delicious aromas: red fruit like redcurrants and raspberries, blueberries, oak aromas like vanilla and coconut, and a hint of liquorice. This is an exciting wine with fresh acidity, pronounced, ripe tannins and lots of body. In the mouth, there is a moderate cigarbox texture adding complexity to the red fruit and spice flavours.
The Chilean reds
I’ve tasted a whole gammut of Chilean wines this year: the good, the bad and the ugly. A particular low point was a my sustained tasting over the winter of entry level classic Chilean reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others) from several well-known Chilean wineries. Some were pretty awful; none were really worthy of tasting notes. In fact, my favourite wines tended to be less common varieties or from smaller wineries.
Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV
Loma Larga in Chile’s Casablanca Valley specializes in cool climate reds and, over the years has garnered my respect by consistently producing very attractive, enjoyable wines with plenty of character.
This wine is a deep purple colour with a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There is a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas are slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and tobacco. This is a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine has lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieves good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.
Loma Larga Lomas del Valle Cabernet Franc 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% ABV
Loma Larga has deliberately aimed for a Loire style with this unoaked Cabernet Franc. It also produces an oaked version in the Loma Larga range, which is a bigger wine, less restrained but no less delicious.
The nose is rich in sweet, ripe black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants) with some herbaceous notes (green pepper, green chilli pepper) and a spicy note like black pepper.
This is a restrained, easy-to-drink wine, dry with medium, fine, ripe tannins, medium body and high alcohol. The high acidity makes the palate refreshing and the mouth reveals black fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants), herbaceous notes of green pepper and a cigarbox texture. Medium finish. This is a very enjoyable wine.
Wildmakers Sabatico 2014, Maule Valley, 14.5% ABV
A delicious red blend of 74% Carignan (Cariñena) and 26% Grenache (Garnacha) grapes from 80-year old vines. An eco-friendly ruby-coloured wine with a pleasantly fruity nose with aromas of cherries, raspberries and blueberries. It is dry with ripe, medium (+) tannins, fresh acidity, relatively light body and high alcohol. This is a fresh, fruity wine that you can enjoy on its own or with a wide range of food.
Ventisquero Reserva País Moscatel 2015, Maule / Itata Valleys, 13.5%
This is a smart idea by the team at Ventisquero to make the best of two of Chile’s on-trend “heritage varieties”, both of which can on their own be a little lacklustre. País tends to be rather uninspiring aromatically, whereas Muscat grapes are known for their wonderful aromas but can be rather low in acidity. By putting the two together, Ventisquero has come up with a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine with a lovely floral note and lots of sweet fruit notes like cherries, grapes and cooked strawberries. This is a great wine for sipping, slightly chilled, on a hot day or as a pre-dinner appetiser.
A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico Cinsault 2016, Itata Valley, 13.5% ABV
This was the firm favourite at a Cinsault wine tasting a few months back. A fresh, aromatic Cinsault, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.
Erasmo Barbera Garnacha 2016, Maule Valley, 14% ABV
A moreish ruby-red blend combining the fresh acidity of Italian classic Barbera with the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours of Spanish icon Garnacha (aka Grenache). This is a food-friendly wine with delicious aromas of red fruit, like strawberry jam, raspberries and red plums, together with rhubarb, intermingled with a subtle herbal note of liquorice or dill and a hint of mushroom and earthiness.
And then, of course, there’s the reds from France…
Château Faizeau 2011 Sélection Vielles Vignes, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, 13% ABV
A beautiful right-bank Bordeaux made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this wine evolved substantially in the two hours between opening and finishing it. The most immediate sensation was of a very pleasant sweet bouquet of baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and sweet ripe fruit, like black cherries, plums, raspberries and blackcurrants. As it opened, some subtle notes of tobacco and leather began to appear. By the end, the nose had become quite herbal and complex and much less sweet, with notes of liquorice, rosehip and prunes.
A dry, full-bodied, well-balanced wine with high levels of grippy tannins, high acidity and a long finish. Delicious in the mouth, with a cigarbox texture and lots of concentrated black and red fruit, like black cherries, black plums, raspberries, spices such as vanilla and that more austere herbal tone that was slow to emerge on the nose, reminiscent of liquorice and rosehips.
What about you? What were your top wines in 2017?