Category: By location

Q&A with Carlos Serrano from Vina Montes

carlos-serranoCarlos Serrano is the Commercial Director for Vina Montes and manages the global strategy for Montes brands including Vina Montes, Kaiken, Napa Angel and Star Angel. Here, he talks about Montes’ experience of working in Asia.

What’s your view of the Asian market right now?

In general, Asia is growing and willing to drink more and better wines. We have been in the market for almost two decades; our name is known among those consumers willing to pay more for quality.

However, Asia is very big and there are different market realities. China is very different from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. China in the year 2013 was difficult but improved a bit in 2014. Japan has been booming for Montes and Korea is growing at a slower speed. I would say the more open markets for Chilean wines are between Japan and Korea. Our wines have been there for a long time and with very good reputation for quality.

How would you compare this with the European or American market?

Chilean wines in the USA have been part of the scenario for a long time. In many Asian markets Chilean wines are still being introduced. This is not the case for Japan and Korea but in many other markets, including China where, in T2 and T3 cities, Chilean wines are just starting to be known.

What’s Montes’ strategy in Asia?

montes-zapallarWe have been following the same strategy for many years – quality, quality, quality. Not only in the wines but also in the service to our importers as well as a relationship with them that includes trips to each market from Chile. In China we do have a Brand Manager that lives in Shanghai; we also visit two or three times a year from Chile.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is wine education. With today’s wine supply it is common to see a lot of wines at very low prices. We produce quality wines and cannot offer cheap prices. It is vital for a winery like us that people can identify between a good and an “easy drinking” wine and then be willing to pay more for the better one. We work with both importers and consumers on this.

There’s a pressure for winemakers to make wines for food. Are Montes’ wines geared for the Asian market in the same way?

We do not have special wines for a specific market. All our wines, from the same range, have the same philosophy, wine making, etc. What is real is that in Asia, consumers prefer some grape varieties more than others depending on the market – again, Asia is not homogeneous. Merlot and Chardonnay are more popular in China than in Korea where Cabernet Sauvignon is more popular.

In our range, several wines match very well with many Asian foods. As a matter of fact we have participated two or three times in a seminar that Ch’ng Poh Tiong (Singapore wine writer) organised a few years back. The results were amazingly positive. A lot of Asian food matched wine, not only Montes, to be fair.

Montes opened the South Korean market for quality Chilean wines, how has the market changed since you first started working there?

the-vines-survive-among-the-cactiThe change has been dramatic. Montes wines were the very first quality Chilean wine in Korea. This was a result of Douglas Murray’s efforts in years when not a lot of people took the time to travel, offer and establish relationships in the market. I’m not afraid to say that many Korean wine lovers learned to drink with a bottle of Montes Alpha.

Today, there is a plethora of Chilean wine brands that are offering low prices, and consequently lower quality levels, that consumers are very much willing to drink. In a way it disturbs our market since some consumers move to cheaper kind of wines. This phenomena not only happens in Korea but in all markets.

What about the grey market for Montes wines?

This is the price we have to pay for having “emblematic” wines in China. Grey marketers take advantage of today’s global economy and they buy Purple Angel, Montes Folly, Montes Alpha M and, lately, Montes Taita in other markets then they ship them to China.

How they profit is still a big question. We do not know how they are able to offer our wines in China at the same, or even lower prices, than our importer considering that they have to pay a lot more freight if they buy from Europe, plus the mark ups of a longer trade channel. This situation is very disturbing to our official importers. It is not a fair way to work and we repudiate all grey market and copying activity.


This Q&A was originally destined for a magazine but sadly it never made it to print. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it here.

You can also read about my vinous travels to Chile on Daily Mail Online, which was one of the articles submitted for consideration for the 2016 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards. I was shortlisted in the Food and Wine category.

#HOTGV: On Francois Lurton wines with the man himself

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with Francois Lurton, a French winemaker with vineyards in France, Spain, Argentina and Chile.

Francois Lurton

Francois represents the fifth generation of the Lurton family, who are well known in the world of Bordeaux wines. But as a bit of a maverick, Francois has ventured out to establish his own brand and his own wine identity after more than a decade of working for the family business.

We recently met at a tasting at Lima Floral Restaurant in London to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his estate in Argentina, Bodegas Piedra Negra in the Uco Valley. There, I tried a selection of his wines from Chile and Argentina.

Francois Lurton vineyard

Reading back on my notes almost two months later, I realised just how diverse the selection of 15 or so wines were.

Some were young and robust while others were gentle and fruity. There were even notes mentioning dark and moody alongside smoke and spice. I was surprised by how remarkably well they coped with the very challenging flavours of Peruvian food. Granted, the selection matched with the punchy dishes had a bit more age to them.

Although we tasted a sizeable collection of wines, it’s less than a quarter of the labels in Francois’ portfolio across the two continents.

Well, I’ll let Francois tell his own story in this little taster:

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Photos c/o Francois Lurton Wines.

#HOTGV: On Château Angélus with Stephanie de Bouard

About a year and half ago, I went to Bordeaux for the first time. On a sunny afternoon in June we cycled through Saint Emillion and stopped at this really grand, palatial building to catch our breath.
That was Château Angélus.

Chateau Angelus, photo by Deepix

I can’t remember what time it was but the bells rang, reverberating through the air and over the lush green vines. With the sun just so over its sandy coloured walls, it was sort of magical.

Anyway, long story short, I tasted a small selection of their wines for the first time last month over lunch at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught – the Carillon d’Angelus 2012, Château Angelus 2008 and Château Angelus 2006.

Chateau Angelus wines

Basically, they were stunning. But then you wouldn’t expect anything less for more than £100 a bottle (well except for the Carillon, which is currently retailing at about £50).

My favourite was the 2008 – soft tannins, fruity and a bit of development already. Essentially, because it’s ready to drink right now and it’s stunning.

As well as enjoying some of their wines, the estate also launched their new book. Written by Jane Anson, the photo-heavy book traces the history and the family behind the estate.

Later, I sat down with Stephanie de Bouard for the eleventh episode of Heard on the Grape Vine.

Stephanie de Bouard, photo by Deepix

Stephanie is the eighth generation of the family to run the Premier Cru Classé estate and hasn’t been shy about making changes.

Join us now as we explore a little of what Château Angélus is all about.

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Additional photos and videos c/o Château Angélus and Deepix.

#HOTGV: On Canadian ice wine with Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson

This episode of Heard on the Grape Vine is all about Canadian Ice Wine.

Frozen vineyards at Inniskillin

Canada is perhaps the only place in the world where ice wine can be produced every year thanks to its consistently cold winters. And because of the quality and availability, the country has become famous for this delicious sweet wine over the past couple of decades.

But the history of this wine, which has its roots in Germany and Austria, is relatively recent for Canada, where the first vintages weren’t made until 1984.

Inniskillin sparkling vidal

I travelled to Niagara-on-the-Lake recently to meet Bruce Nicholson, the wine maker at Inniskillin, one of the oldest and best known ice wine producers in Canada.

I took a little tour of the winery and saw what’s possibly the oldest bottle of Canadian ice wine in existence and Inniskillin’s first vintage – 1984. There’s only one bottle left of this at the estate. True to the co-founder and wine maker Karl Kaiser’s Austrian roots, it was spelt eiswein.

Next to it was an 1989 Inniskillin, which retails at over CAD$500 right now for the half bottle. It was the first wine from the estate to have won an international competition, putting Canadian ice wines on the map.

It was just after the ice wine harvest and the grapes had already been pressed so I could taste a fresh sample of the juice for the Cabernet Franc. It was deliciously fruity and you can already see some of the rhubarb notes that Nicholson talks about later on.

As well as the wines on sale right now, I also tasted a little sample of the 1993 vintage at their bar. It had visibly oxidised in colour and flavour but oh, still so gorgeous and fresh.

Cold smoked scallops being prepared at Inniskillin

After a wine-friendly lunch prepared by their in-house chef Tim MacKiddie, I sat down with Nicholson for this podcast.

Join us now as we learn more about how this coveted wine is made at Inniskillin and what to eat with it.

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#HOTGV: On Bordeaux and the Chinese wine market with Suzanne Mustacich

For the ninth episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with journalist and author Suzanne Mustacich at The Goring Hotel in London.Andre Simon 2015 drink book winner Suzanne Mustacich with Acting Chairman Nicholas Lander

Thirsty Dragon by Suzanne MustacichMustacich, who’s based in Bordeaux, writes regularly for Wine Spectator magazine on the region.

She had just won the prestigious Andre Simon Award in the drink category for her first book, Thirsty Dragon, which was presented at the hotel.

The book, published in November 2015 by Henry Holt, traces the ups and downs of China’s love for Bordeaux wines.

It covers Bordeaux’s increasing exports to China, particularly in the fine wine section, up to 2014, when the relationship between the buyers and sellers started changing. The stories of a few key characters are followed through the storyline to reveal the realities of the wine business in China.

During this epside of the podcast, we explore some of the themes covered in it, including Bordeaux export market, China’s ‘left-over women’ and the book’s heroes and villains.

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Four of the best Loire Stars at D&D Wine

Last month I attended a tasting at D&D London’s New Street Wine Shop, the theme of which was Loire Stars – the hidden gems and unsung heroes from the Loire Valley.

My previous encounter with the Loire was centred around Chenin Blanc, which was showcased in dry white and sweet wines. I liked it, a lot. But the Loire also produces fascinating wines from a number of other well-known grape varieties like Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Melon de Bourgogne; all of which I am comparatively less familiar with.

I tasted 13 wines altogether, ranging from sparkling to sweet (I skipped the rosé). The diversity between the wines is immense. But then for a region so widespread, you wouldn’t expect anything else. And just as equally, you wouldn’t expect to like everything.

Out of those 13, there were in fact only four that I really enjoyed. They’re all available at New Street Wine Shop but I will also bracket other places where you can buy them.

Philippe Foreau Clos Naudin Vouvray NV Although there were alternative in the sparkling line up, with a younger, fresher feel, the sparkling Philippe Foreau Clos Naudin Vouvray NV was the first to catch my eye. It was rich in flavour with a blended flavour of toast and apple that was bolstered with incredible acidity. It also had smooth bubbles and was nicely balanced. I felt it was very comparable to Champagne, which is made in the same method. £19.65 Also available from Gauntleys.
Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny 2013 The whites flew by and the first red to get my attention was Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny 2013. Having been to the estate before, I felt like I had a vested interest in liking the wine. But I didn’t. At least not at first. As I tasted the wine though, I got more and more notes out of it and, well, I had to say it was pretty good. It starts with a sort of concrete hardness that melts into gentle tanning and a dark, brooding herbaceousness. It had great food potential as it is but then the long finish of residual fruit, red currant and black pepper really brought it together. £19.80 Also available at Excel Wines.
Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2013 In startling contrast to the Saumur Champigny, Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2013 was extremely open and friendly. It was rich and fruit-forward as well as being rounded and vibrant. It was simple and easy drinking – and you can’t fault it for that. £11.50 Also available at Haynes Hanson & Clark.
Philippe Delesvaux Selection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon 2011 As a lover of sweet wines, I was of course pleased to find a good one in the Philippe Delesvaux Selection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon 2011. It’s perhaps on the young side but its lush, fragrant nose is very appealing right now. The rich and complex blend of apricots finds a nice back bone in the balance of the sugar and acidity. Not too intense but thoroughly enjoyable. £18.60 (half-bottle) Also available at Fine + Rare Wines

Incidentally there’s still a few more days of the D&D Loire Stars Festival, which concludes later this month. There’s a few expert led tastings, some matched with food. You’ll be able to find more details here: www.danddwine.com/campaigns-and-partnerships/loirestars/


Amateur Wine was a guest of Loire Valley Wines and D&D London. For more information on what that means, see our Editorial Policy.

#HOTGV: On Vins Colombo with Laure Colombo

Last month, I met a young winemaker called Laure Colombo over dinner at 28:50 in London. She makes wines at the family vineyard, Vins Colombo, with her father Jean Luc Colombo. It’s a little domaine in Cornas, Northern Rhone, started by her parents in the 80s.

Jean Luc Colombo maison

It was just before the RAW Fair came to London and, knowing that I was going to make a podcast at RAW, I wanted to get her thoughts on natural wine. Unusually for someone so young (it didn’t seem polite to ask but I guessed at no more than 30), Laure had the confidence to speak about her wine as an extension of herself. The wine that she was making was about the way she feels and not about following trends or trying to conform to a certain cache. So she talked about that instead.

Laure Colombo in the vineyard

As a second generation winemaker, Colombo’s approach to wine is extremely food-centric and refreshingly non-commercial. She had an old world belief about wine as part of life and not as a commodity. Case in point, she has recently acquired her own domaine and, like that of her parents’, she’s keeping the “farm” busy with everything from chickens to fruit trees.

Anyway, I think you’ll get an idea of what she is like in this fifth episode of Heard on the Grape Vine where we talk about everything from making wine for food to living in a vineyard. And if you are interested in trying her wines, you can find some of these at Waitrose.

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A taste from New Zealand’s Marisco Vineyards

My first taste of the 2015 vintage came from Marlborough, New Zealand, from the Marisco Vineyards. I tasted through part of the Marisco portfolio at The Merchant’s Tavern with owner and winemaker Brent Marris.

Wines at the Marisco tasting at The Merchant's Tavern

Wines at the Marisco tasting at The Merchant’s Tavern

Having tasted through a whole bunch of mostly okay, occasionally mediocre, 2014 vintages from other parts of the world this year, the 2015 from Marisco made a refreshing change. It should come as no surprise really – Marris has been in wine all his life.

Brent’s father, John Marris, had been one of the first contract grape growers for Montana (now Brancott Estate) in Marlborough. Following in his father’s footsteps, Brent went on to study oenology and made wines at Oyster Bay before creating Wither Hills. In 2003, on the 300 or so hectares of land on the banks of the Waihopai River, Marris established Marisco vineyards. Wine must run in the blood as his eldest daughter is also studying oenology with a view of joining the family business in the future.

But back to the wines. We tasted through 14 dry wines before dinner and three sweet wines with dessert from The Ned, The King’s Series and the Craft Series. There was also a Hartley’s Block Sauvignon Blanc. For ease, I’ve divided the tasting notes into their respective brands, followed by the sweet wines, rather than in the order tasted. There are a lot of notes and some stories too so brace yourself and read on.

Marisco brands

Marisco brands – yes, I’ve started scribbling on the page before taking this photo

The Ned

The Ned, named after the mountain which overlooks the Marlborough region, was the first wine brand created at Marisco vineyards. Marris wanted to make the stripped-back style of Sauvignon Blanc that first made Marlborough famous. And in the beginning, he worked exclusively with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

We started with The Ned Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, a tank sample which will be bottled in July. It’s apparently Marris’ first attempt at rosé at Marisco and it’s made with Pinot Noir grapes grown specifically for this wine. It’s a very dry style, and at times a little hot on the palate, with vanilla and red fruit notes. It offered nice structure though and was generally quite elegant.

The Ned Pinot Grigio 2014 (sold as Pinot Gris in New Zealand) had a sort of onion-skin blush to its hue, which was apparently achieved purely through viticulture. It was a light, crisp and delicate wine with lychee notes coming through. I also tried a tank sample of The Ned Pinot Grigio 2015, which, with its slightly pinker hue, was much fresher with a crisp apple nose and a citrusy profile.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2014 had a sharp peppery nose and hints of tomato vine on the palate. There was nice acidity but also a certain roundness to the wine. The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2015 had a slight foxiness about it before opening up to jalapeño peppers and a much more mineral-based palate.

The first red wine came in the form of The Ned Pinot Noir 2013, a cool-climate style Pinot Noir with a slightly spicy palate. There was a delicateness about it with notes of strawberry and vanilla over the gentle tannins. It’s a very likeable wine and I preferred it over the 2014 vintage. The Ned Pinot Noir 2014 was hotter on the palate with more tannins coming through. The fruit felt riper though and with great intensity, finishing with a slight hint of vanilla on the long finish.

Hartley’s Block

The Hartley’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2014 came in the middle of the tasting and was the only wine from the brand. It was quite rounded for a Sauvignon Blanc (in contrast to the occasional sharp acidity) with a light, peppery palate and delicate nose.

The King’s Series

The King’s Series is a celebration of the Marris family name in the 12th and 13th century – De Marisco. Initially the family was in favour with the king but later, over the generations and as a result of piracy, they became a thorn in the king’s side. These were different kings obviously. Each of the wines in The King’s Series plays on this history of the Marris family – although it doesn’t literally translate into the style of the wine. Or does it?

The first wine we tried in The King’s Series was The King’s Thorn 2013, a lychee-rich wine with a short finish and perhaps in need of a little more acidity. The King’s Favour 2013 came next. It had distinct farmyardy notes with a very delicate palate, lots of minerality and notes of apple and lime. I’m not sure if it was because of the name but I really liked this one. The King’s Legacy Chardonnay 2012 (sold in the USA as The King’s Bastard) was a very light, citrusy Chardonnay, fermented and aged on the lees (with the yeast) in barrel.

On to the red wines we tried The King’s Wrath 2013. It was a herbaceous red wine with more prominent oak notes coming through and slight hint of development.

Craft Series

The Craft Series is the latest brand to join the Marisco portfolio, having launched last year, and is a more artisan selection. They were made on the principle that certain vines were showing exceptional characteristics which Marris wanted to capture. The result is a collection that’s intended to be for people who are really into their wines, know their stuff and isn’t afraid to try something new and interesting. I hope we’ll see these in the UK soon but they’re not widely available yet.

The wines came towards the end of the tasting starting with Brent’s favourite, The Craft Series Sauvignon Blanc Pride & Glory 2011. Like The King’s Favour 2013, this wine had the same farmyardy notes with apple, citrus, a hint of pepper but finished with a little lychee. It worked really well with the sea bream ceviche I ordered, which was surprisingly spicy, so I think it will comfortably work with other spicy dishes too.

The other white wine that I really liked was The Craft Series Viognier The Exemplar 2012. It was quite unusual for a Viognier in that it lacked the signature floral character of the grape variety. Instead, I got notes of sweetcorn and asparagus thanks to the barrel fermentation. It was quite a bold palate and maybe takes some getting used to – but I think that’s one of the reasons why I liked it.

The Craft Series Pinot Noir The Journey 2013 was restrained and elegant with a herbaceous character, black pepper and lots of tannin. It feels too young to drink right now but there’s potential. The 2014 vintage will apparently be divided into a feminine and a masculine wine as the parcels are so polarising.

The sweet wines

Marisco sweet wines with lemon tart and basil ice cream

Marisco sweet wines with lemon tart and basil ice cream

I’ve actually tried sweet wines from both The Ned and The King’s Series without ever realising that they’re from the same winemaker. Tasting them side by side, the difference is even more obvious.

The Ned Noble 2013 had a slight petrol note with highlights of citrus peel, tangerine and a floral quality. There was nice intensity and good acidity.

From The King’s Series, it was two vintages of A Sticky End. A Sticky End 2012 was more earthy while A Sticky End 2013 was much cleaner on the nose. Both, I felt, needed more acidity and, next to The Ned, didn’t show as well as they could have.

Taylor’s, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Nestled among the dense collection of port houses on Vila Nova de Gaia is Taylor’s lodge in Oporto. It’s almost hidden except that through the inconspicuous entrance is a grand cellar, restaurant and garden. And a pair of peacocks. Not to forget of course that Taylor’s, as part of the Fladgate Partnership, also owns the luxurious hotel next door, The Yeatman, as well as Croft and Fonseca.

 

It’s no small port house but it is still family owned.

Taylor’s began as port shippers, establishing their lodge in 1692, before acquiring their first vineyard. Today, 30% of the grapes comes from their own vineyards in the Douro Valley, where they are fermented and spend the winter at the winery before being transported to the lodge for ageing. At Vila Nova de Gaia, they spend a year in barrels during which time the quality of the wine is assessed and they are funnelled into a category of port.

Barrel corridor, Taylor's, Oporto

My visit to the lodge coincided with the London Wine Fair, where Taylor’s launched their 1863 Single Harvest tawny. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to taste that historical wine but I did try seven of their more widely available ports and one rarer variety.

Ports, Taylor's, Oporto

The first in line was the Chip Dry, a white port created to counter the sherry shortage during the Spanish civil war. It was a creamy port with a lightly floral nose. Although it’s considerably less sweet than the next seven ports, you’ll still be able to taste some residual sugar.

Next in line was the Late Bottled Vintage 2009, which was aged five years in large barrels before release. As a reference for size, the largest of these barrels for Taylor’s is 110KL. With little air contact, the LBV is holding on to much of its ripe berry fruit notes and showing some violet, blackberry and black cherry. It goes extremely well with dark chocolate.

The LBV was followed by a flight of four tawny ports. The 10 Year Old Tawny, Taylor’s best seller, was a nutty blend of white chocolate and raisin. The 20 Year Old Tawny, made for every day drinking, also showed nuts and raisins and, strangely perhaps, a little rawness of youth. Or maybe it was just a yearning for more complexity – there was certainly potential. When it came to the 30 Year Old Tawny, it was a little closed but there was a greater intensity of chocolate with a very rich palate and less nuttiness. The last tawny, the slightly smoky 40 Year Old Tawny, had a lot less dried fruits notes with more wood showing. It also somehow felt a little confected.

I tasted two vintage ports. The first was the Taylor’s 2011 vintage port which was sort of reminiscent of a Brunello di Montalcino in its intensity. For this, think Maraschino cherries, cedar and violet.

The second vintage port, and the final wine I tried, was the Quinta de Vargellas Single Quinta 2001. Despite more than a decade in the making, it’s still remarkably youthful, perhaps even too young as demonstrated by the slight roughness of the alcohol on the palate. In flavour, it showed raisins, a slight hint of vanilla and a long, complex and very sweet finish.

www.taylor.pt

#HOTGV: On Sciacchetrà with Terra di Bargòn

For the third episode of Heard on the Grape Vine podcast, I travelled to Liguria, in northern Italy, to learn more about Sciacchetrà, a passito wine unique to the Cinque Terre.

View out to sea from Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

You’ve probably seen the word passito on bottles of sweet wine from all around Italy so let me begin by explaining what that is. Passito is the Italian name for a type of sweet wine made from the juice of grapes that have been allowed to dry before being pressed. The drying process concentrates the sugar in the grapes so that sweet wines can be produced. The residual sugar, left at the end of the fermentation process, is what you can taste on your palate.

In the Cinque Terre, a special type of passito is produced and it goes by the name of Sciacchetrà. It is made by fermenting the juice of the raisined grapes with the must (grape skin, pips and all) to produce a concentrated, tannic sweet wine.

In Riomaggiore, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre, I met Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra De Cugis. They are the husband and wife team behind Terra di Bargòn, a cantina which produces only Sciacchetrà. Alessandra and Roberto welcomed me to their home somewhere half way up the Ligurian hills. Surrounding it were gnarly vines of some 25 years, trained in a high pergola. There, looking out over the Cinque Terre, they talked about their Sciacchetrà.

Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra de Cugis at Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

For me, it was incredibly awe-inspiring to learn that the couple, now in their 60s, are producing this passito wine which the younger generation has abandoned because they deemed it too hard. But I’ll let them explain their own wine.

The wine we tasted was the Terra di Bargòn Reserva 2009, a concentrated wine with notes of bruised apple, prune, dried apricots and a nutty tang. It’s far from the lusciousness typical of passito so if you’re not a big fan of sugar, this could be the sweet wine for you.

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