Tag: Wine

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 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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Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011

Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011The wine: Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011

The producer: Rustenberg www.rustenberg.co.za

They say: This wine has been made using a centuries-old process of drying grapes on straw in order to produce dessert-style wines. Grapes are harvested at the same ripeness required to make table wine and are then laid out on straw for a number of weeks. This allows the grapes to slowly dehydrate, concentrating their natural sugar, acid and flavour.

The straw also acts as a wick for any excess moisture, ensuring the grapes do not rot. After gently pressing the dehydrated grapes the concentrated juice is slowly fermented and aged in old oak barrels to create a balanced luscious dessert wine.

We say: A gorgeous golden wine with a luscious texture. Intense, alluring nose. There’s notes of ripe peach, orange rind, syrup, honey and maybe even a little fig. The incredible acidity balances the unctuous sweetness of the wine. Really nice stuff.

Try with: Apple tarte tatin

Price (RRP): From £8.99 for half-bottle.

Available from: Majestic

Chinese tasting notes and food match

品酒笔记: 丰盛美味的金黄色甜酒。闻起来激烈,诱人。有熟的桃子,橘子皮,糖浆,蜂蜜,甚至有点无花果的味道。酒甜与酸搭配很好。真不错。

中餐搭配: 糯米甜枣点心

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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 Episode Eight: On The Oxford Companion to Wine with Julia Harding MW

This episode of Heard on the Grape Vine is about one of the most well-known books in the world of wine – The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Oxford Companion to Wine

It’s a book that’s been described as the world’s most useful wine book and the greatest wine book that’s ever published.

It took Jancis Robinson OBE, MW, five years to pull together the first edition of the encyclopaedic tome, published in 1994. Since then, the book has grown enormously. The latest and fourth edition of the book, published on 17th September 2015, has close to 4,000 entries and 187 world-wide contributors.

Julia Harding

Julia Harding

An important addition came with the third edition of the OCW when Julia Harding joined Robinson on the editorial. For Julia, who had previously worked as a freelance book editor, it was the perfect project to combine her experience and passion.

Just before the fourth edition of this iconic book hit the shelves, I met with Julia at her east London home to talk about OCW and the world of wine.

Join us now as we reflect over this iconic work.

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Photographs c/o Oxford University Press

Wine storage 101: The ten golden rules

The small peaks in temperature that we briefly called a heat wave in London is long over. But in the few days of stifling humidity, I did wonder: are my wines going to taste ok when I come to taste them in the autumn?

I, like many others who live in the city, have trouble with space. Without a garage or a cellar, finding a place to store wines at the right temperature can be a real issue. This is especially true if you’re living in rented accommodation and you don’t want to make the investment of getting a wine fridge.

Just then, Ebba Riismark from winestoragecompany.co.uk got in touch about their products. As I had no experience with wine storage, I thought it would be interesting to get some insights from the experts. So without further ado, here are the ten golden rules for wine storage:

Wine rack with bottles

You love wine.

And just like the way your interest has grown, so has your collection. But how, and where, should you store them? Even more importantly, how do you make sure they remain their absolute best when doing so?

There are many different wine storage solutions, and finding one that fits you might not seem like the easiest thing to do. However, if you just follow these ten golden rules of wine storage, you will be more than half way there.

1. Keep it cool

The first thing to make sure is that your wine is stored in a cool place.

If it’s not kept below an appropriate temperature level, the wine will become cooked. Wine cannot stand high heat and temperatures above 22 degrees Celsius can be disastrous.

2. … but not too cool

Besides avoiding the heat, you should also keep your wine from getting too cold.

Regular fridges are way too cold, and can only keep your wine in good condition for a little while. If you plan to store your wine, or aging it, the ideal temperature is at 12 degrees. Whatever the wine, the temperature should be between 10 to 14 degrees for it to flourish in the long run.

3. Constant is best

When you have the right temperature, you should also make sure that you keep it at a steady level.

Wine likes temperature to be constant, and too much fluctuations will harm the quality of the wine. Actually, a steady temperature is more important than the exact degree itself. So before you hunt the perfect temperature, make sure that it can be held at a steady level.

4. Watch out for the sun

Ever thought about  why wine bottles tend to be colored?

Basically, the shaded glass works like sunglasses for the wine. No wine is especially fond of the light, and the sun with its UV rays are particularly bad (except some sweet wines, which already had extreme sun treatment). The best way is to store your wine behind solid doors. But if you want to show off your collection, glass doors are fine too – just make sure they are UV protected.

5. Free from vibrations

No wine likes to be shaken around a lot.

In fact, vibrations could be pretty harmful to the wine and should be avoided. Most vibrations come from machines placed nearby your storage, or from the storage itself. Therefore, always make sure that your wine cooler’s compressor is fitted with a silencer. Also worth considering is that wooden shelfs naturally absorb vibrations better than metal ones do.

6. No smell

You should keep your wines away from strong odours.

In a regular fridge there can be many odours affecting your wine in an unwanted way, which is why it is very important to store your wine in a cooler that has perfectly pure air. The reason is that wine naturally breaths through its cork, taking in the surrounding air.

7. Appropriate humidity

Apart from breathing through its cork, the cork also works like a humidity control for the wine.

If the cork is not kept in a humid condition, it will dry out and allow air to enter the bottle. If this happens, the wine will become oxidised very quickly and potentially turn sour. Lying the bottle on its side will help, as would naturally humid conditions in the air.

8. Always store sideways

As mentioned in the previous point, keeping the bottle on its side can help prolong the life of a wine.

The moisture of the wine will seep into the cork and help to prevent it from drying out. This position will also help any sediment to settle in the bottom of the bottle.

9. Wine cooler

If you don’t have a cellar nearby, a wine cooler or cabinet is probably the best way to store your wine at home.

With a cooler you will have full control of all points above. A cooler is often smaller than a cabinet, and is great for storing wines for a shorter period of time. In the long run, and if you have a large collection, it might be worth investigating into alternatives.

10. … or cabinet?

Unless you have a very serious collection of wines, a wine cabinet might be sufficient.

The bigger size and better gadgetry will mean that it can handle aging and long-term storage better.

#HOTGV: On natural wine with Isabelle Legeron MW

This episode of Heard on the Grape vine is all about natural wine, an unusually complicated subject in the world of wine. To throw some clarity on the issue, I went to RAW, one of the biggest natural wine fairs in the UK, and spoke to the industry insiders.

Tree in vineyard in Georgia

Natural wine is a complicated subject. Which is ironic given that the very definition of a natural wine is a stripped back and uncomplicated product.

It’s a complicated subject because there’s no legal definition of natural wine. This means that many people have their own versions of it while others deny its existence altogether.

I am, on balance, an uncommitted supporter of natural wine. This means that I like the idea of natural wine and I appreciate the results – because there are some very good natural wines out there – but I don’t want to commit to drinking just natural wines as there are also many wine makers who aren’t following the principles of natural wine making but who are creating equally delicious wines. Basically, I want to drink delicious and interesting wines, however they’re made.

But I love the infectious passion of the natural wine makers, so decided to make this episode on natural wine. To start, a few of the winemakers exhibiting at RAW will describe what natural wine is for them. Then we’ll hear from Isabelle Legeron MW, the organiser of RAW and long-time champion of natural wine.

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#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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Natural Wine by Isabelle Legeron

Natural Wine by Isabelle LegeronThe Book Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally

The Author Isabelle Legeron MW is a writer, presenter and organiser of RAW fair www.thatcrazyfrenchwoman.com

The Publisher CICO Books

The Release date10th July 2014

Who’s it for? If you’re new to the natural wine world and want to learn from one of the foremost advocates of natural wine then this is the perfect resource.

What you’ll find inside The book defines natural wine as wine made with nothing added and nothing taken away but the approach encompasses the whole natural wine lifestyle. From anecdotes about tapping for birch sap and making herbal tinctures to milling your own flour and making bread, you’ll gain an insight into this often misunderstood world.

What’s missing The book serves as an introduction to the topic so there’s no real depth. However, Legeron does list additional books and resources if you want to delve further.

The best bit The sizeable book is a surprisingly easy read and without being too aggressive, it inspires a desire in the reader to live more naturally.

The Price (RRP) £16.99

Buy now from Amazon

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