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Here are some of Stephen Quinn’s recent feature articles plus the video associated with the story.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France could easily be classified as the world’s largest vineyard because it produces more than a third of all France’s wine, a fact notable in a country that makes more wine than any other.

That represents about 1,800 million bottles a year, or about 5 per cent of all the world’s wine – more than the output of entire countries like Chile or Australia. One in three bottles is sold overseas and exports were worth 185 million Euros last year (2016). The biggest customers by volume are China, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and the United States.

Of all French vineyards that have embraced organic practices, a third can be found in the Languedoc. Last year sales of organic wines surged 13 per cent.

The region has 36 AOCs, or designated wine-growing areas with rules about what grapes can be grown. Because of the huge size – about 224,000 hectares of vines – and the high number of AOCs people sometimes struggle to understand the wines. To make it easier for consumers, the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL) – the professional body that represents AOC wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon region – has established a new three-tier pyramid.

At the top are seven Crus du Languedoc. Jerome Villaret, director general of CIVL, calls them “the most complex and iconic wines of the region”. These are aimed at connoisseurs and represent about 11.5 per cent of AOC wines. The middle tier consists of 23 Grand Vins du Languedoc, which accounts for 69 per cent of the AOCs. “These are premium wines that reflect the diversity of the region,” Villaret said via a translator. He described the bottom tier of AOC Languedoc as the “flag bearers” of the region. Some vineyards have wines at all levels.

Villaret admitted the most difficult issue was how to define the top level “because everyone wanted to be there”. “This question is a work in progress,” he said in an interview in Pazenas, the city regarded as the economic hub of the region. “Things are evolving, so expect more changes in coming months.” Over time the region should be able to sell wines at higher prices “once reputations have been established”.

Languedoc AOC wines sell for about 4-5 Euros a bottle in France, with an export price of USD 10-12. Grand Vins du Languedoc retail for between 5 and 10 Euros domestically, with an export price somewhere between USD 15 and 75. Crus du Languedoc wines sell for more than 10 Euros in France and at least USD 25 when exported, though prices can reach several hundred Euros depending on reputation.

In places like Burgundy the ranking system took 500 years to be resolved, so we should not expect clarity overnight. “The quality of the wines will convince the consumer,” Villaret said. The INAO, the national body that regulates and approves wine specifications, must confirm future changes.

When winemakers use grapes not permitted by AOC regulations, their wines are labelled IGP and fall into the “liberté d’expression” sector of the chart the CIVL uses to describe the entire region. Villaret said about 20 vineyards were in this category, noting that some IGPs sell for more than 100 Euros a bottle, an indication that IGP areas can produce excellence. Another category is known as “IGP de Terres du Midi” – Languedoc wines that compete with Italian wines on price. The aim here was to supply good value for money wines, Villaret said.

The Greeks are believed to have planted the first vineyards along the coast near Narbonne about 2,500 years ago. These are said to be the oldest vineyards in France, along with parts of Provence. The region of Languedoc has belonged to France since the thirteenth century. France acquired Roussillon from Spain in the mid seventeenth century. The two regions became one administrative region in the late 1980s.

UK Wine Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams describes Languedoc-Roussillon as France’s “answer to the New World”. He was alluding to the combination of designated regions (AOCs) and IGP wines, noting that Parisian bureaucracy went “hand in hand with the creative spirit of pure liberalism. So in terms of grape variety, almost anything goes.”

Most wines are blends. The main grapes are the same as those found in the Rhone: Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre. The dominant red grape in the blend varies depending on sub-region. Three in four bottles in the Languedoc are red, with 14 per cent rose and only 10 per cent white.

Grenache and Carignan are often vinified together because the latter softens the herbaceous notes of Grenache. As Sabine Bertrand of Domaine Bertrand-Berge explained, if wines are meant to be blends “the earlier you can get them together the better”. Cinsault adds fragrance and lightness of touch to blends. Syrah was introduced from the Rhone about two generations ago to boost quality. In the Pic Saint Loup AOC, Syrah is a major component of the blend, upwards of 80 per cent in some cases.

Some winemakers employ a technique called “carbonic maceration” for red wine that originated in the Beaujolais region. Carbon dioxide gas is pumped into a sealed container filled with whole bunches. The gas stimulates fermentation in individual grapes. The method ferments most of the juice while it is still inside each grape, though grapes at the bottom of the vessel are crushed by gravity and undergo conventional fermentation. This technique produces soft tannins and wines that are easy to drink when young.

The main white grapes are Roussanne, Marsanne and Bourbelenc, the first two having been imported from the Rhône to add flavours and finesse. Bourbelenc is the main grape in Coteaux du Languedoc AOC whites, where it must be at least 40 per cent of the blend. Some white blends also use Vermentino, which originated in Corsica, and Viognier. The Languedoc makes some splendid whites that pair majestically with the local seafood.

A feature of the Languedoc is the notion of “garrique”. The word is defined as the low-growing vegetation in the hills around the Mediterranean. But in the Languedoc it refers almost to a sentiment or feeling: A combination of sunshine, “joie de vivre” and the aromas of the thyme, rosemary, lavender and juniper that grow wild in the area.

It is easy to find garrique in the Languedoc’s wines. This is certainly the case in the Faugeres, Corbieres-Boutenac and Pic Saint-Loup AOCs, three of the seven Crus du Languedoc that make up the top tier of the new quality pyramid.

Faugeres AOC is famous for its schist soils that help vines retain moisture during the hot summers. The soil spans a beautiful spectrum from yellow to orange to ochre, with even a soft blue in the less-elevated areas. A high proportion of organic estates are a feature among the 1,900 hectares of vines. The official figure is 45 per cent, though it’s probably higher. Interestingly, only two declared themselves bio-dynamic, though this could be because of what the locals call the tedious amount of documentation required.

The landscape is visually splendid, consisting of rolling hills and estates separated by drystone walls made with schist, a metamorphic rock that splits into long flat pieces. Walls are “dry” because no mortar holds them together, just gravity and the skill of the wall-maker. The walls serve two main purposes – to protect against erosion on the slopes, and to provide a haven for bio-diversity.

Vine roots probe through the cracks in the schist to find moisture. The region produces about 880,000 750ml bottles a year. I could taste the mineral flavours the schist imparts as well as the garrique.

This AOC only makes reds and rose. Grenache tends to be harvested first, in the first week of September in the case of the 2016 vintage. Syrah and Carignan are harvested next. The Mourvedre is the last to be picked, about a month after the Grenache. Syrah in particular seems to like the schist soils.

Faugeres also boasts a distillery that makes fine (grape spirit). Atelier du Bouilleur near Montpellier resurrected a tradition that was a feature of the area more than a century ago. They use traditional “charentais” (copper pot stills) to make five spirits, including La Fine Faugeres, once famous as the third brandy of France after Cognac and Armagnac. This brandy is barrel matured for five years after being made from Faugeres grapes. It sells for about 60 Euro for a half litre bottle and is an ideal companion on a winter night.

Corbieres-Boutenac AOC is noted for its old Carignan vines, many of them more than 100 years old and usually grown without trellising (known as field vines). Carignan can handle harsh conditions when other grapes die or struggle. The motto of the region is “force et douceur” which translates as power and delicacy, and it summarises the wines nicely.

The appellation covers 10 villages around the Pinada, a small mountain at the heart of the Corbieres area. Soft and full-bodied reds are a feature, made using the carbonic maceration technique.

The region has 184 hectares of vines and makes about 825,000 bottles a year. Older vines tend to be used for Corbieres-Boutenac AOC though the definition of “vignes veilles” is a moveable feast. One local winemaker said 50 years was his definition but there appears to be no agreement in the region.

Pic Saint-Loup AOC is the youngest of the Languedoc Crus, having been decreed at the end of January this year. It is north of the city of Montpelier in the foothills of the Cevenne ranges. These mountains dominate the landscape.

The region consists of about 1,000 hectares of vines. It has a special meso-climate because of its elevation (about 500 metres) and proximity to the sea, the latter offering cool sea breezes in the heat of the summer. The wide diurnal range in summer, when temperatures drop from 35C during the day to 15C at night, imparts intense flavours to grapes.

Locals harvest about two weeks after everyone else in the Languedoc, and the clay-limestone soils have an affinity for Syrah grapes, which generally dominate the red blends and rose. The region makes about 5 million bottles a year, and seven out of eight are red, with the rest rose. About two in five of the estates are organic.

One of the best-known names in the Languedoc is Gerard Bertrand, a famous rugby player before he retired to devote himself to the family estate. Wine Enthusiast magazine named Gerard Bertrand Wines the European winery of the year in 2012 and again two years later. All of the eight estates are bio-dynamic or in the process of being converted to this unique way of farming.

The company has grown from three staff in 1987, including Gerard Bertrand himself, to more than 300 today, with sales to 160 countries. “We’re looking at exports to Pakistan and Afghanistan next,” Gerard Bertrand said with a smile, “but I’m having difficulties convincing the sales directors to go to those countries.”

Gerard Bertrand combines sound business practices with a belief in the spiritual aspects of winemaking. He said the essence of an exceptional wine was a “combination of time, space, energy, spirit and soul”. A great wine was connected to its terroir, grape variety, and the plot of land of its birth, he said, but also the universe that surrounds it. “With this realisation, I dared to experiment with a new path that links bio-dynamics with quantum theory,” he wrote in his autobiography Wine, Moon and Stars, published in 2015.

Bertrand acknowledged that time he spent with Aubert de Villaine, owner of the great Domaine de la Romanee-Conti estate in Burgundy, who taught him about the “vital fourth dimension of winemaking, spirituality”. The aromas and flavours of wine provide pleasure, he said. That is the first key dimension of a wine. Those flavours reveal the terroir, or “sense of somewhere-ness” that bio-dynamics guru Monty Waldin wrote about in his book on the subject. The third important dimension is the power of a wine to evoke emotions. “Only the greatest wines travel directly to the heart,” Gerard Bertrand said. “Sometimes we are lucky enough to experience a truly ecstatic or transcendental experience when we encounter a wine,” he wrote.

Last year Bertrand’s autobiography was named best wine book in Europe. The title connects with his hero, the Petite Prince in the novel by St Expury, who said: “If you want to plough a straight furrow, hitch your wagon to a star”.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of CIVL, who provided accommodation and transport.

Languedoc’s art of life


Prosecco has become a huge success in recent years. Global sales have risen by double-digit percentages every year since 1998. In 2013 it became the most popular sparkling wine in the world, overtaking champagne.

That year about 307 million bottles were sold compared with a mere 5 million in 1972. Last year sales topped 390 million against 312 million for champagne. Some in Prosecco are suggesting sales could reach 1,000 million bottles within two decades.

Prosecco Superiore originates from a small hilly area known as the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region, located between Venice and the Dolomites mountains. The hills between the main towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene contain 15 villages devoted to wine, and wine tourism is starting to flourish. A feature of the region is the beauty of the rolling scenery with many variations on the colour green. Earlier this year the region was named European city of wine, the first time an area rather than a city has received this accolade.

Italy’s oldest and most prestigious wine school, the Scuola Enologica, opened in the town of Conegliano in the Prosecco region of north-east Italy in 1876. Almost two decades later Federico Martinotti, a researcher at the school, invented a way to make sparkling wine that we now call Prosecco.

In 1907 a French engineer, Eugène Charmat, patented a new way to make Prosecco. The world now uses the term “Charmat method” to describe the way this sparkling wine is made. Martinotti, born in Casale in Piemonte, is only remembered in parts of Italy, where his process is called “metodo Italiano” or “metodo Martinotti”.

Grape juice plus sugar and yeast are mixed in a special tank of stainless steel known as an autoclave designed to withstand the high pressures that build up when sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The base wine is obtained from gentle pressing of the Glera grape.

The duration of the fermentation affects wine quality: The longer the fermentation the more noticeable the wine’s aroma and the finer and more durable the bubbles. The key difference between prosecco and champagne is the secondary fermentation. With champagne it takes place in bottles rather than autoclaves.

Champagne is usually appreciated for its rich taste and complex secondary aromas while Prosecco is more concerned with primary tastes and aromas. In the mouth Prosecco tends to be acidic and crisp, with aromas of apple, pear, white peach and apricot, and sometimes almond and honey.

Until the 1960s Prosecco was generally sweet and similar to the Asti produced in Piemonte. But production methods have improved, leading to the dry wines produced today. Until about 30 years ago Prosecco was a still wine. In either format, it is designed to be consumed early, preferably within three years of its vintage, though high-quality Prosecco DOCG can sometimes be aged for up to seven years.

Prosecco Superiore comes in three forms depending on the amount of residual sugar. Brut is the driest style with 0 to 12 grams of sugar per litre. Extra Dry is the most traditional style and has 12 to 17 g/L while Dry has the highest level of sugar at 17 to 32 g/L. This third kind of wine pairs well with traditional desserts such as pastries, fruits or flans.

Wines differ in flavours depending on where they originate in the region because of the range of soil and climate types. “Rive” wines are produced from grapes grown in a single commune or district of a commune. Rive indicates that vineyards are planted on steep land and are hand harvested. The Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region has 43 rives.

Most Prosecco DOC is grown in valleys. About 20,000 hectares are devoted to DOC, and another 6,500 to DOCG. Prosecco must contain a minimum of 85 per cent of Glera grapes. According to DOCG rules no more than 70 litres of wine can be obtained from 100 kg of grapes. Grapes that can be added to the blend include Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera and Glera Lunga, and occasionally Chardonnay.

The highest quality of Prosecco DOCG known as Cartizze comes from a small subzone of 107 hectares near Valdobbiadene. Think of it as the grand cru of Prosecco. The area has about 150 growers. Land there is some of the most expensive in Italy, selling for about one million Euros a hectare in 2008 and upwards of two million euros by 2015. Cartizze is normally a Dry style. Grapes are grown on the steep hills around the villages of Saint Stefano, Saccol and Saint Pietro di Barbozza.

DOCG refers to the summit of the quality pyramid. A range of regulations define DOCG ahead of DOC wines which are the next level down the pyramid. For example, DOCG wines must be picked by hand. Prosecco received DOCG status from the 2009 vintage. Every bottle has a brown strip of paper around the cap with a unique identifying number signifying the wine as DOCG.

A DOCG Prosecco featured at the opening of “La Cité du Vin” in Bordeaux, the first museum in the world devoted to wine, which was inaugurated on 31 May 2016. It was the Le Colture Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Cartizze. It is the only Cartizze on the wine list of the restaurants at the museum, which include 800 wines from more than 80 countries. About 20,000 bottles of this Le Colture sparkling are made each year.

Le Colture’s winemakers are Cesare Ruggeri and Cristian Agostinetto. Le Colture has been run by the same family since 1500. The estate makes about 750,000 bottles a year solely from its own vines. Agriculture is biodynamic. About three bottles in five are exported. Main export destinations include the USA, the UK, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

A DOC Prosecco made by Follador is served to passengers who board the famous Orient Express train in Venice. Follador has 44 hectares and produces a 1.5 million bottles, taking grapes from about 80 local farmers. Cristina Follador demonstrated the way vines are trained to ensure maximum sun exposure.

One of the most beautiful estates is Casa Bianche, which translates as the white house. Owner Martino Zanetti is an accomplished artist and the beauty of the property reflects his tastes. Unlike other estates in the region, Casa Bianche also makes a red wine from Wildbacher, a grape originally from Styria in Austria.

It will be fascinating in years to come to note whether the Prosecco region reaches that 1,000 million landmark that some locals are predicting.

Boom times for Prosecco

Zanetti, painter of passion


Bulgaria was the world’s second largest producer of bottled wine, after France, during the 1980s. Most of it went to comrades in the former Soviet Union. At the time Bulgarian wine was also the fourth most popular import in the United Kingdom. The industry collapsed with the decline of Communism in the early 1990s.

Confusion about ownership was a feature of the next decade as individuals sought to reclaim land that had been collectivised. The return of this land was poorly handled.

Difficulties in resolving ownership delayed the Bulgarian industry’s return to quality. Anyone wanting to establish a viable vineyard needed to negotiate purchases with a wide range of people, many of whom had left the country.

Even today, only about half of Bulgaria’s 60,000 hectares of vines are being tended. The rest lie fallow because of continuing disputes about ownership, noted Guy Labeyrie, a former Bordeaux winemaker who now owns vines in Bulgaria and who co-runs with Dimo Atanassov Vitis Tours, a luxury wine tourism company.

In recent years the wine industry has experienced resurgence, driven by improved quality and focus at boutique vineyards such as those we visited. Our hosts, the non-profit Bulgarian Association of Independent Wine-growers, are leading the renaissance. Energetic chairman Ivo Varbanov, winemaker and international concert pianist, believes strongly in the industry’s potential.

Melnik is a small but pretty town with UNESCO heritage status regarded as the historic capital of Bulgarian wine. It is in the extreme south-west corner of Bulgaria near the border with Macedonia and Greece. The population of perhaps 300, mostly older folk, focuses on tourism. Many people visit from Sofia for the weekend.

Villa Melnik is on the edge of the town of Melnik, in the Struma Valley. The valley has an almost Mediterranean climate and focuses on wines made with the Melnik grape. It is said to be capricious like Pinot Noir, and has a range of clones from Melnik 55, known as early-ripening Melnik, through to broad-leafed Melnik, which ripens later than most reds.

Owner Nikola Zikatanov said he was inspired by a story from the Gospel of St John where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, said he was the root to the vine of life. A replica of a painting depicting the Gospel story adorns the main reception at the winery. The original from the fifteenth century is in Athens.

Villa Melnik has 30 hectares of vines. The winery was built in 2012. Old women harvest the grapes because, Zikatanov said, the local young people are not interested. Villa Melnik has three tiers of wines. The best, labeled as Applauz, are available in limited lots and have won several international awards. The mid range Bergule and the drink-now Family Tradition range are all pleasant wines.

The Orbelus estate is about an hour’s drive from Villa Melnik. It is the first and one of the few certified organic vineyards and wines in Bulgaria. Wines are made in a striking winery and cellar shaped like a half barrel designed by the architect daughter of owner Blagoy Roussev. Seven mountains surround the winery, and the name comes from an ancient word for mountain, Roussev said.

Orbelus has 25 hectares of vines with 10 red varieties and five white. Its first vintage was in 2009 and it makes about 60,000 bottles a year. The site exudes class, and about a fifth of production is exported.

Wines at both sites seemed remarkable value for money, averaging between 5 and 10 euro a bottle from the cellar door. One of the flagship Orbelus reds, Getika, sells for 8 euro but appears on lists at Michelin-starred restaurants in London for £37. Getika was the name of a Thracian tribe in the area.

Georgia, Greece and Bulgaria all claim to be the cradle of winemaking. The Thracian Valley that runs through the middle of Bulgaria almost to Istanbul in the west is a leading candidate for the honour. Homer praises the wine of the Thracians in his Iliad.

Several centuries before Christ the Thracians worshipped the Greek wine god Dionysus. Thrace was said to be his home. Evidence of Thracian wine culture can be found in magnificent treasures such as gold-adorned drinking horns known as rhyton found in tombs in Greece and Bulgaria.

The beauty of Bulgaria


Mount Olympus, the home of the gods of ancient Greece, features prominently in the wines of northern Greece. The mountain looms above many of the vineyards.

Worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, spread throughout the Mediterranean in the 1,500 years before the birth of Christ. His mother Semele is said to have lived in Naoussa, one of the key winemaking cities in northern Greece.

The area around Naoussa is redolent with history. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher and a pupil of Plato, lived near Naoussa. He was famous for walking with students in the hills and mountains of the region. Aristotle later became tutor to Alexander the Great.

The Kir-Yianni Estate at Naoussa is one of Greece’s premier vineyards. Yiannis Boutaris established Ktima Kir-Yianni in 1997 after breaking away from the huge Boutari group (“ktima” means estate and “kir” is a form of respect similar to “sir” in English).

Sales director Lamros Papadimitriou said Kir-Yianni’s two properties produce about a million bottles a year. About a fifth are made at the Naoussa property – all reds – and the rest at Amyndeon on the other side of the mountain that looms over both properties.

Yianni’s sons Stelios and Michalis studied oenology in California in the United States. Stelios is responsible for day-to-day operations. Michalis moved to Shanghai in 2012 to focus on Asian markets. The company exports to 22 countries. Exports have doubled since 2013. The estate’s viticulturalist, Dr Haroula Spinthiropolou, is the author of Grape Varieties of Greece, one of the authoritative books on Greek wine. She and her family own an organic estate, Argatia Winery, near the smaller of the Kir-Yianni vineyards. It focuses on indigenous varieties.

The ancient Greeks believed that wine helped them achieve greater intellectual clarity and spiritual awareness. They gathered at “symposia” where they would eat and talk about philosophy while drinking wine. Moderation was important. Wine was always diluted with water. The Greek word “krasis” meaning a mixture of wine and water gives us “krasi” – the current word for wine.

Sales director Lamros Papadimitriou treated us to a veritable symposium on the local wine scene, especially the Xinomavro grape. The vineyard sits at an altitude of about 300 metres and has 40 hectares of vines in the 58 hectares of the estate. These vines are divided into 40 plots based on soil properties and the qualities of the different clones. Half of the plantings are Xinomavro plus Syrah (15 per cent), Merlot (20 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), with the rest devoted to a range of experiment varieties.

We sat on a sunny balcony overlooking the vineyard and enjoyed a range of delightful wines. The only interruption to the sweet silence and concentration was a huge hornet that insisted on occupying one of the tasting glasses.

Xinomavro translates as “sour black” and is the main red variety in northern Greece. It is becoming seen as a flagship grape. One can imagine Aristotle tasting wines made from Xinomavro.

Young Xinomavro has aggressive tannins but the grape has great ageing potential. Wines older than a decade proffer aromas of tomatoes, herbs and olives. The tannins soften yet provide impressive structure. Xinomavro is sometimes likened to Nebbiolo, used to make the great reds of Barolo in Italy. If you drink young Xinomavro, try versions that are blended with Merlot and Syrah to help soften those tannins.

After three consecutive ordinary vintages, Lamros Papadimitriou said, it appeared the 2011 Xinomavro had returned to high standards. We were treated to a 2006 and a 1999 Xinomavroat the end of the tasting. The 1999 was especially delightful and smelled of the herbs we detected everywhere in the mountains during the trip. This wine also showed how profound Xinomavro can become with age.

Kir-Yianni’s logo is an oak tree behind a watchtower. The latter was built during the Ottoman occupation so people could monitor potential attacks. Oak trees do not normally grow near vines. Perhaps the logo symbolizes the meeting point between history and nature? We can be confident the Greek gods and Aristotle would approve of the wines coming out of the Kir-Yianni estate.

Journalists visit monastery famous for inspiring Katogi Averoff winery


Portugal makes three classic fortified wines. Port and Madeira are appreciated around the world but the third, Muscat of Setúbal – known in Portuguese as Moscatel de Setúbal, is not so well known. That’s because most of the wine is consumed on the Setúbal Peninsula about 40km south-west from the capital, Lisbon.

José Maria da Fonseca, who in 1834 founded the oldest table wine company in Portugal, is credited with inventing the dessert wine. It is slowly becoming known globally.

Muscat of Setúbal is made from Moscatel and/or Moscatel Roxo grapes. Moscatel Roxo is an offspring of Muscat of Alexandrina, from the Portuguese word “roxo” meaning purple.

The best wines are aged for up to 40 years in oak barrels and with time can offer intense aromas of dried fruits like figs and raisins plus notes of nuts, coffee, toffee, hazelnuts and bitter orange marmalade.

The wine macerates on the skins of the Muscat grapes for six months — much longer than for other fortified wines. Sweetness levels range from off-dry to very sweet. The original Moscatel was probably Muscat of Alexandrina, which came to the Iberian peninsula with the Phoenecians from what we now know as Egypt.

This wine is versatile and can be served at both ends of the meal. Young wines make an excellent aperitif to sharpen the appetite if served chilled, while older versions are wonderful companions to rich desserts but can also be served alone, ideally at room temperature.

The Setúbal region has a long history – the Romans planted vines more than 3,000 years ago. Setúbal was famous in the pre-Christian era as a source of salt from the nearby bay, and a highly-prized sauce made from salted fish.

Setúbal is Portugal’s second smallest wine-growing region with a total of 9,400 hectares under vine. This includes 470 hectares of Moscatel de Setúbal and only 32 hectares of Moscatel Roxo.

Two named regions or appellations apply in Setúbal: DO Setúbal for fortified wines made with the Moscatel grape, and DO Palmela for table and sparkling wines. The region received DO status in 1907.

The main traditional Palmela white varieties are Fernão Pires and Arinto along with Muscat, though international varieties like Chardonnay and Verdelho have been planted recently. Castelão is the most widely planted red grape though it is known locally as Perequita. Indeed, Castelão has many aliases in Portugal. Most red wines from Palmela are based on Castelão.

Port is made further north in Portugal, in the valley of the Douro River. Its name comes from the city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Douro was designated a specific region in 1756, making it the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world.

The first wines labeled as port were shipped to the United Kingdom in the second half of the seventeenth century. At the time the UK was at war with France and Spain so wine was purchased from its ally, Portugal.

Port is described as a fortified wine because grape brandy is added to stop fermentation. This process helped preserve the wine during the long ocean voyage to the UK. It also retains some of the grape’s natural sugar, which explains why port is sweet.

Traditionally, port is made in the Douro but matured in Porto because the city – the second largest in Portugal – has an ideal climate for storing wine. The Douro gets too hot, with summer maximums reaching 50C. Temperatures in Porto are more moderate, soothed by Atlantic breezes.

Graham’s is one of the oldest and most prestigious port producers. It has four million litres of port maturing in about 3,500 barrels and vats at its headquarters above the Douro River in Porto, about three kilometres from the ocean.

The company employs a team of six coopers to maintain its barrels and vats. The latter are huge – some contain up to 70,000 litres of port. Vintage and tawny ports are matured in barrels while ruby ports are stored in the vats.

Graham’s prefers French oak for its vintage and tawny ports, but never new oak. New barrels are used to mature a companion company’s table wines, and then the barrels are assigned to port after six to 10 years. The average age of the barrels at Graham’s is 70 to 80 years.

Port can mature in wood for long periods. Over time, with evaporation, we see intense concentration of flavours. Vintage ports have been known to live for more than a century. Almost all ports are a blend of a range of red grapes from different vineyards. Colheita are vintage ports made from a single variety, and Malvedos are ports made at a single estate.

Tawny ports tend to be released at 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of age. Their name comes from their colour – the wine changes from red to golden hues as the wine ages. Queen Elisabeth II chose the Graham’s 1952 tawny port to toast her 60 years on the throne in 2012.

The Lima Fortuna family in Setúbal make four innovative liqueurs at their Adega Loja estate by collecting berries from the Arrabida mountains and steeping them in alcohol. Sofia Lima Fortuna said her family has been making the liqueurs for 65 years. Their Arrabidine range of liqueurs were originally created by monks. Expect subtle and generous flavours of sour cherries and a range of blossoms. A video about Lima Fortuna is shown below.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of the second Iberico Wine Festival held in Setubal from May 1-3. Organisers supplied his accommodation and most meals.

Liqueurs made in the Arrabida Mountain


The Greek island of Lemnos was a strategic centre in the Allied campaign against Turkey during World War One. Three days of ceremonies were held in late April to mark the centenary of the Allied landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and the island’s role in the campaign.

After Royal Marines occupied the island on 23 February 1915 it became a hub for supplies. More importantly it was where wounded from Gallipoli were treated because Lemnos is only 65km from the Turkish coast.

Many died of their wounds. More than 900 soldiers and nurses from India, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Egypt and Ireland are buried at the three Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries on the island.

The British high command established medical facilities on Lemnos because of the high number of casualties at Gallipoli. The hospitals mostly consisted of tents and conditions for medical staff and soldiers were horrible, with plagues of flies and shortage of water.

The Allies eventually built a desalination plant on the island, the remains of which can be seen on the hill separating Mudros Bay and the Pournias Gulf. Most of the hospitals were located around Moudros Bay because it is a natural harbour.

Letters from nurses working 14-hour days on the island tell of needing two people to tend to each soldier – one to treat the soldier and the other to brush away the flies.

After the horror of the trenches at Gallipoli Lemnos must have seemed peaceful by comparison. Locals were hospitable and recovering soldiers could bath in the thermal springs at Therma and visit historic sites, mostly on donkeys because the island had almost no roads at the time.

The Canadian ambassador, Robert Peck, unveiled a plaque at the largest of the Commonwealth War Graves, Portianos military cemetery, to honour the nurses who died on Lemnos.

Why did the British high command invade Turkey? By early 1915 fighting on the western front in France has stalemated. The British government, urged by Winston Churchill as a cabinet member, decided to open another front by attacking the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. The aim was to capture the Dardanelles, which would lead to the fall of the major Turkish city of Constantinople (now Istanbul).

Allied forces from six nations including India landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915. The operation was badly planned and executed and casualties were high on both sides. A stalemate form of trench warfare eventuated until the British decided to withdraw in January 1916. In all, 87,000 Turks died along with 21,000 British, 10,000 French, 8,700 Australians, 2,700 New Zealanders, 1,350 Indians and 50 Canadians. The number of wounded was about double the number of dead.

The British consider the Gallipoli campaign a disaster but for Australian and New Zealand troops, known as Anzacs (Australia New Zealand Army Corp), it was their first test in battle and April 25 has been established as a national day of remembrance, ANZAC Day.

The road leading to the war cemeteries on Lemnos has been named Anzac Street. The armistice to end the war between the Allies and Turkey was signed in Moudros Bay on Lemnos on 30 October 1918. (Published The Statesman, India 23 April 2015, page 9)

Ceremony to honour nurses who died during Gallipoli campaign


The European Commission has proposed killing more than a million olive trees in southern Puglia, the heel of the boot of Italy, to contain the spread of bacteria that threaten agriculture in Europe. The EU will discuss this and ways to compensate olive growers in coming weeks.

The xylella fastidiosa bacteria can attack grape vines and citrus trees as well as olive groves. Carmelo Greco, an agronomist with the GAL environmental protection group in Puglia, told me cicadas were believed to carry the bacteria. To protect olive trees, insecticides are used to kill those insects.

Experts have developed a plan to create an exclusion zone of 1.5 kilometres around the town of Lecce from the Adriatic on the east coast to the Ionian coast in the west. This will quarantine about a seventh of Puglia, an area of about 593,000 acres (about 241,000 hectares). Inside the zone, grass will be cut and pesticides used to kill the insects that carry the bacteria.

France and Spain are pushing for this hard line, concerned for their own olive trees as well as vines and citrus orchards. Some Italian officials fear the disease could spread through the country to other regions noted for their olives. At present olive trees in other parts of Puglia have not been affected.

Some scientists claim other causes for the number of dead olive trees, such as fungus. Others blame indiscriminate use of herbicides and point out that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has declared some of the chemicals planned to be used on the cicadas to be toxic. Elisabetta De Blasi, writing on the Teatro Naturale website, said the xylella bacteria could be among the causes but said there was “no evidence it is the only cause”.

Carmelo Greco was involved in counting the number of olive trees last year, and estimates the total in Puglia to be close to 60 million.

The area in the planned zone contains upwards of 11 million olive trees. “Puglia is one large olive grove,” said Antonio Guario, a health official with the regional government. He said this zone, if implemented, could be around “for a long time”.

In recent years the bacteria have plagued vines in California. The disease is known there colloquially as bacterial leaf scorch. The xylella fastidiosa bacteria are believed to have originated from the Americas. They kill by preventing water movement in the sap, causing leaves to go yellow and brown. Trees dry up and die, and look like they have been burned.

Rolando Manfredini, an expert with the Italian farmers’ lobby group Coldiretti, said in August 2014 about 20,000 acres (about 8,100 hectares) of olive trees had been affected. By April this year the total was almost 80,000 acres (32,400 hectares).

In April 2015 the French ministry of agriculture announced a ban on imports of 102 different vegetables and plants susceptible to xylella fastidiosa from regions infected by the bacterium, including Puglia. The disease has been reported in Puglia since 2013.

A report the EFSA published in January 2015 concluded that all insects in Europe that feed on plant sap could be potential carriers of the bacteria. “Establishment and spread in the EU is very likely. The consequences are considered to be major because yield losses and other damage would be high and require costly control measures,” the report said.

The report warned that systematic use of insecticides to control insects could “create environmental impacts”.

In recent years Italy’s farmers have suffered from pests and bad weather. Harvests last year were 40 per cent to 50 per cent down on 2013. Pietro Sandali, head of the Italian olive growers’ consortium Unaprol quoted in The Guardian, described 2014 as “the worst year in memory”.

Italy is the world’s second largest exporter of olive oil after Spain. Spain and Italy together supply almost 70 per cent of the world’s olive oil. Italy exports about 480,000 tonnes a year, of which Puglia contributes about 38 per cent. Find a link here and here.

One of Italy’s oldest olive trees near Ostuni in Puglia


Until recently Aurelio Montes, 64, rode 60km in 24-hour endurance races at weekends. That was until he decided to learn to fly helicopters – he’s already a certified fixed-wing pilot. With his instructor he commutes in a fire engine-red chopper with its “AM” personalised plates between Chile’s capital, Santiago, his Apalta winery and a new vineyard he established in the Colchagua Valley.

Viña Montes is doing well. It sells to more than 100 countries and produces 700,000 12-bottle cases a year. Each case sells for an average of USD 63, double the average for Chilean wine.

Montes has big plans. These include establishing vineyards in other countries. He has already opened Kaiken Wines in Argentina in 2002. Aurelio Montes junior has run the Argentine operation since 2011. Details of the new vineyard venture in South America were pronounced “off the record” because of sensitive negotiations.

Montes senior is considering a range of cosmetics based on grape products and he has launched Chile’s most expensive wine. The Taita sells for USD 300 a bottle. Montes chose the price after benchmarking it against iconic wines from Chile, Argentina and California. The name comes from a local Indian word meaning the “wisdom of a kindly aged father”. It is usually about 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon with the balance varying each year. The cepage is a “secret” known only to Montes senior. Only 3,000 bottles are made each year, and the wine already makes money.

Components spend two years in oak separately. The wine is assembled just before bottling and then spends four years “resting” before being released. The first vintage was the 2007, which became available recently. Montes did not release a 2008 wine. The 2009 is still resting. The 2013 was available only for tasting in barrel.

Gregorian chants are played in the barrel room between 9.30am and 7pm. It is part of a range of feng shui principles Montes embraced prior to building a new winery at Apalta in 2004. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice devoted to working in harmony with nature and obtaining energy and vitality from nautral elements such as wind and water (feng shui literally means “wind and water”).

Sylvia Galleguillos, a Chilean feng shui master who has worked with Montes for more than a decade, said the music helped maintain the wine’s balance. Montes could best be described as a businessman with a spiritual side. “Sometimes God takes you by the hand and leads you,” he said when asked about his early career decisions. “Yes, spirituality can be a strong marketing tool,” he admitted. “People tell me they never forget a visit to my winery. The music, the feeling of the place. Did you know we have never had unions at our vineyards because the staff are so happy. They never needed them.”

Galleguillos trained in the UK and China. She founded the Chilean School of Feng Shui in 1995 and has consulted to more than 1,000 projects including La Moneda, the palace of the president of the Republic of Chile, and a range of corporate offices. Galleguillos worked with the architect of the Montes winery, Samuel Claro, to ensure the most auspicious design. “Before the Apalta winery was built I visited the site to assess the best location, alignment and orientation for the main structure.”

The aim was to find the most advantageous place for the centre of the winery’s main building, using what in feng shui is called the site’s “shi” or configuration, and its “xing” or form. “By configuration I mean the site’s visual relationship with the larger landscape around it; specifically what the mountains and hills surrounding it and its water sources look like with respect to it. By form I mean what the terrain within the site itself looks like with respect to the larger landscape.”

As part of the overall process Galleguillos conducted a ritual called Garba Yaza, “analogous to a ritual that our Andean cultures call Kiva” so the soil “will be constantly providing life-source, and thus success [and] prosperity to the [wine-making] endeavour”.

She aligned the floor plan of the future building and coordinated the organisation of the different spaces within it. “These alignments are realised using the feng shui Luopan compass, in my case a version designed by me and my collaborator Enzo Cozzi PhD, based on an authentic nineteenth century Luopan adapted to the Southern Hemisphere. Enzo knows enough Chinese to read the original Luopan.”

Not everyone agrees with her approach. Writer Adam Lechmere also visited the winery and commented: “I have no argument with feng shui at all – I know hardly anything about it but know it is an ancient and serious discipline – but I thought Sylvia Galleguillos spoke a lot of half-formed mumbo-jumbo, the sort of stuff you could learn from a weekend in Beijing and half an hour on google. To say with a straight face that the reason for having round tanks is that they harness the energy of heaven is just nonsense. I’m afraid she set my bullshit-antenna vibrating like a TV aerial in an electric storm.”

A large angel greets visitors in the entrance of the Apalta winery. Montes co-founder Douglas Murray was behind the angel theme that has become synonymous with the brand, and believed that angels protected him throughout his life. “Douglas loved fast cars, but he was a bad driver,” Montes said with a smile. “He walked away from two car crashes without a scratch and the cars were wrecked. He had a guardian angel.”

Galleguillos described a second level of feng shui practice that is more intangible. “It seeks to harmonise heart and mind with external nature. Such dimensions as the Chinese call ‘influences of benign spirits’ and which in our culture we might call ‘influences of angels’.”

She visits the vineyard regularly to suggest ways to ensure continued connection with nature. “I conduct such seasonal ceremonies as are vital to a human practice closely harmonised with nature, from a classical Chinese perspective. Over the years I have developed a deep and mutually enriching relationship with the owners and staff of Viña Montes. This relationship has survived and continued developing even after Douglas Murray’s death.” Douglas Murray was her mentor in Viña Montes. He was the person who initially contacted her after reading an interview in the press.

Writer Christine Austin also visted the winery. “It’s easy to get carried away by the imagery of feng shui – the turtles, tigers, birds and dragons. A red wall here and family photos there, but we all know the value of a workplace feeling ‘right’. That is the real value of feng shui within the Montes winery. Aurelio Montes told me ‘I don’t believe the wine will be any better for it’.” Douglas Murray, who incorporated feng shui into the building, said “it does make the people who work here feel nurtured and happy. Happy people are the best kind of workers.”

Montes and Murray started with a mere USD 50,000 in capital. Asked if he were ever tempted to sell Montes replied: “Here in Chile we don’t sell our wives, our toothbrushes, or our company.”

The 135 hectares of vines at Apalta are all dry farmed. Only “baby” vines get water. Aurelio Montes senior is proud of the way he manages water. Since 2009 water use on the estate has been cut from 4,000 cubic metres to 1,800 cubic metres. “This is enough water for 19,000 families,” he said. It also saves the company USD 120,000 a year. “Water is an important issue,” he said.

“We discovered we were over-watering. We were stupid. We found the plants needed only half of what we initially put on them. With some technical tricks we can lower the amount even further. Like short canopies and covering the [spaces between] rows with wood chips. These chips capture water and release it slowly.”

The result is much more concentrated juice from the grapes, though lower returns of about 3 tonnes a hectare compared with 6-8 elsewhere in the country. Average yields per hectare for the 12 hectares dedicated to the Taita are about 2.5 tonnes.

Hundreds of trees are left on the Apalta property to provide “corridors” for animals. As part of the feng shui process, Montes encourages animals, birds and insects rather than trying to eliminate them. “The foxes eat the rabbits, and sometimes if we have too many rabbits I eat them too.”

After lunch at Apalta, Montes flew his helicopter to Marchigue to show us the 600 hectares he planted in 2000. We drove there. Water is an issue on this property, as it is in most of Chile. “We could buy more land for vines but we do not have the water for them.” The property has five reservoirs and three wells. “We created a mini real estate revolution when we moved here. Before he arrived land cost USD 2,000 a hectare. Now it costs USD 30,000.” (Published in Meininger’s Wine Business magazine, Germany, February 2015).

Aurelio Montes shows journalists around his vineyards in Chile


Chadwick Wines in Chile have a long and distinguished heritage that the current president, Eduardo Chadwick, works hard to honour and preserve. His wines offer an homage to kinship as well as Chile’s unique terroir.

Chile is a land of mountains, steep valleys and dry rivers. The country is very long with 4,000 kilometres of coastline yet also very thin – its widest point is only 180 kilometres. In those 180 kilometres altitudes rise from zero on the coast to more than 7,000 metres in the Andes Mountains. It’s a series of slopes, ideal for growing grapes. At the same time water is a recurring problem. During my visit in November 2014 some parts of the country were experiencing their eighth year of drought.

Duke William of Normandy granted land to the Chadwick family for their help at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that led to William becoming king of England. Centuries later in 1820, during a time of religious conflict, Thomas Chadwick moved his family to Chile. In 1909 Thomas’s grandson Alejandro Chadwick, a successful businessman, married Leonor Errazuriz, to start the Chadwick-Errazuriz line.

Their son, Don Alfonso Chadwick Errazuriz, became one of Chile’s most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. In Chile children take the surname of both mother and father. Alfonso was passionate about polo and a member of the Chilean national team. When he established a family home at Puente Alto, south-east of the capital Santiago, he built a polo field as well as planting grapes. The Puente Alto site, on the banks of the Maipo River in the foothills of the Andes, is one of Chile’s best regions for growing Bordeaux blend wines.

Alfonso’s ancestor Don Maximiano Errazuriz had built a winery in 1870 in the Aconcagua Valley. This winery represents the origins of Errazuriz Wines. In 2010 Errazuriz Wines built a state-of-the-art winery next to the original winery and all its icon wines are now made there. The winery uses geo-thermal and solar energy, along with gravity feeds in the winemaking process. Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson featured the winery in the latest edition of their World Atlas of Wine. The company produces wines from eight regions and has four tiers in its portfolio: the Max Reserva range, a specialty group made from its Aconcagua Coast site, the Estate series and its five icon wines. More on the last later.

Alfonso’s son Eduardo took over as president of Errazuriz Wines in 1983. He had recently graduated as an industrial engineer from the Catholic University of Chile. Eduardo travelled widely to learn the wine business.

In 1992 Eduardo convinced his father to convert his beloved polo field into a vineyard. Planting started the next year. The goal posts at each end of the field sit in silent memory of the former polo field. The first vintage appeared in 1999. Vinedo Chadwick, one of the company’s icon wines, is named for Alfonso Chadwick.

The latest vintage of the Vinedo Chadwick is the 2011. Francisco Baettig is the chief winemaker for all of Errazuriz wines. He said this wine could have been harvested later than April but he prefered an earlier picking for enhanced acidity. Baettig aims for purity and elegance. The wine is aged in 77 per cent new French oak for 22 months. It offers aromas of cherries and raspberries with a touch of incense and cigar box. The wine has loads of potential like a young thoroughbred. The horse analogy relates to the family’s passion for horses. Scores of horse images and sculptures can be found around the Chadwick home, including a series of horse prints done by Eduardo’s mother.

A taste of the 2000 Vinedo Chadwick showed how well the wine has aged. This was the second vintage from the vines planted in 1993. It was surprisingly floral and fresh while at the same time complex, and drinking at its peak. This delicious wine has wondrous balance that makes one want to drink more and more. Yields were low that year, which helped fruit concentration. “I love this wine,” said Eduardo Chadwick, suggesting it would get even better.

In 1995 Eduardo Chadwick pioneered Chile’s first international joint venture, joining forces with California’s Robert Mondavi with the aim of producing a world-class wine, Seña. The partnership ended some years later but the awards still arrive. Wine writer James Suckling gave the 2012 Seña 98 points. It’s the highest score to date for a Chilean wine in global competition.

Chadwick said he often met people who asked about his wines’ “Parker points”. At the time Robert Parker had never been to Chile. Because the world knew little about the wines of Chile, he decided to take his wines to the world. Chadwick initiated blind tastings of his company’s wines, matching them against the world’s best. It started with the Berlin Tasting in 2004. Like the famous “Judgement of Paris” that showed the quality of Californian wine in 1976, the Berlin tasting also benchmarked relatively unknown wines against the world’s best.

Chadwick invited Steven Spurrier, consultant editor at Decanter magazine, to host the 2004 Berlin event because of his experience organising the Judgement of Paris. At the Berlin blind tasting against First Growth Bordeaux and the best Italian Bordeaux blends Chilean wines came first, second and fourth out of the 16 wines judged.

Between 2004 and 2010 Chadwick repeated the Berlin format in most of the world’s major wine capitals. The most recent were in mainland China (Xiamen and Shanghai). The process begins with an educational seminar on Chilean terroir in the context of other great terroir, followed by a blind tasting. His wines have overwhelmingly succeeded. Most of the time they were in the top three in the blind tastings.

Since 2011 events have also been designed – via vertical blind tastings – to test the potential of Chilean wines to age gracefully. Multiple vintages of Seña have been tasted against multiple vintages of other iconic wines from France, the USA and Italy, again including the famous First Growths of Bordeaux. And again, the Chilean wines prevailed.

Those tastings have vindicated Chadwick’s initial insight. Spurrier, chairman of the Decanter World Wine Awards, noted after the London tastings of 2012: “What Eduardo is proving now with his vertical tastings of Seña is that as his wines and similar vintages of Bordeaux age, his wines are still up there, judged equal, if not superior.”

At a lunch at his family home in November 2014, Eduardo Chadwick declared an end to the world tasting tours. To mark the event he has published a book, The Berlin Tasting 2004-2014. “It is difficult to judge quality in wine but the various tastings [started with the Berlin tasting] have taken our message to the world.”

Many of the company’s icon wines are named for family members. The Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve commemorates the memory of the ancestor who built the original winery in 1870. A tasting of the 2008 at the winery revealed a wine of profound flavours that reflect the benefits of ageing. When the first vintage was made in 2003 it was 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon but now it is mostly cabernet “with a touch carmenere, syrah and petit verdot for complexity”, Baettig said. This wine offered masses of cherry, cassis and raspberries with hazelnuts and a hint of balsamic.

The Kai is another of the company’s five iconic wines. The name means “plant” in the Mapudungun Indian language. “Carmenere is unique in Chile and we wanted to honour our origins with the best possible wine from this grape,” Eduardo Chadwick said. Winemaker Francisco Baettig said he was trying to make this carmenere fresher. The 2012 vintage has spicy aromas of cloves and dried herbs plus red fruit flavours with touches of bitter chocolate. The tannins are soft and silky. The wine feels attractive and velvety on the palate, though still a young wine.

The final iconic wine is La Cumbre, named after the summit of the hills that surround the winery. Cumbre means “peak” in Spanish. Eduardo Chadwick and Francisco Baettig pioneered the introduction of syrah in Chile in 1993. Their first vintage was in 2001. The 2012 vintage has a beautiful nose of black fruits with spicy pepper notes and wonderfully textured mouthfeel integrated with balanced acid and wondrous length. Baettig said the grapes came from rocky soils that meant low vigour and good drainage because of steep slopes. To risk a bad pun, it is a peak quality wine that sings softly and gently in the mouth.

Baettig talked of his desire to “fine tune” his wines and obtain even more balance and elegance. He dislikes overly ripe wines and appreciates Eduardo Chadwick’s desire for more elegance, noting that “fine tuning takes time”.

What’s next for Eduardo Chadwick I asked during lunch at his home. The response: Cool climate wines made from pinot noir and chardonnay. “I’m particularly fond of pinot noir,” Chadwick said. Francisco Baettig suggested planting 10 hectares of pinot in the Aconcagua Valley but Eduardo opted for planting 80. They clearly work well together. Eduardo Chadwick thinks Baettig is a “rare talent” who brings together a “special combination of artist and engineer”.

Errazuriz Wines export 90 per cent of what they make. The main markets are the United Kingdom and Canada. The USA is the fifth-largest market but has potential to expand, Chadwick said. He plans to use the Maximiano wines for this campaign. The company also has a big focus in Hong Kong, China and Japan, because these are Asia’s fastest-growing markets. Indeed the Asia focus was reflected in the locations for recent Seña tastings.

Yuri Gualeni, chief sommelier of Coya Restaurant in Mayfair who attended the lunch, said he and his colleagues always looked for unique wines, and confirmed that Seña represented both good value and difference. “The top South American wines are slowly becoming recognised in Europe,” he said. “Eduardo Chadwick is a major reason for that recognition.” (Published in Sommelier India, February 2015)

Biodynamic winemaking at Sena


Switzerland is a rich country with a sophisticated palate. Demand for wine is high, and Swiss winemakers can only satisfy 40 per cent of that demand. This explains why only 1 per cent of Swiss wine is exported – perhaps 2 per cent in a good year.

The Swiss rank in the top 10 of the world’s wine consumers, in terms of per capita consumption. Local salaries are high, and so is the cost of wine – both to make and to buy. Two thirds of Swiss wines sell for 15 to 34 Swiss francs a bottle (about $US 16-36).

Vinea ( represents the country’s winemakers. Each September it organizes Swiss Wine Week. The first was in 2013. At this year’s event Vinea released its Swiss wine app for smartphones, and also launched the Swiss Wine Directory, an online companion to the Swiss Wine Guide, containing details of about 450 producers. The printed guide is published every two years. Switzerland had about 15,000 hectares under vine, which means average holdings are quite small.

Ellen Wallace, an American wine writer based in Switzerland for more than a quarter century, launched her book Wineglorious: Switzerland’s wondrous world of wines in Swiss Wine Week. It is a charmingly written and handsome introduction to the industry.

The winners of Mondial des Pinots, an international competition focusing on the pinot grape, were announced during Swiss Wine Week that started September 6. Switzerland is the world’ seventh largest producer of pinot noir. These pinot awards were also the brainchild of Vinea.

Director Elisabeth Pasquier said this year’s competition involved 1,288 pinot-based wines from 465 estates from 25 countries. Only 8 per cent received a gold medal and five wines – one from Burgundy, another from Germany and three from Switzerland – gained the highest honour, a “great gold” award. The three locals all came from Valais, she said.

Valais is the largest of Switzerland’s six wine regions. It makes a third of all Swiss wines. Vaud is the second biggest, producing a quarter of the country’s output.

The Richard Gilliard estate in Valais is one of the world’s most unusual vineyards. Entry is via a 60-metre tunnel cut through a mountain. The world’s highest dry-stone wall surrounds the vineyard – it is 22 metres high in parts, made of slate and schist blocks. Built over several years from 1885, the wall snakes for 280 metres around the slopes about 650 metres above the town of Sion.

Some parts of the vineyard are so steep they must be almost impassable in winter. All picking is by hand, though some small machines have been tried. Harvest starts in mid September and continues until the end of October. Three pickings are needed because the grapes ripen at different times.

A third of Switzerland is mountains. These average 3,500 metres, though the country has 48 peaks higher than 4,000 metres – more than any country in Europe. Mont Blanc is the highest peak, at 4,800 metres. Mountains are useful because vines love slopes. They provide good drainage, an angled face to the sun to get extra warmth, and good movement of air to prevent mildew. The limit for viable vines is about 600 metres above sea level.

Some slopes are 60 degrees to the horizontal. One could be tempted to say that vines grow in every available space in the south of the country, around magnificent lakes like Lake Geneva – the largest natural lake in western Europe – and Lake Lugano. Lake Geneva is more than 300 metres deep, and is like a hot water bottle for the vines in winter. It reflects heat into the slopes in summer to help grapes ripen.

The Ticino region is the fourth largest in the country, with 1,000 hectares of vines. Ticino makes about 7 million bottles in total, noted wine consultant Urs Mader, but it could produce 10 million if it chose. The region had many small vineyards and this produced a fragmented industry when it came to consensus. “About 95 per cent of winemakers here own under two hectares.” Mader confirmed that in recent years the odd years had produced the good vintages: 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011. And the even years? “It’s still possible to make good wine in a bad year,” he said.

The Ceneri Mountains cut Ticino in half horizontally. In the north the soils are granite and mineral and produce more tannic wines. In the south the soil is mostly clay. Some say this gives Cuban cigar or tobacco notes/aromas to the wines. About 70 per cent of vines in Ticino are planted to merlot. People chose this grape as far back as 1906 because it ripens early and also likes water (Ticino has high rainfall). Ticino is one of few areas in world that makes white wine from merlot grapes.

Gialdi Brivio is one of biggest companies in Ticino, making about 1 million bottles a year. Almost all wines (98 per cent) are sold locally but some are exported to Japan, Netherlands, Britain and Belgium.

The company is part of consortium called Quatrimano, which translates as four hands. Quatrimano is aimed at the premium end of the market. Their wines will be available in the first class cabins of Swiss Air from March 2015. The wine receives 20 months in new French oak. Guido Brivio, co-owner and winemaker, said the company buys 600 new barrels from France each year, making it the biggest market for oak in Switzerland.

Guido Brivio said new oak loses 2 litres a barrel each month through evaporation. Many companies store their barrels in cellars under Mount Generosa because a natural cooling system from nearby Lake Como produces a constant 10-11C all year even on the hottest summer days, with no need for electricity.

Paolo Visini, the winemaker and co-owner at Cantina Kopp von der Crone Visini, represents the other end of the spectrum in Ticino. They only make 40,000 bottles a year. Visini said all his wines were gravity fed to retain flavours. The winemakers also bake their own bread each day and the aromas waft through the cellars. All reds receive 18-24 months in oak, either barriques or foudres. Some of the latter are made in Switzerland. Most Swiss winemakers use French barriques, though some have experimented with barrels from the United States and Russia.

Another small producer making great wine is Azienda Mondo, owned by Giorgio Rossi. Antonio Girardi, a former economist turned winemaker and viticulturalist, said the site was only 6 hectares, divided into 30 parcels. It was not possible to be organic even though he would like to because staff must use sprays to cope with the humidity. The vineyard sits at 350 metres elevation and work must be mostly manually because of the steep slopes. The site only produces 35,000 bottles a year, all from estate grapes. About 70 per cent is merlot, by far the most common grape in Ticino, plus parcels of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and bondola. The last is one of the original grapes of the area that fell out of fashion in the 1980s because of the widespread planting of merlot.

Bondola makes rustic wines that taste of cherry and blueberries. It is popular in Ticino’s grotti, the restaurants where local people gather for lunch. Citizens of Ticino drink twice as much wine on average as people from other parts of the country. Azienda Mondo is working hard to bring bondola back into fashion.

Nearby is the Tamborini estate. Carlo Tamborini was Swiss winemaker of the year in 2012. This award is based on the number of medals won at domestic competitions each year. Carlo’s daughter Valentina Tamborini said most wines were locally sold, with small exports to Hong Kong and Swiss embassies around the world. Tamborini produces 700,000 bottles a year and buys about 500 new barrels a year. About 20 per cent of their wine goes into oak.

The Angelo Delea estate is unique in being both a winery and a distiller of balsamic vinegar. Angelo’s son David provided a tour of the huge storage cellars built under the estate, where they store their own wines as well as the bottles of other companies. The cellar currently holds 700,000 bottles, with plenty of room for expansion. The delicious aromas of balsamic vinegar permeate the main buildings. David Delea noted that balsamic is initially matured in tiny casks, about a tenth the size of a barrique, while it is maturing. Balsamic loses 60 per cent of the initial quantity of liquid by the time it is ready to be bottled.

Meinrad Perler, Swiss winemaker of the year in 2010, introduced his wines at a dinner by Lake Lugano. His company Agriloro has 28 varieties of grape on the estate and makes 200,000 bottles a year, with three in four of them red. Perler, 74, has lived in region for 52 years, and has made wine for 34 years.

A visit to the Vinattieri Ticinesi group and Castello Luigi in one day offered a microcosm of the Swiss wine business in one location. These vineyards are only 2km from the Italian border. Luigi Zanini established a family estate in 1964 and started making wine in 1971. He founded Vinattieri Ticinesi in 1985. Consultant Urs Mader, known as the “wine bear” because “urs” means “bear” in Latin, said Vinattieri Ticinesi controlled 110 hectares of vines. It owns 80 hectares and has contracts with grape growers from another 30 hectares. The company could produce 1 million bottles a year, he said, but prefers to focus on quality and makes only 450,000.

Mader believes that when Swiss wine has an international reputation local people will buy more. He noted big improvements in Swiss wine since the 1980s but now believes new developments must involve “lots of small steps”. He also believes elite wine, such as that made by Castello Luigi, will sell. Castello Luigi started as Luigi Zanini’s “hobby” and only makes 2,000 bottles of white and 6,500 of red a year. But they are aimed at the premium end of the market. The white sells for 110 SWF ($US 120) a bottle and the red for 135 SWF ($US 145). Castello Luigi produced its first wines in 1993 but the castle was not built until 1997. All reds spend 24 months in new French oak. The estate experimented with other varieties of oak but returned to “classic providers and a traditional approach,” Mader said.

Tenuta Montalbano offers yet another example of the Swiss approach to wine. It is a co-operative with about 320 producers. The company owns the single biggest concentration of vines in one place in Switzerland – 22 hectares near the Italian border. Founded in 1949, it sells 60 per cent of its wines to supermarkets and the rest to restaurants and private clients.

Director Remo Tettamanti said almost all Montalbano wine was sold in Switzerland but the company had one client at the Burj al Arab, the world’s tallest building in the United Arab Emirates, and another at the Mir Hotel in Hong Kong. Both appreciated the uniqueness of white wine made from merlot, Tettamanti said. (Published in Sommelier India, January 2015, pages 60-65)

Journalists need to be mountain goats to explore vineyards

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