Tag Archive 'Chile'


I’ve been writing this blog for several years now and I’ve have a great time just cruising around sharing my discoveries. travels and food & wine pairings with you. The only way I can keep track of wines I like is to write about them here. I used to write them in a database but I’ve gone public.  I hope you find my notes helpful and interesting.

This is Novas, a Chardonnay from Emiliana, a brand I’ve written about before.  I met them at an industry tasting years ago when one of their representatives peaked my curiosity about their mission to care for the environment and people. At that time I had not studied Chilean wine or visited Chile.  I found the idea of a large organic, sustainable company promoting it’s wines with great pride and outspokenness, refreshing.  With this company, there is a notable absence of defensiveness that I get from some organic brands.  As well, Emiliana’s brand doesn’t come across as pompous because it’s organic; instead their brand exudes confidence like it’s the most “natural thing in the world” to approach wine and business that way.  And most important, their wine tastes good and is well-made.

The 2010 Limited Selection Novas Chardonnay is clean and reminds me of a cool sea breeze.  I am very picky about Chardonnay and I’ve found that some very nice ones are being grown and made in Chile. When I visited Chile’s coastal region in 2010, I learned about the Humboldt current and how vintners were being lured to this area to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Since then I have sought out wines from these areas. Emiliana delivers consistently nice wines that I am proud to serve to my friends.  I’m glad that they are widely available and well-priced at around $15. Additionally, they have a terrific website for folks who want to learn more about a biodynamic and organic winery; it even includes an interactive vineyard.

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WIne Wrtiers: BLake Grey, Karen MacNeil, RIchard Auffrey, Ben Narasin, Alana Gentry (in the hat)

Because I love tasting wines from around the world, I have purchased many  Chilean wines (as well as received samples).  My big news is that I am blown away by how much the quality of Chile’s red wines has risen just in the last year. The first time (2009) I sat through a Carmenére tasting, I ended up recommending a Sauvignon Blanc to my readers. Even though I’m a huge fan of Chilean whites* and Pinot Noirs, I was less than enthusastic about Chile’s effort to promote Carmenére as their signature grape.

Don’t get me wrong, Carmenére is no backwoods weird varietal; it enjoys a fine pedigree. Here’s a fun fact from Wine.com: Carmenère is yet another grape that was eventually exiled from the Bordeaux blend. In the late 1800′s, Carmenère was brought over to Chile from France, and it never turned back. For a while, Chilean growers thought this grape was Merlot and labeled their wines as such. But in the early nineties, thanks to DNA testing, vineyards were revisited and the grapes correctly labeled, and Carmenère was discovered to be the backbone of many Chilean wines. 

Without further commentary, I’m happy to recommend the following Chilean Carmenéres. Happy shopping!

  • Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia, Carmenère  2009 ($10)
  • Natura, Carmenère 2010 (Made by Emiliana) ($10) This wine is organic, I’ll be writing a post about organic wines soon.
  • Paso Grande Valle Control, Carmenère 2010 ($10)
  • Montes Alpha Colchagua Valley Carmenère 2008 ($15)  Montes Alpha makes consistently good value wine.
  • Margues de Casa Concha Carmenère 2009  ($16) Made by Concha y Toro, another big name and easy to find.
  • Carmen Gran Reserva, Apalta Carmenère 2009 ($17)
  • Novas Limited Selection Carmenère / Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) This is what I call a Saturday night wine – complex, smooth, drinkable now. Very nice wine.

Most of these wines are widely distributed thus easy to find. I hope you enjoy them.

*Chilean White Wine post coming soon~ I’m tasting a bunch of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs this month.

Picture taken in Chile on the Wine Writer’s Trip sponsored by Winebow. I’m in the hat and that’s the famous Karen MacNeil who wrote The Wine Bible next to me.

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Insider Tips for Finding & Enjoying Great Pinot Noir

  • Pinot Noir is best when it is grown in a very specific place proven to have ideal conditions. If it says “California” on the label, pass it by, even if it is $12 and seems like a bargain. It’s not, it will disappoint you. Here are two Pinot Noirs under $20 that you can easily find.
  • Because the grape is so sensitive to growing conditions, it’s a lot of fun to explore the different AVA’s that are known as good Pinot Noir growing areas.  There are many famous Pinot places that we’ve all heard about; currently, my favorite AVA’s are  Sonoma Coast,  Santa Ynez Valley and Sta Rita Hills.
  • You’ll find a lot of wineries source their grapes from only a few regions while their wineries are in another place altogether. To taste lots of Pinots all in one place, I recommend Pinot Noir-specific events. San Francisco’s Pinot Summit is very civilized and fun; only 350 people, approximately 44 top wines (selected from over 400 entries).  I interviewed Sideways author, Rex Pickett at the 10th annual tasting and it was a blast. In addition to enjoying world-class Pinots, I like this event because the rooms are large and comfortable and the event is very creatively designed.  You can also spend the night at a fab downtown San Francisco hotel and keep the party going.
  • Explore Pinot Noir from other countries. When I was in Germany on a Pinot Trio tour (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc), the vintners’ apologized for pouring wine younger than 15 years old.  Here in the states, aging Pinot Noir is quite rare.  I’m also a student of Chilean Pinot Noir which I find vastly more interesting than their prominent grape, Carmenere.

Alana’s Picks from the 10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

Lazy Creek Vineyards - Winemaker Christy Griffith Ackerman blew away the competition at the 10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit and won me over with her superbly crafted 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  I eagerly look forward to trying the rest of her wines.

Coghlin Vineyard - The 2009 Rio Vista Pinot Noir (single vineyard from Sta. Rita Hills) scores super high in pure fruit delightfulness. As it should be, it is balanced with a pretty nose and equally lovely color and length. This small Los Olivos-based winery is 100% organic.

Petite Abeille A surprising discovery, winemaker Deb Mayo made only 235 cases of this silky, balanced, unfiltered Pinot Noir. Petite Abeille is a Russian River beauty with an elegance often missing in the AVA.

Kenneth Volk Vineyard
 -  K. Volk’s fame did not did not influence me (he started the successful Wild Horse brand before selling it to Constellation); the wines were tasted blind, and his luscious fruit-forward Pinot Noir was a stand out. Peeking at his web site, I’m even more intrigued to visit and taste all of his wines.

10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit, Girl with a Glass & Sideways author, Rex Picket.

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It’s important to stock up on white wine at the holidays.  Even though I advise sharing your favorites, this is one area where it’s also an opportunity to be a gracious host, prepared for guests that “don’t drink red” or drink only Chardonnay. And please don’t serve 2 Buck Chuck; you may like it but there are plenty of other inexpensive wines that say “I care” while not breaking your piggy bank.

Here’s a few of my favorite interesting white wines that I’ll share with my guests this holiday season.

2009 Glen Carlou Chardonnay Paarl South Africa Another Donald Hess gem, this Chardonnay is nicely balanced, not too acidic or tart and not too oaky. It goes with food and is also very enjoyable on it’s own. Just a beautiful example of what the Chardonnay grape can be. Since it’s from South Africa with only about 10,000 cases imported to the USA, it might be a new and pleasant discovery for your guests. (Tip: Usually $16, now on sale at wine.com)

2009 Haute Cabriere Franschhoek Chardonnay Pinot Noir South Africa 2009 was a great vintage for South African Chardonnay which may have something to do with this wine’s exceptionalness. It’s the only 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir blend that I’ve ever tasted so I can’t say if others are as wonderful or not. The Haute Cabriere is flavorful and balanced with a long finish. With low alcohol (12.5%), it’s food friendly or great on it’s own. (Tip: Use wine-searcher.com to find where to buy it.

2008 Leyda Chardonnay, Lot 5, Chile.  Just a little reminder that Chile makes some fine Chardonnay, this one is hard to find unfortunately.  The link above goes to my review earlier this year in Alana’s Wine Picks. (Tip: Look here for other ideas too.)

2006 Laurenz V Charming Gruner Veltliner, Austria  It’s minerally, rich and has a hint of well-balanced light pepper spice. I highly recommend trying it and sharing it, especially if you’re tired of the same old whites. (Tip: This is not a budget wine at $30 but it is comparable to buying a Napa Chardonnay and it has the fun factor of trying something new. The 2009 is the current vintage. For more information about where to find this wine, contact the good folks at Folio Wine.)


More holiday picks Red  & Sparkling.



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Chile Vineyard

It Begins in the Vineyard

I have repeatedly promised never to write anything negative on my blog but I feel compelled to save budding wine drinkers. I recently tasted Charles Shaw Chardonnay and for a few more bucks, you can do better. I promise. Two Buck Chuck was created as a consumer brand, just fermented grapes in a bottle, no winery, no family history, etc.  Making products for profit while not caring about quality is not unique to 2 Buck Chuck.  The good news is there are plenty of other brands that do care about quality, for just a few more bucks.

One label that is super easy to find is Cono Sur, from Chile.  Cono Sur imports 1.7 million cases to 65 different countries.  Cono Sur has wines under $10 as well as over $10, you can easily replace your Charles Shaw reds and whites as well as enjoy super Pinot Noir and red blends for under $30.

An added benefit, the company is run by an innovative group of people who care about the environment.

Our fruit is harvested in vineyards farmed in the spirit of organic management or sustainable agriculture, two comprehensive agricultural systems that allow us to take advantage of the healthy and clean environment. Cono Sur.

A few of my favorites…

Cono Sur, 2009 Bicycle Viogner Fresh, zippy, great aromas, serve cold. Widely available in the US (5,000 cases). The Bicycle brand sells for under $10.

Cono Sur, 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley 2009 Tried too many watery Pinots? This one is full, smooth & complex. New world fruit, old world wine making. This wine is around $20 USD, very inexpensive for Pinot Noir.

Cono Sur Vision Single Vineyard Block 68 old vine Pinot Noir, 2009 Cono Sur’s fruitier style. Cherries & soft tannins. (Around $15 USD)

Look to other producers to replace your 2 Buck Chuck, especially wines from around the world. Many of them are great quality, care about the environment and just happen to be inexpensive.

** no family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine is the tagline for Cono Sur Wines.

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After years of concentrating on California wines, I’m wholeheartedly drinking and learning about wines from emerging markets.  My wine refrigerator is now stocked with Chilean Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Greek Assyrtiko, South African Pinotage and Argentine Malbec.

The style and flavor of these international wines are fascinating.  Here’s some tips and recommendations for your own international exploration pleasure:

  • I’ve found that food really brings out the light style of the Austrian and Greek white wines. Look for the Assyrtiko grape from Santorini and Grüner Veltliner from Austria.  There are many enjoyable wines for under $20.
  • Don’t let unfamiliar grapes fool you into thinking they are going to taste unfamiliar.  You’ll probably associate a foreign grape with something you already love. For instance, the Charming 2007 Grüner Veltliner reminds me of a rockin’ Sauvignon Blanc.
  • South Africa has fascinated me as I’ve watched so much dramatic change in the last 20 years. The signature grape is Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.  Good Pinotage has the earthiness that I love in a good Pinot Noir. I highly recommend Silkbush’s Lion’s Drift 2009 Pinotage that will be available in Summer 2011. I received a pre-release sample and it rocked my world. (Review to come soon.)
  • I suspect consumers have no idea how fantastic Pinot Noir from Chile’s Leyda Valley can be. My favorite so far is Leyda Las Brisas 2009 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Stylistically it reminds me of Oregon Pinots, ripe black cherries, dark with a honey texture. (Look for my post soon about a perfect pairing.)
  • It’s pretty much an open secret that I’m in love with Argentina. There are so many great values and excellent wines, enjoy Malbec but also look for red blends, Torrontes, Bonarda (a very special post coming soon about aged Bonarda), sparkling Malbec and Chardonnay. In other words, explore the world of Argentine wines. (Links go to some of my favorites.)

In case you are wondering, I’m not really leaving California in the physical sense, but if you stop by my house, we can transport ourselves to almost anywhere in the world with some fine wine and matching food.

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Carmenere Grape Maipo Valley, Chile, South America

Carmenere, Maipo Valley, Chile, April 2011

Chile is a fascinating sliver of land. I first paid attention to Chile when a friend introduced me to Isabelle Allende and her husband years ago.  The famous Chilean writer of the House of the Spirits and other novels, was reportedly influenced by Pablo Neruda, Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet.  Neruda died many years ago, but I visited one of his fascinating homes in Santiago.

The land of Chile is doubly fascinating when you discover it’s diverse wine regions.  Grapes are grown at the high altitude sunny slopes of the Andes, next to the cool hills of the Pacific Ocean and on the edges of the waterless desert. In terms of  public awareness, Carmenere is to Chile as Cabernet is to Napa.  But in fact, Chiles’ many microclimates support ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chile’s most popular exported variety is Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s easy to find in the USA and has an excellent value to quality ratio.  TerraNoble makes a Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva ($18.99) that is food friendly. The 2008 was shy and pretty on the nose unlike big Cabernets that leap out of the glass like ghosts of dead grapes. The TerraNoble winemaking team aims for fresh, modern, elegant wines with fruit flavors that highlight each variety.  The Gran Reserva achieves it. There are many winemaking styles in Chile, so my recommendation (as always) is to purchase some and try it.

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Leyda Lot 5 Chardonnay 2009 Leyda Valley, Chile

In my opinion~ This is a fascinating area of South America in general and Chile specifically. It’s cool from the Humboldt current (wind coming from the ocean up the hills), and there’s a lot of experimentation going on. Many people only know the hot regions that support Chile’s famous Carmenere.

Alana’s Tip: Find where to buy any of Leyda’s Chardonnay or Pinot Noir in your area or online. Prices vary from $12 – $30. You may or may not like it but it’s a pretty small outlay for potentially finding a favorite Chardonnay.

Pairing: This is a complex wine.  It’s crisp with nice acidity but has a touch of vanilla on the end. I would try it with scallops, toasted nuts and white wine sauce, and a salad with pear vinaigrette dressing.

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Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Aj GentryI’ve always been interested in fine wine and low prices. As my palate is maturing with experience; inexpensive and great wine is harder to come by.  I’ve found that reading, learning and tasting is the quickest route to success.  Here’s what I look for:

  • What countries or appellations are up & coming?
  • Is the region consistently getting great reviews?
  • Are flying winemakers with established reputations settling in and investing their time & energy in a certain appellation?
  • What is the terrior like?

Some regions have fairly distinct goals (although there are always dissenters–bless them).  It’s my belief that Australians want to make palatable table wine for the masses. Like their casual attitude towards food & fun, for them wine is simply a good beverage to be enjoyed without a lot of fuss. My experience with New Zealand wines leads me to believe that they strive for a very distinctive, New Zealand flavor profile and their image is easy-going as opposed to complex (unlike France which is distinctive with an image of complexity).

Wine regions like Chile are attracting flying winemakers & established winery owners that love the terrior, the relatively low price of entry and the potential for huge international sales. This is the region that I’m really into at the moment.  South Africa is a close second. Chilean wines are fun to experiment with food or without.

I’m also interested in newer or less well-known wine regions closer to home like Livermore (Northern California), Pope Valley (east of Napa), Mt. Veeder (above Napa Valley) to name a few.  But alas, this regions don’t have the price points that the overseas wineries do.

If you want to learn, keep your eye out for articles like this one, read Wine Enthusiast online or Google a country/region and the word wine. Attend tastings offered by distributors and wineries, but avoid trying to learn too much at one tasting.  Taste 7-8 wines over 4 hours and spend the majority of your time asking questions, looking at maps of the region and getting a sense of the terrior, grapes and winemaking style.

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Scallops, RB Meyer PhotographyThis is an easy sauce that you can serve with any fish or shellfish.  The picture shows a breaded scallop (with egg, milk & Panko) but I would just pan fry the scallops in olive oil next time. I didn’t make enough sauce either; the recipe below will give you more sauce. Serves 2.

Cilantro Sauce

  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 scallions
  • 1 jalapeno (no seeds)
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil

Finely chop the cilantro & scallions. Put in a bowl.  Add lime juice and finely chopped jalapeno.  Add olive oil to create the sauce texture you want–not too thick or thin. (You can use a food processor, but it is not necessary in my opinion.)  Mix and refrigerate while you make the rest of the meal.

Scallops & Angel Hair Pasta

  • 7-10 large scallops
  • angel hair pasta for 2
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup white onion
  • EVOO
  • salt & pepper

Put the pasta water on to boil.  Chop the white onion and place it in a small bowl of water (takes the edge off). Defrost the peas in the microwave.  After the water is boiling, add salt*, make it like the Mediterranean.

Remove Cilantro Sauce from fridge; bring to room temperature.  Drain the white onions. Microwave the peas in a small bowl.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan.  Add scallops. Salt & pepper to taste. Gently cook them for 3-4 minutes depending on the size.  Remove from heat.

When the pasta is done, drain and add peas, onions and add a little EVOO for texture.

Place the scallops on the pasta, generously dollop the scallops with the Cilantro Sauce.


I paired it with Cono Sur Sustainable Agriculture Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile, 2008, ($13 or less)  Find it at places like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or specialty shops that carry organic wines.  If you can’t find this wine and want to try another Chilean SB, look for one from the Casablanca region which includes the San Antonio Valley.


  • Stainless steal pots can be ruined by salt sitting in them.
  • I recommend coated cast iron frying pans because they cook evenly.  Ikea seems to have the best deals.
  • Scallops: undercooked is best, overcooking turns them to rubber.

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