Saturday, November 07, 2009

Discovering Bordeaux's Lost Grape; A Wines of Chile Tasting

Last month, I delved into the world of live wines tasting on Twitter (#ttl), with a tasting of German Rieslings. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted about participating in a Wines of Chile tasting focusing on the "lost grape", Carmenere. I've only sampled this signature grape of Chile, and was interested in trying more, especially given its interesting story. Carmenere was originally a blending grape in Bordeaux, but virtually disappeared from Europe. It later reappeared among Chilean Merlot vines, and the country's wine makers soon found that the grape was well-suited to Chile. It is now Chile's signature grape.

Sampling eight bottles based on Carmenere gave an appreciation for the range of styles and tastes it can produce. Generally, though, I'd describe as a full-bodied red somewhere between a Merlot and Cabernet Saugvignon; or as one of the tastings hosts commented "Cabernet in silk pajamas". I personally found I enjoyed the wines the most that blended in small amounts of other varietals. Overall, I found these wines to be good values well-suited to pairing with red meat, sausages and other full-flavored foods.

During the live tasting, wine bloggers around the country went through a progression of 8 wines, and shared their comments on Twitter (#winesofchile if you want to see the comment feed). Here's a summary of my notes:

2008 Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere ($10) The lead-off wine is 100% Carmenere from the Rapel Valley. (there's a good overview of Chilean wine regions here) I detected spice on the nose, and found it a bit woody on the first taste. But it quickly opened up nicely and showed blackberry fruit and good structure. This was one of the more popular ones among our group of tasters, especially when they found out it retails for $10--they wanted to know where to buy it!

2007 Odfjell Armador Carmenere ($13) Another 100% Carmenere, my first word to describe it was "chewy", bouquet of a summer forest. This wasn't as popular as the first, "a bit dull" was mentioned by a few tasters.

2007 Viu Manent Carmenere ($14) This was perhaps my favorite of the 100% Carmeneres we tried. I tasted more peppery spice and blackberry fruit in this, reminding me of a good zin. Another taster called it a "magnified version of the Santa Carolina". From the Colchagua Valley.

2007 Cono Sur Vision Carmenere ($15) Here we got into blends, with 9% Cab and 6% Syrah joining the Carmenere. Sporting a musky bouquet, the Cab taste was very distinct despite the small proportion. Another taster noted the plumminess; another got chocolate and hazelnut.

2008 Vina La Rosa Capitana Carmenere ($18) This 100% Carmenere had a big heady bouquet, was a bit tight at first. But after a little breathing, it opened up nicely, showing violet tones with a silky mouthfeel. A bold wine from Cachapoal Valley.

2007 Ventisquero Grey Carmenere ($25) Another blend with 7.5% of both Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Maipo Valley. A big wine, I liked it fairly well but others found it a bit overpowering.

2007 Terra Andina Altos Carmenere ($19) This Central Valley wine is 70% Carmenere with 30% Carignan, which I like in Southern French red blends. This had violet on the nose, very fruit forward with lush cherry flavors. Definitely one of my favorites from the tasting, a good value.

2004 Carmen Wine Maker's Reserve Red ($44) This was an interesting blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere (listed as Grande Vidure), 20% Petite Syrah and 10% Merlot. The Carmen is a wonderful wine, definitely on my "wines of the year" list. Deep brick red in the glass, subtle earthy bouquet. Fruit forward, taste of cherry and a bit of coffee. A well-structured wine, good for pairing with steak. From the Maipo Valley.

I must say before this tasting I was most likely to pick up a Chilean wine on the lower end of the price scale. But this certainly gave me a sense that Chile can produce some great values higher up the price ladder as well, and they are likely to be found on our table more often!

Full disclosure: These wines were sent as a free sample as part of my participation in the Wines of Chile live tasting.


lupe said...

Viña La Rosa La Capitana Carmenere is from Cachapoal Valley,not Colchagua Valley

David said...

Thanks, I'll correct that.

lupe said...


in vino veritas said...

Really enjoy the Viu Manet Sauvignon Blanc. If you get the chance to find a bottle of Chilean wine by Koyle or Terrapura, be sure to pick one up. They also have the carmenere. Koyle is made by Cristobal Undarrage whose family has been making wines since the 1800's. Terrapura is his brother Alphonso's label. I had dinner with Cristobal and he is the most enthusiastic winemaker you will ever meet. My tastings with Cristobal are posted October 11.