Carménère emerges from Chile and entices taste buds
I find that the beginning of the New Year is a good time to get out of my comfort zone. Of course this could relate to many aspects of life, but I'm going to focus on wine, obviously. There are many grape varieties, and it's easy to get enchanted by a handful of them and focus on little else. Personally, while I have my go-to varietals that I look to time and again, I reach for something different as often as possible.
Certain regions like parts of Southern Italy have several noteworthy, lesser-known grapes that have been seeing the light of day on U.S. shelves. The same is true in other parts of the world. In Chile, Carménère has been making impressive inroads. This variety has its origins in France and was later planted in Chile, where for years acres and acres of it were confused with Merlot. DNA testing eventually uncovered the truth and varietal Carménère (which can be pronounced either kar-ma-nair-uh or kar-ma-nair) seems poised to make a huge impact on wine drinkers the world over. This time out I tasted a number of Carménères and I'll look at three that knocked my socks off.
First up is the Falerina 2007 Carménère Reserva. The fruit for this wine was handpicked much later than typical for Chile -- June in fact. The grapes were partially dried, giving them a greater degree of intensity. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in American oak barrels for about 7 months; 60 percent of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $15.
Oodles of ripe berry fill the nose of this 2007 Carménère,and underlying wisps of smoke play a supporting aromatic role. Blackberry, black cherry and huckleberry form a trio of explosive flavors throughout the intense, layered and ultimately full throttle palate. On the finish, chocolate sauce notes emerge in droves, along with plum pudding spices and plenty of black pepper as well. This wine has a lengthy finish that reverberates long after the last sip is swallowed. This wine will pair well with full-flavored foods, and it also drinks exceptionally well on its own.
Next up is the Espíritu de Chile 2007 Carménère Reserva. The Artesi Family began making wine in the Curicó Valley in 1951. To this day the winery, located south of Santiago, is 100 percent family-owned, and they produce wine only from their own fruit. They have about 1,000 acres under vine,and their current winery facility was completed in 1999. This wine has a suggested retail price of $15.
Clove and nutmeg spice aromas leap from the nose of this wine, and copious dark fruit characteristics follow. Throughout the palate the dark theme continues: fleshy dark fruits such as plum are in evidence, and are joined by blueberry and blackberry. Hints of smoked meat emerge and lead toward the finish, which shows off continued spice notes as well as emerging earth that really reverberates. This Carménère is at its best paired with food. It's built to complement a meal, and will do well with slow roasted meats, pasta with red sauce and all sorts of cheeses, to name a few.
Batting third is the Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia 2007 Carménère. This wine was produced using fruit sourced at two different vineyard sites in Chile's Rapel Valley. It's 100 percent Carménère. Barrel aging took place over 13 months in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.
The nose of this wine is packed with a bevy of engaging aromas: plum, raspberry, violets and hints of candied cherry all chip in. Crushed, velvety, red cherry flavors are prominent throughout the palate which is intense and complex in nature, showcasing layer after layer of lusty, appealing flavors. Towards the finish the fruits take on hints of sour and savory characteristics which lead into flavors of pencil lead, earth and a wallop of spice that goes on and on. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and terrific acidity. This Carménère is built with a bit of longevity in mind. If you drink it now, decant it for a few hours; otherwise lay it down for 5 years and drink it in the 5 years that follow.
These three Carménère's are all good values. Not every wine from Chile is a good value, but the ones that are often blow away the competition in terms of pure bang for the buck. And while there have always been some excellent value wines coming from Chile, a couple things have happened to augment that. More and more premium Chilean wines are on U.S. shelves these days, and even at the lower price points there is more focus than ever on quality. I think it's also important to keep in mind that even at higher price points, wines from Chile can often represent terrific value. So if you're thinking about spending $30 on a bottle of wine (as one example), a well-chosen Chilean selection is often going to net you more for your dollar than spending that same amount of money on an Old World wine. Additionally, I believe it's quite important to note that each of the three wines I've presented this month offer different takes on Carménère and provide a nice window into the styles and flavor profiles that can be achieved with this emerging grape. If you can, I recommend trying them side by side on your own and deciding which you like better.