A Carmenere of a Different Color: Errazuriz 2008

chileOK, so in my post a few days ago I promised that we’d do our own Battle of the Carmenere’s. If you read that piece, you got a crash course on the history of the grape that’s been called, “the lost Bordeaux varietal.” Of course, it was never really “lost:”  all along it was flourishing in Chilean vineyards, disguised as Merlot. Once it revealed itself to grape growers and the wine world at large, some good varietal and blended wines started happening.

Our first Carmenere, Morande Pionero Carmenere 2009, was an entry-level, bargain buy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… But it usually dictates the style: you can expect the wine to be lighter-bodied, less complex, and less structured. And you know what? That’s often just what you’re looking for…

But last night we stepped up to a more upscale Carmenere. This one, Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere 2008, is priced almost twice as much as the Pionero (although still under $20), and comes from a winery that’s been producing wines for more than 100 years. Errazuriz is very well respected, too: they get high ratings from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and all the big boys. So let’s get to it…

As its name implies, the grapes for this wine are sourced from a single estate vineyard. Does this make a discernible difference? You bet — it’s assumed that the grapes are of higher quality than those used for a blend. The Errazuriz opened with a bright purple color and a tight nose: it seemed to me that this wine is still young and needs more time to develop. By swirling like crazy I got some subtle aromas of red berries and iodine. After more swirling like crazy, I sipped, and the red fruits were there, with some earthiness chasing them around the glass. I still sensed a tightness, as though this thing was hiding its best features.

I was a little frustrated by now: I’d expected to be wow’ed by this wine, because it got a great rating from the Wine God himself. I wasn’t finding this wine to be “mouth-filling and pleasure-bent.” On the contrary, I was working way too hard to pull something out of this bottle.

So I thought about the lost-and-found-again Carmenere grape. In France, it was a blending grape, grown to play its part in the pageant that was Bordeaux. In Chile, it found a second home, and one where the friendlier climate allowed it to reach its potential. But does it really have the potential to carry a wine all by itself? Or should winemakers accept its mission to be a contributing player on a bigger playing field?

Maybe. If this is a great Carmenere, maybe this grape doesn’t have everything I need to create a single varietal that I can love. When it comes right down to it, I’d rather drink the simple but pleasurable Pionero Carmenere, and save myself a few bucks.

But please: if you’ve had a really good Carmenere, send me the name so I can check it out. In the meantime: try Malbec instead??


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