Archive for the ‘review Carmenere wine’ Category

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??


  • Share/Bookmark

Bordeaux + Chile = Carmenere

morandeI admit it — I really like South American wines. They can be bold, rustic, in-your-face and over-the-top, but that’s they’re style. They’re like a Latin lover: hot-blooded, hot-tempered, but oh, so fun to play with.

So this week I’m in Chile. Well, not literally south of the Equator, but that’s where my tasting is focused. I have two Chilean Carmenere’s and we’re going to let them duke it out. But let’s get some perspective and context first.

Don’t feel like a dummy if you’ve never heard of the Carmenere grape. For about a century and a half, no one knew about Carmenere. The grape was native to the Bordeaux region of France and was one of the six grapes blended into red Bordeaux wine (for the wine-geek-wannabe’s, the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot). Cuttings from Bordeaux vines were taken to Chile sometime in the 19th century, and Son of a Gun if they didn’t grow much better in Chile’s warm, dry climate than they had in their homeland.

But somewhere along the way, the Carmenere got lumped in with the Merlot, because they were visually similar. Funny, though, that what the Chileans bottled as Merlot had a very distinctive, earthy edge… So it wasn’t until the 1990′s that the lightbulb went off and Carmenere got its own locker in the locker room. Growers realized that it had the potential to make classic wine, blended or by itself, as long as it got a little more hang-time for the grapes to fully ripen and develop their phenolics (that’s the stuff in the grapes that delivers complexity and flavor).

So Carmenere, the “lost Bordeaux varietal,” leap-frogged from being a no-name to becoming Chile’s signature red grape.

But is it any good? Well, sure. At its best it offers intense color, lots of rich berry flavors, spice, hints of things like smoke, leather, tobacco or earth, and a smoother, less-tannic finish than Cab Sauv.

So my job here is to taste two Carmeneres, from different wineries and at different price points, and see what we think. I started with Morande Pionero Carmenere Maipo Valley 2009. Vina Morande is only 15 years old, but it’s made a huge commitment in vineyards, facilities, and personnel. The winery has created about five tiers of wines, from everyday stuff to world-class. Pionero is Morande’s entry-level line, and is designed to be “Friendly, lively, and approachable.”

All those words fit the Carmenere I tried. It’s the kind of bottle you could slam down on the table when you get together with friends, or pop open on a Tuesday night without a bit of “guilt” about spending yet more of your grocery budget on alcoholic beverages. (This is the definition of a Tuesday Night Wine, and Tuesday Night Wines should form a significant part of your wine collection.)

This wine doesn’t need any fancy descriptors. It’s round, which means there are no harsh edges. It’a also full-bodied enough to satisfy your wine appetite and stand up to your burgers or chicken. It’s fruity, but not in a Juicy Fruit kind of way: the taste reminded me of cherries and red berries, with some spice-herb-mint on the side. I didn’t get the earth or smoke I expected, so the wine is relatively simple. But that’s not a bad thing: this is a “drink and enjoy” wine, so drink and enjoy! For under $10, I think it’s a great value.

In a day or two we’ll taste a single-vineyard Carmenere, and see what we can learn by way of comparison. Cheers!

  • Share/Bookmark
Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site