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The Steady Rise of Carménère

The Steady Rise of Carménère

Carménère’s upward mobility is two-fold. The average overall quality of the end product has improved as growers have learned where to plant it, when to pick it and how to vinify and age it for best results. Over that same time period consumer awareness of Carménère has increased as well. Although that last part needs some additional help.

The oft told story of Carménère involves genetic testing of Chilean vines that were long thought to be Merlot. Something similar occurred in Italy, but they were under the impression it was Cabernet Franc. While it’s well worth noting that Carménère does grow and sometimes thrives in other places, Chile is its best partner. Bogart made films with numerous leading ladies, at the end of the day though most of us best remember his work with Lauren Bacall. Carménère and Chile are a bit like that. Here’s a look at some current vintages of Carménère. I first tasted these during a virtual master class. If you have been drinking Carménère check out some of the ones you haven’t tried. If you’re new to this grape, grab the ones that sound most appealing and give Carménère a shot.

Casillero del Diablo 2015 Carménère Reserva Central Valley Chile ($10)

For $10 or less if you shop around it’s hard to beat this on value. Dark fruit and bits of spice are evident on the nose. The palate shows off blackberry and cherry flavors as well as some savory herbs. Hints of vanilla and continued cherry are evident on the finish. Sufficient acid keeps things in check. For the price this would make a terrific house red.

Casas del Bosque 2015 Carmenere Reserva Rapel Valley ($11)

Smoked meat and tons of black fruits govern the nose. Ripe dark fruit flavors such as blackberry and black raspberry are the dominant flavors alongside copious spice elements. Leather, black cherry and savory herbs such as age are evident on the finish. If you need a wine to pair with a burger or chili dog, look no further.

Concha y Toro Serie Riberas 2014 Carménère Gran Reserva Peumo ($15)

This Carménère which has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in comes from riverside vineyards. Dark fruit aromas waft convincingly from the glass once you pour it. Plum, black olive, cherry and copious spice notes mark the palate. Savory herbs, hints of roasted coffee and black fig are evident on the finish.

Los Vascos 2013 Carménère Grande Reserve Colchagua Valley ($18)

This offering is 100% Carménère. Oodles of dark fruit intertwined with wisps of red cherry fill the nose. Blackberry, raspberry and continued cherry are evident on the palate along with lots of typical savory herb flavors. Dark baker’s chocolate, cherries jubilee and black pepper spice are in evidence on the long finish.

Apaltagua Colchagua Valley 2014 Gran Reserva Carménère Envero ($18)

In addition to Carménère (90%), some Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) was blended in. Leather, raspberry and red cherry aromas dominate the nose. Both red and black fruits are evident on the firm palate. Earth, raspberry and vanilla notes emerge on the above average finish. Firm tannins yield with air. This wine has terrific structure and will drink well for 6-7 years.

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard 2014 Carménère Colchagua Valley ($20)

This is entirely Carménère from vines with 14 years of age on them. Casa Silva is one of the producers most invested in this grape and they produce several different Carménères. Tons of ripe, black, brooding fruit aromas leap from the nose. The palate is stuffed with blackberry, blueberry, black olive and a tiny hint of mushroom. Chocolate sauce, huckleberry, and spices round out the long and deeply layered finish. This is really lovely expression of Carménère and a tremendous bottle of wine for the money.

Montes Alpha 2013 Carménère Colchagua Valley ($25)

Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) is blended in with the Carménère (90%) here. The fruit came from two areas within Colchagua where Carménère thrives.  This incredibly serious, well-structured offering is delicious now and will age well for a decade. Dried mission fig, violets, and white pepper are evident on the nose. Flavors of olive tapenade, black cherry and more lead the palate. The long, harmonious finish is filled with dried black fruits, spice and bits of earth. This offering is delicious today but will evolve positively over the next 7 or 8 years,

Colli Berici Oratorio di San Lorenzo2012 Carménère Riserva ($33)

This selection from Italy is entirely Carménère. Dried black cherry, white pepper and bay leaf emanate from the nose. Dried blackberry, plum and wisps of mission fig do the somewhat dense palate. The persistent finish stuffed with lingering dried fruits, spices, dusty cocoa and more. This is an impressive and distinct expression of Carménère that shows it can thrive in countries other than Chile when appropriate care is taken.

Viña Maquis 2010 Viola Carménère ($55)

One vintage after another Viola is one of the single most impressive expressions of Carménère being produced anywhere. In addition to Carménère (85%), some Cabernet Franc (15%) was blended in. Cherry, leather and thyme aromas leap from the nose. Black cherry, plum and raspberry flavors are evident on the palate along with spice elements and bits of cocoa. The finis is long, elegant and remarkable nuances with all of the prior characteristics circling back to deliver a harmonious coda.

Purple Angel 2013 Colchagua Valley Carménère ($67)

If you’ve explored Carménère with any level of seriousness, Purple Angel has passed your lips. It has stood for a number of years now as one of the world’s benchmark expressions of this fascinating grape. In addition to Carménère (92%), a nice dollop of Petit Verdot (8%) was blended in. This is a big, bold, bodacious wine that makes its presence known in terms that aren’t shy, from the first whiff to the last sip. With all that said it’s still a proportionate wine that respects some boundaries. Boysenberry, chocolate and spice all jump from the nose. The velvety palate is filled with black cherry, plum, spices, savory herbs, cocoa and more. The long, prodigious finish is deep, dark and loaded with ostentatious flavors. Purple Angel isn’t shy about being Carménère, or anything else for that matter. Don’t be shy about drinking this consistently audacious and delicious Chilean masterpiece.

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

Thanksgiving, with its myriad of flavors and overload of food is mere days away. And while some look at wine pairing for so many flavors and textures as a challenge, I think it’s a whole lot of fun. Drink what you like and see what it works with and what it doesn’t work with.  The bottom line is that you should have fun and enjoy the holiday. 

Chile’s Viña Koyle: Wines of Irrepressible Passion

It’s a lot of fun to discover a musician or band at the very beginning of their career, before they’re a household name. If you do that, when they achieve success it’s likely you’ll feel a stronger connection than in the case when you stumble across an already well known artist because you heard all their hits. In essence, that’s how I feel about the wines of Viña Koyle. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking them since their first vintage. That has given me the opportunity to watch them grow. The vines have aged and already good wines have gotten better one vintage after another. Winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga is constantly tinkering and refining his winemaking approach, adding varietals to blends, using new techniques, and launching new wines. I’ve had the opportunity to taste his wines with him on numerous occasions and each encounter has been a treat. In part that’s because the wines are really, really good, yet still improving all the time. However, it’s also because the raw passion Cristóbal has for winemaking is palpable the moment you encounter him. Whether he’s speaking about sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, aging wine.... Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Chile’s Concha y Toro Makes Food & Budget-Friendly Wines

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Concha y Toro is the largest winery in Chile. The depth and variety of their portfolio spans many styles, price-points, and varietals. They employ several winemakers; each focuses on a different tier of wines. I recently had lunch with Marcelo Papa at Haven’t Kitchen. He’s the Concha y Toro winemaker responsible, among others, for the Marqués de Casa Concha line. These offerings are single vineyard, site-specific wines. Over lunch we tasted a number of the selections in this range, each paired with a food that showcased a different global influence. The goal was to highlight the ability of their wines to pair with cuisine of various styles from all over the world. If wine pairing is performance, this was a tour de force showing. The foods prepared by Concha y Toro executive chef Ruth Van Waerebeek worked fabulously with Marcelo’s wines. Prior to sitting down to lunch we tasted a few newly launched wines outside the Marques line. Here are the six wines from this afternoon that really struck a chord with me. Read the rest over at The Daily Meal

Chile’s Concha y Toro Makes Food & Budget-Friendly Wines

MarquesConcha y Toro is the largest winery in Chile. The depth and variety of their portfolio spans many styles, price-points, and varietals. They employ several winemakers; each focuses on a different tier of wines. I recently had lunch with Marcelo Papa at Haven’t Kitchen. He’s the Concha y Toro winemaker responsible, among others, for the Marqués de Casa Concha line. These offerings are single vineyard, site-specific wines. Over lunch we tasted a number of the selections in this range, each paired with a food that showcased a different global influence. The goal was to highlight the ability of their wines to pair with cuisine of various styles from all over the world. If wine pairing is performance, this was a tour de force showing. The foods prepared by Concha y Toro executive chef Ruth Van Waerebeek worked fabulously with Marcelo’s wines. Prior to sitting down to lunch we tasted a few newly launched wines outside the Marques line. Here are the six wines from this afternoon that really struck a chord with me. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Viña Ventisquero - 2011 Grey Carménère, Single Block

Carménère isn't exclusive to Chile but it can certainly flourish there. As such there are more fine examples of this varietal coming out of Chile than anywhere else in the world, frankly it’s not even close. It’s a wine made in a wide swath of styles. They can vary from big, bold and juicy, to pleasingly herbaceous and earthy. I think they’re often at their best when all of those qualities come together in one package. So here’s a look at a Carménère that does just that, in impressive fashion. The Viña Ventisquero 2011 Grey Carménère was produced from fruit sourced in a single block. The Trinidad Vineyard sits in the Maipo Valley and all of the fruit was taken from Block 5. This wine is composed of predominately Carménère (97%), with a bit of Petit Verdot (3%) blended in as well. Fruit was picked and sorted manually. Barrel aging took place over 8 months in entirely French oak. 33% of the barrels were new, the balance a combination of second and third time use. This Carménère has a suggested retail price of $23.99.

Violet and blueberry aromas fill the nose of this wine along with a gentle but persistent bit of pleasing green herb. The palate is juicy and fresh with a ton of plum and blackberry flavors leading the charge on what is a substantial core of purple and black fruit flavors, Cinnamon and black pepper join a host of spices that lead into the finish which has substantial length. Earth, rhubarb, pomegranate and echoes of chocolate sauce are all in evidence as the flavors linger persistently. This is a mouth filling wine that has both bold flavors and proportion.

The Viña Ventisquero 2011 Grey Carménère is a very fine example of this varietal that brings together a broad array of taste elements and styles. More than that though, this is an absolutely killer wine value. Shop around and you’ll find this wine for closer to $20, at that price it’s offers tons of bang for the buck. Add in the fact that it’ll drink well for another 7 or 8 years and you have a slam dunk of a deal.

Viña Ventisquero - 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc / 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir / 2010 Grey Carmenère / 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon

When I was in Chile last month I participated in a virtual Blogger tasting. I’d taken part in previous tastings of that kind from home before. But on this occasion I was onsite in an adjacent room while the winemakers discussed their varied offerings a few feet away. Getting to mingle with a roomful of winemakers before and after the tasting was one of many highlights that dotted a wonderful week in Chile. There were several standouts for me that day; one of them came from producer Viña Ventisquero. The Cabernet Sauvignon from their Grey tier of wines really made an impression, so once I was back home I decided to take a closer look at a few of their current releases. Here are my thoughts on four of them including the Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted while in Chile and had the opportunity to revisit for this story. The Ventisquero 2012 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees for a period of four months. This offering has a suggested retail price of $12.99. The nose here is fresh and lively with citrus and orchard fruits in abundance; hints of spice play a supporting role. A grassy undercurrent underlies the palate which is framed by lemon zest, orange and grapefruit characteristics. Limestone, white pepper, and a touch of vanilla bean lead the finish which is light, fruity, zesty and crisp. This Sauvignon Blanc will pair wonderfully with entrée salads, soft cheeses and roasted veggies to name a few choices. It’s also quite delicious all by itself. There are quite a few excellent Sauvignon Blanc’s coming out f Chile at a host of different price points with a variety of intents. In the roughly $10 range this selection from Ventisquero is a terrific value that is indicative of the great things being accomplished with this grape in Chile. Drink this wine over the next year or so when it’s young, vibrant flavors are at their most exuberant.

The Ventisquero 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir was made utilizing fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. This offering is 100% Pinot. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled open tanks. The wine was aged in a combination of French oak (70%) and stainless steel (30%) over a period of 10 months. This Pinot has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Bing cherry, wild strawberry and vanilla bean characteristics are in full evidence on the nose of this wine. Hints of mushroom and gentle red fruit flavors make up the even keeled palate. Cranberry, pomegranate leather and spices are part of the finish which has solid length and persistence. This is a perfectly dry wine with tons of varietal character, two things often not in evidence in Pinot Noir at this price level. The bottom line is this wine is an extraordinary Pinot Noir for the price. This would be an excellent wine to buy a case or more of. If you’re searching for a wine to have around the house to give out as stocking stuffers or last minute gifts look no further. Your Pinot loving friends and family will thank you for turning them on to this tremendous little value.

The Ventisquero 2010 Grey Carmenère was produced from fruit sourced at Trinidad Vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley. This is a 100% varietal offering. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in French oak over 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. An additional 8 months of bottle aging occurred prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Boysenberry, vanilla and violet aromas burst out from the nose of this Carmenère. The palate is juicy and pleasing with plums, blackberry and berry fruit flavors galore. Green herb notes underscore things here and play a supporting role. Black tea, plum pudding spices, minerals and black pepper all emerge on the finish. There is a lovely balance in this wine with loads of eager fruit buoyed by lots of spice and a lovely collection of herbaceous characteristics. The Ventisquero Carmenère works equally well paired with full flavored foods as it does on its own.

The Ventisquero 2009 Grey Cabernet Sauvignon was made using fruit sourced from within Block 38 which is a hillside section of the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), this wine also has some Petit Verdot (6%) blended in. This wine was entirely aged in French oak over 18 months; 33% of the barrels were new. No less than 8 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. The Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Cherry and raspberry aromas dominate the nose of this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. White pepper and hints of anise support the plate which is loaded with red fruits in the form of wild strawberry and cherry. Hints of black fruits are present as well and they dart through from time to time. Clove, cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg emerge on the finish along with cocoa, minerals and continued cherry and other warming red fruit flavors. This is an elegant, well structured and beautifully proportioned wine for the money. A Cabernet at this level of quality from some other regions would easily retail for $35-$40. This wine is delicious now and will drink well over the next 8 or so years. However it’ll be at its best over the next 5.

It’s fair to say I was highly impressed with this quartet of wines. The Reserva line offerings are excellent buys in their price range. If you drink wines for around $10 you’re going to be really happy with what you get for your money here. The Pinot Noir in particular is brilliant. There are very, very few Pinot Noirs under $15 that are worth spending much time talking about. This example from Ventisquero is amongst their tiny number. The Grey tier wines are quite lovely as well. It was nice to see that the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally notable when I re-tasted it at home roughly a month after sampling it in Chile. Their portfolio, like that of many Chilean producers is vast, with the quality of these 4 selections I look forward to exploring it further and reporting on my findings; I suspect their will be some other gems to be had.

Exploring Terroir: A Peek into Chile’s Top Shelf, Site Driven Wines

Terroir is one of those ideas that is thrown around a lot as a buzz word in the wine industry. Depending on who it is bringing it up there can be a bit of controversy surrounding it. And while it may seem a little out there to some folks to think that Cabernet Sauvignon for example planted in a specific spot can be imbued with very different characteristics than a Cabernet Sauvignon planted a few hundred feet away, the truth is in the bottle. All one really needs to better understand the concept of Terroir is a taste, once you’ve experienced it first hand it’s easier to believe. Of course it’s a sliding scale and not every wine or more specifically every place will impart that. Furthermore some wines are made in such a style that their Terroir ends up being masked. That’s a different part of the subject for another day. This is about wines that do show their sense of place. I attended Vinos De Terroir hosted by Wines of Chile. The concept was a focused look at 10 great examples of Terroir driven wines from Chile. The event took place at Colicchio & Sons, hosted by Pedro Parra PhD and Terroir expert, author Mark Oldman and Sandy Block Master of Wine. Over the course of a couple of hours we took a long hard look at 10 wines in a classroom style format. After that we sat down for lunch and the same 10 wines were available to taste with our meal. These wines were uniformly excellent examples of Terroir. What follows are some reflections on the ones that were my personal favorites. The one white wine from this particular tasting was the Casa Marín 2011 Cipress Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. This is a 100% Varietal wine sourced from a vineyard at the very top of a hillside. The fruit came from 6 blocks within this specific vineyard. It sits 4 km from the ocean and is one of the most extreme plantings in all of Chile. The conditions are very windy and result in low yields. This wine has a suggested retail price of $28. There’s a huge burst of lemon characteristics that explode from this Sauvignon Blanc. They’re joined by bits of green herb to form a pleasing nose. Citrus, tropical fruits and lots of mineral notes are all part of the complex and layered palate which has excellent weight. Lemon curd, bits of candied tropical fruits and a bevy of spice notes are part of the persistent finish. This Sauvignon Blanc is a real knockout, impressive in every way. It’s well worth making a special effort to locate. I can't overstate how phenomenal this Sauvignon Blanc is, grab some and taste its excellence for yourself.

Concha y Toro’s 2008 Carmín de Peumo is a blend of primarily Carménère (90%), with Cabernet Sauvignon (7.5%) and Cabernet Franc (2.5%) blended in. The vineyard this fruit was sourced from has river bench soils with alluvial clay loams. It’s a cool area that promotes a long growing season. The wine was aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak. This offering has a suggested retail price of $150. Bits of green herb emerge from the nose of this wine along with red and black fruit aromas. Blackberry and cherry flavors are in strong evidence on the palate along with spices to spare, and minerals aplenty. The finish is tremendously pleasing and impressive in length and perseverance; sour black fruits, hints of smoked meat and continued spice and mineral notes all play a role. This is an impeccably balanced example of Carménère that shows off oodles of eager fruit as well as the wisps of green herb that are part of this varietal when it’s well made. When Carménère isn’t properly grown or handled it goes too far in one direction or the other. This wine sits perfectly in the middle. Carmín de Peumo is a stunning and world class example of a varietal that’s on the rise.

Lapostolle’s 2009 Clos Apalta is a blend of Carménère (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (19%), and Petit Verdot (3%). The fruit for this selection came from hillside vineyards in Apalta that feature diverse soils. Aging occurred in entirely new French oak over a period of 24 months. This wine has a suggested retail price of $90. The 2009 Clos Apalta has a nose loaded with mission figs and plums with bits of red fruit interspersed as well. The juicy and willing palate is absolutely studded with velvety, dark fruit flavors, savory spices and bits of graphite. There is tremendous depth here from the first sip to the last impression this wine leaves. Fruit, spice, minerals and bits of earth reverberate for a long while after the last bit has been swallowed. This has been one of the benchmark wines of Chile for a number of years now. The 2009 vintage simply continues that reputation forward and proves again that it’s a well deserved one. If you have never tasted Clos Apalta before you owe it to yourself to do so; the 2009 vintage is as good a jumping off point as any.

Finally we have the Montes 2009 Folly. This is a 100% Syrah wine. The fruit for this wine came from the highest slopes of the La Finca de Apalta vineyard. Aging of this wine occurred over 18 months in New French oak. The suggested retail price is $90. Dark fruit aromas gush from the nose of this Syrah with stunning conviction. Blackberry and plum flavors dominate the palate along with minerals, spice, coffee, chocolate sauce and more. The finish shows off dusty cocoa as well as continued spice and dark fruit flavors. This is a wonderful example of Syrah that is delicious today but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age. It will work particularly well paired with full flavored foods.

There are two things exhibited by this quartet of wines as well as the others tasted alongside them. First is the fact that terroir does matter and it is being utilized in Chile to make wonderful site specific wines. Second, these wines underscore the notion that Chile is producing wines at a wide array of levels, including offerings that can compete with the best in the world. The bottom line is whatever sort of wine you’re looking to drink and regardless of how much money you want to spend, Chile should be on your radar.

Visiting Viña Santa Rita and Tasting Their Generous Portfolio

My recent trip to Chile was impressive on a number of different levels. One thing that stood out to me in particular was the diversity of the winery properties we got to visit. They ranged in size, scope and style. One of the more beautiful and historic was Santa Rita. The property there is simply gorgeous. Beautiful gardens within large expanses of property, a chapel, historic hotel and an authentic restaurant and more come together to form a wonderful destination for wine lovers as well as anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of the earth. They offer a diversity of touring and tasting options that should appeal to visitors of all sots. Check their website for specific details. While at Santa Rita we toured the property and facility, had lunch at Doña Paula their onsite Restaurant; most importantly however we tasted through the portfolio. As is common in Chile Santa Rita has several tiers of wines. Their entry level wines start at around $9 dollars and their top shelf selection runs around $75; in between are a host of selections in various prices with varying styles, intents and palates in mind. In total we tasted through 15 selections during our formal sit down tasting, what follows are my impressions of a handful of my personal favorites from that day.

Santa Rita 2011 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc D.O Casablanca Valley: This is a 100% varietal wine made from estate fruit. The cool climate of Casablanca is one of several areas in Chile that are particularly well suited for this grape. The Reserva tier of wines has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Pineapple aromas and flavors are apparent throughout this wine which has a lovely nose and medium weight palate. Pear and citrus flavors play a role as well. This wine has a crisp finish and zippy acidity. All three Sauvignon Blanc’s we sampled were well made and appealing. However I found this one to be the knockout value of the trio.

Santa Rita 2009 Reserva Malbec D.O. Colchagua Valley: This release is a blend of primarily Malbec (85%) with a healthy dollop of Merlot (15%) blended in. This wine was aged in American and French oak barrels for approximately 8 months. It has a suggested retail price of $12.99. This is a classically styled Malbec where black fruit aromas and flavors dominate. The palate is layered and persistent with plum and raspberry flavors. Hints of espresso emerge on the finish along with copious spices. The tannins are chewy and substantial but yield with some air. This is an excellent Malbec that has plenty of willing fruit flavors but also isn’t overwrought in any way. For the money this is an outright steal that may just completely change your view of the quality of under $15 Malbec forever.

Santa Rita 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Maipo Valley: This wine is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon (95%) with a touch of Cabernet Franc (5%) blended in. The vines utilized have 15 years of age on them. Barrel aging occurred over 14 months in a combination of 1st, 2nd and 3rd use oak. The Medalla Real range of wines has a suggested retail price of $19.99. This wine has a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose of red and black berries laced with hints of toast and wisps of vanilla bean. Boatloads of cherry flavors dominate the palate and lead to pomegranate characteristics on the finish along with earth and black pepper. This is a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20. A Cabernet of this quality, depth and persistence from Napa Valley to use one point of comparison would easily fetch $35-$40.

Santa Rita 2007 Triple C, D.O. Maipo Valley: This offering is a blend of Cabernet Franc (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Carménère (5%). The Carménère vines utilized have more than 70 years of age on them. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in new French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $35. Triple C is lead by an explosive nose loaded with cherries, leather and violets. Throughout the complex palate cherry flavors continue to dominate the show, Pencil lead, earth and spices reverberate throughout the lengthy finish. Firm but yielding tannins mark this wines impressive structure. This blend is a bit on the young side now, but oh so delicious and impressive. For it to really shine it needs a couple of years in the cellar or 2-3 hours in the decanter. In any case it’s a lovely blend that it sure to impress. This is one of a number of wines I tasted on my trip to Chile that indicate with confidence that Blends will be the key to Chile’s rise in the wine world over the next few years.

This tasty quartet of wines represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Santa Rita portfolio. What I had the opportunity to taste was a well made array of wines whose tiers are well defined. Sometimes tasting 3 or 4 examples of one varietal from a single winery leaves me shaking my head. That’s because they are often far too similar because a house style has prevailed over letting the fruit speak. This was most definitely not the case at Santa Rita. Tasting these wines side by side the distinction between vineyards, range and stylistic choices guided by the winemakers was clear. I urge you to try a wine from Santa Rita in a price range you’re comfortable with and them dabble in various directions after you discover what I did: how well made, delicious and value driven their wines are regardless of price-point. And if you're in Chile, make Santa Rita one of your destinations.

The State of Chilean Wines Today: Quality, Value, and Diversity

The State of Chilean Wines Today: Quality, Value, and Diversity

Cabernet Sauvignon was king when I first started drinking Chilean wines some 20 years ago. And not just Cabernet in general, but specifically bargain priced Cabernet. Most wine drinking folks I know rifled through bottles of $6 or so Cabernet Sauvignon looking for gems; we found quite a few. And for many people that’s the lingering impression of Chilean Wine. The trouble is it’s no longer a valid image. Sure you can still find a bargain and some of them are Cabernet Sauvignon, but there is so much more Chilean wine on U.S. shelves deserving your attention and your dollars that it would be a real shame to limit yourself. I knew this before I went to Chile last week. So one of my goals in visiting was to verify it and see what they had going on that might be less obvious from 5,000 miles away. So I’ve compiled a handful of strong impressions of Chilean Wines gleamed from the trenches.

Argentina gets the attention but Chile makes some ass kicking Malbec: It’s Argentina’s signature grape so they should be at the forefront. In some ways they are, the general public thinks about Argentina first for Malbec. Some of them are terrific, but unfortunately way too many examples are made in an overtly fruit forward style with a lackluster body and no finish to speak of. I was a little surprised with the number of Malbecs I got to taste in Chile. While I knew it was there, its presence is larger than I would have guessed. More importantly the ones I tasted where almost all uniformly well made. By and large they were elegant, balanced and well proportioned. Often times they were made from old vine fruit. I hope we start seeing Chilean Malbec on our shelves in reasonable numbers soon.

Tiers baby: I’ve often written about wineries like Rodney Strong in Sonoma County whose tiered approach to their portfolio is consumer friendly. This is true in a very large percentage of Chilean Wineries. They often have 3 or 4 tiers of wine. Often the entry-level wines retail for around $10 on our shelves and they have a top-level that might reach into the $30’s and $40’s, as well as occasionally higher. In between are wines in the teens and $20’s. What’s remarkable is that there is more often than not quality, value, and diversity to be had at each tier. In Chile wineries that produce what we view as very large quantities of wine often do so at a high level. One of the main reasons for this is simple: estate fruit. By owning the vineyards outright or having fruit under long-term contract they have a say in precisely how the vineyards are maintained. This can (and often does) lead to high quality in the bottle at each price point. The intent of a producer’s $8 Sauvignon Blanc and their $20 one are often quite different as are their appeals and projected end user. But what's important is getting value regardless of price; in Chile that is often the case.

There are some delicious small production wines being made: Sure there are lots and lots of excellent Sauvignon Blancs coming from Chile and some tasty Pinot Noirs now too, but that’s not all. I had the opportunity to taste a delicious and marvelously dry Gewürztraminer made by Nimbus (part of the Santa Carolina Family of wines), as well as a lovely sparkling wine from Cono Sur to name a couple.  Viognier is making some ripples in Chile too and hopefully before long we’ll see a greater number of them available in the US as well. I've mentioned a few whites but the same can be said for reds. More than one example of varietal Petit Verdot I had was lovely as were a couple of tastes of Carignan. In some cases these wines aren't on our shelves in the US yet, but they’re important to mention for the coming diversity and quality they represent.

Blends will set Chile apart: Almost every winemaking culture has some blends. In places like Bordeaux they’re everything. In a lot of other places, well quite frankly they’re doing their best to mimic Bordeaux. Certainly Chile works to make great wine and learning lessons from places like Bordeaux or Napa to name two examples is part of the equation. But I also got the very strong sense that Chile is happy to be writing their own rule book when it comes to blends. Sure some of them contain the usual suspects of Bordeaux varietals. However grapes like Carménère that have been marginalized or fallen by the wayside in Bordeaux often steal the show in Chile. Additionally with red blends Syrah often makes a mark too as well as some others. Some of the most impressive wines from Chile I’ve tasted over the last 5 years have been blends. This remained constant on my trip last week where I tasted lots of delicious blends. It’s important to note that with blends like with varietal wines there are values at many price levels.

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon can still be a great value: While there are no longer boatloads of awesome deals on $6 Cabernet Sauvignon there are still many deals to be had. Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile when it’s grown in the right spot and treated properly in the winery can blow away a lot of countries on QPR. What I found on this trip is that the Cabernets in the $15-$25 range were particularly noteworthy in terms of value. These are balanced wines that are often perfect for everyday enjoyment as well as drinking over the next few years. At a higher cost there are some truly age-worthy wines. One example was the Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Rita. We tasted both the current release (2009) and a 15 year old bottle (1997). Jameson Fink, a fellow writer who was on the same trip wrote about this particular experience and it’s well worth a read.

Diversity is King of Chile now: Everywhere we went there was something unique to taste. In some cases it was a Sparkling Rosé made from an almost lost grape. Sometimes it was a Moscato that stunned us all by how lovely and dry it was. On one occasion it was an Old Vine Sauvignon Gris. These are just a couple of examples. Chilean winemakers are experimenting in the vineyards with new farming techniques as well as plantings of new varietals or the reclamation of abandoned old vineyards. In the Winery they’re also experimenting with how they utilize oak, what they blend together and frankly just about every decision they make. What that means to us is we’re going to get to taste a wide swath of different wines from Chile.

In short I was pretty knocked out by what they have going on in Chile. I’ve really enjoyed drinking the wines from there for a long time now. But in 2012 instead of thinking of them for one thing, I think of Chile for an ever widening variety of different varietals, blends and more. Grab some Chilean wines and taste the quality, value and diversity I was lucky enough to witness firsthand.

A Visit to Veramonte in Chile's Casablanca Valley

Years ago when I first started drinking Chilean wines I tasted some juice from a host of producers, many of them blurry to the memory at this late date. However a select few of the names still resonate for me; one of those is Veramonte. I recall drinking and enjoying several of their varietal wines, which make up the Reserva tier, consistently, the Sauvignon Blanc in particular has long been a favorite value wine of mine. My interest shifted to a higher gear for me when they first released Primus, a Red Blend. That was an impressive wine for the money when it was first released. As time went on I drank more and more Chilean wines but kept returning to the Veramonte releases. In the last few years that’s included the Ritual line of wines as well as the expanded lineup under the Primus name. So when I found out Veramonte was on the itinerary of Winery visits for my Chile trip I was thrilled. There is something particularly interesting and exciting to me about visiting a winery for the first time whose wines I’ve enjoyed for close to two decades. I wondered what I’d learn, that the contents of all those empty Veramonte bottles hadn’t taught me.

Most of our visit was spent with Winemaker Rodrigo Soto as our guide. He’s the Director of Winemaking for Veramonte and prior to his current gig he most recently spent six years working at Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma County. Benzinger is well known for their Sustainable and Biodynamic winemaking practices. In speaking to Rodrigo it was fascinating to learn what he has planned for Veramonte. This is a successful winery that already makes delicious wines, but he and owner Agustin Huneeus aren’t satisfied with that. Their drive is to completely change the farming practices, eschewing herbicides and the like for sustainable and natural methods. The goal is Sheppard these vineyards for future generations, as well as of course making even more delicious wines. Rodrigo made the point that Chilean wine in general stands today where California did a couple of decades ago. As such, the perspective and knowledge Rodrigo gained working in Sonoma will serve Veramonte well on their move to the next level. After a tour of the winery and a look at some vineyards we sat down and tasted some highlights of the current portfolio. What follows are some brief impressions of a couple of my favorites.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc – This wine is richer and riper than the entry level Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a bit more heft than the average Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a spicy and round wine with a mineral laden finish. Most of the fruit was sourced from two high performing blocks. Their goal of proactive farming as opposed to winery manipulation shines through in this release.

Veramonte – 2011 Ritual Pinot Noir - This wine has a fresh nose with cherry, strawberry and bits of herbs. Fruit leads the palate with savory/spice playing a lesser but present role. Black cherry and a touch of plum are present. The 2011 has a solid finish. This continues to be an excellent value.

The Ritual wines have been noteworthy to me since their release a handful of vintages back. The current editions do nothing to dissuade me, if anything the style has come fully into view with several consistent vintages under their belts. If you enjoy the Veramonte Reserva tier of wines, the releases in the Ritual range are an obvious place to go next. The Ritual wines are generally available under for $20.

In addition to the Veramonte wines we had the opportunity to taste Neyen This is a partnership between Raul Rojas who founded it in Apalta in 2002, and Agustin Huneeus. The wine is sourced from Old Vines in Apalta planted to Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon. Neyen is their take on a single spectacular wine made from old vines in an area already regarded for some highly respected Chilean releases. This wine sells in the US for around $45 and the current vintage is the 2008. If you like big mouth-filling reds with depth and character it’s one to consider. As delicious as it is today, my sense is that it will improve in the bottle over the next 5 years and be quite lovely for another 5 or 6 after that.

Veramonte was a place I was really looking forward to visiting. Not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them on many levels. I’m excited by the plans they have to take things to a new level going forward. These wines are already well made, delicious and more than reasonably priced. More natural farming practices in the vineyards and around the winery in general stand to enhance what they’re doing. I’m excited to continue drinking these wines for years to come, you should be too!

First Day in Chile: Lunch at Miguel Torres Restaurante De Vinos

A couple of hours after arriving in Chile I found myself in the lobby of our hotel meeting up with my travelling companions for the next week. We were heading to lunch. The first meal together with a bunch of folks you don’t know can be telling. This particular lunch screamed, fun week ahead. I’m lucky to be travelling and learning about Chile with a friendly, diverse group that’s as thirsty for knowledge and well wine as I am. We proceeded to walk a few blocks to Miguel Torres Restaurante De Vinos the sight of our first meal together and, as it turned out later, a nightcap. What we experienced was a wonderful meal accompanied by some terrific wines. And speaking of wine the first sip I took on Chilean soil was a marvelous welcome. One of the folks on the trip noticed a sparkling wine she’d tasted prior and loved so we all decided to give it a shot. The wine was the Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rosé. This wine was produced from the grape Pais which played a large role in Chile prior to the influx of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. I can’t speak to other examples as to the best of my knowledge I’d not tasted the grape prior. One thing is certain I’m curious to taste some additional ones now. This was a really lovely Rosé, perfectly dry with persistent red fruits, spice and a more than reasonably long finish.

The food at Miguel Torres was as delicious as the wine. A feast of appetizers laid out in front of us disappeared quickly as did the first wine. Chickpea Fritters and a traditional omelet with potato and Piquillo peppers were my favorite bites amongst the appetizers. Both worked really well with the Rosé as well as the next wine, the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carmenère. The Miguel Torres portfolio has several tiers of wines and Cordillera is one of them; it represents smaller craftsman productions. This wine blends Carmenère with small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Delicious off the bat and featuring appealing black fruits, it really came into its own after getting a little bit of air. Carmenère promises to become a bigger and more widely known varietal for Chile, perhaps a calling card of sorts as Malbec is for neighboring Argentina. This example from Miguel Torres only strengthens that notion for me. We followed that wine up with the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Carignan. One of my hopes for this visit to Chile is to taste many examples of things like Carignan, varietals that aren’t getting as much attention yet as they perhaps deserve. That said this wine was a good place to start that journey for me. It was interesting to compare to the Carmenère we’d just finished, particularly as it was not just from the same producer but also in the same tier. Sometimes producers fall into the trap of each tier being overworked by a house style that overwhelms the grapes characteristics. This was happily not the case here. Each wine stood out on it’s own with varietal character to spare. The Carignan was a bit more reserved and slightly austere where the Carmenère was juicier and more giving up front. It would depend on my mood and what I was eating on any given day but as it developed in the glass my preference shifted to the Carignan. It played hard to get a little and perhaps that was part of it. In any case I’d happily drink either one. And if they were paired with the wonderful foods we enjoyed at Miguel Torres, all the better.

Our meal ended with a selection of desserts accompanied by the Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardía Reserva Privada, a Late Harvest Wine made from Riesling. This was a sweet and lovely ending to the meal. As delicious as it was I’d bet this particular dessert wine would be even better served paired with a cheese course.

I mentioned a nightcap earlier and it took place in the same spot. After lunch we were given a tour of downtown Santiago. This afforded us the opportunity to see quite a few sections of the city; both the newer financial district where we’re currently staying as well as older areas that feature distinct architecture dating back to about 1910. After the tour was over we went back to the hotel for some downtime followed by dinner. After dinner our party was split into two, three of us chose well needed rest and the remainder of us chose more wine. We decided to go back to Miguel Torres and once there the obvious choice to drink became the Miguel Torres 2008 Cordillera Syrah. We’d had and loved the other red selections in this tier earlier so it seemed natural to close the day out with this offering. In addition to Syrah some Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier were blended in. Red cherry fruits filled the nose along with some darker berry components. They all carried through the palate along with spices and bits of chocolate. The finish which had a touch of smoke and green herb also showed nice length. In short this wine was what I expected after tasting the other two in the tier; a well made Syrah that showed off the varietal. It was delicious by itself but will sing with its supper.

That last bottle of wine was a wonderful way to cap my first day in Chile. The wines, food and people I spent the day with all came together and formed a harbinger of what promises to be a brilliant week, tasting and exploring what Chile has to offer.

Gabe's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

The 2011 Holiday Season is here and with it comes shopping and gift giving. There are all sorts of gifts to consider but I think wines and spirits are excellent gifts for those that appreciate such things. With that in mind I decided to compile a list of some items in that category. To make my list the items below had to meet some particular criteria: 1) it has to be something I heartily recommend. 2) It needs to be a good value. 3) It should be relatively easy to locate. 4) The list should take into account peoples various budget sizes. With that in mind here are 8 offerings that the wine and spirits lovers on your gift list will be happy to receive. The Lamberti Prosecco Veneto D.O.C. was made from fruit sourced at hillside vineyards throughout Treviso. This sparkling wine was produced utilizing the Charmat Method. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $13.99. This Prosecco has an effusive nose that shows off spice and fruits. Stone and citrus fruit flavors star through the palate along with loads of tingly spices. Brioche and hints of crumbled biscotti emerge on the finish which has good length. This wine shows off hints of sweetness and is a very appealing wine. It’ll work well on its own or paired with food. It would be a particularly nice choice for a Brunch. Sparkling wine generally makes people happy. Here’s a tasty choice that makes a perfect, modestly priced gift.

The Apaltagua 2009 Envero Carménère was produced from fruit sourced in the Apalta section of Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This is an estate vineyard 60 hectares in size. The 2009 vintage is a blend of Carménère (93%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (7%). Barrel aging took place over 12 months; an additional 6 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $16.00. This Carménère has a fresh and lively nose. It shows off red and black fruit aromas as well as hints of eucalyptus. Juicy black currant and cherry flavors lead the palate as well a host of spices. This Carménère has a solid finish that lingers with sour black fruits and continued spices. Yielding tannins and firm acidity mark the structure and make this a terrific food wine. Carménère has been making inroads with US wine lovers over the last few years. This is a grape with lots of appeal to a wide array of folks. It’s ready to please fruits, as well as the fact that it’s still a discovery grape for some make this a particularly excellent gift for the newer wine lovers on your list.

The Sandeman Founder’s Reserve Port was produced from fruit sourced in the Douro Region of Portugal. Fermentation of this wine was stopped with the addition of chilled Brandy. This Port is aged for at least 5 years prior to release. It has a suggested retail price of $19. The Founder’s reserve has a deep red color, looking most like a young Vintage Port. The aromas it gives off lean towards red fruits laced with copious spices. Cherry flavors drive the palate and lead to a wonderful compote of dark, brooding berry flavors which are joined by plum pudding spices. Warming red fruits and loads of sweet dark chocolate mark the finish, which has tremendous length for the price point. The Founder’s Reserve is a great choice to drink while your Vintage Ports are aging. For its reasonable price tag it makes an affordable gift that offers lots of flavor and quality. This is an adaptable Port that’s delicious on its own, paired with desserts or used as the base of an inventive cocktail. It’s also currently available in decorative tins, perfect for gift giving.

The Biltmore Estate 2007 Blanc de Blancs Brut was produced using méthode champenoise. This offering is 100% Chardonnay, produced from fruit sourced in the Russian River Valley. After temperature controlled fermentation at cold conditions this wine underwent a secondary fermentation in bottle and aged for approximately 24 months prior to disgorging. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24.99. Lemon Zest and hints of brioche fill the nose of this 2007 Sparkling Wine. Apple, citrus and Bartlett pear flavors are all on display throughout the palate. Hints of ginger and flaky biscuits emerge on the finish which has nice length. This is a perfectly dry wine which is particularly well suited to pair with dinner. It’s fine on it’s own but excels when matched with the right dish. This is highly recommended for those who are open to New World Sparkling Wines.

The Frescobaldi 2006 Montesodi Riserva Chianti Rufina DOCG was produced from fruit sourced at the Castello di Nipozzano Pelago home estate. This vineyard sits roughly 1,300 feet above sea level. The vines have an average age of 16 years on them. This wine is 100% Sangiovese. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats over 10 days. Aging took place in Barriques over 24 months; 6 months of bottle aging followed.  The Montesodi Riserva Chianti is only made in select vintages. This wine has a suggested retail price of $52. Violet, rose petal, and dried red fruit aromas fill the nose of this Chianti Riserva. Dried fruit flavors, cherry and blueberry in particular, star throughout the palate which has impressive depth and complexity. Layers of spice emerge and lead to the finish which shows off black tea, and hints of dusty chocolate. This wine has tremendous length, awesome acidity and terrific overall structure. This is everything you would want in top shelf Chianti. It’ll drink well for at least a decade, if it’s being consumed in the short term it should be decanted for a couple of hours for best results. This is a tremendous gift for the Gourmand in your life who likes to slave over a great meal and pair it with a fabulous wine.

The Rodney Strong 2008 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in a single vineyard. It was from this vineyard in 1971 that Sonoma County’s first single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was produced. This offering is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aging took place over 22 months in all French oak; 47% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $75. Deep, dark berry aromas, toast and vanilla fill the bold nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate here is simply overrun with blackberry, black plum, raspberry and cherry flavors. Black pepper and clove spices also make their presence known. Roast espresso, sweet dark chocolate and additional spices emerge on the finish which has excellent length and remarkable depth. This is a big, bold, brash, spicy mouthful of Cabernet Sauvignon that does a tremendous job of showing off its Alexander Valley roots. While Alexander’s Crown is delicious now it’ll benefit from time in the bottle. Those with the patience to lay this down for a decade will be justly rewarded. If someone on your holiday gift list loves California Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll have a hard time finding a more appropriate gift than this wine which is a jewel in the Rodney Strong Portfolio.

The Sandeman 30 Year old Tawny Port was aged in wooden casks. Over a period of time the fortified wine receives slow exposure to air which ages it and changes the color to the beautiful caramel typical of Tawny Ports Throughout their life the wines utilized are racked from time to time. As the name indicates the average age of the wines used to assemble this Tawny Port is 30. This Port has a suggested retail price of $99.99. Stone fruit in the form of Apricot underpinned by yellow peach lead the nose of this Port along with fruitcake spice and. Apricot flavors continue through the palate where they are dominant. Honey, hazelnut and almond characteristic are present along with white pepper spice. The impressively long finish shows off chamomile tea as well as a bit of caramel and continued spices and stone fruit flavors. This Port can certainly act as dessert all by itself. That said it works extremely well paired with food. A cheese course would be my top pick to match it with. In any case if there’s a Port lover in your life this would be a wonderful gift they will be sure to treasure.

It’s not often that I stray from the wine world here. However sometimes the mood or occasion calls for a beverage not made from grapes. Single Malt Scotch is one of the spirits that often has crossover appeal to those who like to sit and philosophize over their wines. So With that in mind here’s a look at a Single Malt that has really hit the spot for me on a number of occasions.

The Balvenie 12 Year DoubleWood is a Single Malt Scotch. During the aging process it’s moved from a traditional oak cask to a European Sherry cask. This Scotch sells for about $49.99. This Scotch has a great big nose that really develops over 15 or so minutes in the glass. Vanilla and hints of apricot are present. From the very first sip this Scotch distinguished itself by presenting lots of depth and a range of flavors. It is simultaneously fruity and spicy with a nice overall bite. The finish is above average in length and has rich, honeyed flavors and a bit of warmth in the final note. It’s apparent that the use of two types of wood for varying lengths of time really added to the complexity and finesse of this Scotch. If someone on your list is into Single Malt’s this offering from Balvenie is an excellent choice. It’s a distinct expression that stands apart from many of the 12 years Single Malts in its price range.

The selections above provide some excellent choices for gift giving this Holiday Season. I happily stand squarely behind them as good values in their respective categories as well as really tasty products that I enjoy a great deal. Happy Shopping.

Primus by Veramonte - 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2009 The Blend

Veramonte has been a consistent source of quality wines from Chile for over 10 years. The two wines in particular that have stood out to me over and over again for quite awhile are the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and the Primus Blend. Of late more selections have been added under the Primus umbrella. Today I’ll take a look at the brand new release Cabernet Sauvignon and the latest vintage of The Blend. The Primus 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit grown in the Marchigue Vineyards in Colchagua Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (92%) this wine also contains a small amount of Syrah (8%). After the fruit was picked the grapes under went two manual sorts to ensure careful bunch selection. Aging was accomplished over 15 months in French oak; 25% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Aromas of plums, violets and black raspberries fill the nose of this 2009 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. A host of dark, brooding fruit flavors fills the palate of this wine. Blackberry, black currant and blueberry are of note. Hints of pencil lead creep in as well. The finish of this Cabernet, which has good length for the price point, shows off kirsch liqueur, sweet dark chocolate, black tea, and espresso notes. This wine has soft, supple tannins and firm acidity. This Cabernet is delicious both by itself and paired with things like roasted meats or hard cheeses.

The Primus 2008 “The Blend” was produced using fruit grown and sourced in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This offering combines Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Syrah (21%), Carmenère (19%) and Merlot (15%). Barrel aging was accomplished over 14 months in French oak; 25% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Red raspberry, bramble, green herb and hints of licorice are all part of the inviting nose on this 2008 blend. Strawberry and rhubarb characteristics along with a core of spices form the backbone of the tasty and multi-layered palate of this wine. Sour black fruit and continued herbs emerge on the finish. This wine has a lengthy close that’s smooth and lush with a bit of racy acidity punctuating it. This is an excellent food wine that would be particularly suited for southern Italian cuisine.

This was the first time I tried the Primus Cabernet Sauvignon and I was glad to see that it’s another well made wine in the Veramonte line that provides good varietal character and excellent value. The Primus Blend continues to impress. It’s been a consistent value year after year, offering lots of bang for the buck. The 2008 continues that trend. Check these wines out, you’ll be glad you did.

Santa Carolina - 2009 Reserva Carménère / 2008 Reserva de Familia Carménère

Chile’s Santa Carolina has a history that dates back more than 130 years. Like many producers from Chile they have several tiers of wines priced from budget friendly to premium. Santa Carolina has vineyards planted throughout Chile and are amongst the producers leading the charge of innovation. Today I’ll take a look at two of their current releases of Carménère. The Santa Carolina 2009 Reserva Carménère was produced using fruit sourced at La Rinconada Vineyards in the Rapel Valley. This offering is 100% Carménère. Grapes were hand harvested. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $10.99. 

Heady dark fruit aromas lead the nose of this 2009 Carménère. Earth and tree bark characteristics are present as well. Blackberry, plum, huckleberry and chicory flavors are at hand in droves throughout the palate which shows good density. Black pepper, sweet dark chocolate and hints of espresso bean are present on the finish which has reasonable length for the price-point. This is a very appealing Carménère that’s super juicy from the word go. This wine will have wide appeal and for less than $10 if you shop around it’s one you can pour for at a large gathering without breaking the budget. 

The Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Carménère was produced from fruit sourced at two vineyards; La Rinconada and Los Lingues, both located in the Rapel Valley. This wine is 100% varietal. All of the fruit was hand picked. This offering is available nationally and has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Violet and plum aromas are joined by toast and vanilla on the nose of this 2008 Carménère. The palate of this wine has depth, complexity and precision. It features blackberry, raspberry and bramble as well as a host of spices; black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg. Smoked meats, chocolate, earth and bits of licorice emerge on the finish which has terrific length and persistence. From start to finish this wine is full bodied and muscular while at the same time maintaining tremendous balance and proportion. This is a really nice example of Carménère and for less than $20 you’re likely to impress a lot of your friends with it. Pour it for them blind. Even if they peg it as Carménère, they’ll never get the price-point, it drinks richer than it costs.

Misiones D Rengo - 2008 Carmenere

There’s a lot of delicious and fascinating wine coming out of Chile. The varieties available run the gamut. Not the least of them is Carmenere. More and more examples of this varietal are appearing on our shelves and they’re starting to gain some traction with wine lovers. Like a lot of what’s coming out of South America as a whole, and Chile in particular, Carmenere can often represent terrific values. Today I’ll look at one from the Rapel Valley. The Misiones D Rengo 2008 Carmenere was made using fruit sourced from vines with 17 years of age on them. In addition to Carmenere (95%), this wine has some Syrah (5%), blended in. After the grapes were hand harvested, fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. 80% of the wine was barrel aged in a combination of French and American oak; 6 months of bottle aging followed. This offering has a suggested retail price of $18.

Eucalyptus aromas are joined my plum, blueberry and wisps of vanilla bean in the heady nose of this wine. Fleshy dark fruit flavors tell the story of this wines palate. Blackberry is of particular note and it’s joined by black raspberry and continued plum. Mocha and chicory characteristics abound in the lengthy finish which also has sour red and black fruit flavors. A hint of brown sugar is present as well. There is a velvety quality to the finish, which along with all the appealing dark fruit flavors, beckons you back to the glass for sip after sip. This wine represents a very solid value and its also a good example of Carmenere as a varietal.

Oveja Negra - 2008 Lost Barrel

While I’ve been drinking Chilean wine for many years I feel reinvigorated to taste more and more of them lately. For several decades now we’ve been able to find lots of value in Chilean Wine on US shelves. But now we’re also seeing greater and greater numbers of wines in all price categories. Prices, styles and quality vary; but the bang for the buck is pretty constant across all tiers. Of course not every wine is great, but there are a lot out there to love. Today I’ll look at a Chilean blend from the Maule Valley. The Oveja Negra 2008 Lost Barrel was produced using fruit sourced in the Maule Valley of Chile; more specifically from the winery’s San Rafael Vineyard. This blend is a combination of Syrah (40%), Carignan (40%), Carménère (18%), and Petit Verdot (2%). The Carignan vines have 40 years of age on them. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. It has a suggested retail price of $25.

Aromas of dark plum are joined by hints of eucalyptus and a touch of thyme to form a lovely nose. Cherry flavors with a just a touch of kirsch liqueur to them emerge in the palate. Additional characteristics take the form of dried fruits which show up in spades. Black tea also plays a role and leads towards the finish which shows off hints of smoked meat, dark chocolate and a touch of earth. This wine has yielding tannins and firm acidity.

What I love most about this red blend is how well it pairs with food. Quite frankly it’s a food lovers dream. The dried fruit characteristics and firm acidity, which form the backbone of its pairing ability, also put me slightly in the mind of good Chianti stylistically. The finish which is above average is another noteworthy aspect of this wine. Bottom line for me is that for $25 or a bit less if you shop around you’re getting an excellent value.

Root: 1 - 2007 Carmenere

wines_carm_bottleA few years ago at a large scale tasting I had the opportunity to try the Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. After that I've had it from time to time and find it to be a very solid and consistent value in Chilean Cabernet. So when I discovered that they had also released a Carmenere I was pretty interested in tasting it. The 2007 Root: 1 Carmenere is produced from fruit sourced in the Colchagua Valley. Since Chile has been unaffected by phylloxera the vines are original, ungrafted rootstock. In addition to Carmenere (75%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) and Syrah (10%) are part of the final blend. This offering spent 10 months in American oak. This wine routinely sells for around $10.99.

The nose of this Carmenere is very intense and features eucalyptus, dark vibrant blueberry, vanilla and subtle cedar notes. The dark berry continues on the palate which is just loaded with deep, delicious fruit accompanied by light crème brûlée and white pepper characteristics. Some brighter berry fruit notes intermingle throughout the palate and provide a nice counterpoint.  The finish which is of medium length has kirsch liqueur and continued spice. This wine has soft tannins and sufficient acidity.

What I like most about this Carmenere is that it'll pair well with a very wide variety of foods. I found that it went very well with Sausage & Peppers. But I wouldn't hesitate to pair it with a dish of pasta or just about anything that comes off the grill. For a price that hovers right near $10 this wine offers varietal character and good value. Another solid entry from Root: 1.

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Montes - 2006 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon / Carménère

label_montesls_cscaI've been drinking wines from Montes in Chile for many years now. They have many different tiers of wines.  I've personally gone back to those in the Alpha and Classic series most often. But I've found that there is value to be had in each of their categories.  In addition to the various tiers they also have properties in other countries, under their umbrella, that produce wine. Over the next couple of days I'll look at two wines from Montes in Chile and two from Kaiken their Argentine operation. First up is a blend. The 2006 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carménère. 70% of the wine was separately aged in American oak for 6 months. This wine, is one of three, in the Montes Limited Selection series Each of them has a suggested retail price of $17.

Cedar and blackberry notes are prominent in the nose of this wine. Throughout the palate red and black berry fruit notes star alongside, subtle but present, spice notes. Sweet dark chocolate leads the finish, followed by espresso, black pepper and earth notes. The finish is above average in length. This offering is well balanced with good acidity.

I found this wine to be fairly open and accessible from the word go. But it really opened up, and hit a new plateau of expressiveness, after about 45 minutes in the decanter. What I like best about this wine is how the 2 components in the blend work off of each other. The Cabernet provides structure and bright berry fruit. The Carménère softens things up and chips in a round, lush, slightly jammy mouth-feel. Combined together, they form a nice package. This offering should drink well for the next 4-5 years at minimum. While the retail price is $17, wine-searcher shows that it's often available for less than $15.  It pairs well with full flavored foods and drinks nicely on it's own. Taking everything into account, this is a pretty nice value.

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Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery

Napa and Sonoma get a lot of attention for producing great wines. Much of it is deserved, but there are several areas in California that aren't as well known yet, also producing noteworthy wines. One of those regions is Lake County California. Many well known wineries from outside Lake County have been sourcing fruit there for years. Now the number of wineries in the area is also growing. One of these Wineries is Shannon Ridge. They were founded in 2002 and currently produce about 13,000 cases of wine. Their winery sits on 1,000 acres in Lake County. Eventually they plan to have between 60 and 70 percent of that land under vine.  The rest will be preserved for the wildlife that roam the area in and around them.

Shannon Ridge Sauvignon BlancSauvignon Blanc is one of 3 whites Shannon Ridge made in the 2006 vintage. It hits you immediately with a big nose full of citrus and guava notes. The first sips are surprising considering how big the nose is. This Sauvignon Blanc hits the palate gently at first. The citrus is present but not overwhelming.  The mid palate of this wine is quite delightful. It absolutely dances on the tongue, balancing citrus, gooseberry and a nice acidity. It fills the mouth, but drinks smoothly with no sharp edges. The finish is significant, long enough in fact to be noticeable and impressive. Although this Sauvignon Blanc drinks beautifully on it's own, it will also pair well with a variety of different foods. I found it to be a wonderful match with Chinese Pork Dumplings. The suggested retail price is $16.00 although shows it can be found in some shops for a few dollars less. Well worth the money.

At just over 3,700 cases the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon stands as Shannon Ridge's largest production of 2006. The Sauvignon Blanc was close at 3,600 cases. The Cabernet has berries on the nose and the first sip reveals a touch of tartness. This likely comes from theShannon Ridge Cabernet 10% Petite Verdot that was blended in. After the wine had time to breathe that touch of tartness softened up and the wine had a more luxurious quality to it. White pepper is the story of this Cabernet's mid palate. If you enjoy the spice on your tongue and the back of your throat that comes from those peppery notes this is indeed a Cabernet to seek out. Along with the spice there are lots of deep, dark berry notes present. A touch of oak shows up but does not overwhelm the palate in any way. This is definitely a Cabernet that is ready to drink now. It will also marry well with a wide variety of foods. I had it with pork and it was a nice accompaniment. It's is however a Cabernet Sauvignon that is smooth enough to enjoy on it's own. The suggested retail price is $19.00 but Wine-Searcher once again shows it can be found for a couple of dollars less in some instances. A solid Cabernet to drink in it's youth and a must for lovers of strong white pepper notes.

Shannon Ridge SyrahSignificantly smaller in production than the other two wines is their 2006 Syrah. This less than 1,500 case lot has 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petite Verdot blended in. The first thing that hit me from this Syrah was a huge nose filled with Blackberries. Sipping it the Syrah reveals itself to be pretty big and bold. There is a bit of jam that brings to mind Zinfandel. That thought only lingers briefly though. The mid palate brings on some mocha notes and more dark berry fruit. This Syrah is full bodied, mouth filling and an absolute pleasure to drink. The finish has blueberry notes as well as a hint of malted chocolate. It lingers on the palate for a good long while. A treat to drink on it's own this Syrah will pair well with roasted meats, BBQ and perhaps even dark chocolate among others. Retail on this wine is also $19.00. As with the others I found it to be fairly priced.

All three wines I previewed from Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery are enjoyable and worth seeking out. However, I found the Sauvignon Blanc to be the most unique of the three and worth going that extra mile to find if you have to. In the grand scheme of things Shannon Ridge are a fairly young operation. With these wines, they show themselves to be one to watch.