Undurraga Sibaris Reserva Especial – Carménère 2007

I visited this winery this morning – more on that in later post – and noticed that they were entirely sold out of this one particular wine, which I figured for a good omen.At first, this wine smelled like bacon-wrapped dates to me. It’s definitely Carménère, no doubt about it: kind of a smoky, dark wine, nearly black in color, with a suggestion of sweet caramel. There’s also a possibly unattractive note here, slightly sulfurous, but not enough to make a real difference, at least not to me. All in all, it smells pretty darn good. As a drink, though, this is unfortunately not as good as the other Carménère I’ve tried so far: compared to the Miguel Torres wine at the same price, it’s slightly smoother, with less acidity; as a result, it seems just a bit less interesting. There’s a kick of tannin at the end and some definite charred barrel notes, but it just doesn’t quite work for me – I would have added more acid to the must for sure, hoping to give it more of a balance between the sweet fruit and smoky barrel notes. As it stands, though, it’s just fine – no wonder it’s sold out – and certainly good value. Undurraga
Price: $9
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Viña Morandé Terrarum-Reserva Pinot Grigio 2008

As with the Lapostolle from yesterday, there’s a slight bit of residual CO2 here – is this a Chilean stylistic decision?  Rich straw yellow (no hint of pink that I can tell), the wine smells of fresh Granny Smith apples and musk. Brightly acidic, and yet slightly flabby at the same time somehow, the texture is good but the flavor isn’t much to speak of, blandly appetizing but not memorable. However, it is clean, bright, and well made, which is a real achievement at this price point. I imagine that Tesco could sell containers of this stuff in the UK if they wanted to: it’s the perfect thing to go with a curry on a summer’s afternoon.Viña Morandé
Price: $6
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Casa Lapostolle Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay 2007

Yesterday, I met up with an old friend in Viña del Mar, and much to my surprise he delivered a stunningly beautiful wedding present: Chilean wine, palm syrup, peaches, and chocolates. Wonderful stuff – and now my task is to drink at least four bottles of the wine over the next 48 hours because if I don’t I’ll have so much luggage that I can’t board the flight to Calama on Wednesday. Yikes! Thankfully, this is going to be a very easy task.There appears to be a very, very light carbonation to the wine; at the bottom of the glass are tiny bubbles (if you’re a Don Ho fan, feel free to sing along about now) and there’s a very light spritziness on the tongue. The color is bright and clean; it’s only on the nose where it gets interesting. It’s a very savory wine, reminding me more of good Burgundy than white Bordeaux somehow, with a very slight sulfury note mixed in with yeasty bread and an appealing lemony note. My favorite thing about this wine is the slippery, rich, full palate that is wonderfully textural and mouthfilling; there’s a slight spiciness to the finish with sprightly acidity as well.  It may have smelled like Burgundy, but it’s definitely more like a white Graves, wet stones and pastry cooked with lemon rind and cream, but also that spiciness that really makes it special.All in all this is good stuff (and to me personally, it’s also a reminder to stop drinking single varietal wines all of the time; blends like this seem much more complex and interesting, don’t they?). Thanks, Felipe, for the bottle – I’m looking forward to the next ones! Lapostolle
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2007

It it possible to smell technical winemaking? Do you ever open a bottle and catch yourself wondering if Mega Purple has some kind of tell-tale aroma associated with it? I almost did for a second there, but then I found myself wondering if it wasn’t some kind of greenness I was smelling instead: there seem to be definite hints of green bell pepper here, which seems a little weird given that it’s nearly 15% alcohol. Huh.Beyond that, I don’t get much out of the nose other than an odd, almost smoky, faintly medicinal aroma that I’m not sure I like. Thankfully, it tastes better than it smells; yes, the wine seems strangely narrow at first, but broadens out somewhat to a pleasantly grapey finish with an interesting note of fresh herbs. It could use more extract, more tannin, more something – or it could just be a food wine, in which case it’s alternately admirably restrained. On the whole, though, the wine strikes me as generally sound, well-made, and not particularly interesting save for the finish, which does last quite a while and which offers definite interest (it’s now moved on to a smoky butterscotch note juxtaposed against meaty violets, not at all bad).I’m headed to Chile next week on vacation and hope to drink well while I’m down there; until then, this wine has got me wondering why I haven’t bought a Chilean wine in years. This ain’t half bad.Santa Rita
Price: $8
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Undurraga Reserva Chardonnay 2006

This wine starts with an over-the-top slap of vanillan, spicy, smokey, sexy, fuck-me-that-smells-expensive oak that it never entirely sheds. But it works, and here’s a lesson in ostensible imbalance tasting delicious and right. 

Not to suggest it’s all oak; far from it. There are lovely Chardonnay fruit flavours in the lean yellow peach spectrum, ripe but very well controlled. The aroma treads a nice line between full-on, quality oak and quite assertive fruit, neither of which is rich or fat. Rather, there’s a nervy freshness to the nose that belies its constituent components; when was the last time you tasted a heavily oaked Chardonnay with peachy fruit that was shapely and taut? 
The palate shows more spicy oak, delicious really, plus fruit that shifts between white and yellow stonefruit, and a bit of cantaloupe for good measure. The flavours are well-integrated and the wine is not massively worked, which shows good winemaking judgement; there’s quite enough going here as it is. The middle palate is intense and hints at opulence before fine, integrated acidity whisks away any hint of flab or excess. There’s an appealing freshness through the after palate and lingering finish, which is impressive considering the gold wristwatch oak continues to assert itself here as throughout this wine’s line.
I had this wine with a robust, Vietnamese-ish salad and it stood up well to pungent flavours, including a very salty, acidic dressing. Excellent, if oak-dependent, winemaking, and a very tasty wine indeed. Good value too. Imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

Price: $A23
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Morandé Reserva Chardonnay 2006

Sometimes, a string of busy days leaves you with few reserves towards the end of the week. I’m in that space right now, and wasn’t sure what to open tonight. There’s lamb on the stove, but somehow I don’t feel like the robust Shiraz that, in most cases, would be an obvious choice. No, tonight I need some space, and am taking a chance on this Chilean Chardonnay. Another Southern Cross Wines import. 

There’s no lamer descriptor than “grapey” (ok, “smooth” comes close), but sometimes you just need to call it how it is. And this smells instantly, unashamedly like fresh grape juice. That’s not all there is, but the point is it’s fresh and sunny in ways one might ordinarily associate with Australian wine. There are certainly complexities to the aroma profile; a hint of wheat, a little nougat oak, and some more tropical fruit like papaya. But this wine’s value seems to lie in the straightforward expression of its attractive fruit. So far so good.
The palate is unexpectedly acidic; in fact, it seems a little unbalanced to me and, as a result, quite nervy. On the plus side, it has good impact on entry, with a sizzling mouthfeel and bright, clean fruit. The line widens progressively until it reaches a mid-palate of quite gushy fruit, underlined by that chalky acidity. There’s no shortage of flavour, including some oak and winemaking influence that is caramel-like in nature. The flavour profile itself is straightforward and attractive, tending to leanness in terms of its character. A lightfooted after palate leads to more reverberant flavour through the finish. The finish itself is a highlight, and goes on for much longer than it has any right to. 
A lighter style, then. Structurally, I’m not convinced that it hangs together, due mostly to the character and volume of the acidity. The clean fruit flavours, though, keep me coming back. A good Summer white, and keenly priced.

Price: $A20
Closure: Cork

Undurraga Sibaris Carménère 2007

sibaris_ca.jpgIn a happy coincidence, I have in my day job a professional association with James McIlwain, who helms Southern Cross Wine Merchants. This wine is part of its range and I’m grateful to James for providing me with a sample. In the course of chatting with me about this and Chilean wine in general, he sketched the Colchagua valley’s topography on a post-it note, including key geographic features and weather patterns. A miniature masterpiece, to be sure, and more deserving of the paper recycling bin in which it ended up. 

This is quite outrageously aromatic; one of those wines that smells great as soon as you pop the cork. There’s a sheen of earthy green capsicum over ripe plum fruit and well-judged vanilla oak. The aroma profile is very distinctive; it’s like a cross between cool climate Cabernet (the green leafiness) and Merlot (the soft fruit character). No wonder Carménère was used in Bordeaux as a blending component prior to the onset of phylloxera. 
The palate is medium bodied and not as expansive as the nose suggests. In fact, it shows a really nice balance between  generosity of flavour and shapely line, not tipping too far in either direction. Entry is dark and fruit-driven, leading to a relatively complex middle palate, full of soft plums and that distinctive leafiness. The oak is mocha-like and subservient in terms of the overall flavour profile. Although there are abundant, ripe tannins on the after palate and finish, this doesn’t come across as a highly structured wine. It’s certainly firm enough to stand up to robust food, yet soft enough to be pleasing on its own too (as I’m currently enjoying it). 
Considering the price, clever winemaking and inherent interest in varietal terms, this wine is something of a bargain and one I’d be happy to slam down at a posh barbeque. 

Price: $A24
Closure: Cork

Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère 2007

After a couple of lackluster Pinots, I’m enjoying this generously flavoured Chilean wine very much. I bought this wine is because it is 30% Carménère, a variety once linked with Bordeaux but now associated primarily with Chile. And it was cheap.

Turns out it’s also really good and full of interest. Rich, Cabernet-dominant nose that reeks of overgrown gardens and ripe berries, though with a rich, chocolatey dimension that counters the angularity of the vegetation and adds depth and plushness to the aroma profile. There’s also a meaty, barnyard element that sits in the background. Unlike some Cabernets, this doesn’t come across as intellectual so much as a strong yet luscious. 
Medium to full bodied, there’s immediate satisfaction on entry; dark berries and bitter chocolate and just enough of a herbal edge to generate some tension. Really, though, this is as hedonistic as Cabernet gets; by the time the middle palate arrives, you’re pretty much just enjoying a wash of dense berry flavour and a mouthfeel that modulates between roundness and furry tannin texture. A nice burst of Hubba Bubba on the after palate, some more chocolate and just a hint of oak, then a decent finish to round things off.
This is in many respects an ideal budget wine. It doesn’t scale any heights of complexity or intensity, but it has character and outstanding drinkability. 

Viña Montes
Price: $A14.25
Closure: Cork

Montes Merlot 2005

I suppose I was tempting fate by opening a cheapy after all the super Kiwi wines I’ve been having of late. However, one (or at least I) can’t drink at the $50 price point every day, so cheapies I must. We’re lucky in Australia to have a large range of reasonably priced wines that are far superior to industrial swill, so it has been reasonable to expect in the last few years that $15 or so will yield a wine of character and interest. So what does that amount of money buy one from Chile?

On the basis of this wine, a whole lot of DMS and not much else. On the nose, rather characterless with that signature DMS note of ultra blackcurrant flip-flopping with tinned corn (thankfully no two day old raw mussels). The entry is slippery and introduces a palate with more blackcurrant juice in the context of a mouthfeel that is all about smoothness. But it’s not tannin or acid smoothless, it’s actually a lack of these things that creates an almost watery effect. Certainly easy to drink, and for those challenged by a perceived “harshness” in most red wines might enjoy the ease of this wine. There are some sweet oak characters too, subtle and well judged in terms of what this wine is. Tannins start to creep in a little on the finish, but it’s nothing too harsh and doesn’t begin to challenge any other aspect of this wine.

So, what to think? Certainly, I found this wine boring to the extent of wondering what is its point. Reading the back label, the wine is described as an “elegant and refined wine with a marked fruitiness almost irresistible to Merlot lovers.” And yes, it has a “marked fruitiness” (if we accept the super blackcurrant juice flavour as fruit driven) that is inoffensive and very easy to drink. To be honest, though, there are a lot of local wines that are of considerably greater interest to this at a similar price point. 

Price: $A10
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2007