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