Chillán Carménère Reserva 2006

According to the back label, this wine was produced by a Swiss-Chilean company; this seems fitting as I’m currently shacked up in a lovely Swiss country hotel in the middle of Chilean volcano country. It’s been raining cats and dogs all day; after being growled out by a puma on a hiking track in PN Nahuelbuta, I’m more than ready to call it day, sit down, and have a drink.Somewhat greener on the nose than other carménères I’ve tasted this week, this has a correspondingly light color, more at pinot noir with some lightening at the rim. There are sweet spices on the nose as well: think allspice, nutmeg, and lemon sage as well. The overall effect is reminiscent of New Zealand merlot.Surprisingly peppery on the midpalate, the wine isn’t immediately particularly delicious. However, the relatively long bottle age here (most bottles I’ve seen have been from 2008 or even 2009) has smoothed out the tannins in a way that suggests most carménère is perhaps drunk too young. That being said, the wine is simple – other than fruity red peppers, or is that peppery red fruits? – there is not much here to appreciate, sadly. There are better options.Viña Chillán
Price: CLP 9500 (restaurant pricing)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

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

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