I recently read an article in the Wine Enthusiast about Chilean wines. I was quite intrigued about the information stated, as this is an area I have not studied extensively. Chile is a new world wine producing country that has not always had the best of reputations, though it does produce crowd pleaser’s. This is of course “Fuzion,” Chile’s most famous wine producer thus far.
Now, there has been other articles and news coverage about Chile in the past regarding their wine practices. Comments on general over-ripeness of grapes, poor quality, chemicals not allowed in other countries still being used on their crops, etc. Some of these stories may have been true at one point, but Chile’s wine industry has been taking serious measures to produce quality wines and make a name for itself in the wine market.
This article I made reference to earlier focused mostly on the grape Chile hopes to make their grape – Carmenère. For those that don’t know, Carmenère originally a grape grown in the Bordeaux region of France, pre-philloxera era. This grape had, at some point, been transferred down to Chile and planted. When Chilean winemakers first started producing wine from this grape it was thought to be Merlot. Not until recently was it identified to be the long lost Bordeaux grape Carmenère.
What I know of this grape is quite little, and in fact I learned quite a bit more from the article in the Wine Enthusiast. What I had been told before was not kind to this grape – or to Chilean wines for that matter – so I had absolved to avoid them, unless necessary. Of course, this does not help to open my palate or to experience something new, and to perhaps find a wine I would truly enjoy, but it did provide the opportunity to not be disappointed in a new wine. In a recent class, where I was once again warned against Chilean wines, I also had my first taste of Carmenère. I was also given a brief history lesson – not unlike the one I described above, about the grape and told that Chile should not hold its breath on making Carmenère their national grape, but pursue Cabernet Sauvignon instead. Not ever having tasted Carmenère I couldn’t hedge my bets, but the only thing I recall of that first tasting was that the professor was most likely correct, and that the grape is rather unmemorable. But this recent article sparked a level of curiosity in me, and I wanted to give this almost lost grape another chance. So I did the natural thing, bought a bottle to try.
I went to the vintages section in the LCBO – the only logical place to buy wine – and picked the only bottle there: Mayu Reserva Carmenère 2011 (VINTAGES 90035). With a couple of my friends I opened up the bottle and decided to give it a taste. I poured a little sample into my glass, swirled, nosed and tasted. My friends anxiously waiting for my initial reaction…not what I was hoping for. It was sour and almost tasted tainted, but not with cork taint – perhaps chemical? The nose didn’t have any tell-tale signs that something was wrong with the wine, the colour was deep and rich and almost opaque. There was some colour variance indicating it had been oaked, but there was no real oak on the nose nor a sign of significant age. All you truly got on the nose was cherry – sour, yet confectioned and ever present, definitely lacking in complexity. The palate was sour and puckering – and not with acid, though the acid was strong. There seemed to be something wrong with the wine without any signs. So we decided to let the wine breath.
We wait, and wait. Swirling our glasses and adding extra aeration. I nosed my wine every now and then to see if it opens up at all. I had previously concluded that if it didn’t open up, I was taking it back to the LCBO. But slowly it does start to open up and provide a bit more complexity. The confectionery nature of the wine lifting, the overpowering sour cherry dissipating. What we get now is some fresh fig, hint of vanilla, some menthol. The cherry is still there, but other factors are coming to play. When we taste the wine again, it is isn’t sharp and distinctly sour. It fills our mouths, providing some rounded tannins in the mouth, good strong acid and mild but present fruit. It isn’t heavily oaked, and the fruits are ripe but not jammy. Was it a party in my mouth – no. But it wasn’t a complete disappointment either. It was enough to keep me curious and to search out some more Carmenère wines and make some comparisons.
So, should Chile rely on a grape that most people in the world do not know or recognize? I’m not sure yet, but I’m hoping with some further tasting and experimentation I will come closer to making an educated decision on that one.