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Carmenere

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Carmenere, the perfect red for beginners

Whilst sipping my teeth black at Taipei’s Annual ‘Chilean Wine Tour’, I began increasingly to question why Carmenère is not more widely available here in Taiwan. Of all the Bordeaux varieties, it is the most approachable; no other grape from the banks of the Gironde has the softness or the gentle acidity of Carmenère. In the past, when there remained general confusion about what exactly Chile had in her vineyards, much of what we now know was Carmenère, was thought to be Merlot. As a result, the harvesting of this ‘Merlot’ resulted in the production of some wines that tasted rather green and mean. The reason for this being Carmenère’s propensity to ripen that much later than its more famous cousin. Now that Carmenère is being treated as a separate variety and not just Merlot’s sidekick, the incidence of Chilean wines tasting of tomato stalk is much less common. Ripe Carmenère is instead a vinous pleasure; plush, chocolaty and spicy yet it is the low levels of tannin that makes this so suitable for those at the beginning of their red wine journey.

As many will know, I do not overly concern myself with the idea of food and wine pairing but when chilli is involved, and you are curmudgeonly enough to insist on drinking red wine rather than the much more appropriate beer, then you need something with a very gentle tannic impression. In the past I have found success with cheap and cheerful Garnacha from Aragon (Campo de Borja, Carinena, Calatayud). These wines tend towards being both juicy and fruity with the suppleness of tannin that makes them slip over and around chilli’s fire, subtly diminishing the burn without ever extinguishing its own qualities in the process. Carmenère whilst nothing like Garnacha aromatically, has the requisite softness to work well with chilli’s heat.

If the first wine I had ever tasted had been a decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux, I feel sure that my fledgling appreciation of red wines would have been stymied, after all, it takes a while for one’s mouth to find the pleasure secreted amongst all that structure. Ripe Carmenère is altogether a more cosseting experience and one that Chile in conjunction with Taiwan’s importers should pursue with gusto.

Chono Single Vineyard Carmenère, Maipo Valley, 2012, 14%
Grape: Carmenère
Winemaking: A long post fermentation maceration (where the wine is left in contact with the grape skins) has given this wine plenty of volume. 12 months in French and American oak
Note: Generous and voluminous, cuddly but not a chubby wine. Peppery – think Piquillo peppers – and ripe, another fine way to introduce yourself to the Reubenesque charms of the variety.
Price: Approx. $20 USD
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

Espino Reserva, Carmenère, Maipo Valley, 2012, 13%
Grape: 89% Carmenère, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaking: 8 months in a mixture of different age French oak giving a subtle oak spiciness.
Note: Expressive nose of espresso, mint and warm spices sit happily alongside a generous and supple wine that provides a delicious introduction to the variety.
Price: Approx. $20 USD
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

Viu Manent, El Incidente, Carmenère, Colchagua, 2011, 15%
Grape: 93% Carmenère, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec
Winemaking: 16 months in 70% new French oak
Note: More famous as the producer of some of Chile’s best Malbec, Viu Manent are more than capable of producing full bodied, rich and intense Carmenère. This has the chocolate and spice one expects alongside some earthy and more alluring dried flower like aromas. Demonstrates that this grape can do expensive well.
Price: Approx. $50 USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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Something for the Weekend 9: The effectiveness of Blind Tasting

Blind tasting is controversial. As an importer it was the final and most critical part of my selection process. Having spent time visiting producers and tasting wines in situ; it was only on my return home that a reliable assessment could be made. The blind-tasting of wines of a particular price point or region against their neighbours or competitors, helped remove some of the bias to which I was prone. I never bought wines from people I didn’t like but blind tasting also prevented me from buying wines from people I really did. It removed the emotion and romanticism I might have attached to people and places and left the raw product exposed for what it was. It is this reason why so many returning from holiday clutching their favourite wine of the trip end up being disappointed. Most wine tastes good when the sun is high and the serotonin is flowing. In the more prosaic surroundings of home, these same vinous ‘joys’ are often much less rewarding.

In the classroom, blind-tastings are frequently used as a method of torture rather than one of learning. There should always be a clear reason as to why one is tasting blind otherwise it becomes a game with too many crestfallen ‘losers’ and no real ‘winner’ – not in an educational sense anyway. Last Sunday my class enjoyed a flight of four wines (conducted blind), that worked particularly well as an exercise in varietal differences. Attempting to ‘bench-mark’ varieties or regional expressions of certain grape types is not always successful, but the Syrah, Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet/Merlot we tasted proved deliciously up to the task. As an MW student I am keenly aware of making tastings illuminating and relevant; and these four wines, none prohibitively expensive, are worthy of some home study of your own.

Marques de Casa Concha, Syrah, D.O Buin (Maipo), Chile, 2011, 14.5%
Grape:
Syrah
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: Classic Syrah. Blackberry fruit and fresh acidity that helps preserve this wine’s sense of purity. The oak does not get in the way and the ripe tannins complete the harmonious palate. Good value
Price: 1050NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw

Marques de Casa Concha, Carmenere, D.O Peumo (Rapel), Chile, 2011, 14%
Grape:
Carmenere
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: There is a little pleasant herbaceousness here but no under-ripeness that can leave Carmenere feeling green and mean. Chocolatey and supple tannins with a touch of spice from the oak.
Price: 950NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw

Catena Alta, ‘Historic Rows’, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009, 14%
Grape:
Malbec
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: It is rare for me to drink any one wine more than a couple of times a year but this is one of the few I could happily have a glass of every day. It smells of cherry pie, vanilla, citrus peel and has silky, super-fine tannins. Persistent and delicious, exceptionally good.
Price: 2400NT
Score:18.5/20
Available from: icheers

Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Margaret River, Australia, 2012, 13.5%
Grape:
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 14 months in 20% new French oak
Note: Mint, chocolate and tar (three of my favourite smells) accompanied by a structure of fine-grained tannins help give this wine more than just a sheen of elegance. Very good value.
Price: 1200NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: P9.com.tw

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