Last week, I attended an on-line video conference / wine tasting that involved a handful of wine bloggers from around the U.S., as well as eight of Chile’s most talented young winemakers (congregated in Santiago), moderated by Wines of Chile in N.Y. While I’m used to this kind of cross-time-zone, cross-cultural meeting (as well as utilizing video and conference call across the same) from working in IT, I had no idea how this would transpire in the context of wine.
And I’ve never tasted eight samples of Chilean Carmenere wines on an IT conference call.
So… how did it go?
I’m happy to report that I found the event to be great fun and quite well executed. The technology worked well and I only found minor cavils – like wanting the in-conference chat to work like twitter, preferably integrated with twitter – which I think speaks to the professionalism and quality of the event overall if those are my only complaints.
Last week, I’d written that this event could prove to be a seminal moment in my wine-lovin’ days, as it focused almost exclusively on Carmenere, a grape with which I’ve had a troubled history. In summary, I’ve been critical of Chile’s ability to deliver on the potential of the grape as (in my experience) they’d yet to get pyrazine (which imparts ‘green’ aromas of bell pepper and pine) truly under control and balanced with the dark fruit flavors of the grape.
I was placing (perhaps unjustifiably) a lot of pressure on this event, as I was expecting (perhaps justifiably) that Wines of Chile would ‘go big’ and bring some heavy hitters to the party – i.e., really show what Chile was capable of when it comes to Carmenere.
So… how were the wines?
In summary: a mixed bag…
Taking part in the event were the following winemakers – this was a (predominantly young and) lively group, who were happy to discuss their wines, and were able to shift gears easily from jovial puns to waxing philosophically about the virtues of Carmenere:
- Sebastián Labbé (Vina Carmen)
- Matias Rios (Cono Sur)
- Gonzalo Carcamo (Vina La Rosa)
- Arnaud Hereu (Odfjell Vineyards)
- Magdalena Sosa (Santa Carolina)
- Oscar Salas (Terra Andina)
- Felipe Tosso (Vina Ventisquero)
- Grant Phelps (Viu Manent)
The wines (representing primarily the Colchagua Valley, with Maipo, Central and Rapel valleys also in the mix):
- 2008 Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere
- 2007 Odjfell Armador Carmenere
- 2007 Via Manent Carmenere Reserva
- 2007 Cono Sur Vision Carmenere (85% Carmenere / 9%^ Cab Sauv / 6% Syrah)
- 2008 Vina La Rosa ‘La Capitana’ Carmenere
- 2007 Ventisquero Grey Carmenere
- 2007 Terra Andina Altos Carmenere / Carignan (60/40)
- 2005 Carmen Wine Maker’s Reserve Red (50% Cab Sauv / 20% Carmenere / 20% Petit Syrah / 10% Merlot)
The standouts for me:
- The Carmen was easily the best wine of the event, and provided everything you’d expect from a wine in $44 price range. Plum, fig, sweet spices – sexy, refined, elegant (and expensive). If this is any indication, both Vina Carmen and the Maipo Valley are key to watch for the future of Chilean Carmenere.
- Vina La Rosa’s La Capitana – cocoa powder, plum, a little boozy but… wow. It had the faintest hint of green pepper, which made the wine more complex rather than competing with the fruit for the most nose-filling power from the glass. At $18, it’s a crazy good value.
- Honorable Mention goes to the Santa Carolina Reserva, which certainly had bell pepper going on but in a balanced way; a touch woody but the spiciness more than made up for that. For $10, the QPR is just off the charts.
As for the rest, there were definitely some interesting wines (the Cono Sur was intriguing, going from barnyard aromas to green garden veggies to dark berry fruit), and others that, while they didn’t exactly put the “eewwww” in “New World,” didn’t exactly float my boat, either.
My verdict: Carmenere is capable of making very good wine, and blended can help make excellent fine wine, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get pyrazines in check if Chile wants to be seen as the world leader in providing the most balanced Carmenere wines possible.