I have to admit that i am not into new world wines. From time to time, i might drink American, South African , Argentinian and Chilean wines. I favor terroir nuances over fruit character and judicious use of oak instead of excessive woodiness. These are some of wine beliefs made in the course of my wine drinking years about New World Wines.
So when an opportunity presented in September to taste the wines of notable Chilean producer Carmen presented by its chief winemaker, Sebastien Labbe., it was a perfect occasion to test some of my beliefs and check out the Chilean state of wine affair. Although, i have to admit that one big producer cannot give you an exact picture of the industry of a wine producer, but it can point some useful trends.
The history of Chile Viticulture dates back to the Spanish Conquest. In the 16th, these settlers brought grapevine cuttings. Later in the 19th, French vinifera varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were introduced. In the 1980’s important advancements in the wine industry occurred such as the introduction of stainless steel tanks and oak barriques to ferment and age wines.As as consequence, quality and thus exports grew rapidly.
Some quicks facts about Chile wine industry.
- Chile has 14 regions where wine grapes. This represents a total of 194,600 hectares
- Chile is the eight wine producer of the world. ( 9.9 million hl)
- Chile is the fifth wine exporter of the world ( 6.9 million hl)
Carmen is the oldest Chilean winery. It was founded in 1850 and quickly became one of the leaders of the premium wine segment. It was in Carmen in 1994, that ampelographers identified Carmenere, the most important wine grape of Chile. In 1999, Carmen became the pioneers in releasing the first certified organic Chilean wine.
The Carmen winery owns vineyards across these Chilean wine regions. These include: Limari, Apalta, Rapel, Maipo, Casablanca and Leyda.
Carmen produces five lines of wines. These are Clasico, Reserva, Gran Reserva, Winemaker’s and Gold. Here is a brief description according to them:
- Clasico: Wines for everyday drinking
- Reserva: The expression of the grape varietals. Designed to shine along food pairings
- Gran Reserva: Top quality single vineyard valley expression
- Winemaker’s: They show the winemaker expertise
- Gold: The purest expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Like I said before, I had a chance to taste the Carmen wines in the company of Sebastien back on September in the fabled Restaurant La Chronique. I was very surprised by the high quality of the wines and how they reflect the Chilean Terroir.
Fume Blanc 2013. Code SAQ: 11767856. Price: $14.95
Very sauvignon blanc nose. On the nose, green pepper notes with hints of hay and lots of citrus fruit character. In the mouth, medium body with a nice underlying minerality. Ripe mouth with intriguing herbal notes such as cilantro and a beautiful oak integration. Fresh crisp and very mineral finish. 90/100
The Fume blanc was stunning with the fist course consisting of Tuna Tartare served with fried shrimps. The wine complementing well the richness and elegance nuances of the tuna and preparing the palate for the next morsel.
Chardonnay Reserva 2013. Code SAQ: 00522771. Price: $13.75
Ripe orchard nose. Pear and peaches in cream with a beautiful minerality. Initial attack is dry, but then becoming round. Long finish. 90/100
The dish lived up to the high expectations of the next course consisting of homemade gnocchi, summer truffle, crab from the Gaspesie and a Parmesan emulsion.
Pinot Noir Reserva 2013. Code SAQ: 11579644. Price: $15.45
On the nose aromas that remind me of tobacco leaf with a nice underlying earthiness. In addition, chewy red fruit. In the mouth, medium body with ripe tannins and a sour cherry finish. Fresh with a pleasant bitter aftertaste. 90/100.
I really liked the Pinot Noir paired with a Halibut Steak served with chanterelle mushrooms and porto sauce. the earthiness of the Pinot Noir bringing out the aromatic nuances of the mushrooms and the wine tannins are just perfect for the fleshiness and sweet taste of the Halibut.
Reserva Carmenere 2013. Code SAQ: 10967645. Price: $13.95
Confit black fruit with bell pepper jelly flavors. In the mouth, full body with a velvety texture in the palate. Flavors remind me of black licorice. Oak well integrated. Long finale. 93/100.
Syrah Gran Reserva 2010. Code SAQ : 00568097. Price: $19.70
Cool climate syrah nose. Lots of animal nuances and crush black peppercorns with violets and eucalyptus nuances. In the mouth, ripe with a very fresh acidity. Flavors remind of fresh red and black berries with more smoke and flower nuances. Very elegant wine. 93/100
Carmenere Gran Reserva 2012
Very austere nose. Dry black fruits with chinese cracked pepper and vegetable puree. Full body, velvety and caressing in the mouth. Flavors remind me of black cherry and cassis. Finale with tigbt tannis. Showing lots of promise.
Petite Syrah Gran Reserva 2011 ( Not avilable yet in Quebec)
Dark chocolate with cassis jam. Smoke with dark coffee notes. Powerful yet, very graceful and sensual. Long and racy in the mouth. Blackberry pie finale. 93/100.
Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2010. Code SAQ : 00358309. Price: $18.70
Lots of green and black bell pepper with cedar character. Also notes of gunpowder tea. Dry, austere and long in the mouth with mint and licorice flavors. Tannins needs some time to come together. Showing lots of promise. 93/100
Winemaker Reserve Carmenere Blend 2009 ( not available yet in Quebec)
In the nose, smoke and vegetable nuances with dry herbs and animal nuances. Full body and very elegant with red fruit puree flavors. Oak nicely integrated. Mineral tingled finale. Showing promise to. 94/100.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Gold ( not available yet in Quebec)
In the nose, lots of cassis with black cherry notes. In addition, balsamic notes such as mint and eucalyptus with black ink and gunpowder notes. Beautiful oak notes. In the mouth, full body. Excellent balance and concentration. Could me mistaken by a classed Bordeaux growth in a blind tasting. 95\100
This was a fantastic accord with the Rack of lamb from Kamouraska served with a chick pea puree. The lamb making rounder the tannins of the wine and bringing out to shine the balsamic flavors of it. Very classic accord.
My conclusion for this is that Chile is making some mind provoking wines that have much grounds in common with the Old World. This is still a country that is just beginning to explore their terroirs, so there is great room for exploration and discovery. I am glad that i broke some misconceptions about Chilean wines and new world wines in general.
The invitation to taste the wines of Carmen was made by Luc Provencher, from Charton Hobbs, the importer of this wonderful Chilean winery in Quebec. Many thanks for having me permitted to assist to this tasting.