“Oh yeah, give me a reason to love you…”

by Katie Pizzuto on December 10, 2008

in carmenere,Chile,Cooking,Dining,Reviews,WBW,Wine

In a world where store shelves are dominated by chardonnay, merlot, cab and pinot noir, it’s next to impossible for consumers to find the likes of a scheurebe, a sagrantino or an erbaluce. And in that same world, these little-known wines are almost never reviewed in any of the major “drink what I drink” wine rags. Thus, lack of knowledge perpetuates lack of demand. That’s why I was stoked when I found out that this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday would be about Chilean wine (BTW, I only participate if it’s a topic I can groove on…otherwise, why push wine on you that I’m not excited about?). This one gave me a chance to showcase an often-overlooked grape that can make both some delicious inexpensive wines and some serious crap. I tiptoed through the landmines for you—I hope both your intact limbs and your palate are grateful!

Carmenere is Chile’s version of the “heartbreak grape.” It was originally planted in Bordeaux, where it was mainly used in blending, kinda like Petit Verdot. But it was such a pain in the ass in cold weather that they ripped out whatever wasn’t obliterated by phylloxera. It’s inherently low in acidity and has a tendency to develop high sugar levels before the tannins ripen, so making balanced wines is a tricky business. A lot of carmenere growers also tend to flood their vineyards with run-off from the mountains, which makes for a high yield, but it also makes for thin, bland, flaccid wines. Oh, and it often gets confused with merlot in Chile, so tread carefully. This wine is not only a kick-ass example of how great carmenere can be, but also what a value it is at anywhere from $11 – $14.

manentcarmenere06Viu Manent Carmenere Reserva 2006 – Huge FYI before I tell you about the wine…”Reserva” means absolutely nothing here because it has no legal definition in Chile, so keep that in mind when you shop! OK, the wine: Most carmeneres need to breathe a long ass time. This one is no exception. Open it, decant it, go plant a garden or something, and then come back to it. Even after a couple of hours, the smell of green bell pepper was undeniable, but very cool. It also had notes of bacon, cumin, chocolate and herbs. It’s got a nose like no other wine, which is part of its allure. A lot of dark chocolate in the mouth, too, with some leather/tobacco and sour cherries, but not overly “fruity.” The tannins are balanced but have enough moxie to carry this wine for a couple of years, and it had a great long finish. Complexity minus the pretentiousness. The alcohol on this puppy is 14.5% so for Christ’s sake don’t sip it all by its lonesome—serve it with a nice slab of Churrasco!

Pinot noir and chardonnay may be in your comfort zone, but please do yourself a favor and step outside it. In fact, I challenge you to try 10 little-known varietals in the coming year. After all, isn’t it that very intense feeling of novelty and inexperience that drove us to fall in love with wine in the first place? What fun is it to stand on solid ground when that ground doesn’t extend very far? I find it more tantalizing to step outside my comfort zone and dare these wines to make me love them. This is not to say that we should empty our wine racks and donate our collection of Bordeaux to the local food drive. But a great part of passion for wine is the passion for life, culture and spirit—and, how better to know the spirit of a country and its people, than to know the wines that are native to them? In them we can begin to know many different definitions of home.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron Washam, HMW December 10, 2008

OOOOOHH, Wine Blogging Wednesday. No one told me about it–little wonder. Cool, a day when I don’t have to come up with an actual idea.

I’m with you, Katie, everyone should try to expand their horizons with new varieties of grapes (coincidentally, I used to drive a VW Carmenere in the 70’s–it also took an hour to open up). Albarino, Godello, Aglianico, Piedirosso, Tannat, they all have lots to offer. You didn’t come to the wine party just to flirt with your wife.

Love your Blog, Katie, but you knew that.

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2 Katie Pizzuto December 10, 2008

Some WBW topics are cool, others are just lame…baked wines? Who the fuck wants to hear me drone on about baked wines? If you need a license to drive, you should need one to pick a WBW topic. You and I should have next pick, Ron.

BTW, everyone, if you want a great list of known wine varietals, check out the Wine Century Club’s application form:
http://tinyurl.com/5mzyhg

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3 Tim December 10, 2008

Great post, Katie. Thanks for participating, and I concur with your challenge to try the little-known varieties. It’s been a few months since I’ve had a Carmenere, but I have a couple in the rack that I’m looking forward to tasting. Cheers!

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4 Linsey December 13, 2008

you know its incredibly hard to buy wine for someone when u know sod all about what is best and dont actually like the taste

i bought wine and champagne for my parents for christmas – and there i was standing like a total lemon looking at them wondering wtf to buy and which one is suitable

for dad i bought a shiraz/cabernet saubignon (excuse any spelling) on the basis that the bottle and label was nice and i actually recognised the grapes concerned

the champagne – well it was all in french, i didnt recognise anything that was on it and had to ask whether it was a dry one – is champagne always dry i have no idea! i just know my mother only likes dry white wines – it was in a nice looking bottle and had a cool label though

hehe hope they like them!

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5 Katie Pizzuto December 15, 2008

Linsey, I give you a lot of credit for braving the wine world when you don’t know much about it. Did anyone offer to help you in the shop? That’s often the best source of information if you at least know your parents’ tastes! Good luck!!!

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6 Linsey December 15, 2008

i had to ask someone who looked about 18 whether something was a dry wine or not – but this was a supermarket (wine shops not common here anymore in this area) and no one really is trained up to advise someone properly

its a case of look at the little descriptive label on the shelf and guess!

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