After a shocking first year in the SWAs, Carmenère found its feet with some style this year, delivering some great wines

Carmenère got its first ever solo flight last year – something that, with two Silvers and
a lot of grumbling from the judges, was generally considered a bit of a disaster. With
twice as many entries this year, we would expect to see more medals, but it wasn’t just
a numbers game. While last year the sommeliers actively disliked a lot of what they tasted, this year they were genuinely enthusiastic about the majority of the wines.

The Chileans, it seems, are finally really getting the hang of how to make this idiosyncratic beast, capturing its lifted aromatics but without overt greenness, and keeping a handle on both oak and ripeness to prevent it from turning into a gloopy, wannabe Merlot.

‘There was plenty of consistency, but there were differences, too – you need that,’ said Maria Rodriguez, with the real bonus of that inherent savoury green-bean character lurking behind the ripe fruit – a combination described by one taster as ‘very Carmenère’.

Arguably, the biggest eyebrow raiser was not the consistency – a word that hasn’t often been used in the same sentence as Carmenère in the past – but the fact that the grape delivered up through the price levels, too, with the judges rhapsodising about the Chilcas las Almas at £15. ‘Worth every penny,’ said Paulo Brammer. Given how many New World wines struggle to justify higher prices (as the comments in this book frequently demonstrate), this was an impressive performance.

For a ‘niche’ New World category to deliver a Gold and five Silvers, mostly at good prices, is proof of real progress in the winery and also of the readiness of the tasters to reward
it. Another year like this and the grape could be in danger of becoming a ‘must-list’.

“We found some wines with a lovely light, leafy elegance. They would be great with peppers, aubergines and vegetarian food. ” Nick Chiu, Ashdown Park Hotel

“[The Chilcas las Almas] is the kind of wine that everyone making Carmenère in Chile ought to aspire to. ” Angela Reddin, Team Leader


Caliterra Tributo Carmenere 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile
£6.24 @ Hatch Mansfield
SWA 2011 Gold List Great varietal character, with a complex, dark nose of brambles and tar. This is juicy with hints of vanilla, medium acidity, good fruit integration, ripe tannins and leafy, smoky notes. Rhys Griffiths liked the ‘prominent cassis’, while Martin Lam of Ransome’s Dock applauded the good concentration, ripeness and acidity, saying succinctly, ‘value’.


Explorer Carmenere 2009, Rapel Valley, Chile
£4.42 @ Concha y Toro UK
Savoury, green bell pepper notes on the nose, this sports simple, ripe plummy fruits and juicy, high acidity. Mark Deamer noted its balanced structure and pronounced it ‘good value’.

Veramonte Reserva Carmenere 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile
£6.63 @ Matthew Clark/Wine Studio/Wine Studio Agency
Rich and concentrated, this has earthy, mushroomy flavours with hints of coriander, cardamom and sweet peppers on the palate. ‘Great for ratatouille or veggie curries,’ mused Nick Chiu.

Carmen Carmenere Gran Reserva 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile
£8.19 @ Hallgarten Druitt
We’re in serious Carmenère country here, with cassis and smoke on the nose, and deep red berry fruit and good acidity on the palate. ‘Big and chunky,’ said Maria Rodriguez, ‘with big tannins, meaty character, a super body and a long finish’.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Los Lingues Carmenere 2008, Los Lingues, Chile
£8.95 @ Jackson Nugent Vintners
A wine with poise, this has balanced fruit and oak on the nose, a touch of classy green notes on the palate, and finishes with hints of tobacco and cedar. ‘Superb,’ said Angela Reddin succinctly.

Chilcas Las Almas Carmenere 2008, Maule Valley, Chile
£15.41 @ Bibendum Wine
Opulent and balanced, this has good acidity and a nice touch of tannin. ‘Easily the best Carmenère,’ said James Hocking, while Angela Reddin simply said ‘class’.


Chilcas Reserva Carmenere 2009, Maule Valley, Chile
£7.11 @ Bibendum
Sweet, ripe fruits with leafy mint notes. The balanced palate has sweet, slightly medicinal cloves, chocolate notes and spices. ‘Big potential,’ added Maria Rodriguez.

Founder’s Collection Carmenere 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile
£13.87 @ Moreno Wines
Caspar Auchterlonie found this Carmenère to be ‘a little shy and simple but user friendly’.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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