Keep Calm & Carignan: The Maule Valley

04 January 2017

Largely passed over until 10 years ago, the Maule Valley has, say its champions, become Chile’s answer to the Swartland. But is the hype justified? Clinton Cawood puts a flight of the region’s wines in front of a team of sommeliers to find out

Maule is one of Chile's original grape-growing regions, but it largely missed out on the country’s wine boom, often passed over for plush, modern wines from appellations closer to the capital such as Maipo and Colchagua. Yet over the last few years it has seen a real renaissance. Rather like the Swartland in South Africa, it’s somewhere that winemakers, and wineries, go to play with cheap fruit, old vines and unusual blends.

Carignan (specifically old-vine Carignan) is the star: the Vigno project was created to showcase its singularity. We had heard positive mutterings for a while, but when the region picked up four Golds at the 2016 Sommelier Wine Awards, we decided the time had come to give it a dedicated tasting of its own.

So we scoured the offerings of UK wine merchants to find all things Maule, uncovering everything from sparkling País to a Grenache blend, alongside a solid core of Chilean favourites, Carménère and Carignan. While there was still some evidence of the mainstream, international-variety production the region’s known for, our sommelier panel found plenty to get excited about, with interesting, great-value wines that deserve to be considered for all types of wine lists.

How it works
We asked UK agents to submit Maule Valley wines from their portfolio, with no limitations on number of submissions or price point. Wines were evaluated blind, with tasters aware of each wine's grape varieties and price. Each was scored out of 20, taking value for money into account. Scores were then collated to obtain a percentage score. All prices listed are ex-VAT trade, and only wines scoring over 60% are listed.

Mya Brown
, The Ledbury; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Enikő Heidenwolf, 67 Pall Mall; Andrés Ituarte, Peyote;
Sid Kapoor, Oblix; Marc Kerr-Sheppard, Farley Macallan; Jean-Louis Naveilhan, Ember; Valentin Radosav, Gymkhana


Whites & Rosés
78 Garage Wine Co, Old Vine Pale 2015 (Carignan/Mourvédre)
'Somewhere between rosé and light red, this has an elegant, perfumed aroma, and some cranberry fruit. Fresh and acidic on the palate, with some appealing raspberry and cherry fruit flavours. An excellent wine,' CC. 'Unusual, but very good – clean and fresh, with lots of red fruit and a fennel note too. Not necessarily what you’d expect from these two grapes, so you’d need to explain this to a customer before opening the bottle,' EH.
£11.89, Bibendum, 020 7449 4068

76 Miguel Torres Chile, Estelado Sparkling Rose NV (País)
'A pale-pink sparkling rosé with delicate aromas of cherry and strawberry. The palate follows with great balance between acidity, texture and intensity of flavours, with a smooth, creamy character and more cherry and strawberry flavours,' VR. 'An excellent sparkling rosé, at a great price, with lots of strawberry and lime notes on nose and palate, as well as a slight biscuit character,' CC.
£8.35, John E Fells, 01442 870900

70 Chilean Wine Company, Montevista Sauvignon Blanc 2016
'Clean and fresh, with a burst of citrus and white flowers, and hints of peach, joined by an asparagus note on the palate. Good for fish dishes, as well as goat or sheep cheese,' SK. 'Good gooseberry aromas, leading to a light mid palate. Great with light seafood dishes, and really good value too,' JN.
£5.24, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

67 Bouchon Family Wines, Reserva Rosé 2015 (Cabernet Sauvignon/País)
'An interesting blend of grapes. There's a Jelly Baby and rose petal note, along with some berry aromas showing through. Good for the summer, served ice cold,' AI. 'An easy-drinking rosé that echoes the crisp Provence style. Great intensity of red fruit, with a nice finish. This would be great with Thai prawn dishes. Good value, too,' MKS.
£6.95, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

64 Laberinto, Las Cenizas Sauvignon Blanc 2015
'A refreshing and aromatic style of Sauvignon, with grass and crisp snap-pea notes, alongside some lemon-lime citrus,' MB. 'A lovely, fresh nose, pungent and intense, akin to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Very herbaceous,' SK.
£12.50, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

83 Undurraga, Vigno Old Vines Dry Farmed 2013 (Carignan/Cinsault)
'A deep, dark-coloured wine, with blackberry, dark cherry and plum aromas, joined by violet and sweet spices like cinnamon, clove and vanilla. This is full-bodied, with high tannins and a lovely long finish, with black fruit, violets and chocolate, as well as more sweet spice,' VR. 'An abundance of berry fruit, balanced by some spicy, meaty aromas. The palate is fresh at first, with good acidity and a touch of minerality, leading to a herbal note too. Very food friendly, and well suited to red meat dishes,' CC.
£18.95, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420

82 Miguel Torres Chile, Cordillera Carignan Vigno 2013
'Generous red fruit aromas, with vibrant raspberry and red cherry flavours, and exotic spice like clove, allspice and fresh cracked pepper. Outstanding value,' MB. ‘A silky-smooth mouthfeel, with ripe, dark fruit like blackcurrant, plum and blackberry. Bright acidity cuts through the sweet fruit, drying it out somewhat. There's also a lovely smoky, medicinal note to the long finish that brings a lot of interest. Very solid value for money,' AI.
£8.71, John E Fells, 01442 870900

81 Manutara, Desafio Pinot Noir 2015
'Red berries and strawberry candy on the nose. This is young and fresh, with nice acidity, good length and good body, making this a good food wine. Great with duck,' SK. 'A fruity strawberry-jam nose, leading to a dry palate with intense ripe cherry and red berry fruit. A good balance and a lovely herbaceous finish. A great Pinot Noir for the price,' AI.
£7.44, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

81 Santa Carolina, Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2012
'Well made, and full of dark fruit flavours, this has velvety mocha notes on the palate, representing great quality Carignan as a single varietal. Duck confit would be this wine’s perfect partner,' MKS. 'It's easy to like this, with lots of vanilla and cherry, but balanced, with good body and tannin structure, and moderate alcohol,' EH.
£10.85, Ehrmanns, 020 3227 0700

79 Lapostolle Collection Grenache 2014 (Grenache/Syrah/Carignan)
'Ripe raspberry fruit on both the nose and palate, joined by some stem ginger spice. A good, full body, with silky texture and a lingering finish,' MB. 'A soft Grenache nose, with hints of black pepper. Good acidity and nice tannins make this a good option for pairing with lamb chops or veal,' SK.
£14.28, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0967

79 Laberinto Cabernet/Merlot 2010
'A lovely nose of black and red fruit, with good oak integration and a slight herbal note. This follows through to the palate well. A lovely wine – and good with tenderloin,' SK. 'A refined, Bordeaux-level wine, with good extraction and pure fruit. A great match for roasted lamb,' JN.
£17.82, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

78 El Viejo Almacén de Sauzal, Huaso de Sauzal Cariñena 2014
'A natural wine style, this is complex and savoury, with gamey aromas and some cardamom spice and red berry fruit. Good balance and a long, lingering finish,' MB. 'A fascinating waxy fruit aroma, as well as grape-gum note, lead to a massively fruity palate, with a complex herbal note. A bold and characterful wine,' CC.
£17.19, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

76 Bouchon Family Wines, País Salvaje 2016
'Some sweet cherry notes and creamy red berry aromas are joined by a herbal, almost minty note on the nose, leading to a much leaner, elegant palate that shows some appealing red fruit. There's some tannin too, giving this the structure to be a very food-friendly wine,' CC. 'Something different, with a pale colour and light body, not to mention fresh acidity and a bit of tannin. A light red for a meat board,' EH.
£9.80, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

76 El Viejo Almacén de Sauzal, País Huaso de Sauzal 2014
'Crisp red berry fruit and some savoury spice open things up on this remarkably fresh wine, leading to some floral notes. There's big, bracing acidity on the palate, with some gentle tannins joining those red fruit flavours. A versatile red for the summer.' CC. 'Savoury, with fresh berry notes, leading to a refreshing palate, with some subtle spice. Good summer fare, and fresher still if lightly chilled,' MB.
£17.19, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

74 Laberinto, Las Cenizas Pinot Noir 2013
'This is a really interesting wine, with cherry aromas leading to an earthy palate, with moss, coffee beans and more tart red fruit, along with some medium tannins,' AI. 'A rich, smoky, Burgundy-style red that would be a perfect match for game dishes. Good value, and best served slightly chilled in the summer,' MKS.
£14.49, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

73 Miguel Torres Chile, Reserva de Pueblo 2014 (País)
'Pale ruby in colour, this is a light wine with red plum, blackberry and red cherry flavours, complemented by delicate herbal notes, like rosemary and thyme, which add complexity. A good Pinot Noir alternative that I’d recommend to be served slightly chilled,' VR. 'A nose packed with fresh, wild blackberries and cassis jam – and coming in at a good price point. A good option for charcuterie,' JN.
£6.05, John E Fells, 01442 870900

73 Bouchon Family Wines, Block Series Carménère 2014
'Black fruit and cooked green bell pepper aromas, along with some violet notes, lead to a full palate, with a dark fruit core. This is joined by more of that bell pepper character, and a leafy, forest-floor flavour. In addition, some fine grained tannins and a long finish,' VR. 'Fragrant and spicy, with some currant and capsicum aromas. These are joined by some cedar and gamey flavours, adding interest and complexity. Well matched with a rack of lamb with mint,' MB.
£10.65, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

71 Bouchon Family Wines, Canto Sur 2015 (Carménère/Carignan/País)
'A fruit-driven style, with a mix of red fruit like cherries and plums, with forest fruit like blueberries and mulberries, as well as some delicate violet aromas. Easy drinking, with a juicy finish,' VR. 'Refined and very pleasant to drink, there’s fine fruit here, with the addition of some light spice notes, like clove and pepper. A good match for tuna sashimi,' JN.
£9.75, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

70 Vistamar, Maule Valley Malbec Reserva 2015
'This differs from your average Argentinian Malbec. There’s very good ripe-fruit character, as well as a eucalyptus note, with balance in the body and tannin structure. A very well made wine,' EH. 'Meaty, dark-fruit flavours, with sweet spice. A well balanced wine – and a very good value match for roasted meats,' MB.
£4.71, Kingsland Drinks, 0161 333 4300

69 Manutara, Espera Carménère 2013
'A lovely, deep dark flavour with subtle tannins and some clove and cinnamon spice. This wine is made well, with enough intensity and acidity to stand up to heavy red meats,' MKS. 'The wine is very ripe, but not jammy, this has smooth tannins and moderate alcohol. This is a good, easy-drinking wine that's definitely worth the money,' EH.
£6.44, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

69 Chilean Wine Company, Montevista Merlot 2015
'Hugely complex, with some forest floor aromas joining a fruity, mulberry note, as well as a touch of eucalyptus. There's good acidity upfront on the palate, with light, fresh red fruit, and a touch of liquorice. There's even more crunchy fruit on the long finish. All this, at a great price,' CC. 'Light and juicy, with good red plum flavours alongside cherries, blackberries and roses, with lovely, smooth, juicy tannins,' VR.
£5.24, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

68 Clos des Fous, Cauquenina 2013 (Carignan/Malbec/País)
'This has vibrant character, made in a fruit-driven style. Flavours of blackberries, dark plums and chocolate, as well as herbal notes like bay leaf and rosemary,' VR. 'Dark in colour, with some spicy aromas, like liquorice and menthol, joining plum, blackberry and currant notes. Well structured, with good balance,' MB.
£10.89, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

66 Bodegas Y Vinedos O Fournier, Urban Maule Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
'Deep red-fruit flavours accompanied by tobacco, cedar and oak notes. Well balanced, with some length and versatility. A good value wine, and well matched with steak tartare, lamb ribs or pork belly,' MK. 'A silky Cabernet with sweet bramble fruit, tomato leaf and an earthiness, not to mention good length and a grippy tannin structure,' AI.
£8, Seckford Agencies , 01206 231188

65 Clos des Fous, Pour Ma Gueule 2015 (Malbec/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cinsault)
'A good quality wine, with bright black fruit alongside menthol and wood spice. The acidity keeps this very fresh, with the ripeness not becoming overpowering,' AI. 'Bright red cherry, plum and black fruit flavours, as well as a pronounced violet, floral character, with juicy tannins,' VR.
£9.20, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

64 Chilean Wine Company, Montevista Carménère 2015
'This is good! Red cherry and plum fruit mingle with espresso and cigar aromas, leading to bright acids and soft tannins, giving this a refreshing quality,' AI. 'Juicy redcurrant fruit on the nose leads to fully ripe flavours on the soft, rounded palate. A great option for gastropub lists. A match for burgers and pies,' MB.
£5.24, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

64 Miguel Torres Chile, Cordillera Syrah 2010
'Black tea and mineral notes join some dark fruit and tobacco flavours in this Syrah. Fruit takes a back seat to savoury flavours, with a tight, grippy structure. An unusual, interesting style,' MB. 'Inky black in colour, with an intense, fruit-forward body of blackcurrant and plum skin, along with hints of vanilla, woody spice and earthy. The finish is long, with a silky texture. Good value for money,' AI.
£8.71, John E Fells, 01442 870900

63 Bouchon Family Wines, Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
'Redcurrant and roasted capsicum aromas are joined by some juicy red fruit on the palate, alongside some cedar and vanilla notes. Simple, classic flavours,' MB. 'Rich and full of flavour, this represents both value and style in the region. Very approachable – and a great steak wine,' MKS.
£6.95, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

Our panel unanimously praised Carignan and Carménère, both single-varietal and in blends, as the standout grapes of the tasting, preferring them to the bulk of the Cabernet Sauvignons.

Tasters were also taken by the examples of País, more than once recommending that these wines be served chilled, and praising its light food-friendliness. This grape, from this region, gives you the real potential to offer something different.

Overall, we saw lots of herbaceous, savoury, food-friendly wines throughout the tasting – It is clear that Maule offers some excellent, versatile restaurant and gastropub wines.
These wines also offered excellent value for money, particularly at the mid-to-low price bands, but at higher prices too.

Mya Brown, The Ledbury
‘There was great value Carménère and Carignan here, both in single-varietal wines and in blends. Even under the £10 mark, they out-performed all of the other varietals in this tasting. There was some really good potential here for house wines, pub wines, and versatile by-the-glass selections.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘Cabernet Sauvignon might be dominant in the area, but it’s Carignan, Carménère and País where the gold lies in Maule. Each of these were complex and food-friendly in their own way, not to mention great value for money. The small selection of rosés showed significant promise too. Definitely a region to revisit.’

Enikő Heidenwolf, 67 Pall Mall
‘This region is doing well with Carménère – better than with the varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. País is interesting, with the advantage of not being compared to other varieties, as people have no expectations or prejudice.’

Andrés Ituarte, Peyote
‘At the lower price points there was good balance and fruit concentration – better than those priced above £10. País, specifically, is such an underrated grape variety. It’s perfectly suited to the festive season, pairing well with Christmas and Thanksgiving dishes, but it’s ideal in the summer too, served chilled. And I really liked the Carménères, with that slight medicinal character alongside solid fruit,’ AI.

Sid Kapoor, Oblix
‘I was positively surprised by the quality of the wines at these price points. The old-vine Carignans, for example, are refreshing compared to the jammy equivalents from southern France and northern Spain. And País really needs to be better marketed in the UK. It’s a great summer wine.’

Marc Kerr-Sheppard, Farley Macallan
‘Maule sits very well on a wine list. It’s a well-recognised area, where Cabernet dominates, and people like a full-bodied, intense wine. The wines rival Argentina, and haven’t got the premium price points of somewhere like New Zealand. We saw a good range of Carignans here too. The wines were food friendly, and very well suited to red-meat restaurants, but these wines can’t be overlooked for other types of cuisine either.’

Jean-Louis Naveilhan, Ember
‘There was real bang for buck here, particularly in the £8-10 price bracket. The Carménère and Carignan stood out more than the international grapes. Regions like this need to concentrate on what they have. That said, I could see the Grenache blend doing very well here. It brings some extra flavours and spices that are especially suited to fusion restaurants like ours.’

Valentin Radosav, Gymkhana
‘The Carignan and País were perfect, and very specific to Maule. The Carignans in particular had ripe fruit and were well balanced, and some had a vegetal character that added complexity. País, on the other hand, is a good alternative to Pinot Noir, and beats Pinot at those price points by far.’

Many thanks to the team at Ember for hosting the tasting and for all of their help on the day.

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