The 'Global Financial Crisis' has not stopped people from enjoying wine, but it has made many
people more price-sensitive. Reports from retailers, restauranteurs and industry analysts indicate
that consumers are buying as much wine as they did a year ago, though they're spending much less.
Naturally, the big beneficiaries are those that can offer outstanding wines at bargain prices. Chile
is one of these.
The last five or six vintages have been very good, with many believing that the 2007 vintage reds
will surpass the exceptional 2005 and 2003 vintages in quality. As challenging as this might make
things for Australian and New Zealand producers, it presents an opportunity for Chilean wines to move
up the scale in price and prestige and enter the middle segment of the market, at least so long as
Chile's winemakers can resist the temptation to return to the 'bargain basement'. With land and
labour costs still far below those of 'premier' regions like Bordeaux or the Barossa, Chilean
winemakers have known for some time that if they can focus on quality, they can over-deliver at
almost any price point.
The perception of Chile as a producer solely of inexpensive but pleasant, value for money wines has
been difficult to shrug off. It was abruptly skewed with the release of Eduardo Chadwick's 'Sena' in
1995. Such truly great (and expensive AU$100+) offerings have now placed the country firmly in the
company of the best wines in the world, despite having little track record in comparison to Europe's
greatest estates. Now the vast gap between inexpensive 'quaffers' and 'icon' wines is gradually being
filled, with the emergence of unique, engaging, mid-priced wines from Chile. While these wines may
not be prestigious enough to woo collectors and high rollers, they will certainly appeal to
bargain-hunters. Quite simply, for those desiring wines with more interest and complexity than the
'cheap and cheerfuls', you can now look to Chile for $20 wines that taste like $40.
The grape variety Carmenère [pronounced car-men-YEHR] offers a style of red unlike anything else in
the world. It is the sixth member of the Cabernet Sauvignon family, and one of Chile's signature red
varieties. Once common in Bordeaux, particularly in the Medoc (where it was known as 'Grande
Vidure'), it is now rarely found in France; firstly because most plantings were wiped out in 1867 due
to the vine disease, phylloxera. Secondly, because it is the last of the red grapes to ripen, and in
Bordeaux often does not fully ripen, resulting in green flavours. This combined with its erratic
tendency to develop a condition called 'coulure', (poor fruit set after flowering) and its resultant
low yields have contributed to the demise of Carmenère throughout Europe.
Long thought to be Merlot vines, Chilean cuttings have thrived for 150 years. It was only in 1993
when the renowned viticulturist, Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquit of Ensa de Montpellier, carried out
a detailed scientific survey that winegrowers realized the two similar vines had been growing
together for more than a century. When Chilean winemakers witnessed the colour and taste of the pure
Carmenère, they realized they had been ignoring a huge asset. Along side Cabernet Sauvignon,
Carmenère now represents one of the country's signature varietals.
Last year we tested the waters with a trial shipment from Chadwick's Vina Sena (including Arboleda
and Caliterra vineyards) based in Anconcagua. The shipment was an instant success, and introduced
Australian wine lovers to what we described as Chile's New World vision of pre-phylloxera France.
A very successful example of 'entry level' Carmenère and testimony to the
quality of the 2007 vintage in Chile. Outstanding colour. Opaque black purple with black purple hue.
Top note of freshly crushed blackberry followed by a touch of vanilla, spice and liquorice. The
palate is generous with flavours of blackberry, dark chocolate, spice and cherries. Fine grained soft
tannins. Aftertaste of dark chocolate, spice and cherry. Remarkable value for money.
Cellar 3-4 years (2012-2013)
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