Carmenères

 

Ah, it's you lot again... so what have you got going this time?

Well might you ask. The October edition of Decanter is almost wall-to-wall South America, that increasingly-respected home of big flavours and great value. Click here to see all of our Decanter featured wines this month (including five other featured Carmenères) and here for our searchable compendium of all our wines featured in Decanter over the last yearOne of the magazine’s famous tasting panels – a blind tasting of over 100 examples – features the enigmatic-but-increasingly-well-known Chilean speciality of Carmenère. Decanter go  so far as to call it "the James Bond of wine grapes".

And your angle, Exel, is what... exactly?

As you will discover below (do bear with us), we’re offering you two of the top four Carmenères reviewed, those that landed Decanter’s prestigious Outstanding rating. Those of you that know Exel Wines will know that one of our raisons d’être is to bring you affordable Decanter-rated big-hitters at great prices - not those where you need to suck in your teeth before buying a case – and we certainly believe we’ve done that again.

That’s all super, but, well… Carmenère? Never heard of it…

You’re not the first to say that. We, conversely, would say that Carmenère is sorely overlooked and deserves a lot more attention and respect than it receives. Many of you, we know, already 'get it': we’re delighted that you do, so do please skip the next few paragraphs. But for those that need a little more convincing…

Although almost exclusively associated with Chile these days, Carmenère originated in Bordeaux. Thing is, the vine and grape are very similar in appearance to Merlot, so when it was first taken to Chile, the assumption was that Carmenère was a just weird clone of Merlot and the two were often unknowingly planted side by side in the same vineyard. The result was, that until only a few years ago, a wine labelled as Merlot from Chile could actually (and easily) be up to 90% Carmenère. These days, now that Chile’s winemakers have sorted out their vineyards and recognise that Carmenère does particularly well there, it has become the variety's adopted home. Carmenère no longer hides in Merlot's shadow, its very own identity (see next bit) and, to quote Decanter, "attracts disproportionate interest and has many fans".

   

Thanks. Top history chat. But why should I try it?

That’s a fair question. Why should you try Carmenère? Beyond the lazy and/or experimental argument of "why not?", we'd suggest the following as more compelling reasons:

  • if you like the structure, intensity, ageing potential and flavour complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon, yet don’t want to surrender the easy drinkability of Merlot or Malbec or the spicy hit of Shiraz, you’ll find something in Carmenère;
  • if you enjoy wine that is fruit-driven with predominantly blackberry, cherry and plummy flavours - with an occasional hint of earthy coffee, soy sauce and pepper - plus a little spiciness and rich, rounded tannins, this could be the red wine for you;
  • if you like a wine that can take aboard the flavours of oak but not be dominated by - or dependent upon - them, step right up;
  • it goes well with a huge variety of dishes from cheese to herb-crusted lamb, fresh tuna steaks and dishes that include dark, leafy greens. It's also unusual among reds in that, being not-especially-tannic, it goes particularly well with spicy dishes that include chillies ... so works well with Latin American-style food (funnily enough) such as fajitas, burritos or that hardy perennial, chilli con carne; and
  • it’s eminently affordable: it’s arguably taken over from Tempranillo as the great-value quality red of choice. Spend £15 on Pinot Noir and you’ll get something pretty ordinary; spend £15 on a Carmenère and you’ll get something pretty special.

 

Shipley the office cat: instrumental to our tasting and selection of the La Mision range

Steady on now. I get it. Much more and you’ll be telling me it’ll make me look younger and I should never buy anything else again.

Did we say that?

Touché. So how big is it?

75 cl, standard bottle size. We can't get this in magnums.

No, I mean... how BIG is it? You know... powerful, beefy, intense... BIG.

Ah. You mean BIG.

<pained sigh>

Well, it's pretty BIG. On a scale of 1 to 10, we'd probably put Beaujolais/Gamay down at a 2, French Cabernet Franc on a 3. Up at the other end, you'd probably have the untamed Shirazes and Mourvèdres on a 10. We'd put these two at around a high 7 or 8.

But what about the wines themselves?

It turns out we’re not the only ones who like Carmenère. The Decanter panel finds a good many excellent examples, mainly from two particular Chilean valleys, and four wines clear their impressive, 95-point hurdle, marking them out as ‘Outstanding’ in Decanter lexicon. What’s more impressive is that two of those four are from the same producer and vineyards, at slightly different qualities, ages, oaking levels and prices (£11 and £15). Best of all, that producer has asked us to be their sole importer into the UK.

Really?

Yes, really. And what’s more, of the other two ‘Outstanding’ Carmenères, one isn't yet for sale in the UK … and the other one is 30 quid.

I see what you've done there. So who’s the producer?

William Fèvre Chile. Back in the 1990s, William Fèvre, one of the great Chablis producers, ventured out to Chile and marvelled at the possibilities of the ideal climate and terroirs on offer in the Chilean valleys, especially at Pirque in the high Maipo Valley, from where these two wines  hail. He (photo below, left) formed partnerships with local vinegrowers, firstly with Senor Victor Pino (photo below, right) and brought advanced winemaking to their wines. Since then, the WFC fleet has spread along the Maipo Valley and also into the Malleco valley, further south. Put simply, what WFC (http://williamfevrechile.com) do is make great, affordable, New World wines, especially high-altitude versions, with the meticulous approach and method of a prestigious Burgundian producer (especially careful chablisien oaking). It’s our plan, if we find you that like the Carmenères, to bring in their Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays (particularly  good, we thought), Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs…

 

          

 

Now, about these wines…

Yes, yes. I am getting there. Fèvre’s ‘everyday’ Carmenère (which, frankly, is a term that hugely undersells it) is their Reserva Especial. We have the 2015, the one that scored 95 points in Decanter: it's the younger and fruitier of the pair, has been oaked in old oak for a very mild oak effect ... and is just £11 a bottle. The 96-point Gran Reserva 2013, at £15, aged for longer in (mainly) new French oak, is mellower, darker, more complex and has more oaky tones, especially toast and vanilla. It will also age and develop well, for at least 5 more years. Click on the bottles below for more details on the two wines and to see their Decanter reviews.

Now I’m finding it hard to choose: do you have any more guidance for me?

Perhaps a useful anology lies in Rioja – regard our Reserva Especial as a Rioja Crianza and our Gran Reserva as a Rioja Reserva, in terms of their comparative fruit/oak/age flavours. Maybe get some of both, we reckon: our 15-slot shipping boxes will allow you to clear our £175 free delivery threshold with your chosen mix of the two wines.

All sounds great. Where’s the hitch?

There isn’t one. Well, just a wee one. It’s all still on a ship.

 

 

What...?

Don’t panic. Typically, we pride ourselves on getting the Decanter Top Guns out to you within 24 hrs. But it sometimes takes a while to get exciting new, highly-rated wines from the far side of the Western Hemisphere. The good news is that these ones arrived on Thursday 31st August at Tilbury on the San Clemente (that's her above - we’ve been tracking her patiently across the Atlantic) and are being unloaded now. If you order your Carmenère(s) before the 9th of September, we’ll have them with you by the 12th. But, take note, we haven't exactly filled that container ship, alas. We may well sell out of this pilot shipment before then, so I wouldnae hang about.... 

 

 

William Fevre La Mision 

Reserva Especial Carmenere 2015

£11.00

 

 

William Fevre La Mision 

Gran Reserva Carmenere 2013

£15.00