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95-point Chilean Carmenere - April 19

The pre-amble

The April 2019 edition of Decanter (www.decanter.com) makes its usual, detailed, panel-based, blind-tasted analysis, this time of Chilean Carmenère, the signature (red) grape of that country.

We are able to offer the poll-topping, 95-point, Outstanding wine that tops that review, priced at just £15.50 a bottle.

Bear with us. We're getting there. Or scroll down if you prefer.

Carmenère still lies a little off the beaten track for some red wine drinkers, despite having nearly all the characteristics that make for a modern, approachable and substantial red wine.

For those that don't know it, the biggish box lower down on this page is one we composed at the time of the last Decanter review of Carmenère (October 2017); it explains and extols the virtues of Carmenère and does what it can to persuade the neutral or sceptic to take a try of this lesser-known variety.

Not, as we feared then, that many of you need much persuasion. We bought in a pallet of the last poll-toppers - a pair by William Fèvre Chile - and feared we might never clear them. They vanished in a mere few days and the pressure to get them back again (we couldn't) was greater than for any wine(s) before or since.

<NB: the Fèvre wines fared only modestly this time out - 88 points apiece - for those interested, partly reflecting poorer vintages generally. 'Tis a shame - it would have been fun to bring them back>.


The panel review (in general)

89 wines were tested/tested. Just two were rated as Outstanding (95 points and above), with another 11 ranked as Highly Recommended (90 and above). This left a great number (50+) in the OK-but-not-wildly-exciting Recommended camp. The wines had a qualifying criterion of 85% minimum Carmenère content (NB: counter to what one might expect, the vast majority of Carmenères are fractional blends, normally with some Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon to boost fruit, tannins, aroma and structure (respectively, roughly speaking).

Overall, the results were good-to-middling, rather indicating a lack of progress in Carmenère-making and reflecting a couple of tricky vintages. But the judges were quite clear that the very top wines - including that which follows - were truly outstanding wines.

(The other Outstanding - the La Rosa from Peumo - is a £30+ wine and is not available in the UK.)


The poll-topper

The Matetic Corralillo Carmenère 2016 scores 95 points in review. It costs £15.50 from us at Exel. It hails from the Colchagua Valley (Rapel sub-region) from producer Matetic. Matetic specialise in organic and biodynamic wine-growing: a tricky game in difficult years (and 2016 was, owing to it being an El Nino year).

Whetever Matetic did to make the best of those conditions, they did very well indeed. The praise positively flows liquid from that review:

  • "Lovely pleasure at the moment",
  • "drinking beautifully",
  • "elegant and restrained",
  • "intriguing, complex",
  • "soft and savoury, elegantly drinkable and moreish",
  • "Love this wine - so much enjoyment here, so drinkable".  

For the techno-heads out there, there's a bundle of additional data and info on the Corralillo product page. A key piece of info to include though, is that this has spent a full 18 months in French oak (of mixed ages [some new, albeit an unspecified amount] and mixed areas of origin and cooperages), yielding a softness and complexity that is unusual in a wine at this price point.

We've just tried a bottle and it's even better than we hoped for: this is a BIG (but very supple/smooth) wine (see below). There's definite oak - char/smoke and vanilla - but it's in perfect balance with the fruit. And that fruit is impressive: it's very blackberry-and-bramble, and, with the vanilla from the oak, there's a real Blueberries and Cream feel to this wine.

Decanter suggest drinking by 2021, but our feeling is that, given the excellent tannin structure and fruit concentration here, this will go rather further than that (2025?) in very good shape, allowing that oak and fruit to meld and complexify further yet.

For those still hankering for those long-departed Fevres of 2017, this, we confidently bet, will not disappoint.




The wonders of Carmenère


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

Well might you ask. One of the magazine’s famous tasting panels – a blind tasting of some 90 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?

We’re offering you the top Carmenère reviewed, one of only two 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 fajitasburritos 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.


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, Mourvèdres and some Douro reds on a 10. We'd put these Carmenere - and the Corralillo - at around a high 7 or steady 8.


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Matetic Corralillo Carmenere 2016 (1x75cl)

Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their April 2019 panel tasting of Chilean Carmenère (see blue link below).

Matetic Corralillo Carmènere 2016 - April 2019 Decanter review

Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their June 2019 tasting/article of/on Top 30 Chilean Wines Under £25 (see blue link below).

Matetic Corralillo Carmenere 2016 - June 2019 Decanter review

See also our blog (= click this link) on the April review in detail and for more information on this wine and Carmenère in general.

The Matetic family has a history of settling in new territory and making a success of agriculture. In 1892, the current members’ ancestors made the long journey by sea from the Croatian coast to Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile. They soon acquired large haciendas for sheep and dairy farming. It was only in 1999 that the fourth generation of Chilean Matetic made the move into winemaking.

After a detailed study of the terroir, Jorge Matetic Hartard and his relatives decided to plant vineyards in a previously overlooked side valley of the San Antonio appellation - Rosario. Just 15km from the Pacific Ocean, the rolling hills of Rosario Valley benefits from cooling sea breezes and huge swings in temperature - from as much as 27 deg C in the afternoon to 7 deg C at night. Well drained, quartz-sandy soil requires vines to dig their roots deep into the ground (up to four metres) to find water and nutrients, making for low yields and high-quality fruit.

With the additional purchase in 2005 of vineyards in Casablanca Valley, the Matetic vineyard has a phenomenal range of grape varieties planted - Matetic Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Malbec - but they made their mark early on with the first cold-climate Syrah in 2001.

The Corralillo label is a nod to an old winery on a corral which had once produced wines from the native País grape. These wines - Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and the Winemakers Blend (Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc) express this frontier-pushing terroir with great individuality and draw from plots in Maipo, near Santiago, and Colchagua further south, as well as San Antonio.

Biodynamic viticulture one of the key eco-friendly practices the Matetic Vineyard follows in its winemaking - it is certified organic and sustainable as well as biodynamic. Regarding the Rosario Valley as a single organism, the team works hard to maintain the health of the ground (using Rudolf Steiner’s preparations of quartz, manure, herbs etc in cow horns but only using indigenous materials), the crops and the varied animal life in the ecosystem. Grape pomace is added to compost from the restaurant to be reused in the Matetic vineyards, as is water which has been used to clean barrels. And in human terms, local people make up the majority of staff, and the winery sells woollen and other craft goods made by artisans nearby. It’s all part of a philosophy that aims to make winemaking a venture which will benefit the family and its neighbours for generations to come.

The 2016 Corralillo Carmenere is sourced from the sub-valley of Colchagua Valley, Apalta. The vineyards are located on slopes that receive great sun exposure. The soil's parent material is highly mixed - dominantly colluvial and of granitic origin - but very complex due to the presence of clays, lime and organic matter. These solils have have low fertility - perfect for viticulture - and excellent drainage.

The harvest began in early May. Each bunch underwent a strict fruit selection prior to seven days of cold soaking. For this specific grape variety, several winemaking techniques and extraction methods were applied, to enhance complexity and unique varietal expression.

This Corralillo Carmenere has been aged for 18 months in French oak barrels from various coopers, different forests and toast levels. A small percentage of Syrah, sourced from San Antonio, is added to increase complexity and freshness in the finished blend.

Deep dark violet color with red hues. Very intense on the nose, with a blend of black fruits, cocoa, spices and a piquant hint that characterize this grape variety. On the palate the wine shows great balance between weight and freshness, with a long, lingering finish developing to great volume and structure. An ideal companion for mature cheeses, red meat, charcuterie etc. 

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