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The lost grape of Chile

The Neyen Winery in Chile

Before we delve into today’s article, I must mention our amazing January wine and spirits bin-end sale at our two Burrows Lightbourn stores.

You’ll receive up to 40 per cent off our sale selection which has some fantastic varietals and vintages you won’t want to miss. Take advantage of the sale until January 31.

Carménère, a cross between cabernet franc and trousseau vines, was originally considered to be one of the six grape varieties used in the production of bordeaux red wines. This ground to a halt back in 1867 when the dreaded phylloxera pest began its destruction of many of the vineyards in Europe.

This little root-attacking louse had lived happily for ages with the indigenous vines in North America, such as Delaware and Catawba, and then someone had an idea that if these vines were planted in Europe, they just might produce fine wines. Little did they know that this pest was on the transplanted roots, and it would just love to infect cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and all the rest that had no immunity. You probably know that the cure was to graft European varieties onto American root stocks, a step that is still taken today for much of our world’s wine production. Chile is a rare exception.

During these days, European vine cuttings were making their way to the Americas and carménère ended up being widely planted in Chile. Today it is to Chile what shiraz is to Australia or zinfandel to California. In other words, very important, with 84 per cent of all carménère wines produced globally now originating in this spectacular country. This however was not always the case.

The big change came in 1991 when a vine expert told the folks in Chile that many of their merlot vines, were actually carménère. So, after years of thinking the vines were merlot from France, and picking their grapes early, as you do with early ripening merlot, the fruit was left to fully develop for a few more weeks. The result greatly benefited the overall quality of not only carménère but also merlot! It just so happens that merlot is early to ripen, but the other grape is one of the last to reach this stage. Incidentally, carménère fares much better in the Chilean climate and is rarely planted in France today.

We have five Chilean wines to offer that feature this grape. I am a big fan of anything that Veramonte offers and so let’s start with 2017 Veramonte Reserva Carménère. This vintage is not certified organic, but as all Veramonte wines are by the 2019 vintage, we can certainly believe this one is organic, as the process of being certified takes a few years of farming in this pure way. Considering the cost of $19.95, it has done well to get an 88/100 from Decanter magazine which says: “Inviting aromas of dark cherries, cassis, and a hint of cedar. The palate is mineral in style with graphite and dark plush fruit.” (Stock #6168)

Spend $27.20 and step up to 2019 Primus Apalta Carménère and ratings like these below.

James Suckling: “93/100. Blackberry, blueberry, plum and sage on the nose. It’s medium- to full-bodied with plush tannins. Creamy and round on the palate with plenty of fruit and crisp acidity. Flavourful finish. Slightly chewy at the end.”

The Wine Enthusiast magazine: “91/100. Ripe plum and blackberry aromas come with ample oaky wood-grain scents. A flush palate is what Apalta is known for, while this warm-year carménère offers baked black fruit flavours touched by a chocolatey oak.” (Stock #6199; organic)

The 2018 Neyen Espiritu de Apalta shows us the full potential of a half-carménère and half-cabernet sauvignon from vines over 130 years old – one of the oldest viticultural heritage sites in Chile. It already shows a certain evolution, with earthy touches in the midst of very refreshing red fruit notes. The body is medium, with marked acidity and excellent tannins, very fine and sharp. On the nose, aromas of ripe red fruits and fresh black fruits are perceived; some spices such as pepper, bay leaf and thyme adorn and add complexity, on the palate it is generous, very tasty and with silky tannins. It placed on the Wine Enthusiasts’ Top 100 wines list of 2021 and scores an impressive 96 points from critic James Suckling. $59 (Stock #6198; organic)

Bouchon Family Wines began in the late 19th century when young viticulturist Emile Bouchon left Bordeaux for Chile. Today, Julio Bouchon and his children carry on their fourth generation family winemaking tradition in the Maule Valley. With their in-depth soil research and innovative winemaking, Bouchon is preserving the historic character of the Maule Valley with distinctive, terroir-driven wines.

Each J. Bouchon wine is certified sustainable by the Wines of Chile Sustainability Code. The winery practises sustainable farming along with use of horse-ploughed fields and dry farming to preserve their historic vineyards.

I have not tasted 2018 J. Bouchon Granito Cabernet Sauvignon/ Carménère blend but I know that it takes its name from granite soil that is over 120 million years old. E W Wines, a wine site in England, says, “These are also old vines with deep roots and minerality expressed beautifully in the wine. As a blend of cabernet sauvignon (62 per cent) and carmenere (38 per cent), the wine delivers rich dark berry fruit with liquorice and warm spice. It's multilayered and complex on the finish and drinking superbly now.” 93 points Wine Advocate. $42 (Stock #6207)

Lastly, we offer 2017 J. Bouchon Mingre Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/ Carménère. Wine & Spirits, the renowned American magazine specialising in wines and liquors, chose Viña Bouchon among the ten wineries in the world to observe. The choice was made by its tasting panel, based on the more than 10,000 imported wines tasted during 2017, positioning Viña Bouchon as the only Chilean winery included in the list. Garnering a rating of 95/100 from Master of Wine, Tim Atkin, I will let this wine speak for itself. $49.90 (Stock #6205).

This column is a paid for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd written by Michael Robinson. He can be contacted at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available at www.wineonline.bm

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Published January 13, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated January 13, 2023 at 7:54 am)

The lost grape of Chile

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