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Carménère in the Spotlight
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 14, 2017
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Apaltagua, Apalta Valley (Chile), Carménère “Grial,” 2012 (Global Vineyard Importers, $75):  For a few years I have been following the wines imported by Global Vineyard Importers in Berkeley, CA.  This company specializes in selling wines from South America that are produced by small, artisan-level wineries, often with high-profile winemakers or winemaking consultants.  The collection encompasses eleven wineries from Chile alone, as well as wines from Argentina and Uruguay. 

Typical of Chile’s wine production in general, most of the wines in the Global Vineyard collection are moderately-priced reds rather than glitzy “icon” wines; most of them sell for about $20, sometimes even when production is lower than one thousand cases.  They offer good quality, often very good quality, but a few wines stand out both in distinctiveness and price. 

I recently compared three wines from the Carménère grape and found an excellent example in the 2012 Grial Carménère from Apaltagua winery.  Apaltagua is a family-owned winery whose vineyards, many of them old vines, are scattered throughout Chile, in regions such as Casablanca, San Antonio Valley, Maule and Curico Valley.  The Grial Carménère, Apaltagua’s flagship wine, comes from Apalta Valley, considered one of Chile’s finest red wine zones.  The grapes for this wine grow on 70-year-old ungrafted vines in the family’s 148-acre Apalta vineyard.

Carménère is Chile’s wannabe signature grape variety, potentially the answer to Argentina’s Malbec.  But most critics consider Cabernet Sauvignon to be Chile’s finest red wine, for example those wines that hail from the Maipo region close to the city of Santiago.  nd Syrah has performed very well in Chile over the past decade or so, despite its young vines.  Carménère’s handicap is that it requires particular ripeness to prevent unattractive herbaceous flavors, and therefore it performs best in cases involving old vines, low yields, favored vineyard sites and warm vintages.  Nevertheless, top quality Carménère wines are emerging from Chile in increasing numbers.

The 2012 is the current release of Grial Carménère, and it hails from a generally dry, warm year.  Despite being nearly five years old, the wine is a youthful deep ruby in color.  Its aroma suggests black cherry, smoke, and sweet spices, with hints of licorice and mint, while its flavors include blackberry, plum and black pepper spice.  The wine is fully dry, with welcoming fruitiness but no sweetness.  It is full-bodied and yet refined, offering the richness of ripe fruit and the velvety texture of well-integrated, fine-grained tannins.  Flavor matches structure, equal players in the wine’s taste, with neither dominating.  A long, rich finish suggests a long life ahead for this balanced and complete wine.

The intensity of flavor in this wine and the integrated tannins likely derive from the careful process of extraction from the grapes.  This process began with a three-day “cold-soak” of the grapeskins in the juice before fermentation.  The skins and juice/ wine remained in contact for seven days of fermentation and then for another two weeks of post-fermentation maceration.  These processes can help extract flavor from the grapes and promote the development of soft tannins.  Some of the tannin, of course, derives from oak; the wine aged for twelve months in new barrels.

The 2012 Grial Carménère opens significantly when given aeration and sipped from a large glass.

92 Points