Chile, perhaps more so than most countries, seems to have a set of conditions that allow for the production of truly distinct and intrinsically complex wines from Bordeaux varieties. Carmenere is leading the way, though it is perhaps a risky proposition considering the rather difficult nature of the grape, both for the producer (low yields and late ripening) as well as for the consumer (distinctly vegetal). I believe Chile has had great success with Carmenere because it offers an alternative. An alternative to the fruit bomb, it ripened to an anonymity style of wine that has been increasingly common throughout the past decade.
The tables have turned of course, and winemakers the world over, including in Chile, have backed off many great excesses. For whatever reason, great climate, great soils, or winemaker preferences, Chilean Cabernets seem to have less backing off to do. Maybe it’s simply because of what great Carmenere is, medium-bodied and a bit soft, with herbaciousness and fruit creating a dynamic savory snap in the mouth. These Chilean Cabernets tend to deftly blend fruit, spice and savoriness into a fine synthesis of new and old world styles that are worth seeking out and trying.
2008 Ventisquero Grey Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon Trinidad Vineyard Maipo Valley Chile 14.5%
A bit tarry and dark on the nose with some resinous pine notes and basil stem accents all around sweet, chocolate/caramel fruit. This really gains a nice sweet roasted pepper accent to the fresh currant fruit. A little caramel-flavored from the oak, but very Cabernet. Big and rich up front with fine refreshing acidity, this is rather lean on the mid-palate with excellent high in the mouth. The fruit is ripe and clear, again with a hint of sweetness from the oak. Mostly pure currant fruit with slightly woodsy and dried chili undertones. The finish shows some bracingly astringent tannins, but they are fairly well covered by some clean, transparent red fruits that lead to a slightly mushroom finale. Intriguing wine that is very complex and savory. 92pts
2008 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo 14.5%
Lots of perfumed baking spices and vanilla on the nose. Hints of lavender and ivy accent the core of dark wild cherry fruit that shows hints of juniper. Exceptionally smooth on entry with a dusting of powdery tannins which work their way through the dense fruit in the mouth. The acid is present but a bit in the shadows. Powerful extracted dark espresso tinged fruit emerges on the mid-palate with a nice back note of mineral. This is almost tarry in the mouth with some menthol character and nicely aromatic fruit that recalls the nose. Very polished and yet very powerful with dry, almost savory fruit. 91pts
2008 Ventisquero Queulat Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 14%
Very soft and broad on the nose. Deep, slightly cooked/jammy blackberry and plum fruits are accented by nice oak induced spice notes and shadings of licorice, tarragon and herbs. A bit soft on entry and a bit firmly tannic as well right off the bat. The resulting texture is a bit gritty and slightly heavy, but the flavors here are really great. Fresh fruit, some vaguely medicinal licorice, black currant and pluck plum, huge depth of tobacco, some vanilla edging, all wound up with some lightly candied red cherry fruit. The finish is a bit dry and nicely firm with spicy red cherry fruit that shows fine length. This combines rather exciting fruit with a firm, dry mouthfeel. Really well done. 91pts
2008 Marques de Casa Concha Puente Alto Cabernet Sauvignon Chile 14%
There’s a little ass here but it’s embedded in deep plum and black fruit. There’s fine cigar box oak tones deeply embedded as well as some granite mineral nuances, lending detail to what smells rather massive and impenetrable. On entry, this is packed with sweet fruit, more in the redder end of the spectrum than expected, and framed by cedar/cigar box oak and lovely edges of herb and blackberry. Very well polished. The tannins stick out just a bit in the palate, lending a slightly peppery spice tone that underpins a long finish with excellent depth of fruit. The fruit remains fairly fresh if kind of sweet. An acid pop on the finish lends this a cherry tone for a bit. A big, fairly complex wine with modern fruit. 90pts
2008 Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua 14%
An assertive yet integrated cedar shavings note greets the nose, followed by red and black currant fruit, a touch of starchy green vegetable and an edge of creosote. Nice medium weight in the mouth. While the oak is aggressive early on, it does integrate quite well. The fruit is a bit light, but fairly purely cassis with lots of toasty spice and a little heat on the back end. Rather elegant and clean with nice fresh fruit. The wood jumps out on the finish, which is both tannic and spicy. 88pts
2008 Gran Araucano Lolo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Chile 14%
Quite aromatic with some earth and leather notes accenting the floral, smoke framed red currant and almost raspberry tinged fruit. Nice and light in the mouth with super fine tannins and nice supporting acids that add lift to the red cherry/cooked strawberry fruit. This is round and lush without being large scaled or particularly dense. It’s a nice red-fruited Cabernet that lacks a touch of varietal character, but is nicely fruit driven. A nice bit of cedary oak sticking out on the moderately long finish. 87pts