Sometimes, I’m not exactly sure what my job is here at Snooth. I do get to review wine, which many people think is a glamorous and desirable thing to do. The truth is, it’s just a great vehicle for pissing people off. I can piss off producers by either not reviewing their wines or not reviewing their wines well, and I can piss off the consumers. Man, there are a lot of ways to piss off one’s audience. Insult favorite wines, recommend wines that are too expensive or too cheap, recommend wines before they have reached the market or, even worse, wines that don’t make it to their market or local corner store.
And then there is the issue of reviewing wines that, for the most part, no one knows about and are certainly not widely distributed, if they are distributed at all. Today, I’m talking about Old Vine Carignan from Chile, and I am about to ruin someone’s day. I’ve scored several of these wines lower than any producer might like, but the real problem is coming down the pike because these wines are generally not available. So, I’m going to hear it.
But what if no one wrote about the wines we didn’t know about? How would we find out about them? Is my job really only to try to pair you up with wines that you like that are already at your local store? Aren’t we all curious? Don’t we want more diversity in wines? Don’t we want to support emerging regions, particularly when the proceeds help sustain a viticultural jewel like these wines?
That’s a lot of questions, so I’ll stop and let you catch your breath. Still, I’m going to march ahead and talk about wines you can’t buy and wines you very well might not even know about, if only to see if I can pique some interest. Perhaps, I will get someone to ask about these wines or call the importer and have them sent to your neck of the woods. Or maybe, someone will at least call a store that carries some and try a few.
It’s all too easy to dismiss some emerging regions because they are dominated by big players, but that is usually how emerging regions find their way into new markets. You might think it’d be smaller shop owners and wine writers diligently writing about their latest discoveries, but those discoveries are usually dismissed as being too expensive, too unknown, and too, well, “if I can’t get it HERE, why should I care?”
Photo courtesy of TeamGeist via Flickr/ccThat opens the doors for people with resources to come in and establish the ground rules for the game that people who own Old Vine Carignan have to play by, so I break the rules. I write about things you can’t buy in the hope that you might do something to make these wines more widely available. Complaining to me is not going to get that done, folks!
Chile’s Old Vine Carignan is coming! These are bush-trained, dry-farmed vines in a nation of lush vineyards. They are threads of legacy that tie the current wine industry to its roots. These vines are the same vines that subsistence farmers used for decades to make wine for local consumption, though today things have changed. In particular, Chile has a successful and popular wine export program, with Bordeaux varieties leading the way. Many of the wines are excellent, but the one thing that most lack is that connection to the past that seems to be all the rage today.
The vines are dry farmed, which is exceedingly rare in Chile yet super popular with a certain clientele. More to the point, the wines have little competition. Cabernet from Chile is easy to compare with Cabernet from wherever, even Carmenere can succumb to these comparisons, but Old Vine Carignan? If you want a wine to set yourself apart from the crowd, it is hard to think of a better alternative!
In a way, these are hipster wines. They will never gain much of a following, but that’s okay since there’s not that much wine to begin with. They are being made in a fairly broad style, from Cabernet wannabes to something indefinable but certainly special, something that is and will be uniquely Chilean. More than that, they will be uniquely not what has made Chilean wine so popular; they will not be safe.
It’s easy to take risks when the stakes are low and in some ways, the stakes here are quite low. But for the small farmers with tiny plots of Carignan, the stakes have never been higher. The fruit from their vines has tripled or quadrupled in price since these vines were targeted by quality minded producers. What used to end up in big batch blends and anonymous jugs now finds its way into some of Chile’s most expensive wines. That is one reason that everyone involved hopes that these wines succeed. The other is to further embellish Chile’s credentials as a wine making country. We all know they can make great wines, but they have yet to find a wine to call their own. It seems a bit odd to me, since I think that if they stop trying to Cabernet their Carmenere they will have a runaway hit on their hands. So be it.
Small bets have been placed on Old Vine Carignan and it’s time to see if they’re going to pay off. There is still a tendency to Cabernet the hell out of anything that comes from a vine, in Chile and elsewhere, but many of these wines really seem to have something unique to say. While some of these wines tend towards the pricey end of the spectrum, which can be indicative of a bit of Cabernet-ization, they pretty much top out at $45. There are also lovely examples available in the teens that give nothing to their more expensive siblings.
Once you’ve read this, and have bitched at me for writing again about wines you can’t find, get off your butt and try harder. Not for me but for the farmers of Old Vine Carignan and the people willing to take a risk. Otherwise, you’ll be heading down to the store someday and when you get there all you’re going to find are the wines you are familiar with. That’s not fun now, is it?
2009 Meli "Dueno de la Luna" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 15% $35
Black fruit on the nose shows a hint of prune, olive wood and spice. A bit wild in a woodsy vein with lots of poppy seed spice notes and a hint of coffee bean. This is really deep and viney with a smooth texture and lovely purity on the palate. Full of black cherry, black currant, mineral, dried herb and spice notes. A bit refined, but this appears to be a wine that refuses to be tamed, with lovely inner mouth perfumes of wild berries, plum skin and spicy herb supported by a touch of nutty oak. There’s a savory sense here on the finish along with plenty of dry fruit tannins. A bit of a powerhouse but certainly distinctive. 91pts
2009 Morande "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5%
Floral, pomegranate and a bit of tropical fruit with a hint of Oregon truffle all pop on the nose. Then, pencil shavings, a touch of mocha and black currant fruit fill the glass. This is wide open on the palate with lovely acidity and fine-grained fruit tannins with a mineral vein to the bright fresh fruit. This is bright and fresh with nice purity of fruit and fine balance that shows a lightness of tone on the fairly long finish. Juicy and fruity but not Frooty, it’s a well-done, modern wine. 90pts
2009 Undurraga "T.H." Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $25
Nice oak shadings on the nose, a bit smoky, a bit rocky and nicely nuanced automatically with a low base note of black berry fruit. On entry, this is plump and intense with an early rush of granite-laced black fruit that spreads on the palate to reveal nice wild berry and plum skin nuances. This is getting very close to an ideal marriage of modern styling and preservation of the purity of the old vine fruit. Decidedly old viney in the mouth with a soft finish, filled with gentle tannins and perhaps a touch of heat. 90pts
2010 Odfjell "Orzada" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $13
This smells nice with handfuls of crushed fruit, a little peppery top note and spicy black fruit all come together with freshness and intensity. A bit oily in the mouth with a smooth and somewhat loose texture. There is a rather strong fruity character here that almost tastes a bit rustic but feels nicely fresh and honest. Chunky and lovely, fun and totally delicious. 89pts
2009 Canepa "Genovino" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $35
Very fine French oak on the nose makes this spicy and more wood- than fruit-driven, with plenty of pencil lead. Focused and refined though somewhat tightly wrapped in the mouth, this is nicely balanced with a rich, somewhat wide-shouldered style that needs some time to resolve itself. The wine is very well made and the fruit peeks out on the end of the rather long finish. More of a tame style but elegant, refined and promising. A bit of time is needed to let the wood integrate. 89pts
2011 O. Fournier "Centauri" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 13.8% $20
More focused and deeply oaky on the nose than the Fournier Urban, with finer, darker, earthier fruit and more leather and meat nuances than floral ones. Smooth on the palate and a bit matte with nicely integrated acidity and fine-grained tannins. Wood tannins on the back end, with lovely purity to the fruit and more refined loganberry and dry black raspberry. More of a finesse wine than the Urban, with a fairly long black raspberry finish. Pretty nicely crafted 89pts
2009 Gilmore "VIGNO" Carignane Loncomilla Maule Valley Chile 14.8% $35
Dark coffee, tar and spice-laden nose with a prune edge. This is bright and tense in the mouth with a lovely texture, good height and finely balanced acids and tannins. The fruit feels somewhat compressed with an herbal note that pops on the back end along with some spice and vanilla notes that emerge on the moderately long, extracted finish. A lighter touch here might be called for since the fruit seems to want to say more, though there is an attractive succulence here. 88pts
2009 Oveja Negra "Single Vineyard" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $18
Perfumed on the nose with layers of fresh leather, gentle suggestions of violets and white flowers, and soil. Fairly soft early on with a nutty leading edge, then lively wild plum fruit on the palate that is bright and transparent showing hints of pencil lead. Gentle black fruit and lovely fruit tannins pop on the moderately long finish. Chunky and fresh, if youthful. 88pts
2008 Morande "Edicion Limitada" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $23
Dark nose, leathery, with some fine fruit base notes. This smells a bit heavy-handed. Full of vanilla, beef, a bit peppery and a bit raisiny. On entry, it’s bright and juicy with vibrantly intense fruit. Wow, this is intense on the front end with brilliant mineral-flecked sour sherry, sour plum fruit with a vividness that is unmatched here. Excellent height and volume in the mouth. The wood is a bit too much but wow, this must have been the most gorgeous fruit. Let’s cut down the wood, shall we? 88pts
2010 Garage Wine Company "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14%
A bit funky, earthy and stemmy on the nose with truffle and mushroom adding complexity. Lovely freshness and complexity on entry with chunky, bright acids, chewy fruit tannins and an attractively slightly rustic fruit. This is full of chunky, chewy, slightly dried strawberry/berry fruit, backed by notes of leather and oak. The oak comes out with time and while this is a bit short, there is a nice spiciness on the finish. 88pts
2009 De Martino "El Leon" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $45
Smoky, olive-tinged black currant fruit on the nose with a nice spice top note yields to a base of dried black berry fruit with a subtle vanilla undertone. On the palate, this is deep and sinewy. Has big edges with a center that is a touch low, packing in nice, chewy vanilla-speckled cherry and spiced tea fruit. A nicely pure expression of a slightly refined version of the typical rustic style, with gently gamy flavors that emerge on the modest finish. 87pts
2008 De Martino "La Aguada Old Bush Vines" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $45
Quite aromatic on the nose with a bit of diesel, some barn, sour plum skin, a hint of passion fruit and a bit of leather adding complexity. This is a lighter style that is elegant in the mouth with softening tannins. It lacks a bit of focus but is made in a nice, easy style with an abundance of cherry fruit early on the palate. This then fades rather quickly, revealing earthy underpinnings on the modest finish. Nice fruit if a bit lightweight. 87pts
2010 Garage Wine Company "Lot #27" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14% $33
A bit exotic and herbal on the nose with a smoky nuance, some jamminess to the fruit, a nice tea quality and a light suggestion of truffle. Fairly bright and focused in the mouth with lightly sour wild berry fruit and a little creamy cherry early on that yields to sour raspberry and rhubarb fruit on the back end. The finish is fairly bright and nicely transparent. This lacks a touch of complexity on the palate though it does have a more refined texture. 87pts
2011 O. Fournier "Urban" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14% $12
Smoky, lovely floral notes, crisp blackberry and plum fruit all emerge on the nose along with a bit of oak that is a bit obvious but seems like it'll integrate well with time. Bright on the palate with soft tannins, a little creamy, light black plum and black cherry fruit, and a little black currant. Gentle spice notes float over the finish, where the wood pops with a little woody sweetness. A touch chunky but fairly transparent. 86pts
2009 Odfjell "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 15.5%
A bit of oak, a bit of stem, a bit of leaf, not much fruit showing on the nose. In the mouth, this exhibits a looseness of texture. Pretty dense and chewy but the tannins are fine and gentle. This is fun and easy drinking, exhibiting the depth and power of old vines with its cranberry-toned fruit. Though it could be a bit more precise, it shows real aromatic lift on the finish with fine length. 86pts
2008 Valdivieso "Eclat" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14% $24
On the nose there is green coffee bean, a faint hint of barnyard, some blueberry, fine shale soil tones, a hint of stem and gentle herbs. Rather refined and smaller in scale than many of these wines, but well balanced with a delicacy to the structure, though this is medium plus-bodied. The finish is a bit short and a touch lean with red currant fruit, red plum. Small-scaled with a bit of mint on the back end. 86pts
2010 Undurraga "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14%
A bit leathery on the nose with pencil lead, black currant and a light herbaceous top note. Bright and fine with a nice texture, super fine tannins make this a bit austere and a touch tight. Very Bordeaux textured. I love the texture, makes this easy drinking for me with nice interplay between bright acids and fresh tannins. It does lack a bit of character. 86pts
2008 De Martino "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5%
Tight nose, plummy, a bit of toasted spice, pine nuts, wild cherry skins. In the mouth, this is a bit chunky, chewy. A little funky early on, then more mineral with nice focus on the back end and a bit heavily extracted on the finish. Some pencil shavings in the mouth hint at the fairly obvious oak, with more notes of toast emerging on the finish. This is short and chunky and a bit clumsy. 86pts
2009 Santa Carolina "Dry Farming" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5% $20
Nicely balanced nose offers some nutty oak, wood spice and soil notes over a base of aromatic plum skin. Smooth in the mouth with good acidity and nice, polished tannins. This has some lovely plummy fruit, gently spiced on the palate with a nice hit of loganberry on the back end. The finish is a bit short and dull showing a slightly extracted edge. 85pts
2008 Vigna Roja "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14%
Dark, dense and earthy with dried floral notes, pomegranate seeds, a bit of orange peel and some vanilla. Smells well made but maybe not much like Carignan, though it is complex and layered. Smooth as silk and really well made but again, is there much Carignan character here? A bit short, a textural wine. 85pts
2010 Anakena "Single Vineyard" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 13.5% $15
Heavy, powerful yet dull nose is matte with plenty of oak lurking here. Earthy and meaty and a bit dull in the mouth, as well as dark and muscular. A bit sinewy but very nicely polished and crafted into an elegantly styled wine that shows some minerality on the modest finish. Crisp and well defined if over polished and lacking excitement. This is a bit weird, not sure if it gets better or simply fades quickly. 84pts
2007 Santa Ema "Amplus" Carignane Cachapoal Valley Chile 14.5% $22
Shows a nice base of oak topped with oregano, some cooked tomato, beautiful, faceted spicy fruit, black cherry, a little black currant and boysenberry on the nose. In the mouth, this is still tight. Open if a touch low on the palate, which shows lovely freshness of fruit, spiced plums, mineral flecks and handfuls of Middle Eastern spices thrown in the air. The finish is a bit extracted and compressed though there is fine length here and plenty too much oak. Air is not kind here. As this sits in the glass, it just becomes oakier and oakier. There is something beautiful here, but it wears too much makeup. 83pts
2010 Meli Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14% $16
This is unusual, with aromas of olives, oyster shell, prunes, shoe black, bit of VA and earthy, dry leather all coming together in a rather Old World style. Soft and rich though the acid does pop on the mid-palate. This is a dense, chewy Carignan that has dark black fruit on the back end and then hits a wall of tannin on the finish. Dull and matte in the mouth, though with time some nice, earthy inner mouth aromatics come out. This is over extracted and heavily wrought. A touch hot. 82pts
2008 Miguel Torres "Cordillera" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14% $25
Green notes on the nose lend this a passion fruit quality over some yeast, with sour cherry, sour berry fruit. A bit clumsy in the mouth, chunky, soft and extracted with wood tannins. Green coffee bean flavors are balanced for the moment by light fruit, but this is blocky and full of plenty of heavy-handed oak. Could only get better. 79pts
2009 Bravado Wines "VIGNO" Carignane Maule Valley Chile 14.5%
Smoky, nutty and dull. Dense, chewy dark fruit. This is not showing well. Travel shock?
Smoky, roasted almonds, dark, jammy bramble black fruit. A bit soft on the palate, this has a nice texture. A bit of raw almond nuttiness on the palate with fruit that is faint but kind of extracted leading to a simple fruity, nutty, somewhat sticky finish. Thoroughly ordinary. 70pts
2007 Las Lomas de Calquenes Carignane Maule Valley Chile 13.5%
This smells dull and industrial. Huge wood, dull, smoky. Medium-bodied style but without any depth of fruit. Dry tannins. There's a hint of fruit here and it pokes out on the finish, but there's not much pleasure here. 70pts