Over the last year, I've fallen out of the habit of writing detailed, professional tasting notes. I still evaluate wines, of course — I don't think I can stop — but I haven't been filling up my small, spiral-bound notebook with half-pages of commentary. I get home, make dinner, plate it, serve it, and then clink glasses with Melissa before we chat about the day. It's a quiet pause together.
It's not the best time to be hunched over a pad of paper, scribbling "delicate" and "hints of" and "intense."
But this in turn means that I've fallen behind on analyzing samples. I prefer to give samples the respect they deserve: a full tasting note and analysis, even if that only goes into my notebook and not to OWF, one of my print articles, or my class.
I'm trying to get back in the habit of writing these. If we open the wine well in advance of dinner, I can write a full note when there's a lull in dinner preparations. If we plan for it, we can open a bunch of wine on weekends to taste through in the afternoon.
That's how we found ourselves drinking through five Chilean Carmenères recently. They had been sent to me a while ago, but, for a variety of reasons, we hadn't gotten to them yet. (Actually, the PR person sent us six, but one was corked.) So take note that these wines are probably a year past release.
Carmenère isn't always an easy grape to like. On its own, it often has strong green notes that overpower anything else. That may be why it has, traditionally, been one of the blending grapes of Bordeaux.
Then Chile entered the world's wine scene. Chile didn't set out to be the new world capital of Carmenère, but 15 years ago they discovered that a lot of the Merlot in their vineyards was actually Carmenère. Oops. (Or, perhaps, (oops)). They now bottle a fair amount as varietal wines.
Here are my tasting notes for the five we managed to taste. Except as noted, the wines are Carmenère varietals:
2007 Casillero del Diablo Reserve, Concha y Toro, Chile
This was, with one caveat, our favorite of the first tasting round (three of the wines), despite a strong green stem character in the nose. Tobacco leaf and cedar managed to struggle out of the green stream. On the palate, it had a juicy fruit character with just a hint of peppermint on the medium-long finish. A bit thin as a wine, it nonetheless had enough acidity and fine-grained tannins to keep me interested. So what's the caveat? After it was open for about 10 minutes, it developed an intense skunk aroma. But after about 10 minutes in that state, it settled back down to the original aroma set, where it stayed as we drank it.
2006 Reserva de Familia Santa Carolina, Valle del Rapel, Chile
This deep, red-black wine has plenty of green stem character with subtle aromas of milk chocolate and cinnamon. It tasted of rich, red fruit, with a bit of vanilla on the medium-long finish. This wine might have been our favorite if its tannins weren't out of balance. Probably the wine will improve with age: There's enough character behind the tannins to make that a reasonable bet.
2006 Apaltagua "Envero", Colchagua Valley, Chile
This ruby-red wine has green stemminess, of course, with some green bell pepper, but it also has a more welcoming strawberry and wild cherry Life-Saver aroma. Thick flavors of ripe red fruit make this seem like a wine you should chew, despite the low acidity and the low tannins. That low acidity was the reason it didn't make it to our favorite spot: It felt like it could have used more. "Thick in flavor, thin in body" was Melissa's comment.
2006 Caliterra "Tribute",Valle de Colchagua, Chile
Forget the green stems you're used to: This ruby red wine smells of raspberries and blackberry jam, and that juicy fruit character extends right to the palate, along with a bright acidity and moderate tannins. Fruity and pleasant, this would probably appeal to a wide range of drinkers.
2005 Carmen Reserva, Valle del Maipo, 60 percent Carmenère, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon
This red-black wine was the favorite in our second round, with aromas of tomato sauce and sausage, bright, pretty acidity, and fine-grained tannins. The palate featured ripe red strawberries that lingered through the fairly long finish.