The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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Page 99 of 119

100 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 THOUGH ITS WINE HISTORY IS STEEPED IN Bordeaux tradition, Chile has no shortage of pioneering winemakers—from those resur - recting lost grape varieties to those planting vineyards at unheard-of-heights and in newly discovered valleys. By now, Carmenère's revival is well-known. Once Bordeaux's sixth grape, it was exiled from Europe in the mid-19th century for its finicky character. Rediscovered, quite literally, in a field of Merlot around 1994, it has both pleased and perplexed Chilean winemakers. Pleased because that meant Chile, the shrinking violet to its over-the-Andes neighbor, had its own version of Argentina's Malbec. And perplexed because on its best tastings it presented plum, chocolate and spicy characteristics like the Merlot for which it was mistaken, and on its worse (and all too frequent) presentations it was too stemmy, too green bell-peppery. But now, with 8,827 hectares under vine and a new under - standing of how to grow and fine-tune the grape, Carmenère legitimately has become Chile's calling card. In recent years it was a 2006 Carmenère from Errazuriz's KAI that placed first in the Berlin Tasting in New York City, besting icon wines such as Opus One and Sassicaia, and bottles from Châteaux Lafite Rothschild and Haut-Brion. Family-owned TerraNoble has always considered itself on the edge. In Maule Valley, the winery has taken a leap of faith with a steady focus on Carmenère since the beginning. Says Matte, "We planted here a new grape that nobody wanted, and now we are one of the oldest wineries in Maule to grow Carmenère." The Carmenères have evolved to a modern style that is more fruit-forward and oak-integrated than edgy and green. The 2009 Gran Reserva is a fine example: intense and food-friendly with earthy complexity and none of the herbal bitterness this grape can express. It's not only approachable; at average SRP $19, it's also affordable. At Viña Ventisquero, Head Winemaker Felipe Tosso calls him - self a "Carmenère winemaker," saying it's one of the few wines that show a sense of place. "In 1996 we were ready to say to the world, 'This is Carmenère,'" he says. "It's amazing how it's performed." Tosso's confidence is expressed in Grey, a premium line ($22– $25) of international varieties made from single blocks, but which also includes Carmenère. Matured in French oak for 18 months and another eight in bottle, the wine can cellar up to ten years, reaching complexities previously unconsidered for the grape. Bonarda There's somewhat of a professional jealousy between Chile and Argentina, but the two countries share a desire for "owning" a grape no few others do—and in Argentina, that's Bonarda. Contrary to Carmenère, Bonarda (Known as Dolce Nero in its native Italy and Charbono in California) has never been in short supply. It's the second-largest planted grape after Malbec—more than 50,000 acres planted in the country, mostly in Mendoza. But, as a workhorse grape—pulpy, fruity and primarily used in blends of bulk wines—it never had much prestige. The Zuccardi family championed east Mendoza as a winemak - ing region in the early 60s. That spirit lives on at Familia Zuccardi, where, José Alberto Zuccardi says, "Innovation is the second point for us, with an interest in new varieties." Zuccardi has bolstered Bonarda, giving it the attention reserved for fine wines: hand-selection and aging for up to 12 months. The wine in the Series A line (SRP $14.99) is inky, with sharp dark fruits and a chocolatey finish. The small-production "Emma," named for José's mother, is twice the price and twice as interesting with plenty of black pepper and then sweeter, elegant fruit with layers of violet and chocolate on the finish. "We're convinced this is the next step for Argentina," Zuccardi says. Another Bonarda devotee is Nieto Senetiner. Founded in 1888 by Italian immigrants, Nieto is one of the few to research Bonarda over the long term. "It took 30 years of research to understand how to manage it," says Guillermo Brandariz, Nieto's Export manager. "We had no benchmark for taste, but we kept improving the quality year after year and let the market respond to it. Now the competition benchmarks against us." The Nieto team has worked with the grape since 1997 and had its first quality vintage in 2000. They started with a Limited Edition Bonarda (not currently imported to the U.S.), then cre - ated a more affordable option, the Nieto Senetiner Bonarda (2013, SRP $12.99). We have put a lot of work in this Bonarda," says Vineyard Manager Tomas Hughes. "People like it or they don't." Carmenère vs. Bonarda HUMBLE GRAPES MAKE A KINGLY COMEBACK IN CHILE AND ARGENTINA by Lana Bortolot IMPORTERS TerraNoble: The Winebow Group Viña Ventisquero: The San Francisco Wine Exchange Familia Zuccardi: Winesellers Ltd. Nieto Senetiner: Foley Family Wines

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