Nine of Sacramento's geekiest sat down last Wednesday night at Enotria Cafe and Wine Bar for our monthly get-together. You can tell you're in with a bunch of real geeks when the theme of the tasting is Carmenere and you get 16 separate bottlings.
For those who don't already know, Carmenere was planted relatively widely in France (particularly Bordeaux) but was pretty much wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800's. For a long time, it was considered functionally extinct. Then in the 1990's, it was discovered that much of what was considered merlot in Chile was actually carmenere that had been brought over from France prior to the phyloxxera problems. There's a smattering in France and the U.S. now, but the vast majority of carmenere remains in Chile.
The wines we tasted were quite good, IMO. They shared merlot-like dark fruit and a tendency to a vegetal character that was nice when restrained but nasty when too prominent. These wines were pretty well-balanced in acidity, rarely over-oaked, and generally did not show their alcohol when in the 14.5% range. I found them to have much more character than most of the merlot that's out there these days. The best part was pricing. I don't have the prices for most of these, but I do know that the most expensive bottle was around $23 with most in the sub-$15 range. The Casillero del Diablo wines, which the group absolutely loved, were $6.99. The '03 won the group's QPR award (although I was a bit less taken with it myself).
Another interesting aspect was tasting a vertical of the Casillero del Diablos. We had the '03, '04, and '05 wines. What I found striking was how the oak integrated over time. The '05 was one of the only wines of the tasting I would have considered overtly over-oaked. The '04 showed some of this character, but less so and the '03 (whatever its faults) had it very nicely integrated.
All wines were tasted blind. Two were viciously corked, but as luck would have it, we had two bottles of one of them. My notes are sketchy, but here they are FWIW.
Wine 1 - '04 Montes Alpha, 14.5% alcohol - We start out with something of a ringer as this one has only 30% carmenere with 70% cabernet. Dark fruit aromas with a slight vegetal edge. Similar flavors with dark fruit and a bit of herbaceous character. Slight heat, good balance, moderate tannins. My #1 of the flight.
Wine 2 - '04 Anakena, 14% - Dusty red fruit smells. Bright red fruit flavors, a touch of mint, slight metallic edge, low tannins. My #3 of the flight.
Wine 3 - '05 Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro), 13.5% - Interesting nose, dark fruits, herbs. Too much oak on the palate (why did I miss that on the nose?). Plush, balanced acidity, moderate tannins. The oak made this my #4 of the flight.
Wine 4 - '04 Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro), 13.5% - Moderate oak, nice dark fruit character, good acid balance. My #2 of the flight.
Wine 1 - '02 Grial, 14% - Nose of dark fruit and anise. Flavors of dark fruit, anise, touch of oak. My #2 of flight.
Wine 2 - '04 Santa Ema, 13.8% weird, slightly funky fruit character. Muted fruit flavors, slight metallic edge. My #4 of flight.
Wine 3 - '03 Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro), 13.5% - I got a nose of candied fruit with a little bit of smoke to it. Sweet fruit flavor, although the balance is good. Moderate tannins. My #3 of flight (but group's favorite). When I re-tasted it later, I liked it more.
Wine 4 - '04 Loica, 14.1% - I got a nose of dark fruit with a slight floral quality to it. Others thought it had a stink to it. Flavors of dark fruit, nice balance. My #1 of flight.
Wine 1 - '04 Maquis Lien, 14.5% - Nose of dark fruit and herbs. Tasted young but well-balanced, moderate tannins. My #3 of flight.
Wine 2 - '03 Arboleda, 14.1% - Nose was oaky dark fruit. On the palate, strong herbal flavors ruled. My #4 of flight.
Wine 3 - '03 Terrunyo, 14.5% - Nose of dusty candied fruit. Heavy dark fruit flavors, some oak, fairly tannic in comparison with others.
Wine 4 - '02 Terrunyo, 14.5% - All I have for this one is "Nice. Balanced. Somewhat tannic". My #1 of flight. (Guess I liked it!)
Wine 1 - '04 Casa Silva, 13.5% - No notes. My #2 of flight.
Wine 2 - '04 Santa Ema Reserve - Nice complex aromas with red fruit predominating. Flavors follow with good balance, some vegetal character but not overwhelming. My #3 of flight.
Wine 3 - '04 Envero (90/10 Carmenere/Cabernet) - Very nice complex nose. Red fruit flavors. Texture is more lush than others but still well-balanced. My #1 of flight.
"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field" - Niels Bohr