Like Malbec, the Carmenere grape variety was one of the original six constituents of the Bordeaux blends of France. These days, the grape is virtually impossible to find in France, but thrives in Chile.
Chile has long been a source for inexpensive Merlot, for domestic consumption, and for export. But about 15 years ago, a French oenology professor discovered that much of the Merlot being grown in Chile was actually Carmenere. Wineries were inadvertently blending the two grapes, and selling it under the Merlot name. These days, Carmenere is being touted as Chile's signature grape, and wineries are proudly selling it as a distinct bottling, in addition to blends.
The winning wine was the top choice of all but one taster, and also had the highest price tag. Still, the other top bottles exhibited very good quality, at very reasonable prices. Two entries received no points, due to some off scents and unbalanced flavors.
First Place: Montes Carmenere Purple Angel 2005 (Colchagua Valley). Initially shy on the nose with blackberry and acetone notes, this one later opened up to scents of bacon, movie popcorn, plums, smoke, dust, and incense. Jo described it as "a woman in the shadows". Rich and full-bodied in the mouth, featuring tobacco, licorice, leather, coffee, Jagermeister, and mushroom flavors. Jo felt there was a forest floor and tree moss quality to it, and Andy described it as an "elfin wine". The favorite of 5 tasters. Contains 8% Petit Verdot. Received 33 points. David's bottle. About $50.
Second Place: MontGras Carmenere Reserva 2006 (Colchagua Valley). Reminiscent of cherries, licorice, butter, cinnamon, bell peppers, and dark chocolate on the nose. Jo found "stargazer lilies", while Hart found "Blackjack gum". David noted that it "smells more blue than red". Floral on the attack, and then flavors of caramel, black pepper, and cherry cola. Ali was reminded of rare/bloody meat, and Andy felt that this was good on its own, without food. Relatively full-bodied. Hart's favorite of the night. Hart's bottle. About $13. Received 26 points.
Third Place: MontGras Carmenere Reserva 2007 (Colchagua Valley). Aromatics of wet paper, fresh herbs, coffee, bell peppers, and light berries. Starts off with herbal flavors, and then turns to fruit, and finally coffee/chocolate notes. Thinner than some of the others. Hart found a "plastic/chemical aftertaste". Andy's bottle. About $15. Received 16 points.
Vina Chocolan Carmenere 2007 (Maipo Valley). Shy, but exhibited hints of urine on the nose, not unlike "PATH train station" (Ali), along with green bell peppers. Kristin decided that it was "so shy it peed on itself". Has a cold, metallic quality. Smoky palate, with chocolate, bacon, cola, leather, broccoli rabe, and butter flavors. Not as much berry flavors. Jo's bottle. About $11. Received 15 points.
In Situ Carmenere Winemakers's Selection 2005 (Aconcagua Valley). Aromas of honey, rotting fruit, licorice, detergent, and overripe bananas. Ali detected "something foul". Tasted overtly fruity, like a pina colada or sangria with tropical fruits. Andy described a "fruit medley", while Ali decided it was "like Charro". Kristin's bottle. About $15. No points.
Santa Carolina Carmenere Reserva 2007 (Rapel Valley). Tasters were not impressed by this wine's funky vinegar and glue aromas. Jo found "rotten vegetation", and Ali described "salad gone bad". Andy noted a "whiff of shame" and couldn't get past the smell. Some hints of red bell pepper and berries, but otherwise we settled on "skanky" to describe this one. Andy said that it "tasted dead", and Jo noted that it "doesn't develop". Watery finish. Ali's bottle. About $12. No points.