Funny Labels, Serious Wines?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Today is April Fool's Day so watch out for shenanigans in everything you read, especially online. The Wines of Chile reached out and supplied me with a couple of wines for review on this day and I thought to myself- maybe the joke is on me?

The theme of the day is serious wines with non-serious labels. Here in the Boston area (with Red Sox opening day increasingly on our minds to symbolically mark the end of a long cold winter) I see wines like the Kevin Youkilis "SauvigYoouuk Blanc" (pictured below). I'm a huge fan of baseball and wine mash-ups (two of my favorite things!) but even so I think to myself- who buys this stuff?
Or how about this one?

When I had a chance to taste a couple of Chilean wines from (oops) Wines, I didn't have lofty expectations. At best, I was hoping for something delicious and "guzzleable". They supplied me with a Chardonnay/White Carmenère white blend, and a 100% Carmenère, both with a suggested retail price of $12. How did they work out?

The first night, we cracked open the white wine. The label promises tropical aromatics and the wine delivered. For a split second I was transported to another place and time- I was on a beach and loving life. I was very excited to taste this wine.
However, when the wine hit the palate, something very bad happened. The wine veered dangerously closely to something that I really dislike in certain Chardonnays. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there's this tendency that Chardonnay sometimes has that reminds me of a middle-aged woman lounging by a pool, replete with smudged lipstick and full of eccentric tendencies. It's this depressing combination of incompletely integrated alcohol within a white wine that I find particularly bothersome and this wine came so close to displaying it that it spooked me. As a result, I can't recommend it. Pass.

Moving right along. The next night we had a red wine from the same producer, this time a 100% Carmenère. The lynch pin of the (oops) line is a take-off on something that really happened in the wine world. Carmenère was one of the original grape varieties allowed in red Bordeaux. However, while phylloxera decimated many of the vineyards in France in the late 1800s, it was able to survive unnoticed in Chile. If you have a Wine Spectator online subscription you can read more about this here and here. It wasn't until the 1990s that what was previously thought to be Merlot was actually Carmenère. This is all relatively recent stuff, having occurred in the past 20 years.
At any rate, Chilean winemakers have hung their hat on Carmenère hoping that it would be their signature grape (similar to Argentina's Malbec, or Australia's Shiraz). And I have to say I have been very impressed with the affordable entries I've tried in the past few months. You can see a summary of reviews at the end of this piece (which include wines I bought at my local Whole Foods a while back). Imports of Chilean Carmenère to the US increased 23% last year, making it the second fastest growing grape variety among Chilean imports (behind Pinot Noir: never underestimate the "Sideways" effect).

The thing I like about the Chilean Carmenère I've tried is that it is distinctive. It is its own wine. Smoky on the nose and on the palate. Fruit forward, with a nice complement of spice. Really nice stuff. Here are my tasting notes for these wines and the 2 others I've tried in the same range in the past few months:

  • 2007 Via Wine Group Carménère (oops) Carmenere - Chile, Central Valley (3/31/2009)
    Nice distinctive stuff. Luscious, yet smoky. Smooth, yet it has backbone. Robust, yet it's not overdone. I like it. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Via Wine Group Chardonnay (oops) White Carmenere - Chile, Central Valley (3/31/2009)
    Wonderfully tropical on the nose. Depressingly alcoholic on the palate. (82 pts.)
  • 2007 Viña Chocalán Carménère - Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley (1/27/2009)
    I was quite pleasantly surprised with this wine. Intriguing (and prominent) red and green bell pepper on the nose, which almost went vegetal in a bad way, but pulled it off quite well. My palate was flooded with velvety smooth mocha/leather flavors. A really amazing value at just over $10. Will buy again. Nice pick from the wine buyer at the local Whole Foods on this one! (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Viña Indómita Carménère - Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley (1/9/2009)
    This was the first Carmenere I've tasted. I thought it was quite interesting. This particular example was surprisingly earthy; it almost veered into barnyard territory. That was a little distracting but after that it was quite vibrant, fruity and full-bodied. Update: The barnyard action "burned off" the second night and this wine was much nicer (for me) after that. Raising my rating a couple of points. (87 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

In Massachusetts, the (oops) line is distributed by Martignetti. I'd like to thanks the Wines of Chile for giving me the opportunity to sample these wines.

If you're interested in hearing more about Chilean wines, you might also be interested in this piece I did comparing Napa Cab to Chilean Cab.

Question of the Day: Have you tried these (oops) Wines? How about other Chilean Chardonnay or Carmenère?


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