Two Chilean Reds and One Surprise Ending

Sometimes you set out to explore one thing, and end up discovering something completely different. Such was the case, recently, and I wanted to share what I found.

I had been thinking that I have not devoted enough time to getting to know South American wines, and felt that an article on those might be helpful to our readers.

In the last decade, both Chile and Argentina have become producers of a broad selection of excellent wines, as well as some not-so-great plonk (Funky Llama, I have my eye on you!) just like any wine-producing country.

Both countries have centuries of European-style wine growing experience, dating back to as early as 1557 in Argentina. And an early Chilean historian, Alonso de Ovalle, wrote of vineyards growing black grapes brought from Spain, by the end of the 1500s.

But things really took off in the second half of the 1800s, when a wave of French emigrants came to the two countries, bringing with them a rich heritage of fine wine making tradition, and cutting of vines from the Bordeaux region of France.

Today, both countries are making outstanding wines, particularly Malbec wines from Argentina, and Carmenere wines from Chile. Both of these grapes have origins in France, but have really come into their own in South America.

I’ll try several different Malbecs at some point in the future and report back, but for this article I picked up two Chilean reds to try: a Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley ($20.55) and an organic Novas Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon blend at $18.05.

I thought I’d open a pure Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a Chilean Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and tried them both with a grilled fillet mignon, wrapped in bacon and speared with stalks of Rosemary. Both promised to be very good accompaniments, and I was looking forward to seeing how they compared.

The Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon comes from one of the great wine regions of Chile, the Maipo Valley, and was, I expected, dry, tannic and in the style of what I think of as an old-school Bordeaux.

Unfortunately, when I smelled the bouquet as I tasted it, there was what seemed to be a vague smell of wet cardboard that overwhelmed any other bouquet.

This wet cardboard smell sometimes suggests that the wine is “corked”, the result of an airborne fungi that can contaminate the cork that is used to seal bottles.

The wine industry estimates that between one and five per cent of cork-sealed bottles may be “corked”, one of the reasons that you are seeing more and more screw-top wines or bottles sealed with synthetic cork.

“Corked” wines are not harmful, just disappointing, as there is often very little other smell that is discernible. And since about 85 per cent of a wine’s “taste” come from our noses processing the smell of the wine crossing our tongues, sometimes “corked” wines seem to have very little else discernible behind that wet cardboard.

So I moved on to the Novas Organic Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend of two grape juices felt richer and more complex, as the two grapes tickled different parts of the palate. It had a dark fruit-smelling bouquet that made me think of ripe plums and a rich, slightly jammy taste, and a finish that hung around for five or 10 seconds after you swallowed.

It’s probably an easier wine to drink than a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, fruitier, and less tannic and astringent. If I were introducing a novice red wine drinker to Chilean reds, I’d certainly consider this as a possibility. While it worked well with the steak, I think I’d pair it with a slightly milder meat than a grilled steak … maybe a pork roast would be good.

I finished my dinner, and saw that a friend of mine who lives next door was home, and so I called her up to see if she’d like to try the two wines. She said yes, so I stopped over with the two bottles and some glasses to see what she thought.

She has some bread and cheese and pâté, and we tried both of the wines. She agreed about the “corked” cab, so we drank more of the Novas Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon and chatted for an hour or so. The wine went very well with the pâté and cheese.

Interestingly, about an hour later, we went back to the Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon and, amazingly, the cardboard smell had dissipated, and the wine actually tasted very good.

So I truly don’t know whether it had been “corked” or whether this wine just needs time (several hours) to be appreciated. It certainly was a surprising outcome and my estimation of the wine improved as a result of tasting it after it had “breathed” in the bottle for a couple of hours.

My favourite wine writers always recommended that you save just enough of a bottle to have a last taste while you are doing the dishes at the end of the evening, and at least for this wine, giving it several hours to open up made a big difference.

Time is a huge variable in wine, and it’s always fun to be reminded of that.


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