Viu Manent Colchagua Valley Carménère Reserva 2003
Grapes make their rounds, round the world in fact. Carménère, a Bordeaux mainstay over
the first half of the nineteenth century, played a part in cementing the reputation of some of
the finest estates of the Médoc. The scourge of phylloxera, however, and the grape's
tendency to coulure (a form of early berry loss after flowering that reduces yields), put
it into the doghouse in France, a fate no grape should have to suffer. Jumping ship in South
America in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Carménère thrived in Chile's Central
Valley, but at a price; it became nearly anonymous or, worse, confused with other grapes,
Carménère only saw the true light of day in 1997 when DNA analysis proved the grape's true provenance; the Chilean Department of Agriculture quickly recognized the grape as a distinct variety, it made its proud way onto labels, and became a commercial presence. The present stable of Chilean Carménères are excellent, but the future promises much more as vintners learn to coax quality out of Carménère, which can be somewhat temperamental.
The $14 Viu Manent 100% Carménère shows mainstream red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and plum—on both nose and palate, with additional orange peel, prune, and leather on the palate, chewy tannins, and appropriate acidity in tow. The nose gives a touch of green bell pepper, a note generally thought to indicate under-ripeness (in this slow-ripening grape), but the vegetality does not continue onto the palate, and certainly not to the palpable finish. The wine is aged 16 months in French oak, and is yet another example of a label that indicates less alcohol (our familiar federal tax threshold of 14%) than does the producer's web site (at 14.6%). The alcohol is well contained, however, in that it doesn't generate a sensation of in-your-face heat. The wine, at 3.7 grams residual sugar per liter, is a dry offering.
The wine had been open and decanted nearly 24 hours when I first got to it; it certainly stood
up to that level of aeration which, considering its tannins, indicates some aging resilience.
The Viu Manent is an unapologetic food wine; drink it alone, and you will imagine food:
heaps of it. This is an excellent, well-made wine that does justice to a grape that has long
deserved proper credit. We've seen a similar story with Argentina's Malbec, also a French
immigrant. Perhaps Carménère is not the last “obscure” grape capable of delighting us.
Grapes see all; I suspect they tell all.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman