Saturday, April 9, 2011

Promising News from Carmen

Cabernet Vineyard at Carmen Estate, Alto Maipo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A few days ago, I opened a bottle of the 2005 Carmen Winemaker's Reserve Red, if for no other reason than to pair with some comfort food with a friend. I loved the wine when it was released and wanted to see how it was drinking after a couple of years. This full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Petite Syrah is a gorgeous wine, with its striking deep purple color, intense black currant, black plum and cherry and tar aromas and outstanding concentration. This is a wine with beautiful structure and balance backed by firm, but elegant tannins. While the wine is appealing now for its hedonistic pleasures, it's still an infant and has only started to show its greater complexities. Look for this wine to be at its best in another 10-12 years, though it may drink well in another 20 years.

I mention this wine not only because I loved it, but because you should realize that for a little while at least, you won't be able to buy this wine in the United States, as it's not being imported. Neither is the winery's brilliant Gold Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from 40 plus year-old vineyards at the winery's Alto Jahuel estate in Alto Maipo, a prestigious address for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, if there ever was one. The fact that these wines sold for $50-$65 have something to do with it, but let me explain further, as there is promising news from Carmen regarding the availability of their wines in the United States.

Carmen has made a change in distribution for the US market and is now going with Trinchero in Napa Valley to represent their wines. The winery believes they will be able to do a much better job than their previous importer (I will not mention their name so as not to embarrass anyone), a company that was much smaller than Trinchero. Carmen worked with this former importer and focused on selling their Classic tier wines ($8.99 retail for such wines as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, et al) as well as their Reserva wines ($14.99 to $16.99, depending on the state - wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon). Because of this focus, the Winemaker's Reserve Red and Gold Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon became much less of a focus, as they tried to work with their importer to boost sales on the other wines.

Ultimately the winery decided to make the change of importers and with it, a restyling of wines as well. The new offerings, arriving in the US within a few weeks, will be the Gran Riserva wines, focusing on the best terroirs in Chile; thus we will see Cabernet Sauvignon from Alto Maipo, Sauvignon Blanc from Leyda Valley, Chardonnay from Casablanca, Carmenere from Apalta as well as a few other wines. The pricing will be a very reasonable $14.99 per bottle.

I haven't tasted these new wines yet, but given the track record that Carmen has built up over the years, I am excited to sample them when they arrive. I was a big fan of the Reserve wines, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as the wines offered beautiful varietal character, excellent structure and ideal balance. Best, they were appealing wines with food and offered the character you would normally find in wines that were in the $20-28 range, instead of the mid-teens. So given my pleasant experiences with Carmen's mid-tier wines in the past, I'm quite confident the winery will be delivering some beautiful wines for $15 with these new Gran Riserva offerings.

I've also learned that after a short time if things go well with these new wines, the Winemaker's Reserve Red may be brought back for the American market. I sure hope that's true, as I love the wine, but more importantly, that was the last bottle I drank the other day - I need more in my cellar!

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