Weekly Under $20 value wine pick – 2007 Vina Calina Reserva Carmenere, Chile

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This week’s under $20 wine pick, the 2007 Vina Calina Reserva Carmenere from Chile, comes with slight reservations.  After drinking this wine, I asked my fiancee Susan whether or not I should recommend this wine.  Up till now I’ve been making posts on wines that I clearly loved and enjoyed.  This wine was not a wine I could actually say was outright delicious, but it wasn’t a horrible wine either, especially when considering that we paid eight bucks for it.

Don’t stop reading yet though, because the wine sparked some thoughts that left me beset with a couple of hard questions.

Number one, did this wine just not do it for me because I don’t understand carmenere or did I just not like this wine? The aroma of the wine was that of freshly cut green bell peppers and various herbs.  That was the predominant characteristic on the nose.  In the mouth, it wasn’t much different.  Bell pepper, herbs, bell pepper and even more bell pepper.  There was some plum fruit flavors present, but I couldn’t get past the bell pepper and herbs.  I definitely don’t mind bell pepper or herbs in a wine.  Cabernet franc and even cabernet sauvignon at times exhibit these flavors and I surely don’t mind it when they appear in those varietals, but it was just too much for me in this bottle.

I wasn’t ready to write this wine off yet because I wanted to try and keep things in perspective.  I can count on one hand how much carmenere  I’ve had.  I’ve had many cabernet sauvignon-carmenere blends that resonated with me, but a bottle that’s predominately carmenere?  Forget it.  I’m not trying to be a professional wine judge, yet, but I’m assuming that in order to be one, you have to know what is “varietally correct” and the only way to I know how to do that is to try many of a particular grapes until you understand the most basic and common characteristics of the grape.

Based on that, my not understanding carmenere may be all the problem really is.  The wine still had some positive aspects to it like a soft tannins, juiciness and a lot of other flavors going on.  Plus, it was still only an eight dollar bottle.  If the wine was double the price, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Number two, do I necessarily need to like a wine in order to recommend it? This wine has lead me to ask myself early on in this blog what kind of wine reviews I want to post.  Should they be recommendations based on wines I like, or should the aim be to post reviews that merely reflect wines that I tasted and my corresponding opinion on them; good or bad.

After mulling this over for awhile, I realized that all my reviews so far have been more subjective rather than objective in nature.  When I make retail wine purchases, I do so with the intent of enjoying the wine.  I know, common sense right?  Even as a wine shop owner I did the same thing.  The goal for a small, owner-operated retailer SHOULD BE to bring in things that embody characteristics you like  and impart your likes and enthusiasm for the wine directly to your customer.

With this kind of buying strategy, the chances are that I’m going to buy mostly things I like, which in turn translate into wine recommendations I’m high on.  Over the years I’ve purchasing a lot of bad wines.  Gradually I began to hone my purchasing skills so that through a very complicated, often time silly and convoluted  process embedded in my head, chances are good that I’ll enjoy the wines I purchase, even if I haven’t previously had the wine.  For me this was obviously a trial and error process and is something I believe that wine shopping consumers consciously and even sub-consciously develop over time.

As stated earlier, my carmenere experiences were few and far between, which is probably why an alarm went off in my head telling me not to buy this wine before actually purchasing it.  Understanding and accepting that different palates like different flavors is what it all really comes down to.  So do I need to like a wine in order to recommend it?  Nah, as long as I can be objective about it and find reasons other than the ones I personally , I think it’s safe to say I can make an informed recommendation.

Here are my notes again on the wine and how I choose to recommend the wine:

Bell pepper, herbs, black pepper and earth on the nose.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and juicy and the flavors of bell pepper really show through.  There are dark fruits like plum as well, but the peppers are what dominate.  Actually some smokiness in there too.  More fruit is what would really help bring it all back into play

Buy this wine if you:

  • Surprise!  Like bell peppers
  • Are on a mission to try anything and everything in order to understand what your palate likes
  • Are on a mission to understand as many varietals as you possibly can
  • Are just a little curious and want to get a preview of what carmenere tastes like
  • For backyard bbq fare

Don’t buy this wine if:

  • You don’t like bell peppers
  • Zinfandel (white & red) and Paso Robles red wines are what you really like to drink
  • You’re just tired of hearing me drone on in this post and want nothing to do with this wine or post anymore

Purchased at The Wine Stop, Hawaii – $8.99 + tax

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2 thoughts on “Weekly Under $20 value wine pick – 2007 Vina Calina Reserva Carmenere, Chile

  1. Aloha Andre! Thanks for your review of one of our favorite varietals, carménère. Like malbec is to Argentina, so is carménère to Chile. The intriguing history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmenere) of this grape (with origins from the Médoc region of Bordeaux) prompted our escapade to Chile a few months ago. We were fortunate enough to experience the peculiar characteristics carménère has to offer–which includes its signature pepper essence you alluded to– depending on how early (more peppery) or late (less so) the grape was harvested. Calina is widely available, however so many better examples are elusive, primarily here in Hawai’i where carménère’s reputation remains tenuous. An amazing value is Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo carménère http://www.casillerodeldiablo.com/en/ficha_productos_carmenere.php that can be found widely on the mainland for under $9 a bottle and is consistently excellent. Another wonderful carménère (but also unavailable here in HI) is Anakena’s Single Vineyard Carménère: http://www.anakenawines.cl/single/camenere.php
    Worth mentioning is the cultish Purple Angle by Montes. This 92% carménère and 8% petite verdot is simply luscious and brought us to tears while having dinner in the Colchagua Valley. Worth hunting down and stashing in your suitcase to bring home! Available here is Montes’ Limited Selection Cabernet/Carménère that is a wonderful bang for the buck (found on O’ahu at Tamura’s Kaimuki). Noticed Costco has a 100% carménère (Alicante I believe it’s called) that is fair and ample enough to introduce the pepper factor to anyone game to step out of the box. Adios Andre for mentioning this misunderstood and temperamental varietal. Its brilliance has yet to be discovered. ¡Salud!

    • Kalani,
      Wow, I wish I ad more of the same carmenere experiences that you had. I guess I gotta book a flight to Chile to experience the real deal. As always, thanks for your comments. I’ll take note of the wines you recommended. Thanks.
      Aloha,
      Andre

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