Carmen is an amazing property. Furthermore, this great Chilean estate has the uncanny ability to consistently turn out top notch wines from each of its premium varietals, and the 2007 Carmen Rapel Valley Carmenère is indeed another great effort from Chile’s “grande dame” of exquisite properties.
Carmen is Chile’s oldest wine brand, dating back to 1850. A century and a half ago Christian Lanz founded Viña Carmen and lovingly named the estate’s beautiful vineyards for his wife. Today, Viña Carmen remains the showpiece Lanz envisioned more than a century and half ago. Combining tradition, superb vineyards and a state of the art winery that was constructed in 1992, Viña Carmen is currently South America’s leading winery as well as its oldest. In the 1990’s, winemaker Alvaro Espinoza, a proponent of organic viticulture, moved Carmen to the forefront of South American producers and brought international renown to this venerable property, a position it retains today under winemaker María del Pilar González. Wine & Spirits magazine has named Carmen “Top Winery of the Year” at least four times and current offerings look to be some of the finest this winery has produced to date.
Presently, the more than 500 acres of Carmen Vineyards spread across several valleys and many micro-climates surrounding Chile’s capital, Santiago. This constellation of microclimates allows Carmen to select the best grape varieties for each area and to excel with many different grapes and styles of wine. The winery has been extremely successful with French varietals, including the unique, lesser-known Bordeaux varietals, including Chile’s own “indigenous” grape, Carmenère.
Internationally renowned winemaker Alvaro Espinoza, who joined Carmen in 1993 and helped boost the winery’s stellar reputation, was instrumental in isolating and identifying Carmenère as a unique grape variety. He then went on to produce some of South America’s most exciting Carmenère based wines. Alvarez also instituted organic farming at Carmen, which continues to expand under present winemaker María del Pilar González. Presently, Carmen uses no pesticides in their vineyards and is leading the way in Chile toward more environmentally sensitive viticulture. In addition, many of Carmen’s wines are bottled unfiltered. The winery has also made the commitment to use lighter bottles in an effort to cut waste and reduce the environmental impact of transport.
Carmenère is a grape varietal that has virtually disappeared from its native Bordeaux, but quite literally this little known varietal has been resurrected or at the very least born again. Like the mythical phoenix that rises from the ashes, Carmenère has a new lease on life. After more than a century of obscurity, this flavorful, difficult to grow red grape variety is alive and well in Chile. It grows especially well in the scenic Colchagua and Rapel Valleys, where it ripens fully and is considered by its adherents to be next to godliness.
For a very long time, many in Chile believed or at least wanted to believe for commercial purposes that Carmenère was a clone of Merlot. And although there are some obvious differences in leaf appearance as well as the size and flavor of their fruit, both varieties had grown up alongside each other in Chilean vineyards for generations, with no distinction made between them. However, Carmenère is in fact a distinct varietal that carries its own set of attributes and characteristics. After years of speculation and extensive experimentation that culminated in 1994 with DNA testing and a positive identification by French ampelographer (vine expert) Jean-Michel Boursiquot, the true identity of Carmenère was established, or more accurately, re-established.