Tightly framed between a 4,270km stretch of low coastal mountains along the Pacific shore, and a parallel spine of Andean foothills and peaks, most of Chile barely averages 175km in width. Not surprisingly for a long sliver of a country that crosses 38 degrees of latitude, this translates into a dynamic mix of climate and an ever-shifting geography. The bookends range from inhospitable desiccation in the northern Atacama Desert to mild Mediterranean conditions in the fertile Central Valley, to the southern third with a diverse, alpine landscape of rain-drenched lake country, foggy fjords, and windswept glaciers — giving way to tundra. Anchored around the capital of Santiago, the temperate midsection has always been a prized, agricultural and commercial heartland. Successive
Incan and Spanish incursions were thwarted until the early 1540’s when conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, in having met more than his match, settled for a partial subjugation of the indigenous and indomitable Mapuche (‘people of the land’). In the five centuries since the so-called Spanish Conquest, Chile’s potential has attracted at least three significant waves of immigration, surprisingly including Syrians, Jordanians, and Scandinavians! Among the personal effects for those of East and West-European descent, they also brought along new varieties of Vitis Vinifera — ‘the vine that bears wine.’
In 1818, after the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain and weakening of colonial rule, Chilean nationalists united and gained their independence. This birthing of modern Chile also coincided with an influx of German, Swiss, Austrian, and Alsatian immigrants whose descendants have become known as Germano-chilenos. Presumably, Christian Lanz was among the entrepreneurial group, as was his intrepid bride, Carmen. In 1850 he founded one of Chile’s first commercial wineries and astutely named it after his wife. After a long business tradition of winemaking that narrowly aimed to satisfy the volume demands of local consumption, the 1980’s mark a departure for Viña Carmen, and
many other long-established wineries, to turn their attention toward the promise of a burgeoning export market. For Carmen, the upscaling prompted an ambitious expansion of their vineyards into the premier growing regions of the Casablanca, Leyda, Colchagua, Apalta, and Maipo valleys. For this week’s feature of Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, the source is the Alto Maipo; a high altitude terroir of alluvial terraces in the eastern end of the valley. With a long season of hot daytime followed by nighttime cooling, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere vines develop fully ripe fruit while maintaining a balance of vibrant acidity – a combination that has become an exciting hallmark of contemporary Chilean wine-making.
Apart from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the wine aging criteria of Reserva and Gran Reserva are definitively regulated and standardized, there remain many regions where these terms are loosely interpreted. In other words, they may simply be marketing tools that reveal little about the finishing process of the wine in advance of its release. In Chile these terms are categorized as ‘quality mentions,’ so it is left entirely to the vintner’s discretion to justify the description. Nonetheless, for the reputable wineries, there is an adherence to the principle that a bottle bearing these designations is of a higher quality. Until this becomes better codified in South and North America, consumers will have to rely on other indicators; from reliable sources such as ‘Wine Spectator’ assigning this 2012 bottling as 32nd in their ‘Top 100’ listing; ‘Wine & Spirits’ magazine naming Viña
Carmen the ’Top Winery of the Year’ four times, and — ‘DéClassé’ recommends this as ‘outstanding value for well-crafted wine at a modest $16.95 price-point.’
CARMEN GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012
LCBO Product #358309 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD
Made in Chile
By: Viña Carmen
Release Date: April 15, 2015
This wine has sufficient depth of garnet-red colouring to match the expectation of a ‘Reserve’ bottling, e.g. a minimum of 12 months spent in oak and another year in bottle. What exceeds expectation is that the vintner has managed to maintain bright cherry, raspberry, and plum aroma and flavours while coaxing spice and chocolate from the soft oak. Certainly, this offering will pair with the traditional fare associated to Bordeaux-esq reds, however, Carmen’s ‘Gran Reserva’ is ready to be uncorked and enjoyed on its own!