There have been quite a few bottles over the years that have really put wine into perspective for me. The way in which a grape chooses to showcase itself based on where its grown or interventions by the winemakers, is fascinating. This holds true even more so when you can actually taste & smell those influences. One of my fondest memories is tied to a producer in Chile (there's a special place in my heart for the South American wine regions) & their interpretation of one of the most unique red varietals you will drink all year: Carmenere.
I remember rummaging through the shelves at my first retail wine shop gig after putting away a bunch of stock and found my self suddenly drawn to our South American selection. I was already a fan of that particular part of the world simply by way of Malbec and, oddly, a Cabernet Franc from Argentina. The wines from SA were always inexpensive, but consistently overdelivered at their value price point. I squatted down to the lowest shelf in the store for at least 30 minutes until the beautifully drawn purple bull of the Calcu label commanded all my attention. I bought the bottle with little hesitation and ran home to try it after my shift. Upon first whiff I was instantly reminded of a Szechuan beef stir-fry that was chockfull of green peppers. I had never experienced pyrazine (the element in wines that cause you to smell savory green veggies, specifically bell peppers) in any wine before, not even a Cabernet Sauvignon had given me such vegetal tones. I was equal parts amazed & disturbed, but still eager for how the wine would taste on the palate. It opens up with more savory highs on the palate before a decrescendo into notes of cinnamon, herbs & dark cocoa. I was beyond amazed at a varietal that I had, up until this point, only come across in my studies. It was a tasting experience that put terroir & varietal character into perspective for me.
"Calcu", which translates to 'healing doctor', is a Chilean producer operating out of Colchagua Valley. Their focus is on sustainability in their winemaking and everyday drinking wines that are far more distinct & interesting than most other wines in the same category. The winemaker, Rodrigo Romero, oversees the exciting line of small productions wines that are fresh & fruity yet elegant at the same time. His interpretation of South American fruit is only enhanced by the artwork on the label that use water paint splotches to create the outline of a playful purple bull. The Calcu wine I experienced is made from 100% Carmenere grapes grown between the Chimbarongo Creek and the Tinguiririca River on the Maquis Estate in central Colchagua Valley. This grape has a spiritual home in Bordeaux, France, where it was originally used for blending purposes. It disappeared from the region and reappeared in Chile. Unfortunately, people mistook it for Merlot for quite some time before realizing it was a completely different grape! Now, Carmenere can be seen as a bit of a flagship varietal for Chile and one that they can uniquely call their own.
Keep an eye out in your local wine shops for this varietal or this producer for a thrilling introduction or re-introduction to South American Wines.