2017 St. Stephen Vineyards, Carmenere Reserva, Oda al Vino, Organic Vines, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
I was really excited to try some of St. Stephen’s new releases and check in on Chile’s development with their old pre-phylloxera clones of Bordeaux varietals and my more recent trend of sampling the Mission era Pais wines that have become so fashionable in the last 10 years, it is a great time to discover Chile’s diversity and history in the wine world. The Oda al Vino organic vine Carmenere Reserva is a beautiful example of this almost forgotten Bordeaux grape with lovely mineral tones and polished tannins, you can see why the Chateaux of Bordeaux have started replanting it, after almost 200 years of not having this long lost varietal, it is having a comeback of sorts, while being Chile’s signature grape, that they thought was a clone of Merlot until early in this century. The 2017 has everything that appeals about this grape, a beautiful dark garnet hue in the glass, delicate spices that range from cracked pepper to the more exotic Asian brown spices and a layered array of dark berry fruits with just the right amount of toasty French oak to soften the tannins. Chile’s Bordeaux bias started when cuttings of Carménère were imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux during the 19th century, where they were accidentally mistaken with Merlot vines. These Chilean wineries of the 1800s modeled their wines after those in the Medoc and in the 1850s these vines from Bordeaux were planted in the valleys around Santiago, like the Colchagua, in the shadow of the Andes Mountains that allow a more warm and mild climate to their west. Also thanks to central Chile’s minimal rainfall during the growing season and well drained and diverse soils growers are able to produce ripe and complex examples of Carménère, like this one. Carménère, with its origins in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, is almost unknown in its country of its birth, but thrives in Chile and interesting enough in Italy’s Northeast regions including the Veneto and especially in the Friuli-Venezia area.

The 2017 Oda al Vino Carmenere Reserva starts with a light floral note, the mentioned mineral element and a whiff of its famous spices along with dusty vine picked berry and a touch of sweet oak before unfolding with blackberry, plum and cherry fruits on the supple, almost silken, medium/full bodied palate. The vintage will charm those that favor old world wines with well judged acidity and smooth structure, it is also excellent with food, in fact the fruit really becomes more defined and the spice more interesting with matching cuisine, in particular a fine cut of filet or confit, either duck or chicken leg meat. Made by St. Stephen’s winemaker José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen, the Ode al Vino Organic Grown Carmenere Reserva saw a primary fermentation with selected cultures in stainless steel tanks, which lasted about two weeks before the wine was pressed to French oak with this vintage seeing close to 50% new wood and elevage lasting 15 months. There were no additions or manipulations done during the winemaking process and no need for acid adjustments with extra care being given to the vines to achieve a more nature and pure wine. The finished natural alcohol, labeled at 13% was labeled out at closer to 12.5%, so this Carmenere has a more balanced feel and an ease in the glass that makes it very approachable and easy to enjoy. I admire the restraint and poise of this vintage and a second glass was wonderfully pleasing and comforting, gaining my appreciation even more, and I look forward to trying José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen’s other offerings, which at the moment, include a Malbec, single varietal bottling and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all from organic vines in the Colchagua Valley. Chile has one of the most unique and long history of winemaking, starting with those Spanish Catholic Missionaries that reached these shores in the 1500s, bringing with them the first European vines to the new world.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

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