Selections for April 2017

Give it air, time, or both. . .

2014 DOMAINE CORNE LOUP – Lirac, Southern Rhone, France

Three months ago I visited this winery in Lirac, across the Rhone River from more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  We tasted Corne Loup’s beautiful but not-yet-released 2015’s (all the ‘15’s in Europe will be beautiful) but I wanted to remember the experience sooner by getting this 2014 to you.  As it turns out, the wine wants you to wait.  It is formidably dark and inward right now, as Rhone reds go, but should loosen up given a little patience from you.  Can’t wait?  Just give it air and protein, and appreciate a heftier, darker-than-usual Southern Rhone red wine experience.

Why the grimness?  Some of that is 2014, a vintage with more body and ripeness than troublesome 2013 but still less gracious with the syrupy kirsch we expect from a ripe Rhone.  Structure is the consolation prize; I think we have something actually age-able on our hands here.  Another contributor to the gutsiness of this wine is the cepage, or grape recipe.  Many southern Rhone reds use about 70% Grenache (the charmer) and add in – perhaps – 20% Syrah (the darkener) and 10% Mourvédre (for complexity).  Lirac producers tend to “up” the Syrah component in their blends, as this one does.  The color readily declares this.  So does the impact. 

Finally, I think the winery has a certain “serious” way with its wines in general.  Up until now all we’ve carried from Domaine Corne Loup is their Tavel.  This is no wimpy rosé, but a significantly-bodied food version.  It is also cellarworthy, and I don’t regret having several bottles of the 2015 vintage in the cooler downstairs.  Is a Corne Loup “theme” forming?   

At first pouring the aroma is murky with aspects of teak.  Give it air - as we asked - and blackberries, raspberries, and roasted herbs will emerge.  Savor the smooth, softly-rich entry on the palate then beware the grippy finish:  Told ya so!  Better get that pork tenderloin off the grill!!  

The lost Bordeaux grape, done right!

2013 SANTA CAROLINA ‘Reserva de Familia’ CARMÉNÈRE – Rapel Valley, Chile

Here’s a new vintage of a wine we’ve shown your club before, and it nails it once again.  Succeeding with Carmenere is a challenge, but success happens with greater frequency these days.  Originally from Bordeaux, it was hardly re-planted there after the scourge of the root louse Phylloxera in the mid-1800’s.  However, it got to Chile in the meantime where it was thought to be Merlot for over a century, and treated accordingly.  Of all the Bordeaux grapes Merlot is the first to ripen in the early Fall.  Later the Cabernet is picked, then Cabernet Franc, and so on.  For a hundred years or so Carmenere was carelessly harvested along with its Merlot neighbors.  The resulting wine?  Exceedingly under-ripe with bell pepper green-ness and a burnt rubber eccentricity attractive only to the most gloomy of wine drinkers.

An ampelographer can be thanked for changing Carmenere’s fortune.  One of these specialists who identify a variety based on the leaf shape and size finally made the correct identification in the 1990’s.  Carmenere, finally recognized, began to be treated as a different-than-Merlot grape with inquiries into its particular needs.  It turned out this “Lost Bordeaux Grape” requires a very long season to fully mature in flavor.  It should be the LAST of the Bordeaux grapes to be harvested!

Barely a quarter century after this turning point we are seeing better, correctly ripened Carmenere.  The green pepper of the past has modified to roasted red pepper, joined by black fruits, smoke, and a round palate feel.

Wine Spectator recently awarded this 90 points with the observation:

“Juicy and rich, with finely sculpted flavors of dark currant, red plum and boysenberry, backed by medium-weight tannins. Chocolate and spice details fill the plush finish, which features accents of dried green herbs. Drink now through 2020.”   

We recommend Indian curry dishes or lamb as ideal partners.  If you want to keep it simple, just serve it alongside a medium-rare ribeye!