Sunday, November 16, 2008

Report from ... Tasting with Sebastian Labbe of Vina Carmen - October 27, 2008

Sitting in a small anteroom at the LCBO’s Summerhill location (just south of St. Clair on Yonge, Toronto), less than a dozen of us sat down to get the low down on Vina Carmen from a member of it’s winemaking team, namely Sebastian Labbe. Vina Carmen is part of the Santa Rita group of wineries who make up the fifteenth largest exporter of wine in Chile. These labels should be no mystery to those who regularly, or even semi-regularly, prowl the aisles of our liquor monopoly - both the Santa Rita brand and Carmen brand have both general list (available all the time) and occasional Vintages products (special small lots wines) go through the board. Carmen is an autonomous entity from Santa Rita with its own facilities, vineyards and winemaking team – though pooling/sharing resources and knowledge is not unheard of. During the tasting Labbe called their style, "a marriage of old world and new world."

Before tasting Sebastian took us on a brief photographic tour of Chile, showing us pictures and graphics of the Maipo (which has less rain than Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa); Rapel (great for reds) and the Leyda Valley (cooler climate, good growing conditions for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc). He also told us about new growing regions like Limari (in the north) and the Elqui Valley (growing Syrah and Carmenere). Carmen has five different labels under its umbrella: Classic, Reserve, Nativa (organic grapes), Winemaker’s Reserve, and Gold Reserve (single vineyard) - we tried at least one wine in each tier.

Sebastian was proud to mention that Carmen has won winery of the year from Wine and Spirits magazine eight times ... here are some of the reasons why:

Classic Chardonnay 2007 ($9.95) – Casablanca Valley
Nose is loaded with melon and peach, nice mineral and grassy notes, the flavors are big on citrus, tons of acidity and a long melon finish ... this has more Sauvignon Blanc-like characteristics than Chardonnay – but very lovely.

Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet 2005 ($16.85 - 60/40 blend)
Plumy and minty on the nose, peppery blackberry with dusty-gritty tannins.

Reserve Petit Syrah 2004 ($18.95)
Nose has minty-ness with red cherry liqueur nuances, taste-wise you're looking at white pepper, black cherry with a sweet and sour finish.

Gold Reserve 1999 and 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (~$49.95)
This wine is made in only the best years from a single 4-hectare block which is hand picked and sorted … this particular block was planted back in 1957. The wine is aged fifteen to eighteen months in new French oak and bottle aged for an additional twelve months ... it's always made unfiltered.
1999: smooth, chocolate, juicy, dried fruit, fine tannins, very elegant with fifteen percent alcohol
2001: grittier, alcohol is more apparent with lots of red berry flavors and smells.
Years that the Gold Reserve has been made: 93, 95, 97, 99, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 07, 08.

Finally, for dessert, we tried the 2007 Moscatel (retails for under $15.00 and comes in 500ml bottles - not currently available in Ontario). It's a pity the LCBO has never brought this in, because this really is something special - especially at that price. Smells are apple, peach, white flowers and a bit grassy, while the palate dishes out pineapple, peach, easy sweetness and grapy flavors. Alcohol is only 12.5% and the sugar code is a mere seven. This is light, refreshing and incredibly tasty … the finish has a light hint of vanilla-caramel. Yum.
Other notes about this wine: 15% is made from botrytis-affected grapes. 50% is oak fermented; the other 50% is done in stainless steel.

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