Seeing the name “Carmen” took me back to the days when I was a very
small boy, a long time ago in a galaxy far away. One day, my father bought a
gramophone record of Bizet’s opera Carmen. He was always buying
gramophone records, but I was especially excited about this one, because I
quite naturally assumed that it was an opera about cars. Much to my intense
disappointment, there wasn’t a mention of a car in the entire opera, but I
quite liked some of the tunes. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that
Carmen was written in the early 1870s when there were not very many cars
around. It wasn’t until about fifteen years later that some German chap
built the first car which used a gasoline engine. His name, if memory serves
correctly, was Carl Benz. But then ninety years later, in the early 1960s,
there was a curious circular turn of fate. A television commercial appeared
advertising Esso (“Esso Sign means Happy Motoring”) sung to the tune of “The
Toreador’s Song” from Carmen. To my perverse satisfaction, the opera
finally got its automotive connection.
Now then, where was I? (I was beginning to wonder - Ed.) Oh yes, in
the bar the other night, I heard someone talking about “vintage wine”, as
though it was something very special and very old. I think he was getting
confused with vintage cars too. Of course, a vintage car is an old and
venerable one. To those people who enthuse about these things, the
expression is rather more precise, meaning a vehicle built between 1919 and
1939. Or so I’m told. But there is no such age connotation with “vintage
wine” although like the bloke in the bar, many people get confused about it.
It’s really quite simple. A wine’s vintage is merely the year in which the
grapes were picked and the wine made. Most table wines use grapes from a
single year and if the label shows a year - which most of them do - then
it’s a vintage wine, even if the year happens to be 2013. You see, almost
all table wine is vintage win, which is why the expression is virtually
meaningless. The few exceptions are cheap commercial products like
J.P.Chenet or Blue Nun which are blended using wines of different years.
Nearly all wine-producing countries allow a bit of flexibility in their
regulations. For example, Chilean wine must contain at least 75% of grapes
from the vintage year. In Australia, New Zealand and Europe, the requirement
is 85%. The vintage year is not especially important in warm countries,
where weather conditions tend to be much the same from year to year, but
it’s a different story in cooler regions. The vintage year of European wines
is especially important because of the variations in annual weather
patterns. The weather influences the quality of the grapes, which in turn
affect the quality of the wine.
There are a couple of exceptions. Fortified wines (like Port) and sparkling
wines (like Champagne) are nearly always non-vintage because in order to
create a consistent style they’re made from a blend of wines of different
years. Every three or four years, the weather conditions turn out to be so
good that only the grapes from that single year are used. Then the wines are
sold as Vintage Port or Vintage Champagne.
“Carmen” Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (white), Chile (Bt. 619 @
Big C Extra)
Over the years, Viña Carmen has acquired vineyards in
Chile’s top wine producing regions and today, their award-winning wines are
sold in more than fifty countries. This Sauvignon Blanc is from Chile’s
Central Valley, or El Valle Central, if you prefer a bit of local
colour. It’s one of the largest wine-producing areas in South America,
stretching from south of Santiago to the far end of the Maule Valley, 250
miles to the south.
It’s a splendid wine. With a very light straw colour and a greenish tinge,
aromas waft out of the glass. You’ll probably recognise pineapple, melon and
apricot, then a touch of ripe grapefruit. There are faint hints of orange
peel and dusty herbs too, especially thyme and oregano. At first sniff, it’s
almost like a Chardonnay but after a short time the sharp, summery aroma of
freshly-cut grass comes through. The mineral smells in the background
confirm that this indeed a Sauvignon Blanc and a pretty feisty one at that.
The lively Sauvignon character is more noticeable on the taste. Although the
mouth-feel is smooth and clean, there’s plenty of fresh, lemony acidity up
front giving the wine a sharp refreshing bite. It’s pretty dry of course,
because Sauvignons always are (or should be) but the dryness is balanced by
rich fruit on the palate. You’ll find that there’s a long, crisp and dry
finish too. The label suggests that you could serve this wine as an apéritif
and of course you could, but it would make a splendid partner for roast
chicken. The citrus quality would go well with many fish dishes, ideally
with a dash of thyme or oregano. This is a really well-made wine and you can
serve it straight out of the fridge, so that the aromas gradually develop in
“Carmen” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (red), Chile (Bt. 619 @
Big C Extra)
Here’s an inviting dark ruby-red wine with oily legs that appear
inside the glass when you swirl it around. There’s a rather classy Cabernet
aroma, typical of the rich reds that are coming out of Chile these days.
You’ll probably pick up dark fruit, brambles and herbs. At first the aroma
reminded me of a Merlot but then, almost as a second thought, the
characteristic Cabernet smells of sweet black and red fruit come through
with cherries, blackberries and plums.
This smooth-tasting wine is perfectly balanced with an attractive flavour of
ripe black fruit, a refreshing touch of acidity and a pleasing framework of
firm tannin. It’s totally dry and verging on full-bodied with a long,
satisfying finish. It’s quite assertive too and strikes me as very much a
food wine. Rich red meat dishes, steak, roasts and casseroles would probably
work well and possibly even game. If you’re going to have pasta or pizza,
save this Cabernet for something else, because it will almost certainly
overpower light dishes. It’s a hefty 13.5% alcohol content and pretty well
near the top of the tree for table wines, but if you like rich, powerful and
fruity reds, you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy in this wine.
Heavens, all this wine tasting has put me the mood for a song. How about
“The Toreador Song” from Carmen? I’m sure you remember it, but we’ll
have the original French words if you don’t mind. Right, altogether now…
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