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18 Dec 2008 South American Varieties — Carmenere, Malbec, Torrontes, Tannat
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Carmenere

Carmenere and Merlot cuttings were brought over from Bordeaux to plant Chilean vineyards in the 19th century.  The cuttings tended to be planted together in a field blend.  As a result, ‘Merlot’ in Chile can be any mixture of Merlot and Crmenere.  At the time of vineyard planting, the difference in the varietals was not known.  Carmenere does not like wet growing seasons or irrigation resulting in aggressive green bell pepper flavors.  Carmenere takes three weeks longer to ripen than Merlot, so it is much better suited to sites with longer, dry growing seasons.  Hence, Carmenere has not done well in Bordeaux. 

Carmenere tends toward low acidity giving it really sweet tasting-fruit.  When it is ripe, the fruit has blackberry, black plum and spice with an array of savory flavors (coffee, grilled meat, celery and soy sauce); the tannins are rich and round.  The flavor profile of Carmenere makes it a good blending partner with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Roughly 4000 hectares of Cabernet Franc in northern Italy (Veneto, Tretino and Friuli)  is actually Carmenere.

Recommended producers in Chile: Almaviva, Apaltague, Biwquertt, Casa Lapostolle, Concha y Toro, Errazuriz, Los Robles, MontGras and Veramonte.

Torrontes

Torrontes is Argentina’s specialty white varietal.   Torrontes varietal is actually several different varieties, some of which resemble Muscat-like aroma and some are similar to Gewurtraminer.  Torrontes aromas are floral, soapy and sometimes spicy.  The three main varieties going from most aromatic to least aromatic are: Torrontes Riojano (from the La Rioja province in Argentina), Torrontes Sanjuanino (from the San Juan province) and Torrontes Mendocino or Mendozino (found in Rio Negro and the northern end of Patagonia).

The variety seems particularly well adapted to the arid growing conditions of Argentina, especially the high, sandy Cafayate region.  The high altitude (1600m +) helps provide natural high acidity and assertive flavors.

Best producers in Argentina: Etchart, Norton, Michel Torino

Malbec

Malbec is a native grape of south-west France.  It is also known as Cot in the Loire Valley and the South-West of France; in Cahors, it is known as Auxerrois (not to be confused with the white varietal Auxerrois of Alsace).  Malbec is one of the 5 varietals in the Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc).  Malbec in Bordeaux has had a rough time of it — graphed to less than suitable rootstocks, cooler climate.  Cuttings from Bordeaux Malbec where brought over to Argentina in 1862.  If you compare the current Malbec vines in Argentina with Malbec in Cahors, you will find there is a significant difference.  Malbec in Argentina has a much larger clonal range than in France.

Malbec prefers higher altitude sites (between 1000 and 1100 meters) and warm climates.  Malbec has a dark purple color, aromas of damson and violets with a soothing ripe tannic structure.  Oak aging can work well but tends to overwhelm the fruit characteristics.  In Cahors, the flavor tends to more dried fruit characteristics — raisins, tobacco and damson skins. 

Best producers in Argentina: Alamos Ridge, Alta Vista, Altos de Temporada, Anubis, Catena, Etchart, Medalla, Norton, Terraza de Los Andes, Michel Torino, Trapiche and Weinert.  Best producers in Chile: Montes, MontGras, Morande, Valdivieso, Vina Casablanca.

Tannat

In Uruguay, Tannat is increasing in quality; it is marked by fine, ripe tannins and elegant blackberry fruit.  The newer French clones of Tannat tend to produce higher alcohol wines but are simplier than the wine from the old-vine brought over from France originally.

Best producers in Uruguay: Establecimiento Juanico, Castel Pujol, and Hector Stagnari.