I was at my computer this morning when my 4-year old daughter came in to say goodbye before heading to pre-school. Anyone who has spent a year in the same house with a four-year-old knows a bit about instant humility. On this particular morning it arrived when she instantly wiped off my goodbye kiss with the back of her sleeve. Seeing my surprise she enthused "Don't worry daddy, I just wiped off your spit, not your kiss!"
Now, lest you presume your wine merchant to be a sloberry sort, I assure you there was no saliva surplus in this daddy-daughter exchange. Nonetheless, I was pleased by her reassurance that my sentiment survived its visible evidence.
Which reminded me of this week's wine news. One of the stories highlighted a Chilean wine named "(oops)" because it comes from grapes believed for a century to be Merlot and recently proven otherwise. Which raises the wine-world equivalent of the classic Velveteen Rabbit question "What is real?"...
I can remember, years ago, when the buzz in my wine classes was about Chilean Merlot. It was the hot grape varietal, the hot new region, the wine to watch. It was a source of excitement among domestic enthusiasts and of dreaded competition among domestic producers. Then about ten years ago, I discovered "Primus" - the first Chilean wine I'd seen whose label listed the varietal "Carmenere" (Kar-muh-NEAR). Subsequent research revealed that the wonderful Chilean Merlots were so disctinctive because they were, well, not actually merlot.
As the story unfolded, I learned that the French phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800's led to the decline of Carmenere - one of the six noble grapes in the blend of pre-phylloxera Bordeaux. Today we know Bordeaux to contain just five varietals, with Carmenere as absent and forgotten as the fifth Beatle. Meanwhile, as Carmenere disappeared from post-phylloxera France, the grape flourished in the coastal hillsides of Western Chile. But it grew (and grew to fame) under the "Merlot" moniker. Oops.
So what IS real?
Was Chilean Carmenere any less enjoyable for the century it was believed to be "Chilean Merlot"? Would a rose by any other name smell less sweet (with apologies to Will)? I encourage you to see for yourself. Though we don't carry a Caremere in our online store or wine shop, a good bottle can be found relatively easily, selling for $12 - $22.
I encourage you to try a bottle - it's always fun to drink a wine that comes with a good human interest story. And I think you'll agree that, even after wiping off the more recognizable "Merlot", the sentiment is the same - a most agreeable drink.
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
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