Preface: These last few months have been kind of a roller coaster of catching colds, antibiotics, work, cutting my foot open, more work and slight melancholy. So this is one of a string of entries that came somewhere in between all that when breathing and inspiration went unhindered. But I'm bouncing back now and excited with what's coming up! I put this entry together some weeks, or a month, ago with the painting taking much longer than I thought (again, interruptions) and I think I'm fairly satisfied with its outcome. It's the first painting in fact that, while in the process, oddly struck me as if I was looking out through the skin of a grape, a little "essence" within looking upwards and out, while the exterior pressures worked their influences.
I haven't gone out of my way to purchase South American wine in a long while, not since the Montes Alpha Pinot Noir - I must return! - mainly because Europe and my fascination with American wine has taken up my attention and budget, so how I acquired this bottle is a bit of a funny story.
Recently I purchased a Groupon for a pair of new glasses plus shades, a win-win now that I've reached the age where my eyes are becoming sensitive to the bright summer sun and just when I can't get enough of the open air, warm days and much beloved beach time. As we all know the process with the eye doctor and then left to scour the racks for a frame that fits your face, while in my final decision sitting at the miniature counter with the saleswoman, she noted that she would even throw in a free bottle of wine with my purchase. I didn't tell her I worked in wine already and had a cargo ship of parked in my living room, just letting out a light laugh since she must have been joking as she noted the discounts from my Groupon.
Well... I was wrong. I paid for my new lenses and frames and she disappeared into the back somewhere for a minute to reappear with a small purple bag and this bottle of wine - plus one to the immediately-to-be-consumed pile.
I guess I don't mean to sound dismissive, from the label and my albeit outdated experience, I didn't expect much. I knew I'd find robust dark fruit with a generous amount of oak influence and perhaps some vegetal qualities, three traits that frame my perception of South American wine since my earliest days back on the Upper East Side. I guess in some ways it's the same reaction when someone is presented with a wine that shocks their senses and isn't from any one of their favorite FIGS nations. I'm still operating under the assumption that many people still drink Old World because of tradition, conditioning, romance, ease of access and acceptability, or preference and then scoff at the flavor profiles of other worldly wines as if their sensibilities are no where near as precise, leaving their palates dishonored. It's a topic that can come up at any moment and frankly it may be more about re-calibrating one's palate to variation that's always been there, like hearing an argument for the first time or grasping a heavy concept from another's point of view. So I've been caught, I'll admit, in the trap of some askance scoffing as I acclimated over the course of the first night with every sip only to find out that the wine was a pleasant surprise: nothing peculiar or off, no pending or threatening natural funk or strange arrangement of smells that kept my head cocked to one side; nothing that made me have to pour it down the sink (ironically I had opened four bottles that night, who shall remain nameless, and found they were either on the cusp of turning with that sour-metal-olive-leaning-to-cork smell or smelled like the crossing of aged Riesling treated with oak - it was a Beaujolais by the way), or go through an elaborate airing out process via decanter to dither precariously on the line of whether it was bad or not, before giving up from frustration and having to figure out something else to drink. (By the way, all of these scenarios occurred that night).
By the end of that bottle opening marathon with no rewards, I needed something that would be less of a challenge to the palate, something that would be instantly gratifying. I guess in seeing those words typed out I reveal more of my ignorance and it itches me to elaborate. I can't imagine it is said anywhere that wines of the New World - specifically South America since that's the topic of this article - aren't as serious as their Old World counterparts, nor are Old World wines unable to be instantly gratifying, its just patently absurd but this bias comes to mind perhaps from an anachronistic dichotomy still set in my thoughts, the very same that I'm unaware are playing out when shopping for wine. It's no surprise that the played out meme of Old World versus New World still exists, it's a vestigial argument that captures our attention like a shiny object, or porn, or our favorite sinful dessert and there are at first differences in overarching taste profiles: Old World wines tend to be more austere, mineral-driven and drier, while New World wines are more fruit-forward, have the presence of newer oak and are generally a bit more robust and forward. The funny thing about framing the argument like this is that it seems to only work if you keep to it, shop by it or discuss it like it's so, sort of like holding to a world view that only works in one dimension, built and fostered by a select few who held the reigns of understanding or wanted to focus popular thought towards a more enlightened state or something, while willfully disregarding anything that might follow and shape the world whether you like it or not. The truth is you'll find a lot more crossover in styles if you set your attention to it.
Most people during a blind tasting will eventually mix regions and profiles, are subject to peer influences, subjective influences driven by thoughts and experiences, and inevitably become confused and then either have an answer they're confident in or silently dither because they've acquiesced to whatever the reveal will be. So maybe I'm not jumping too far out on a limb here in saying that I think much of this argument has to do with the diaspora of wine knowledge and techniques nowadays: the world no longer revolves around Europe per se, immigrants from Europe brought their knowledge and desire for the vine with them and literally planted the future making the scene much larger, more variable and creating our current scenario. This has created a situation where it becomes more difficult to pin down and pick out particular nuances of a wine once thought typical to a region or varietal, information that goes beyond the subjective enjoyment and that place it in an environs that we might call terroir. This is not to say that sommeliers and others working in the wine world aren't discerning, educated and trained to varying degrees to assist in picking apart wines and understanding the important differences between a Pinot Noir grown in Burgundy and California, but I feel pointing this out reveals more about how this argument seems only worth the time when we're buzzed and bantering on the hooves of pop culture drivel. But I digress, perhaps this is the start of another entry because right now I've got a Carmenere sitting here patiently...
So with that said and to reiterate, I knew mostly what I was going to expect: a wine with the influence of oak, redolent blueberry notes and perhaps some spice - that was my experience years ago (Montes Alpha, Santa Ema) and has set the frame for this varietal. However, as perceptions and sensitivities ebb, I was struck by the intensity of the nose, not just by the oak but in the dark notes emanating from this violet-hued void. The word that comes to mind is simply visceral, it showed no reservations about what was emerging behind the curtain: lots of pepper and sage - it seemed a bit murky at first but unfolded on day two with the oak subsiding into a gentler sun burnt sage and predominantly black pepper notes showing more confidence. It was like wading through a mystery as the density or intensity of something haunting yet once sleek, like an inherent trait now a phantom calling out, develops and anchors the giving pepper nose - two partners in a dance as this unforgiving warmth wades in the background; the smoke of burning orange peel emanating slowly and more profusely over time; the anchor becoming more apparent, a bloody iron-earth coagulate where, in reaction to the radiant warmth in the background, exudes these burnt characteristics: sage, orange peel, dark red berry fruit. I'm almost hesitant to use 'berries' as a tasting note because those other characteristics are the main focus or become the focus of the wine forming something dynamic and sultry, taking me for a ride in a field that I hadn't experienced in a long time.
To return to the final visual for a moment, I personally feel it needed to be a little bit grittier in appearance, maybe some of this is due to the influence of the sketching materials but it turned out a little stylized in the dense red zone area. It's rather difficult at times to capture the transitions and subtle nuances where the colors shift and collide because that is where the excitement occurs, where scents intermingle, become a little vague and often find new impressions you might not expect; kind of like trying to peel away at the horizon to know what makes up that untouchable sliver.
I hope that leaves the reader with something to seek. I think I'm again won over by this varietal, maybe even this style of wine as a pleasure outside of feeling like it's a sinful endeavor to be had behind closed doors; there are days one wants his unbridled opulent wines and other days his ephemeral dreamy ones. I'm even more surprised by the price of this wine on the market, it's under $10.00, what a steal!
Chile has done well with its spirit grape.