Chile: Maipo Valley
What We Say
If you are visiting us for the first time, Welcome! The Wine Spies feature one exceptional wine each day – and we only bring you wines that we ourselves seek out and love. Always, the wines are great. Sometimes greater than great, as is the case with today’s wine from Peng Wine.
Mission Codename: March of the PengWine
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Discover wines blended with the thought to be extinct Carménère varietal
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: PengWine
Wine Subject: 2003 Rockhopper Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker: Chris Millikan and Max Eyzaguirre
Wines from south of the equator have been extremely popular, most certainly because of the exceptional value and flavor of these wines. Chile is considered one of South America’s best wine regions. This wine is from the Maipo Valley located in the Central Valley Viticultural Region, the oldest of the designated regions in Chile. Maipo Valley is located just south of the capital Santiago.
We all know about Cabernet Sauvignon, but this wine incorporates the Carménère varietal into its blend. Once thought to be extinct, Carménère was rediscovered in Chile where it was used as a blending grape in place of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Carménère has a distinctive and often intense black-current flavor making it a great partner for Cabernet.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark purple and ruby in color with garnet edges. This wines long thick legs streak down the side of the glass when swirled.
Smell – Pronounced aromas of earth with a distinctive pine scent balanced against both sweet and tart raspberries and other wild berries, and spicy green bell peppers (or mild jalapenos).
Feel – Medium bodied that smooths out as it breathes, this wine is dry, with solid tannins and acidity that provides a mineral mouth feel.
Taste – If you have ever had the Mexican candy made from tamarind, this wine reminds us of that flavor. Its not exactly the same, but the tart fruit married with a distinctive spiciness that reaches the farthest corners of your moth is very nice.
Finish – This wine finishes long and smooth leaving you with its component flavors of fruit, mild oak and its vegital flavors.
Conclusion – Fans of Chilean Cabernets will naturally gravitate to this wine. It is an exceptional value and given the structure of this wine, it has aging potential as well. But I suspect you won’t be aging this wine, you keep reaching for another bottle.
After my close call with the O.D.S.W. (Only Drink Super Market Wines – the evil arch nemesis of The Wine Spies), the HQ Op Center suggested I lay low for a while. I had the choice to be placed on administrative leave or head down to Chile to do some advance work on a unique grape varietal.
It doesn’t make a rocket scientist to figure out the decision I made. I was on the next plane to Santiago de Chile. Upon arriving, our local liaison officer, we’ll call him Mendoza, his identity a closely guarded secret, met me at the airport and we immediately headed south to the Maipo Valley. Just south of Santiago, the Maipo Valley is the most cultivated and famous of Chilean grape growing regions.
Mendoza had found a winery using the great Carménère varietal. Being the focus of this mission, I was very pleased to be making such headway on the mission. Carménère is a very unique varietal, once thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in Chile hiding as a blending grape. Often used as Merlot and Cabernet Franc, its intensity of flavor make it an ideal partner for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.
We arrived in a small village just outside of Rancagua_. Once there Mendoza and I headed into a tienda and through the back door, where a few cases of, to my surprise, PengWine, sat. “What’s this?,” I exclaimed. We’ve already been monitoring PengWine. Mendoza smiled, stating simply, "_¿Por qué busca lejos?, Cuándo puedes buscar listo." Roughly, “work smarter, not harder.” Ponder that while sipping the 2003 PengWine Rockhopper Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère blend.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The lush farms, orchards and vineyards of the beautiful Maipo Valley can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
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About This Wine:
The uniqueness of this wine comes from the addition of 15% Carménère to our famous Cabernet Sauvignon. Carménère is a special grape to the Chileans and we think you’ll love it too.
The season started off cool with steadily increasing temperatures. Ideal conditions favored healthy grapes. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to ripen followed three weeks later by the Carménère. We saw excellent color and classic Maipo Valley fruit flavors this year. All harvesting was done by hand and only whole, ripe, loose bunches were selected.
Our Rockhopper Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère grapes were crushed and cold macerated to extract flavor and aromas this took place over the course of a week. The must was then moved to separate steel tanks, skins remained with each must during the fermentation. The fermentation was over in 9 days and it reached an average temperature of 28ºC for the Carménère and slightly higher, 31º for the Cabernet. Post fermentation maceration lasted an additional 2 weeks.
Once the two fermentations were complete, tests and tasting were conducted to determine the best blend and if and for how long the wines would age in oak barrels. We decided to age the Cabernet Sauvignon for 12 months in 300 liter French oak barrels. They were a mix of second and third use so as not to impart too much oak onto the wine and preserve the rich flavors of the Cabernet fruit. While in the barrels we monitored the wine to be sure that it did not get overoaked. It was decided not to oak the Carménère to preserve its unique aromas and flavors and to allow the velvet smoothness of this grape to show without oak tannins. After aging the Cabernet we focused on the exact blend of the final wine. We started by adding a small amount of Carménère, a robust must that improves the overall suppleness to make this a round, balanced wine. Carménère marks its presence even in small amounts and we liked how just how 15% of this intense juice made the difference. This gave us a chance to tout Chile’s unique grape in a great blend.
Rockhopper delights the nose with red raspberries, juniper and a whiff of smoke. The fruit of this medium bodied wine fills the mouth while the silky tannins add a long smooth finish. The Carménère adds a nice touch of herb at the very end.
Food Pairing Notes:
This wine is great for a cocktail party with cheese and crackers or savory appetizers. Or share it with friends during the first course of grilled seafood, roasted turkey or a gourmet pizza.
Appellation: Chiles Valley
Sub-Appellation: Central Valley, Chile
Harvest Date: April 2003
Special Designation: Maipo Valley
Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 85%, Carménère 15%
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère