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This is one of the most impressive and enjoyable Carmenères I have tasted for a very long time. It's in De Martino's single vineyard series and is a great expression of this variety grown where it is happiest and produces its best results – in the warm but moderate parts of Chile's coastal range in Maipo.
The last word in my tasting note was 'intoxicating' and although this is of course true in a literal sense (14.5% alcohol), I meant it metaphorically. It's a deep dark black cherry colour and has incredibly pure dark cassis fruit aromas with the merest hint of cassis leaf and capsicum so that you can't mistake it for any other variety. It shows wonderfully ripe Carmenère character without the slightest hint of overripeness: intense and rich and concentrated. There's a surprising and attractive freshness on the finish so that even though it is a big, powerful wine it doesn't overwhelm the palate. It's pure and fine with savoury, firm but melted tannins and a long finish. As I said, intoxicating.
Marcelo Retamal, De Martino's chief viticulturist and definitely one of the best in Chile, travels over 80,000 kilometres a year to make sure he stays close to the vineyards. So far they have vinified wine from 347 different plots (hence the name of their new 347 Vineyards range). This work on the ground has allowed Marcelo to identify and fine tune variety and site matching with great precision.
The grapes that go into this wine come from the organically cultivated Alto de Piedras vineyard in the Isla de Maipo in the Maipo Valley. This 5.4 ha (13 acre) vineyard is planted on soils of alluvial origin mixed with gravel, clay, and sand with excellent drainage and low fertility that naturally controls vineyard growth. The mild-warm climate gives a long ripening period that's very important to get rid of the green notes that this variety tends towards if it is not harvested at the right moment. The grapes for the 2006 were hand picked very late in the season, in the second week in May.
De Martino have been producing Carmenère from this site since 1996 so they have had time to experiement with all aspects of viticulture and harvest dates and it really shows in this vintage. To show just how much detail is involved, I've reproduced here a diagram showing how the vineyard is divided into blocks for individualised tender loving care.
To extract plenty of colour and deep fruit flavours, the grapes are cold macerated for a week at 8°C prior to alcoholic fermentation, which takes place in stainless steel tanks, then the wine spends 18 months in French oak barrels.
I tasted a barrel sample of the 2007 vintage (cool by Chilean standards, and dry) and it was different but equally good, potentially even better – a little darker and less voluptous at this stage but with velvety depths and lots of spice, perhaps a touch more refined but not as immediately welcoming.
Total production is just over 20,000 bottles but it is distributed in quite a few different countries, as shown in the list below. For more information, contact the importer/distributor cited.
In the UK the wine is available from The Wine Society, Stevenage, Whole Food Market, Kensington High St, London, and from www.everywine.co.uk (though check which vintage they have). In the US, it's imported by Global Vineyards (see their website for a list of distributors). And there's more information on distribution of De Martino wines in general here.
Australia Wines of Chile Mob (0412) 147837
Belgium Intervinos/ Mampey 32-50-31-1460
Brazil Decanter Vinhos ++55 47 3326-0111
Chile Cava Reunidas/ Mundo del Vino 562 5841800
China Jebsen 86-10-8519-8618
Colombia Decanter SA 57-4 2855649
Costa Rica Mercantíl AL 506-582 0000
Denmark Vintappergaarden/Altia 45-4588 4020
Estonia RRK 372-666-3131
Guatemala Arico 5022380 3100
Holland Unique/ Henri Bloems 31-40-244-1693
Hong Kong Kedington Wines 852-28989323
Spain Bitacora Sur 93-240-2570
Sweden Domaine 468-546-10700
Switzerland Zweifel 41-44-344-2211
Uruguay Gran Gru 598-2-902-7800