I apologise immediately for the slightly sensationalistic title, but two recent items of news got me thinking about Carmenère in Bordeaux.
Cast your mind back only a week or two to my report entitled Experimental Margaux, a tasting of Margaux experiments organised by Yvon Mau and hosted in London with Richard Bampfield and Paul Pontallier at the helm. There, Pontallier gave Carmenère short shift, saying (as can be found in part 2 of my report if you are interested) that the variety was inherently rustic and, word-for-word, that a good Carmenère “is less rustic than a bad one“. There’s clearly no room for this variety, which originated in Bordeaux, in the Margaux vineyard.
Contrast that with the prevailing opinion at Brane-Cantenac; last October I visited this property (among a few other left-bank châteaux) and, in the process I learnt a lot about the vineyards and the many developments Henri Lurton and Christophe Capdeville have put in place. I’ve made a full report here, and my profile is due a corresponding update (in fact this is already done; it is lined up for publication next week). The highlight of the visit was a grand vertical tasting, starting with the 2000 and continuing forward through to a barrel sample of the 2010, and finishing with a taste of the 2011 Carmenère, a small-volume experiment from vines planted back in 2007 and which have borne fruit since the 2009 vintage. Although the variety has largely disappeared from the region because of difficult ripening (and other problems), Carmenère has been allowed back in at Brane-Cantenac because, in the face of warmer climate, later ripening varieties might be just what Bordeaux needs. Here’s a tasting impression of the wine:
Château Brane-Cantenac (Margaux) Carmenère 2011: A barrel sample (from one of five barrels filled) from the experimental planting of Carmenère on the upper part of the plateau. An amazing violet hue, vibrant yet deep. A very distinctive nose, bright yet concentrated and rich. There is a pile of dense, violet-tinged fruit but this is overlaid with bready-yeasty notes from the fermenting yeast. There are also exotic notes, floral and redolent of white peach and pear along with the dark, still-grapey fruit. The texture is full, with a firm alcoholic trace running through as a warm heat, along with masses of sweet, plump, soft and juicy fruits. On the basis of this tasting this isn’t a variety that would be able to stand alone although it could have something to contribute to a blend. A ripe, sweet, tannin-infused finish. Final alcohol likely to be at least 15.5%. No score.
We know today, with the release of this report, that Capdeville, Lurton & co. are to use the Carmenère I tasted (OK, not the actual mouthful I tasted, but you know what I mean) in the 2011 blend. What started out as an experiment has quickly been commercialised, it seems. Even if it is only 0.5% of the final blend, Carmenère is definitely ‘in’ at Brane-Cantenac.
So what is Carmenère? The saviour of Bordeaux as climate change continues, or the rustic grape of Pontallier’s nightmares?