wine in the spotlight: reininger carmenère

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Carmenère is the sixth Beatle of grapes. Not sad sack drummer Pete Best (he’s clearly Malbec), but the other guy, Stu Sutcliffe, who made a brief appearance as the band’s original bassist. Carmenère does the same thing. Other than in Chile, where it has rather surprisingly become something of a standard-bearer, the grape is all but invisible. Technically one of the six official red grapes of Bordeaux, it isn't even a factor there. And quite honestly, it's easy to see why. The stuff is herbal to a fault, can quickly turn stiffly tannic and stemmy, and has little or no discernable impact when leaked into a Bordeaux blend.

Yet it has its admirers. In Washington state, it was first planted in 1997 by Leonetti’s Chris Figgins, budwood from a newly planted vineyard at Guenoc winery in California. Figgins remembers referring to the whole adventure, tongue in cheek, as “Operation ABV, short for ‘Ancient Bordeaux Varietal’!” The following year a larger amount of wood was purchased and planted to five acres at Seven Hills east. Some of those cuttings were shared with Mark Colvin; Colvin's winery (now out of business) was the first in Washington to make varietal carmenère.

I've never counted myself among those who believe it has much of a place or a future in this state as a varietal wine, but Chuck Reininger may yet change my thinking. Though a handful of other wineries have tried their hand at it with some success – notably Beresan, Morrison Lane (estate-grown fruit), Otis Kenyon, Seven Hills, Smasne Cellars and Tertulia Cellars, it is Reininger who seems to have wrangled the grape into submission.

The latest release, Reininger's 2006 Seven Hills Vineyard Carmenère ($40), is 100% varietal, single vineyard sourced, and coopered in French oak, 61% new. A whopping 454 cases were produced. From first glance and whiff it captures the varietal perfectly, with ripe black fruits and fresh, pungent herbal highlights. Tannins are supple and smooth, beautifully rendered, and the wine continues seamlessly through a lingering and satisfying finish. All by itself it makes a strong claim for being the best Carmenère in Washington, if not the country.

13 comments:

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I had a bottle of the 2003 Reininger Carmenère a few months back, and it was drinking absolutely beautifully. Also had a nice bottle from JM Cellars recently also from Seven Hills (2008, drinking young but quite nice). Certainly for those looking for Washington's 'signature grape' I would say, look elsewhere! But in the right hands...

P.S. I think Pete Best playing at one of the casinos around here soon!

Anonymous said...

Paul,
I'm curious. The highest rated Carmeniere out of WA state that I know of was JM Cellars 2007 100% varietal. Jay Miller gave it a 92. Did you taste it at all? How do these you recommend compare?
Charlie

PaulG said...

Anon & Sean - I have not had any JM Cellars Carmenère - either 2007 or 2008, so I cannot comment. But I would not be surprised if it was very good, given the winery track record and source of grapes. Glad to hear that Reininger's '03 is alive and well. As for Pete Best - I don't suppose he's playing with Ringo, is he?

Plymale said...

Here, here! Fresh ground pepper?

Bart Fawbush said...

Would love to see more Carmenere planted in WA! Can't get enough of it!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

The 2005 Reininger Carmenere recieved a 93 point rating from Jay Miller in June 2008(WA #177). It seems the grape is working well in Washington and working its way into the hearts of the critics( we sure hope so!).

Paul,
Thank you for the kind words. They are much appreciated.

Justin Vajgert
Reininger Winery

Maureen said...

I'm with Bart on this one. Recently tasted '05 Carmenere from Morrison Lane. I think their vines were part of the Figgins AVB experiment, so planted around 1999. A very worthy take on the grape.

Riley Clubb said...

A Carmenere definitely worth checking out would be the 100% Carmenere - Seven Hills Vineyard from El Corazon Winery; I believe it's called "Tigers Blood." They're all sold out of everything right now but I'm excited for the next releases!

wine_jester said...

Cool post Paul! I got a few of the '06 upon release while leaving my footprints at Reininger. Their '08 Carmenere was evolving absolutely beautifully during crush, we indeed have much to look forward to from Chuck. It's the best when you meet someone so innately human as Chuck and be able to see them succeed in an industry that is founded upon true people putting their all into their passion.

Anonymous said...

In response to Riley's post above, El Corazon buys their Carmenere as bulk wine from Reininger Winery.

Spencer said...

Hi Anonymous, This is Spencer, the winemaker from El Corazon Winery. I do not buy my Carmenere as bulk wine from Reininger. I work at Reininger. I buy fruit from the same block at seven hills, but I think you'll find the Carmenere from El Corazon and Reininger to be very different. Maybe you should do a little fact checking before you make statements like that.

PaulG said...

Spencer, thanks for the clarification. I don't think any criticism was intended.

Unknown said...

I've recently enjoyed the following Carmenere: Beresan 08, Morrison Lane 05, Reinenger 07,and Trio 07 (sold out). All different but I enjoy them all. But especially the Trio 07 (Ray Davis vineyard) with dry rubbed, slow cooked pork butt. Trio has secured more of these grapes from the 2011 crop. I've sampled a number of Carmenere from Chile, but find the Washington bottlings much more to my liking.
Greg R

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