Sat 26 Jun 2010
Yes, Oveja Negra means “black sheep” — the outcast, the shunned — but this quartet of blended wines from Chile should be insiders on your table this summer. The wines are thoughtfully made from sustainable vineyards by Rafael Tirado, they’re primarily tasty and approachable, and the price, as you’ll see, can’t be beat. They’re from Chile’s Maule Valley, which lies within the country’s vast and productive Central Valley, which also include the vineyard regions of Maipo, Rapel and Curicó. No new oak is used with these Reserva wines. The bottles are topped with screw-caps for easy opening.
The Oveja Negra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc Carmenère 2009 is absolutely delightful. The blend is 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent carmenère, which, the sharp-eyed among you will assert, is a red grape, so it’s picked early, slightly under-ripe for the acidity, treated as if it were being made into a rosé wine, with no skin contact, and then blended back. The wine is made completely in stainless steel. This is clean, fresh and delicate, with penetrating scents of grapefruit, crushed jasmine, talc, lime peel and lemon balm; that’s right, you could dab it behind your ears on a soft summer night. Vivid acidity keeps the wine crisp and lively, buoying light flavors of slightly leafy lemon with hints of cloves and new-mown grass. The wine is quite dry and a little chalky, and the finish brings in a note of damp limestone. One of the prettiest wines around. Alcohol content is 13.2 percent. Very Good+. About $12 and a Great Bargain.
I was not quite as enamored of the Oveja Negra Reserva Chardonnay Viognier 2008, a blend of 82 percent chardonnay and 18 percent viognier. It’s simply a stylistic matter; this is rather too boldly and brightly spicy and tropical for my taste, but it’s certainly well-made. Ten percent of the wine is aged eight months in used French oak; in fact, these Oveja Negra Reserva wines see no new oak at all. Roasted grapefruit, baked pineapple, lemon-lime and lemon balm, a hint of spiced mango (and in the bouquet a beguiling touch of honeysuckle from the viognier): juicy but very dry, quite drinkable but more florid than I like, even in an inexpensive white wine. If it’s to your taste, go for it. Alcohol is 13.7 percent. Very Good. About $12.
The aromas of black and red currants that waft from a glass of the Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Franc Carmenère 2008 — the blend is 70/30 — are not only ripe and seductive but intense and concentrated and permeated by elements of cocoa powder and cloves, briers and brambles; the wine is deeply spicy and peppery, earthy and minerally in a crushed gravel sort of way, and its luscious, almost velvety black and red fruit flavors (with a whisk of cedary blueberry) lead to a finish with a touch of leathery austerity. The oak regimen is this: 40 percent of the wine aged eight to 10 months in a combination of 60 percent French and 40 percent American used oak barrels; the majority of the wine remained in stainless steel. A lot of personality for the price here, and a natural mate with grilled steaks and hamburgers or hearty pizzas and pasta dishes. 14.1 percent alcohol. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at about $12.
Fourth in this roster is the Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2008, a 68/32 percent blend with the same oak treatment as the Cabernet Franc Carmenère 08 mentioned above. This is a sizable wine, dense, concentrated, chewy, smoky and very spicy; it’s packed with earth- and mineral-infused black currant, blackberry and plum flavors, and the finish is stalwart with grainy tannins and polished oak. A little closed-in now and showing not quite the immediate pleasure of the previous wine. Perhaps a year in the bottle will soften it. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Vici Wine & Spirits, Coral Springs, Fla. Tasted at a trade luncheon.