Late last year I received a letter of excitement, mystery and intrigue. It was from Robin Ransom of Ransom Wines in Matakana. He had been doing a bit of sleuthing. Seems he had these grapevines in his vineyard, vines he had purchased as Cabernet Franc, but they were not performing. He had planted them in 1997 but the first pickable crop was only in 2002. Now most growers would get rid of underperforming vines like these and replace them with something more productive. But Robin persevered because, apart from the small crop, other indications were good. The fruit was deeply coloured and the small berries were in small, clean, open bunches. The fruit ripened at the same time as his other clones of Cabernet Franc, but that's where the similarity ended. The appearance of the vine, the bunches and the fruit, the vine’s habit in the vineyard, colour of leaves in Autumn, and not least the wine it produced, was so different to his two other Cabernet Franc clones, he found it difficult to believe it was from the same variety. So just what did he have?
They mystery started to be unravelled when he found out that in North Eastern Italy, when this supposed clone of Cabernet Franc came from, there had been some confusion between Cabernet Franc and another variety called Carmenère.
When New Zealand viticulturist Allan Clarke visited North Italy in 1988 for a viticulture conference, he exercised his role as MAF's Viticulture Extension Specialist to collect new vine material to bring back. He was given access to cuttings at the University of Bologna which went into quarantine on arrival in New Zealand until their release in 1991. One of these cuttings was supposedly Cabernet Franc clone F4. There was excitement in the industry that there was a named clone of Cabernet Franc rather than just a mass selection. But many people who planted Clone F4 gave up and Clarke was criticised for bringing back such a poor performer.
But did Clarke bring back something entirely different? Some other than Cabernet Franc? Robin decided to get his vines tested. He sent samples to the Waite Institute at the University of Adelaide and the results confirmed what Robin suspected all along. It wasn't Cabernet Franc at all, but Carmenère.
Now Carmenère (car-men-yeer) sounds exotic but it is not new because it along with Cabernet Franc, it is one of the oldest red wine grapes mentioned in wine literature. And back in the 18th century it was classified as one of the few red wine grapes permitted to be grown in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Today it is almost impossible to find Carmenère in Bordeaux because when the vineyards there were destroyed by phylloxera in the 1860's, this variety was not replanted. It was considered too low yielding and inconsistent in the Bordeaux climate.
Carmenère has made a resurgence in Chile, in fact it could almost be considered their national grape. But for over a hundred years the Chileans and everyone else thought it was Merlot. But in 1993,when the vines were closely compared and differences noted, the lost Carmenère, the lost grape of Bordeaux, was rediscovered.
Now it has also resurfaced in Matakana and the early results are very promising.
Ransom Matakana Carmenère 2005 is deep rich red.
Rich vinous berry aromas captivate the senses even before the wine is "nosed".
It smells creamy, oaky and berryish - it smells like a Bordeaux red.
Cedary sappy oak in palate suits the tarry character of the wine, the tannins are silky but the structure is tight.
There is lots of Bordeaux character with smoky red fruit - plums, cassis and a deep earthy finish. Medium to full-bodied, elegant. It's young and could develop a bit more.
I recommend decanting as the wine was so much more approachable the second night. We accompanied the wine to a Chicken Pasta with a roasted Red Onion, Garlic, Tomato and Capsicum Sauce. It's also rather gorgeous with a soft, creamy blue cheese.
Matured in French oak for 20 months, this was longer than Robin usually keeps his wine in barrel, but he was waiting on the results of the DNA test. Just two barrels of wine were made with one year old and two year old oak. The wine has 13% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a cork.
It costs $27 at the vineyard and there's a limit of two bottles per person. It's highly recommended, both for its story as well as its taste.
Find out more from the Ransom Wines website -
© Sue Courtney
23 Apr 2007