Marques Casa Concha tastes just as my Esteemed Colleague from Ye Olde Wine Shoppe used to say carmenères do (we remember how I doubted him) -- fruity, bright, and easy to gulp, although this particular example, being number 7 of the eight in the big box from New York, is sterner, richer, and more glowering than number 3, the Medalla Real that we took liberties with already. The wines for the live blogger tasting are arranged in ascending order of seriousness and weight, so that to sample them with Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer's guidance this Thursday is to progress from simplicity to complexity, thus learning more about carmenère. I promise I will do that, once I stop taking liberties.
Formerly the information kit packed along with the wine samples has included rather in-depth material on the winemakers, their careers, their goals with this cuvée, the history of the various vineyards and wineries, and so forth. This kit eschews all that, in favor of a beautiful and photo-crammed booklet about traveling in Chile ....
So it is up to me to do my own research and tell you, very briefly, that at the bottom of the Marques Casa Concha label above -- the picture cuts it off -- the name Concha Y Toro is, of course, the familiar name of "Latin America's major wine exporter" and one of the biggest wine brands in the world. If you've bought those generous 1.5 liter jugs of Frontera malbec and chardonnay and everything else, you know Concha Y Toro. If you've bought Fetzer, you now know Concha Y Toro, since Concha Y Toro just acquired Fetzer (you follow me). If, like me, the first wine you really liked was Frontera's dry rosé, then you'll have a special affection for the label, and might even be peeved to learn that, contrary to what you have been told, yes they do still make it. It's delicious, all bursting with juicy tart strawberries and acidic red grapefruit, giving on to a bracingly dry finish. Good with almost anything. Wish I knew where to get it.
... now about the beautiful and photo-crammed Chilean tourism booklet. Having thumbed through it, and having seen the splashing fountains in Santiago, and the ski slopes in Valle Nevado, and the surfing at Pichilemu, having hiked Patagonia's otherworldly crags and green valleys, and seen the volcanoes and the rose-bedecked streets of Puerto Varas and the glaciers and the whales of San Rafael Lagoon, I think I can safely say I now have no deep need to go to Chile. Armchair travel can be wonderful. Lisa Medchill puts it well:
I learned that the French refer to [pleasure] travel as a way to “change les idées”—change your ideas. Granted, just because the French say it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but in this case, I really think they’re wrong.
Case in point, a few years ago, yoga freaks everywhere seemed to be lugging their purple mats to India precisely to “change les idées.” I was asked along on several such trips but declined. India is no doubt fascinating and the people sound very nice over the phone but … thanks for asking and godspeed. As it turned out, the only changes in ideas I heard from returning travelers dealt with multiplying the recommended dosage of Imodium. The best idea was an advanced formula called Explodium.On the upside, I learned enough about India to close my eyes and convince myself I went there and never needed to go back. One imagined trip was enough. Really, it’s staggering how much you can learn about the world by avoiding it. Without moving a muscle, I know St. Bart’s is “so restful,” Machu Picchu “so transcendent” and the Masai “so cheerful.” I don’t see why I have to confirm it all firsthand. You’ve rated the hotels, reviewed the meals, described the felonious cab drivers … why see the movie? Which exposes another dimly lit truth: The high point of any trip is when it’s over. People like travel but they love saying, “I just got back from Uruguay.” With open access to exotic locales, travel has become a seedy form of exhibitionism, more something to recount than experience.
Her entire article, "The Middle of Somewhere: Why I Hate Travel," from the New York Observer of April 2008, is worth reading just for her grudging admission that visiting her own vacation home constituted a "not overtly horrific" trip. There is also this:
I like being home. The sweet habit of home holds life’s potential. Preferring to be available to my own life, I’m pretty sure news about an optioned screenplay won’t reach me in Tuscany. It doesn’t reach me at home, either, but at least here, self-delusion makes some sense. Other people may like being in the middle of nowhere. Not me. And my atlas shows maybe four places in the world that aren’t in the middle of nowhere.
All this is not a swipe at the beauties of Chile, still less a swipe at Chilean wine of course. I just happened to find Ms. Medchill's article the same week I took a look at the gorgeous travel brochure (they called it "Chile is Good For You"). It helped focus my ideas. I do so enjoy writers who can master that curmudgeonly-but-not-bitter tone. And she made the pictures speak to me with new meaning. All those people smiling happily as they skiied, snorkeled, clipped bunches of grapes from the vines, plastered Atacama mud on their cheeks, and raised their glasses in toasts to fun. I'll bet you couldn't wait to get home, I thought curmudgeon-ly. One lady is even smoking a cigarette as she stands on a boat and looks, smiling, at the lake. Aha! Nerves. Show me to my armchair, give me a glass of Chilean carmenère, and stand back.