Carmenere - the deepest, darkest, and most dramatic of the red wine grapes.
image courtesy of Wines of Chile
Falling into a wine rut happens to the best of us. You fall in love with a wine and suddenly you've entered into a monogamous relationship, forsaking all other wines. But perhaps your palate doesn't feel the same rush of excitement on the umpteenth pour and familiarity has bred boredom instead of comfort. You don't need to permanently break up with your favorite wine but maybe it's time to flirt with something new to reignite your passion. The discovery of new flavors and regions is an important part of a wine lover's journey. If you haven't flirted with Carmenere, you've been missing out. Chile's signature red wine has an amazing history and a uniquely captivating flavor. But consider yourself warned - after a few dalliances with Carmenere, you may fall in love!
Carmenere Vineyards at Casa Silva
image courtesy of Wines of Chile
Like a character in a noir film, for many years Carmenere was the victim of mistaken identity - in this instance confused for Merlot. Originally a Bordeaux variety, Carmenere came to Chile in the mid-1800's and was accidentally classified as Merlot and Chileans unknowingly began planting this faux-Merlot in their vineyards. Meanwhile in Europe, all plantings of Carmenere had been destroyed by the 1870's due to the epidemic of phylloxera (a nasty microscopic louse that attacks the roots of grapevines). Carmenere was thought to be gone forever but in 1994 a French expert in grape classification discovered that the variety had been thriving in Chile for centuries with the incorrect name of Merlot. With this amazing revelation, Chile suddenly had the world's largest plantings of a variety that had been considered extinct. Talk about a Hollywood ending!
Carmenere harvesting in the Colchagua Valley
image courtesy of Wine of Chile
It has been more than 20 years since Carmenere was rediscovered in Chile and the wine's reputation continues to grow tremendously. Carmenere may have French roots but it has reached its ultimate expression in Chile and Chilean winemakers have devoted themselves to showcasing the unique beauty and potential of their superstar wine. Carmenere is a dramatic grape - the deepest, darkest, and most purple of the red grapes. Generally described as having flavors of raspberry and other red fruits with hints of black pepper, and some green bell pepper vegetal flavors, Carmenere's good acidity and mild tannins make it easy to pair with a wide variety of foods.
So are you ready to flirt with Carmenere? Here are four wines that will wow you!
Casa Silva Carmenere, Cuvée Colchagua 2015 ($15)
The Silva family has serious bragging rights - they pioneered grape growing in Chile's Colchagua Valley with the first vineyards back in 1892 and their cellar is the oldest in the region. Their luscious and lovely Carmenere is a gorgeous introduction to Chile's signature wine. A lovely balance of fruit, earth, and spice with elegantly integrated tannins and a luscious long finish, this is an easygoing yet elegant sip.
Carmen Carmenere Gran Reserva 2014 ($15)
A more complex expression of Carmenere, Gran Reserva hails from the hills of Apalta in the Colchagua Valley. Rich and concentrated, Carmen captivates with intense dark berry flavors and sexy dashes of sweet spices, tobacco, and earth. Supple and savory, Carmen is a big wine at a friendly price.
Ventisquero "Grey" Single Block Carmenere 2014 ($22)
A stellar expression of a single block of vines at Ventisquero's Trinidad vineyard in the Maipo Valley, Grey is incredibly sophisticated but not pretentious. Vibrant and velvety, Grey has exuberant cherry and berry flavors that are buoyed by a strong earthy foundation.
Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013 ($35)
A bold blend of Carmenere (55%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Caballo Loco (Crazy Horse) lives up to its name and takes your palate on an energetic ride. A fine example of contemporary Chilean winemaking, Caballo Loco has soft tannins but a taut structure with beautifully balanced dark fruit and spice. Quite special.
To learn more about Carmenere, visit the Wines of Chile website. Snooth is also offering a specially priced 4-pack of Carmenere that includes two of the wines featured in my article. Cheers!