Carmenère: A Search for Identity

It seems today as the world becomes smaller more people are seeking to understand their ancestry. A friend recently dove into an ancestry expedition to find not only genealogical ties to Native Americans but also to the Prophet Mohammad. This is also true for wine. The wine community is constantly seeking genealogy of grapes as well as their origin. Under constant scrutiny for origin is Zinfandel/Primitivo and Grenache/Garnacha/Cannonau. In the case of Carmenère is struggled for years to be recognized at all.

Carmenère is believed to be one of the most ancient European grape varieties. It was identified as one of the original six Bordeaux grapes but due to the challenges of growing in that region it was not replanted after it was attacked by phylloxera. It is largely known that Carmenère was brought to Chile from Bordeaux in 1851 under the auspicious belief it was Merlot. It was not until 1994 that Chilean winemakers finally realized what they were growing and bottling was not Merlot, but in fact Carmenère. Did you know a similar situation happened it Italy? Carmenère was brought to the Veneto region of Italy in the 1990’s because it was believed to be Cabernet Franc. As winemakers began to notice the difference in color and flavors, as well as its early ripening, it was determined the grape was actually Carmenère.

Colchagua Valley, Chile
Colchagua Valley, Chile

Today Carmenère has not only found its home in Chile, it thrives in the long, dry growing season it receives in Chile’s Central Valley. It is a deep dark purple grape known for its red and black fruit notes, green bell pepper, herbaceous notes, and at times a cocoa powder. Some are turned off by the green notes of the grape, but acquiring an acceptance for these notes (also found in Cabernet Franc) allows room to embrace this delicious grape and expand your own wine consumption portfolio.

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Last week I participated in a Carmenère Master Class taught by Snooth and sponsored by Wines of Chile. Here are the eleven wines tasted and enjoyed in the class:

2015 Cono Sur Bicicleta Carmenère Central Valley Chile ($9): 85% Carmenère, 15% Otros Tintos; clear medium ruby; clean medium- aromas of fresh red berries, violets, lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, white pepper, cocoa, leather, and vanilla; dry low acidity wine with low tannins and a medium- finish; delicate and light on the palate, easy drinking, incredible value.

2015 Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenère Rapel Valley Chile ($10): 100% Carmenère; clear medium+ ruby; clean medium aromas of red and blue berries, candied violets, sweet tobacco, dusty earth, herbaceous notes, green bell pepper, cocoa and vanilla; dry low acidity, low tannin wine with a silky mouth feel and tart red fruit on the palate, medium body and a medium finish.

2015 Casa del Bosque Reserva Carmenère Rapel Valley Chile ($11): 100% Carmenère; clear medium ruby with a purple hue; clean medium- aromas of concentrated red and black fruit, green herbaceous notes, warm spice notes, leather, tobacco, and vanilla; dry low acidity and medium tannins, medium body with a silky smooth mouth-feel with a medium finish.

2014 Concha Y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenère Cachapoal Valley Chile ($14): 95% Carmenère, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; clear medium garnet; clean pronounced aromas of black cherries, blackberries, plums, currants, sweet baking spice notes, tobacco, black pepper, toasted hazelnut and forest floor; dry medium+ acidity with high tannins in a full body wine; silky mouth-feel and a lingering, bold finish.

2013 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($17.99): 100% Carmenère; clear medium ruby; clean pronounced aromas of black fruit and spice notes wrapped in an earthy funk of rubber or tar; green bell pepper is circling as well, along with leather and dusty earth; dry medium acidity medium tannin wine with a brighter earthy palate, medium body with the residue of the funk on the medium finish.

2014 Apaltuagua ‘Envero’ Gran Reserva Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($17.99): 90% Carmenère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; clear, medium+ ruby with purple hues; clean medium aromas of fresh wild red berries and fruits, green herbaceous notes with dried green herbal notes, tobacco, dusty earth, cocoa, and vanilla; dry, medium- acidity with medium tannins, light and bright on the palate with a medium body and a lingering, earthy finish.

2014 Casa Silvsa Los Lingues Vineyard Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($20): 100% Carmenère; clear medium+ ruby nose with garnet hues; clean medium aromas of bright red fruit, dried rose petals, warm spice notes, green bell pepper, tobacco, leather, and dark cocoa; dry medium acidity and medium+ tannins in a medium body wine with a round and lingering dusty earth finish.

2012 Inama ‘Oratorio di San Lorenzo’ Colli Berici Carmenère Riserva Veneto Italy ($33): 100% Carmenère; clear medium+ garnet; clean medium aromas of concentrated red and black berries, cocoa, savory herbal notes, sweet spice notes, fresh tobacco, dusty earth, and vanilla; dry medium acidity and medium tannins wine that is rich and slightly rustic in an Italian sense, full body with a pleasing mouth-coating, long finish.

2014 Montes Alpha Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($25): 90% Carmenère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; clear medium garnet; clean medium aromas of red berries and fruit, spice notes, touch of green olive, roasted espresso beans, savory herbal notes, leather, chocolate, and vanilla; dry medium acidity and medium tannins in a full body wine that is rich and elegant with a long finsh.

2010 Viña Maquis Viola Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($55): 85% Carmenère, 15% Cabernet Franc; clear medium+ ruby with garnet hues; clean medium aromas of red and black fruit, warm spice notes, damp tobacco leaves, black pepper, savory herbal notes, and vanilla all rest on a firm bed of minerality; dry medium+ acidity and medium tannins that coat the mouth in a velvet silkiness; full body wine with a long, dazzling finish.

2013 Montes Purple Angel Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($66.99): 92% Carmenère, 10% Petit Verdot; clear deep ruby with purple hues; clean pronounced aromas of fresh picked ripe red and black fruits, warm baking spice notes of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, dark chocolate, fresh tobacco leaves, leather, and vanilla; dry medium acidity and medium+ tannins indicate a need for decanting or cellaring for a few more years; rich and deep on the palate, full –body mouth-coating wine that dazzles with a long, earthy finish.

*Disclaimer: These wines were media sample provided to me by Snooth and Wines of Chile for a Carmenère master class. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Carmenère is a diverse food pairing wine. Because of its green pepper notes, Carmenère pairs very well with Tex-Mex dishes such as nachos, fajitas, enchiladas, etc. It also pairs great with brisket, burgers, and ribs. Add a little pepper spice to those dishes and you have a wonderful marriage of flavors. Borrowing from Argentinian and Cuban cuisine, Carmenère pairs well with empanadas, pulled pork and black beans, and a Cuban sandwich.

I encourage you to head to your favorite local wine retailer or online and buy some Carmenère for yourself. If you are not familiar with it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how well the wine delivers for the value. Cheers!

 

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