Sunday 4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and there are events all over Chile this week to celebrate. As Carménère wine has a very special association with Chile, it seems like a great choice for toasting this important day in the wine calendar.
For details of just some of the events going on around Chile, see my posts on the Chilean Wine Day in Valparaíso Region, the Chilean Wine Day in the Santiago area, Celebrate Chilean Wine Day in Colchagua and Chilean Wine Day in southern Chile or check out nosgustaelvino.
Once upon a time, vast swathes of France were planted with many different varieties of vines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carménère, to name but a few. Then, in 1863, vines began to die, but nobody knew why. First one vineyard, then another and soon vast areas of vines began to be wiped out by an invisible disease. By the time the small, yellow, root-eating Phylloxera louse had been identified and a solution found, French wine production had been devastated and Carménère wiped out.
Time went by and the French wine industry recovered, its vast acres now planted with the same noble varieties grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, Carménère being a notable exception. As far as the world knew, Carménère had become extinct.
The twist in the story of Carménère came over a century later on the other side of the world, when some Chilean vines thought to be Merlot were actually identified as this long-lost variety.
Many regard Carménère as Chile’s flagship variety: certainly Chile leads the way in terms of number of Carménère vines planted – with 10,000 hectares in 2012. There are some plantings of the variety in France and Italy and DNA profiling recently led to a similar surprise discovery of Carménère vines, this time in China, where they are called Cabernet Gernischt.
This deeply coloured grape needs a long growing season to reach its full potential and thrives in many of Chile’s warmer wine regions, such as Maipo, Rapel, Colchagua, Curicó and Maule. The best results come from plantings where the vigour is controlled.
Ripe Carménère contributes spicy aromas and flavours, such as black pepper, red and black fruit, herbal and smoky qualities to a wine. Depending on its level of oak-ageing, it may also have chocolate, coffee and leathery notes too. It tends to be an accessible and easy to drink smooth red wine with well-rounded tannins. If the grapes were a little underripe when picked, the wine can have herbaceous aromas and flavours like green peppers or olives.
Carménère pairs well with smoked, grilled or roasted meats, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and veal and holds its own with spicy food, like Indian and Mexican food.
Viña Von Siebenthal Carmenère 2013, Aconcagua Valley, 14% ABV (Retail price CLP$9,990 in Chile, £16.00 from Highbury Vintners)
85% Carménère, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10 months oak-ageing.
Deep ruby colour. An enticing nose in which aromas of sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and cedar, intermingled with fresh fruit, like raspberries and black cherries. In the mouth, it was medium-bodied with fine, ripe tannins, refreshing acidity and the same seductive mixture of fruit and spice flavours.
Natascha: “If I were going to buy a wine for a special dinner, this is the one I would choose.”
Apaltagua Envero Carmenere 2014, Colchagua Valley, 14% ABV. (Retail price CLP$7,990 in Chile, £11.95 from Stone, Vine & Sun)
90% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep purple colour. A pronounced, very fruity nose featuring notes of blackcurrants, blueberries and plums, with a touch of spice from oak ageing. This wine had high acidity, high levels of rather coarse, grippy tannins and plenty of body. Very fruity in the mouth with a slightly bitter note in the aftertaste. Overall a very pleasant wine and a good example of Chilean Carménère.
De Martino Gran Reserva Legado Carmenere 2014, Maipo Valley (Retail price CLP8,440, 2012 vintage retails at £7.65 at Berry, Bros & Rudd)
Deep purple colour. Pronounced, complex nose which was slow to open. Indeed this wine smelled and tasted better the day after we opened it. Upfront farmyard and forest floor aromas with the fruity aromas slow to appear. With high acidity, high levels of smooth tannins, this was a bigger, heavier wine and would pair well with rich food.
…And here are two more Carménère wines you might like to try:
85% Carménère, 15% Syrah
An expressive nose with notes of black fruit, like plums, black cherries and blueberries, some sweet spice from the oak ageing and a herbaceous touch. With refreshing acidity, plenty of body and smooth, ripe tannins, this is a good choice for accompanying barbecued meat or other full-flavoured meals.
Koyle Single Vineyard Carmenere 2013, Los Lingues, Alto Colchagua. (CLP$8,490)
This wine included 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec to contribute aroma and tension.
A nice, concentrated example of Chilean Carménère with lots of black and red fruit aromas and flavours, such as blueberries and raspberries, a touch of minerality and some spicy notes like black pepper, and just a hint of forest floor. With a good level of acidity, high levels of somewhat astringent tannins and all those primary fruit, mineral and spice flavours, this wine has the potential to benefit from further ageing.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing this weekend, I hope you’ll find time to raise a glass of your favourite Chilean wine in celebration of Chilean National Wine Day! Cheers!