By Kristen Oliveri
For over 100 years, the French Bordeaux varietal known as Carmenère was thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in 1994, that it was, in fact, alive and well in Chile.
The story is straight out of a vinicultural fairytale. It begins in Chile in the mid-1800s, where the grape was first introduced by the French. Shortly thereafter, it was labeled extinct following an epidemic that swept through European Carmenère plantations. Fast forward to the year 1994 and enter French Ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot. While he was carefully evaluating vines and grapes that he was innocently told were Merlot, a sinking suspicion crept into his mind.
His gut did not steer him wrong. He became known for making the joyous discovery that these Merlot grapes were in fact Carmenère. Subsequently, Carmenère was back on the wine scene after many years if living an undercover existence.
Today, the Wines of Chile celebrate November 24th as National Carmenère Day, honoring a special grape with medium tannins and good acidity that makes it a breeze to pair with food. The price points for these wines are extraordinary in today’s wine market, offering elegant, drinkable wines that are accompanied with a romantic back story, perfect for dinner party banter.
What makes this wine and others like it interesting is the viniculture of the Chilean wine region. What some might see as geographic barriers, Chilean winemakers see as heavenly gifts. The region is surrounded by the Atacama Desert in the North, the Andes Mountains in the East, the ice fields of Patagonia in the South and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
So, here’s the lowdown on three Chilean wines that should be on your radar:
The Apaltagua Gran Reserva Envero is comprised of 90% Carmenere and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes hail from the vineyards in Apalta in the Colchagua Valley. The wine itself has tasting notes of ripe blackberries, tobacco and spice. Perfect to pair with food, it is a combination of ripe fruit notes, oak and vanilla.
The Santa Digna 2012 Reserva Carmenère is a deep cherry colored wine that is aged in French Oak. When tasting this wine you may sense hints of leather, spices, with touches of eucalyptus coupled with mandarin oranges. Pair this wine with bold dishes comprised of veal and beef, or spicy dishes that pack a punch.
The Montes Alpha Carmenère is made with selected grapes from our Colchagua Valley vineyards grown under the vineyard’s “Dry Farming” philosophy. What that means is that the winemakers allow mother nature to focus on irrigating the vines in hopes that it increases the quality of the grapes. This bold wine produces aromas of ripe red and black fruits, reminiscent of jams and desserts. Some may also notice a hint of vanilla and coffee on their palates.