Dining & Drink

Carmenere – A Happy Accident

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The Grape Escape: April 22

After giving Malbec its due praise, it’s time we pay homage to Chile’s accidental love-child, Carmenere.  (Not an accident in the way you’re thinking).

Like it’s cousin Malbec, Carmenere is one of the six original grapes of Bordeaux.  Also like Malbec, Carmenere is rarely found in France these days because of Phylloxera, an organism that all but destroyed the wine industry in Europe in the late 19th century.  Chile is one of the few wine growing countries where Phylloxera doesn’t exist.  This is odd because of its presence in Mendoza, which is only a mountain range away.  Apparently parasites aren’t very good climbers.

Carmenere is Chile’s flagship grape.  It has a somewhat laughable past since growers mistook it for Merlot for many years due to a similarity in appearance.  In a way, Chileans “accidentally” saved it from extinction by cultivating it as Merlot.

Emiliana’s 2009 Natura Carmenere

Carmenere ripens later than Merlot, which caused problems during harvest since they were blended together.  Growers would either pick Carmenere too soon when Merlot was ripe, or the opposite when Merlot was overripe.  The result was a very unripe, green tasting wine.  Or an overly jammy one if the Merlot grapes were past their prime.  It wasn’t until 1994 that growers realized many of their Merlot vineyards were actually Carmenere.  Oops!

If cultivated properly, Chilean Carmenere has a much more regal quality to it than it ever did in France.  The drier climate makes it much easier to grow, and it doesn’t have to worry about pests like Phylloxera.  Still, some growers tend to pick Carmenere when it needs a few more weeks on the vine.  I hate to say it, but Axl Rose had it right.  “All we need is just a little patience.”

Common flavors associated with Carmenere are red fruits, bell pepper, toffee, and dark chocolate.  It also often has a pleasant smokiness to it.  Soft tannins make it a great match for poultry.  If you’re vegetarian, try it with asparagus, baked artichoke, or bell pepper.  The herbal qualities will really shine if you match it with the right foods and spices.  Very versatile.

Emiliana’s 2009 Natura Carmenere

This week, we’re drinking Emiliana’s 2009 Natura Carmenere from the Colchagua Valley.  If you’ve never tried a Carmenere, this is the perfect place to start.  I decided to pick it up on a whim because I’ve tried Natura wines in the past, and I’ve never been disappointed.  What really drew my eye was the price tag.  It’s normally $11.99, but the distributor has it on reduction for super cheap.  I know, the gods must be crazy, but this wine is fantastic.  And if you care about ratings, Robert Parker gave it 88 points.  This is one you’ll want to buy by the case, because this price won’t last.  Oh, and it’s organic.  Hippies, rejoice!

Tasting Notes: Bell pepper on the nose.  Cherries, toffee and cinnamon on the palate.  Round tannins.  Medium body and great balance.  It doesn’t taste unripe like a lot of inferior Carmenere on the market.  It’s everything it should be and more.

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