Chilean Carmenere Master Class: History, Regions, Flavors, Food Pairings

Recently, I participated in a Carmenere Master Class hosted by Snooth, and sponsored by Wines of Chile. We tasted 7 wines that represented the essence of Carmenere, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the value this country consistently delivers. Is Carmenere the insider’s secret that never gets the attention it deserves? I think so and let me tell you why…they are all exceptional values, and delicious wines to drink on their own or with your favorite foods.

Carmenere’s Interesting Journey

Chilean Carmenere has an interesting story behind it. During the mid-sixteenth century, the first European vines planted were Spanish varieties. Then, in the mid-1800s, the Phylloxera louse invaded Europe by storm, wiping out many vines. Winemakers from France were looking for work, so they traveled to Chile, where Phylloxera was non-existent. They planted Bordeaux varieties—which is why so much Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties exist in Chile.

In the mid-nineties, DNA analysis proved that much of the planted Merlot was Carmenere.  This could have been a disaster from a marketing perspective; rather, it turned into a great opportunity for Chile to brand themselves with the Carmenere grape. And the rest is history—Chile flourishes as a leader that produces delicious Carmenere.

Chile’s Central Valley Wine Regions

Most of the wines we tasted were from Chile’s Central Valley, which is sub-divided into four smaller zones: Maipo Valley, Maule Valley, Curicó Valley, and Rapel Valley. The latter zone includes the famed Colchagua Valley, located on the foothills of the Andes and home to many of Chile’s iconic wineries. It’s a young region compared to the famous Maipo valley.

 

Carmenere Flavors

When the grape is fully ripe, Carmenere produces rich and full-bodied wine bursting with flavors of cherries, spice, smoke and earth. Many are robust and ripe, with medium to high acid, which makes them perfect to pair with bold foods. If unripe, you’ll taste some of the green pepper and herbaceous notes.

Pairing Food with Carmenere

Anything bold reigns supreme, from grilled steaks, and lamb to roasted vegetables. Rustic dishes like lamb ragout and mushroom dishes also work fabulously.

Insider Tips

I’m often asked, “What’s your go-to wine when shopping for a delicious red?” This is an easy one. Whether I’m in a wine store or surfing a wine list, I often head to the Chilean section. Their Carmenere is one of the best bargains going, offering an awesome quality-to-price-ratio (QPR). So when in doubt, grab a bottle of Chilean Carmenere. You can’t go wrong!

…and now on to the wine! Learning about Chilean Carmenere is best when tasting them for yourself. In this Master Class, we tasted 7 wines that represent the essence of Carmenere, so if you want to get a good sense of what they are like, here are a few to try, which are exceptional values:

2015 Viña Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($15)

Viña Casa Silva began its roots in ’97, when Mario Pablo Silva and his father Mario Silva built the brand in Colchagua Valley. The property seeks to make high quality wines with a style of their own, and respects tradition as well as its relationships with its people, community, and environment. This Carmenere is a delicious example of the value coming from the region; it’s layered and delicious, with cherry and mineral notes that finishes with a bit of spice.

2014 Viña Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere, Colchagua, Chile ($15)

Viña Carmen was founded in 1850 by Christian Lanz, who named the winery in honor of his beloved wife Carmen. More than a century later, the Claro Group acquired the brand to take it into a new direction. Soon thereafter, the new winery was built and new vineyards were planted. Today, the winery cranks out good values that won’t break the bank. The 2014 is layered with cherries, plums, spice and chocolate. It’s rich and ripe with a good dose of acidity and integrated tannins.

2015 Viña Requingua Toro De Piedra Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon, Maule Valley, Chile ($15)

Ever since owner Santiago Achurra and his family arrived in 1961, Viña Requingua has been on a quest to improve standards and make quality wines. Located in the middle of the Curico Valley, the Viña Requingua Estate encompasses almost 2500 acres of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, as well as white varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay. This particular Carmenere is lively, with black fruits, spice and cherry. Delicious.

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carmenere, Maipo, Chile ($22)

This wine comes from the same region (Maipo Valley) that started my love affair with Chilean wines. It all started with a 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon purchased at Back Bay Liquors on Boylston Street in Boston many years ago. Years later, when I sold wine for a retailer, I moved a lot of Merlot. In those days, Merlot was popular, and the demand outpaced quality wine production. Soon, good quality Merlot became nonexistent among the $20 and under offerings from California. To keep my customers happy, I convinced them to try something new when Merlot started to dry up. The grape I recommended the most was Carménère from Chile. This Carmenere is consistently good, with earthy, dark and spicy notes. Drink it, you’ll love it.

2015 Siegel Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($28)

Siegel Vineyard is home to 1700 acres distributed across 7 farms located at the foot of the Andes mountain range in Los Lingues near the Pacific Ocean. The winery is carrying out an in depth analysis of the terroir to segment their vineyards; through this research, they found more than 60 different soil types at their Los Lingues farm. Imagine how different the grapes must taste because of the different soil types! The 2015 single vineyard Carmenere is spicy and round, with plenty of black cherry, dried basil and plum notes to go around.

2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35)

The history of Valdivieso dates back to 1879, when Don Alberto Valdivieso created the first sparkling wines in Chile. Since then, Viña Valdivieso has established itself as the leader of the category in the domestic and South American markets, lately expanding its borders to Europe and Asia. The 2013 Carmenere is delicious and round with dark fruits, tobacco and spice. It’s balanced, and ripe, leading to a touch of herbaceous flavors on the finish.

2012 Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carmenere, Valle De Peumo, Chile ($25)

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carmenere is another example of quality on the bottle; it’s dark and luscious, with cherry and dark currant fruits that play against a black pepper and coco infused background.

Do you want to learn more about Chile? Visit our page to read about Chile’s wine and food scene and head to Wines of Chile for more great information about the wines and regions.

…and if you’re looking to sample the wine, Snooth is offering a four pack for $59, which includes shipping. This is a killer deal! Here’s the link to view the offer.

2017-12-14T18:41:19+00:00

About the Author:

Editor and co-founder of Enobytes.com, Pamela is a sommelier and former restaurant manager and wine buyer with Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers & Center for Wine Origins certification. She has contributed to or been quoted by various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Sommelier Journal, Vegetarian Times, VIV Magazine, UC-Berkeley Astrobiology News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, NPR and USA Today. True to her roots, she seeks varietal and appellation integrity and is always passionate about finding the next great bottle of wine.

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