Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 19, 2011

Chilean Carmenere Tasting

Last week I got to participate in another blogger wine tasting with Wines of Chile. The tasting included eight Chilean Carmeneres, with a live video chat with winemakers from each of the vineyards. Half the wines came from the Colchagua Valley, one of my favorite regions for Carmeneres. Carmenere almost entirely unique to Chile, as the grapes went extinct in Europe due to the phylloxera plague. Chile’s natural barriers of mountains and ocean kept phylloxera out and preserved these grapes, though through the course of time, Carmenere was believed to be lost. The story I’ve heard is that in the early 1990s, a group of French oenologists were visiting Chile and asked some winemakers what a particular grape was. The Chileans said they were Merlot, to which the French responded, “Um, no, that is not Merlot.” A more fact-based account of the rediscovery of Carmenere is on <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmenere#Rediscovery”>”>Wikipedia.

Carmenere is actually one of my favorite varietals. It has ranges of red fruit, berries, and spice, with some good vegetal notes. It should have a decent amount of tannins, but at its best remains very drinkable. It’s great with flavorful food, but is also mild enough to drink on a warm summer night. Seriously, if you haven’t tried Carmenere, seek it out, it’s a great grape to bring into your wine rotation.

The tasting by Wines of Chile included a good range of Caremenere. What I love about horizontal tastings like this is you really get to see how much terroir and the choices of the wine makers influence taste. Eight bottles from of the same grape, many from the same part of Chile, tasted unique. We tasted the following wines:

  • Emiliana Natura Carmenere 2010
  • Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere 2008
  • Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenere 2008
  • Montes Alpha Carmenere 2008
  • Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere, 2009
  • Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carmenere 2009
  • Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2009
  • Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere 2007

I was familiar with half of these wineries going in, both from my trip to Chile earlier this year and from the wide availability of some of these wines on the US market. All of the wines tasted were under $25 and most represented a good buy.

My two favorites of the night were the Santa Carolina Reserve de Familia and Concha y Toro’s Marques de Casa Concha. The offering from Santa Carolina had a strong vegetal nose, layered with blueberry and alcohol. The first impression on the tongue is strong dark plum and red pepper. The finish was spicy blackberry and strong alcohol. It was the strongest wine we tasted, but it had a really big fruit flavor to balance it out.

The Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere was also very fruit forward, with purple fruit and blueberries on the nose. There was a strong plum flavor up front, followed by rich, oaky tannins and a thick mouthfeel. While not as multidimensional as the Santa Carolina, it was still really enjoyable.

We had a large group over to taste the wines and opinions variety widely as to which were the favorites. One thing was clear, though, even with a room full of people who had largely never had Carmenere before, the wines were a hit.

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