Rios de Chile: Carmenère, the Grape Lost, Found and Doing Very Well in Chile
Carmenère, a member of the Bordeaux family of red grapes,gets its name from the French word “carmin” referring either to the red highlights in the wine or the crimson color of its post-harvest foliage. Carmenère was originally found in Bordeaux vineyards prior to the Phylloxera infestation of the 1800s. However, it was not part of the vineyard mix in the Medoc when these vineyards were replanted post-Phylloxera. This situation was likely because of the difficulty Carmenère has in ripening in the cool, wet Medoc weather. At one point, Carmenère was thought to be the lost grape variety of Bordeaux.
However, Carmenère came to Chile over 150 years ago as vine stock that sent from Bordeaux. At some point, it was misidentified and thought to be Merlot. It was not until the 1990s and the advent of DNA testing that these grapes in Chile were positively identified as Carmenère.
Carmenère is now far from extinct, and doing very well in Chile. In recent years, it has become the most widely recognized wine grape variety and now hallmark grape from Chile. It has been found, identified and is doing very well there.
Notes from a recent tasting of two Carmenère wines (one Carmenère and the other Reserva Carmenère) from Rios de Chile winemaker Alfonso Duarte are presented below:
2011 Rios de Chile Carmenère (D.O. Central Valley) — This Carmenère has a red purple color with intense, raw young black fruit on the nose with green herbal notes following. Medium extraction and skin tannin bring with them the essence of crushed blackberry that governs this wine on the palate balanced with crisp (not overripe) acidity. These qualities bring value to this very affordable wine (<$10) for those that enjoy fresh, fruit-dominated red wines.
2009 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenère (D.O. Cachapoal Valley) — This Reserva Carmenère shows a red-black color. Intense black fruit (blackberry and plum) merge enjoyably on the nose and palate with the addition of vanilla, mushroom, tannin and a hint of cinnamon spice on the finish obtained from limited duration oak aging adds complexity over its non-Reserva sibling wine. There is only a slight price escalation to this Reserva (about $14) but the gain is in its density and intricacy of aromas and palate characteristics.
Following the tasting, these two Carmenère wines were paired with Chicken Florentine Albondigas (meat balls) served with Japanese “sticky” rice and braised kale in tomato broth with matchstick carrots and shitake mushrooms.
A range of varietal Chilean wines are available under the Rios de Chile label from the Pacific Wine Group. Samples were provided for this tasting.
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