Chile's Carmenere

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation/tasting led by Vinous' man in South America, Joaquin Hidalgo. The subject was Chilean carmenere. Chile has long been a haven for high quality wines at bargain prices, and carmenere is not well-known outside of Chile, making it a bit of an underdog. Overlooked underdogs are always worthy of exploration because they are usually a good value, too. 

A number of interesting facts about Chilean winemaking and this versatile grape were part of the discussion:

  • Chilean viticulture dates back to 1544, making it one of the oldest viticultural areas in the New World. 
  • In 1889 a Chilean wine won the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, an event as surprising as The Judgement of Paris when California wines bested the greats of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
  • Originally from Bordeaux, carmenere was long misidentified as Chilean merlot. 
  • 75% pf Chilean wine is exported, with China as the #1 desnitation.
  • Phylloxera has never entered Chile, one of the only phylloxera countries in the world. This means there are a lot of really old, healthy vines.

Textbook Chilean carmenere has a flavor profile of black and red berry fruit, hints of spice and smoke, touch of herbs, red pepper, rich texture, though different soil types yield different styles. It ripens after both merlot and cab, and, in general has a rich texture and combines the structure of cab with the fruitiness of merlot. 

Thanks to the country's long (2,600 miles!) skinny north/south orientation, there are thousands of microclimates, which also translates to a huge diversity of styles across all grapes. 

Stay tuned for reviews of a handful of carmeneres coming soon!