Top | Vine to Table

Chilean wine tip

(article, Anu Karwa)

p(blue). Editor's note: Anu Karwa wrote the Culinate wine column, titled Swirl, from July 2009 through December 2010.

In light of the recent earthquake in Chile, I'd like to support Chilean wine growers by buying their products, but all I know from South America are the Malbecs from Argentina. Can you help?

Americans have become huge fans of Argentinean wines — in particular, of the country's ubiquitous signature grape, Malbec. To a lesser but still popular degree, we've also been drinking “best bang for your wine buck” Cabernet Sauvignon from neighboring Chile. 

The Chilean varietal that surprisingly hasn’t taken this country by storm yet is Carmenère. I say “yet” because this is changing, and changing fast. Among Chilean grapes, Carmenère increased 63 percent in U.S. sales last year, compared to a mere 14 percent increase for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (according to November 2009 Gomberg Data).  

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Carmenère is a new Chilean wine to try."]

Though often thought of as a native Chilean grape, Carmenère (pronounced "car-men-EHR") was originally grown in Bordeaux, France. However, it was essentially wiped out there by the phylloxera bug. In the 1990s, the grape was rediscovered in Chile, where most Carmenère vines were mistakenly thought to be Merlot.  

The grape’s profile appeals to the American palate: less full-bodied than a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, but with more weight and boldness than the typical Merlot. Carmenère tends to display aromas of warm spices with dark berry flavors and just the right amount of smokiness. It’s the perfect wine to drink on a chilly evening. 


h1.For more information 

NPR has a report on Chilean wine after the earthquake.


Because the February 27 earthquake was on a Saturday, there were fewer than normal numbers of people in wineries and therefore fewer casualties there. But Chile's Colchagua Valley, where many of the wines recommended below are from, was affected. Wineries experienced structural damage as well as inventory losses. All of this makes it even more important to support Chilean wineries — and try Carmenère.

Here are some of my favorites:

2008 Tamaya, Reserve Carmenère, Limari Valley, $16: Intense baking-spice aromas abound in this example with solid structure and dark berry flavors.

2008 Apaltagua Reserve Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, $11:  This Carmenère easily passes for a $20 bottle. Its smooth tannins and cherry-cola flavors please a wide spectrum of palates.

2006 Montes, Purple Angel, Colchagua Valley, $50: A top example from one of Chile’s most notable producers. Layer after sublime layer is revealed in this truly seductive wine. 

2008 Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, $20: This elegant wine is filled with clove and cinnamon flavors and hints of vanilla from judicious use of French oak. A perfect match for a tangy blue cheese.

reference-image, l