Most folks who came to my table at a recent wine tasting event hadn’t heard of Carmenere, and the majority of them opted for something more familiar. One guy, on the other hand, confidently asked for a glass. “Have you had this before?” I probed, responding to his confidence. “No, never heard of it,” he replied. “That’s why I’m having it.” My kind of guy.
Interesting story, Carmenere. One of the “original six” Bordeaux grapes, it was brought over to Chile in the 1800s, but they thought it was Merlot. It died out in France after the Phylloxera plague, and was thought by many to be extinct until the 1990s, when it was discovered in Chile masquerading as Merlot. Now it’s grown in a few other places, but has found a home in Chile and is on its way towards being embraced as the national grape.
The Merlot confusion makes sense – Carmenere is also rich but velvety, with deep, dark fruit flavors. This particular one has all the makings of a supple, silky, full-bodied new world red, but it also brings some intriguing savory flavors to the table. The arresting aroma develops into a sanguinary, beefy melange, with plenty of dark fruits and touches of mushroom and herbs to boot. On the palate, it’s juicy, featuring ripe to jammy fig, blackberries and just a kiss of warm spice. It finishes with chalky tannins that’ll melt right into grilled meat of some sort or another. Quite a delicious, complex wine for less than 14 bucks in PA – and a great introduction to the grape.