Happy 21st Birthday to Carménère, Chile's Signature Grape

The story of Carménère has been told quite a bit but today is its birthday so a very brief history lesson is in order. 21 years ago genetic testing proved that large portions of the vines that for years had been thought to be Merlot, where in fact Carménère. Now 21 years later Carménère is quite clearly the signature grape of Chile.In fact almost 22,000 acres are planted to it. Carménère can produce distinct wines of character. There isn’t a single wine region in the world than can touch Chile on the quality of their Carménère. It’s great to celebrate this grape on its 21st birthday. But I consider this occasion so much more than that. Carménère is 21 and legal now; this is a call to arms to drink it regularly. Here are six different examples that I tasted today. Start here, or elsewhere, but explore this grape that Chile nails cold.

Concha y Toro 2013 Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carménère ($17)

This offering is composed of Carménère (90%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). This particular line from Concha y Toro is based on vineyards located alongside rivers, in this case the Cachapol River which sits in D.O. Peumo. The nose here shows of dark fruits and bits of sage. The paalte is stuffed with dark fruits, continued herbs and spices as well. Minerals and sour black fruits inform the well above average finish. This is a Carménère that well outclasses its price point. Drink it in the next 3 or 4 years.

Santa Rita 2012 Medalla Real Carménère ($20)

Fruit for this wine came from the Colchagua Valley. It’s composed entirely of Carménère. It was aged for 10 months in French oak. This Carménère opens with classic savory herb aromas laced with black cherry and a wisp of charcoal. Herbs continue on the palate along with bits of candied cherry, raspberry and spice. The long finish shows off pomegranate, chicory and bits of graphite. This is a textbook example of Carménère that really delivers. A perfect expression for someone new to the grape.

Concha y Toro 2012 Marques de Casa Concha Carménère ($25)

The fruit comes from vines that sit about 170 meters above sea level on hillside terraces near the coast. It spent 18 months in French oak. Dark plum, vanilla and a subtle hint of sage are present on the nose. The rich and velvety palate is studded with black and purple fruit flavors. Blackberry, plum and raspberry are all in evidence. This wine remains juicy through the finish which shows off a hint of espresso and plenty of spice, but mostly more dark fruit flavors. It’s a very solid example of Carménère.

Tamaya 2011 Winemakers Gran Reserva Carménère ($25)

This Carménère is composed entirely of Carménère from Limarí Valley. Aging took place over 12 months in new and previously used oak. A Hint of smoke underlies the overall barrage of deep, dark purple fruit aromas here. A ton of minerals characteristics join the lush and plush avalanche of dark fruit flavors such as blackberry, mission fig and more on the juicy and even palate.  The finish is impressively long with bits of earth, toasted espresso and continued minerals.

Koyle 2012 Royale Carménère ($25.99)

In addition to Carménère (87 percent), dollops of Petit Verdot (8 percent) and Malbec (5 percent) were blended in. After the fruit was picked in small lots it was vinified in small tanks. Aging in French oak over 18 months followed. It was bottled unfiltered. 1,650 cases of this Carménère were produced. This wine was grown on a higher terrace than the Carménère in the Reserva; an area with more rocky soils. The color is a deep purple but not quite as inky. Aromas of ripe blackberry and mushroom fill the nose. Juicy black cherry flavors underscored by bits of pie crust and spice lead the palate. Dark chocolate and continued cherry flavors fill out the finish. This wine is a little tight out of the bottle right now and if you’re going to drink it soon, decant it for 90 minutes. Otherwise, lay it down for five or so years and drink it in the five after that. It has the stuffing to last awhile.

Viña Maquis 2009 Viola ($55)

Viola is produced entirely from Estate fruit. The Maquis estate is located in the Colchagua Valley. It’s a blend of Carménère (75%) and Cabernet Franc (25%). It was aged for 14 months in French oak. Bing cherry and leather aromas permeate the lovely and expressive nose. Blackberry, sweet chocolate sauce and plum pudding spices are all in evidence throughout the dense, layered palate. All of those elements continue on the long, dark and fairly lusty finish. This is a deep, dark and intense wine, perfect for rich foods. 

The bottom line is: Drink Carménère !! #CarménèreDay