The Steady Rise of Carménère

Carménère’s upward mobility is two-fold. The average overall quality of the end product has improved as growers have learned where to plant it, when to pick it and how to vinify and age it for best results. Over that same time period consumer awareness of Carménère has increased as well. Although that last part needs some additional help.

The oft told story of Carménère involves genetic testing of Chilean vines that were long thought to be Merlot. Something similar occurred in Italy, but they were under the impression it was Cabernet Franc. While it’s well worth noting that Carménère does grow and sometimes thrives in other places, Chile is its best partner. Bogart made films with numerous leading ladies, at the end of the day though most of us best remember his work with Lauren Bacall. Carménère and Chile are a bit like that. Here’s a look at some current vintages of Carménère. I first tasted these during a virtual master class. If you have been drinking Carménère check out some of the ones you haven’t tried. If you’re new to this grape, grab the ones that sound most appealing and give Carménère a shot.

Casillero del Diablo 2015 Carménère Reserva Central Valley Chile ($10)

For $10 or less if you shop around it’s hard to beat this on value. Dark fruit and bits of spice are evident on the nose. The palate shows off blackberry and cherry flavors as well as some savory herbs. Hints of vanilla and continued cherry are evident on the finish. Sufficient acid keeps things in check. For the price this would make a terrific house red.

Casas del Bosque 2015 Carmenere Reserva Rapel Valley ($11)

Smoked meat and tons of black fruits govern the nose. Ripe dark fruit flavors such as blackberry and black raspberry are the dominant flavors alongside copious spice elements. Leather, black cherry and savory herbs such as age are evident on the finish. If you need a wine to pair with a burger or chili dog, look no further.

Concha y Toro Serie Riberas 2014 Carménère Gran Reserva Peumo ($15)

This Carménère which has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in comes from riverside vineyards. Dark fruit aromas waft convincingly from the glass once you pour it. Plum, black olive, cherry and copious spice notes mark the palate. Savory herbs, hints of roasted coffee and black fig are evident on the finish.

Los Vascos 2013 Carménère Grande Reserve Colchagua Valley ($18)

This offering is 100% Carménère. Oodles of dark fruit intertwined with wisps of red cherry fill the nose. Blackberry, raspberry and continued cherry are evident on the palate along with lots of typical savory herb flavors. Dark baker’s chocolate, cherries jubilee and black pepper spice are in evidence on the long finish.

Apaltagua Colchagua Valley 2014 Gran Reserva Carménère Envero ($18)

In addition to Carménère (90%), some Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) was blended in. Leather, raspberry and red cherry aromas dominate the nose. Both red and black fruits are evident on the firm palate. Earth, raspberry and vanilla notes emerge on the above average finish. Firm tannins yield with air. This wine has terrific structure and will drink well for 6-7 years.

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard 2014 Carménère Colchagua Valley ($20)

This is entirely Carménère from vines with 14 years of age on them. Casa Silva is one of the producers most invested in this grape and they produce several different Carménères. Tons of ripe, black, brooding fruit aromas leap from the nose. The palate is stuffed with blackberry, blueberry, black olive and a tiny hint of mushroom. Chocolate sauce, huckleberry, and spices round out the long and deeply layered finish. This is really lovely expression of Carménère and a tremendous bottle of wine for the money.

Montes Alpha 2013 Carménère Colchagua Valley ($25)

Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) is blended in with the Carménère (90%) here. The fruit came from two areas within Colchagua where Carménère thrives.  This incredibly serious, well-structured offering is delicious now and will age well for a decade. Dried mission fig, violets, and white pepper are evident on the nose. Flavors of olive tapenade, black cherry and more lead the palate. The long, harmonious finish is filled with dried black fruits, spice and bits of earth. This offering is delicious today but will evolve positively over the next 7 or 8 years,

Colli Berici Oratorio di San Lorenzo2012 Carménère Riserva ($33)

This selection from Italy is entirely Carménère. Dried black cherry, white pepper and bay leaf emanate from the nose. Dried blackberry, plum and wisps of mission fig do the somewhat dense palate. The persistent finish stuffed with lingering dried fruits, spices, dusty cocoa and more. This is an impressive and distinct expression of Carménère that shows it can thrive in countries other than Chile when appropriate care is taken.

Viña Maquis 2010 Viola Carménère ($55)

One vintage after another Viola is one of the single most impressive expressions of Carménère being produced anywhere. In addition to Carménère (85%), some Cabernet Franc (15%) was blended in. Cherry, leather and thyme aromas leap from the nose. Black cherry, plum and raspberry flavors are evident on the palate along with spice elements and bits of cocoa. The finis is long, elegant and remarkable nuances with all of the prior characteristics circling back to deliver a harmonious coda.

Purple Angel 2013 Colchagua Valley Carménère ($67)

If you’ve explored Carménère with any level of seriousness, Purple Angel has passed your lips. It has stood for a number of years now as one of the world’s benchmark expressions of this fascinating grape. In addition to Carménère (92%), a nice dollop of Petit Verdot (8%) was blended in. This is a big, bold, bodacious wine that makes its presence known in terms that aren’t shy, from the first whiff to the last sip. With all that said it’s still a proportionate wine that respects some boundaries. Boysenberry, chocolate and spice all jump from the nose. The velvety palate is filled with black cherry, plum, spices, savory herbs, cocoa and more. The long, prodigious finish is deep, dark and loaded with ostentatious flavors. Purple Angel isn’t shy about being Carménère, or anything else for that matter. Don’t be shy about drinking this consistently audacious and delicious Chilean masterpiece.