Although Chilean wines have attracted their share of attention over recent years, Wines of Chile hosted a Seminar on Carménère in New York to focus on this often-overlooked variety.
If you are interested in increasing your wine knowledge, one of the best ways to learn about wines is to attend wine seminars, so when Wines of Chile hosted their 3rd annual Grand Tasting in New York featuring over 200 wines in March 2007, we readily signed up to attend. The featured speaker, Michael Green, Wine Consultant, Gourmet magazine, spoke on Carménère, Chile's Distinctive Variety, which he described as a "Cabernet Sauvignon in silk pajamas."
Before we begin discussing Carménère, it should be noted that there are 14 wine regions in Chile, beginning with the Elqui Valley the highest and northernmost region producing Syrah and spicy wines; Aconcagua Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Carménère; San Antonio Valley, the youngest wine region produces Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc; Cachapoal Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon; Curicó Valley is the largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc; Itata Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay; Limari Valley produces Syrah and Chardonnay; Choapa Valley is the newest region producing Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon; Casablanca Valley produces Sauvignon and Chardonnay; Maipo Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon; Colchagua Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec; Maule Valley produces Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carménère; and finally the Bío Bío and Malleco Valleys producing Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Riesling. Of the 14 regions, only three of the regions produce Carménère: the Aconcagua Valley, the Cochagua Valley, and the Maule Valley.
Carménère has a long history as a classic grape beginning in Médoc in the Bordeaux region of France, however after the phylloxera epidemic in 1867 in Europe wiped out the grape vines, France decided against replanting Carménère due to its low yields and shatter problems. So why did Chile decide to plant Carménère? Chile has a Mediterranean climate with long, dry, hot summer days and cool nights, and combined with its altitude and soil, it is a viticultural paradise. In the 19th century, Chilean wine growers imported cuttings of Carménère from France, as Carménère is part of the Cabernet family, and is a thick-skinned deep colored grape, is often less astringent and has less tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1991 Chile decided that Carménère could be a distinct variety and not identified and treated as a Merlot. Cane pruned and harvested 3-6 weeks later than Merlot, Carménère has low acidity, high PH, sweet and rich tannins provide a round mouth feel, and is very aromatic.
Of course, the best part of any wine seminar is the tasting to increase wine knowledge, and the tasting included 9 wines ranging from 100% Carménère, Carménère as the main grape, Carménère as the minority grape, and various Carménère blends. Carménère is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carignan, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Syrah.
Depending on the stage of aging, Carménère produces a variety of aromas; when it is young and unripe it has green pepper, celery, and herbaceous notes; at the just ripe stage it elicits red berries, black pepper, red pepper, and herbal notes; and at the ripe stage it provides blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, coffee, and even soy sauce notes.
Consumers looking for something new will appreciate its style of fruit forward, that is lush and pleasing, either in a blend or excellent on its own. Carménère is available in all price ranges and is definitely something to look for the next time you visit your favorite wine shop.
For information on Chilean wines, please visit: Wines of Chile, www.WinesofChile.org.
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