I love wines with great stories. Does a great story change what is in the glass? No, of course not. But it can change how you perceive what’s in the glass, just how who you are with, where you are, or what you are celebrating can change your perceptions.
The story of Carmenere is a particularly interesting one. One of the “original six” Bordeaux grapes (from Médoc specifically, considered by some to be a Cab clone), it all but died out after the double-whammy of the European Phylloxera plague in 1867 and a susceptibility to coulure, a condition where grapes fail to thrive after a particularly rainy, wet season.
In fact, the grape was widely considered to be extinct until the 1990s, when it was discovered in Chile. It turns out that cuttings of the plant were imported to to Chile in the 1800s, but it was mistaken for Merlot. In 1994, however, a French oenologist found otherwise, showing conclusively that it was indeed Carmenere.
Now, Chile has embraced the grape as its very own, especially considering the fact that other big wines in Chile: Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. are not indigenous to the country.Though Carmenere is grown in small quantities in Italy, the US and France, Chile is leading the way with this particular varietal.
The Merlot comparison is logical – Carmenere is also velvety, rich and smooth, with dark fruit characteristics. Many Carmeneres are similar to other new world reds – big, bold fruit, lots of oak, not enough acidity. This one, however, offers great balance. It’s big and fruity, for sure, but there are also a plethora of savory notes in the mix. The arresting aroma develops into a sanguinary, meaty medley, with lots of dark fruits and hints of mushroom and herbs to boot. On the palate, it’s juicy, featuring ripe to jammy blackberries, figs and just a touch of warm spice. It finishes with chalky tannins that’ll melt right into your favorite grilled meat.
For less than 14 bucks in PA, this is a great introduction to Carmenere and a quite complex wine for such a low price (and it’s not even a Chairman’s Selection!).
At press time, both Bryn Mawr and Ardmore stores had stock available.