Uruguay has its tannat, Argentina its malbec and Chile its carménère. Little known, this Bordeaux grape variety, which has been rightly put back on the top of the podium in recent years, has met with a real craze and is taking its place among the great Chilean vintages. Let's admit that it has everything to please: fruit, structure, a touch of roundness and a story taken from a good detective novel.
It's a detective novel that can be heard in every bodega in Chile. In 1991, a French oenologist, near Santiago de Chile, took a closer look at some unusual vines in the middle of a plot of Merlot. Grapes and leaves are different, maturity is longer .... A doubt arises: this grape variety looks like merlot, but it is probably not merlot.
In the middle of the merlot, the Carménère is a good wine.
The enigma is posed and it will take 3 years to solve it: it is Carménère, an old Bordeaux grape variety that has been forgotten for nearly a century. So what are Carménère's feet doing in the middle of the Chilean vineyards? The crux of the story is Phylloxera, the merciless parasites that ravaged the world's vineyards at the beginning of the 20th century, taking many grape varieties with them. The Carmenera was thought to have disappeared, but in Chile it did resist the invader.
Chile's top-of-the-range vines highlight Carménère
The vines of Chile proudly soar towards the Andean sky, tall and proud, and produce grapes for ultra-modern wineries. Huge buildings that use gravity, semi-underground cellars that keep a natural freshness, amphoras, concrete eggs and state-of-the-art vats. In these ultra-equipped and ultra-reflective cellars, the ancient Carménère grape variety is king. After its rediscovery, the estates identified it, separated it, vinified it separately before proudly propelling it to the forefront of the Chilean scene. The wines are colourful, round, easy to drink with a great aromatic expression favouring black fruits. Depending on the winemaking method, they have more or less acidity, chocolatey flavours, spicy notes, pepper, green pepper and can offer a very great aromatic complexity.
Suggestion: the 100% Carménère from the Max Réserva range from the Errazuritz estate in the Aconcagua valley. An unbeatable quality/price ratio for a great Carmenere. With an alcohol content of 14%, this great red wine is dense and concentrated on the palate, while remaining elegant and smooth.
The red wines of Carménère are generally powerful and round. The food and wine pairing with a Carménère wine is therefore not always obvious. A little spicy dishes will support the power of Carmenere wines, red meats are a good base for food and wine pairing and grilled meats generally go well with concentrated and dense wines.
As for those who wish to put a bit of lightness and originality on the plate while remaining within the summer theme, Mediterranean salads, delicately spiced and spicy, are a perfect match for Carménère. They bring freshness, a touch of acidity, respect the roundness and support the power of the wine.
To your taste buds, mucho gusto!
Manon Mouly (for Les Grappes)
Les Grappes offers many activities and tastings at winegrowers' homes in all French wine-growing regions