Carménère carries a robust charm
Carménère is a rich, deep-red grape variety that began in France—as so many grapes did—and migrated to Spain. It has now settled comfortably in Chile, which seems to produce most of it, certainly the greatest number of labels we now find here in B.C.
The deep-red colour is lovely to behold. Carménère is the wine I am not allowed to taste in the living room; it’s confined to the kitchen table, with paper towels and plenty of them all over the place. Stain city, this stuff.
The grape still suffers from relatively light yield, but that hasn’t stopped the Chilean winemakers. It was discovered there at the beginning of the 1990s, among vines thought to be Merlot, which were apparently imported from Bordeaux in the early 19th century.
Whenever I’ve poured it for someone who hasn’t tasted it before, the reaction has been pretty much the same: “Wow!” of varying levels. It’s a red for dyed-in-the-wool red-wine lovers, whose palates like ’em big and bold. Think of it as the Dodge Ram of red wines.
Here in the LDB we get many Carménères, primarily in the Chilean section, while indie stores show many more. Generally, they are good-value wines of robust charm. They’re definitely food wines—especially with meat of all kinds.
It was easy to round up a representative selection for tasting; the difficulty came in deciding which wines to leave out. Price played something of a role in the decision: I limited my choice to five wines under $20, then added one non-Chilean, the great Black Hills from the Okanagan, which sells for $45 (if you can find any) and has distinguished the iconic B.C. winery with many awards and accolades, a hardly uncommon state of affairs for Black Hills.
The tasting was in order of ascending price. All are specialty listings at the LDB, except for the Black Hills, which is available only at the winery and select independent stores.
Concha y Toro Frontera Carmenere 2011 ($8.99)
Under 10 bucks and terrific, my kinda wine! Spicy, smoky, leafy. Smooth enough until the finish, which rasps at the palate a little. Light, but with good, fresh fruit. A good appie wine or for all-day sipping, even with an ice cube in it.
Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2011 ($13.99)
This is Concha y Toro’s popular “devil wine”. (At the winery, the cellar tour stops where the big casks are and some poor cellar hand in diabolic drag jumps out and “frightens” the guests—or at least did so when I last visited the winery, more than a decade ago!) Popular agreement round my tasting table: this is the best buy of today’s bunch. Very dark and intense, it even smells dark and deep. Very smooth and meaty/chocolate-y; peppery and surprisingly soft come the finish. Perfect pizza wine, for really good pizza. You have your own favourite big-ticket pizza spots, but do they have this wine? Might be a case for bringing your own. Could be well worth the corkage fee.
Errazuriz Estate Carmenere Reserva 2011 ($14.99)
Starts off with a shy nose but quickly mellows into a rich and round wine with a soft but lengthy finish. Abundant fruit and some spice along the edges. Good all-around sipper.
Undurraga Sibaris Reserva Especial Carmenere 2010 ($15.99)
Has a bit of a sweet initial taste—someone said “candy apple”. Soft and mellow, very smooth, and the initial aromas give way to plenty of fresh fruit. Another tasters’ favourite—weren’t they all? A full-flavoured anytime-drinking wine. “It doesn’t need food,” said one taster, “but if there’s dinner on the table, I’d love it with wild boar and Stilton!” Who wouldn’t?
Arboleda Carmenere 2009 ($19.99)
The costliest of the Chileans sampled here. The back label makes reference to a “boutique winery”. Great starting aromas; magenta-tinged colour; excellent, full fruit; surprisingly fresh despite its relative age; a lengthy and satisfying finish. Probably the all-around favourite (save what’s to follow) of the tasters assembled this time.
Black Hills Carmenere 2010 ($44.90)
Very little here for the nose, but the palate gets it all with a flavour whump! Soft and silky, very deep and rich fruit. One for slow sipping, to mark a special occasion or just after dinner.