Carménère, a grape variety once considered lost to the annals of viticultural history, has experienced a remarkable resurgence in recent decades. Thanks to the relentless efforts of many in the world of winemaking, it now stands as a symbol of the resilience and skill inherent in Chilean winemaking. We recently had the privilege of attending an online seminar led by respected Argentine wine writer Joaquín Hidalgo. Throughout the afternoon presentation, we embarked on a deep exploration of the complexities of Carménère. Hidalgo expertly traced the grape’s journey from its origins in France to its current home in Chile, shedding light on its genetic heritage and the profound influence of terroir. Following his insightful introduction, he skillfully guided us through an extensive wine tasting, presenting a spectrum of wines sourced from various regions, soils, and altitudes. This tasting experience illuminated the full spectrum of Carménère’s potential, ranging from exceptionally fruit-forward expressions to more robust and structured variations.
Here are thoughts on the wines we sampled:
2020 Montes Wings Carménère – This blend of 85% Carménère and 15% Cabernet Franc from the Apalta region is a stellar representation of Carménère blends at their peak. Delightfully spice-forward with notes of Telicherry pepper and green pepper on the first pass, it opens up in the glass for an opulent counterbalance of blueberry and blackberry that is rich and lush. There is the faintest touch of smoke and chestnut on the finish providing additional elegance and intrigue. It improves with every minute in the glass. Complex and lively, this is worth seeking out and putting away for a special occasion. A / $55
2021 Morandé Vitis Unica Carménère – Hailing from the Maipo Valley, this wine opens with pronounced blackberry and cola notes, transitioning into a spicy core marked by green pepper and cinnamon. Well-structured with balanced acidity and velvety tannins, it provides a harmonious framework culminating in a fruit-driven finish featuring cherry and a reprise of blackberry nuances. This Carménère certainly caters to those who appreciate complexity in their wine. A- / $20
2020 Luma Chequen Carménère Gran Reserva – Assertively full-bodied and generously oaked, this initially showcases a medley of cherry, licorice, and rhubarb notes. Allowing it some time in the glass enhances its development and equilibrium, revealing subtle undertones of tobacco leaf, serrano pepper, and a hint of chocolate weaving together as it approaches the finish. It offers exceptional value, boasting quality typically found in bottles priced at two or three times higher. A- / $17
2020 Primus Carménère – Fresh with big plum notes on the first encounter, this takes a bit of time to find its footing, letting the plum mingle with blueberry with a slight touch of balsamic helping to provide some balance. While it exhibits ample richness as a standalone glass, it shines when paired with a plate of beef empanadas, making for an ideal accompaniment for a robust, cold-weather dinner. B+ / $21
2021 In Situ Carménère – An 85% Carménère and 15% Cabernet Franc blend sourced from the Aconcagua Valley. Loaded with notes of currants and cranberry with an earthy undertone that becomes more pronounced as the fruit subsides. Full of black pepper, suede, and cumin elements, there’s a delightful burst of cedar that culminates in a highly alluring finish. B+ / $13
2020 TerraNoble CA2 Costa Carménère – Mildly acidic and fruity, with ripe cherry, plum, and vanilla taking the lead. A slight ash note blends in with bell pepper and cocoa contributing a slight restraint to the fruit, which requires some time in the glass to fully unveil its potential. Once it does, it becomes a lovely accompaniment for an extended evening. B / $36
We extend our gratitude to Joaquín and the team at Creative Palate for making the seminar possible.