Carmenère is often neglected by some wine lovers because of its thick, vegetal character. It’s a bold and brash act that can sometimes be difficult to associate with a proper diet. But a well-made bottle of this Chilean classic can offer complex flavors at a fraction of the price of its Bordeaux cousins.

Let’s take a look at the red wines with pyrazine in this week’s Tasting Challenge.

What is the Tasting Challenge? With 34 wines from 12 countries, you can improve your wine taste every week – the Wine Tasting Challenge.

wine-tasting-challenge-carmenere This Carmen comes from the Maipo Valley: the wine region closest to Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Although Carmener is not the most widely planted grape variety in Chile (reportedly Cabernet Sauvignon), no other country in the world produces as much Carmener.

For this reason, Carmener could be said to be their culturally most important grape variety, making it a natural choice for a first trip to Chile for this tasting.

The winery was founded in France, in the Bordeaux region, in 1996, when the world learned that nearly 50% of Chile’s alleged Merlot yield was actually from Carmenère.

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It really helped to revive grapes that had been all but forgotten at home.

The Maipo Valley benefits from the warmer climate of the Chilean wine region, which has allowed many Bordeaux grape varieties to be grown. The wines produced here are known for their Chilean earthiness, and this distinction was an important factor in the selection of this wine.

How does it compare to the French Carmenère? It’s hard to say, because so little is currently planted in France. In fact, there are currently more Carmenere grown in China than in France.

However, since it has long been mistaken for Merlot, we can assume that a French Carmen would be very similar. That is, medium-bodied and tannic, with notes of red and black fruit.

carmenere-wine-tasting-notes-journal

2018 Legado Reserva Carmen

See..: Deep Ruby.

Aromas: rich and complex! Tones of blackberry reduction, stewed tomato, dark chocolate, balsamic reduction, cigar, black plum, potpourri, dried cranberries.

On the palate: blackberries and tobacco. There is fleshy and rich fruit, but you will see that the emphasis is on the wine’s herbaceous character. Sharp green tannins and a long finish.

Food combination: steak with mushrooms and balsamic glaze. Perhaps a skewer of smoked and grilled vegetables that still have plenty of crunch.

What we learned about Chile’s Carmenere.

Carmenère originated in France. In fact, it is one of the six grape varieties currently allowed in the famous Bordeaux red blends.

But don’t expect the vineyards to be overrun with these red berries.

A massive phylloxera epidemic destroyed most vineyards in Bordeaux in the 1870s, and when the opportunity arose to rebuild and regroup estates, most vintners in the region chose to grow the less difficult varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. For a long time there was speculation that this unusual grape might become extinct.

This changed in 1994, when a French scientist discovered that about half of the Merlot grapes grown in Chile for more than a century were actually Carmenere.

Carmenère is known for its high content of pyrazine: the same chemical that gives peppers their characteristic smell.

It is due to this that Carménère has aromas of pepper, cocoa, juniper and gooseberry: a very vegetal wine, in other words. Some people find this overwhelming, but pyrazines can be a real godsend for many wine lovers.

Last Impressions

Chilean wine has a special flavor that differs from that of other wine-producing countries. This wine was sweet and full-bodied, with hints of chocolate and many spicy characteristics.

Chile’s wine landscape is vast and delicious – take a look at our Chilean Red Wine Guide to get a glimpse of a whole host of options.

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