Carménère is a wine mystery that is worth solving! Long mistaken for Merlot, and from a wine grape many thought was extinct, Carménère is a wonderful red wine that we would definitely recommend you seek out! One of Chile’s great wines, Carménère is a fantastic red wine alternative for those of you looking to expand your wine horizons! We found it spicy and earthy with flavors like raspberry and matchstick. What?!? That’s right - and those are good things! We’ll tell you more about the history and mystery of this wine, the things we tasted in the wine, and foods we think would go well with it. And this year, Carménère Day is the same day as Thanksgiving in the United States! Which will you celebrate?!? Wines reviewed in this episode: 2018 Casas del Bosque Reserva Carménère, 2018 Viu Manent Secreto Carménère, and 2019 Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Carménère.
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Episode 53: WTF is Carménère? 00:00
Hello! And welcome to The Wine Pair Podcast. I’m Joe, your sommelier of reasonably priced wine, and this is my wife and my wine pairing partner in crime, Carmela. And we are The Wine Pair!
Ok, a quick orientation for those of you who may be new to the podcast - in each episode we learn about, taste and review three wines that are reasonably priced - meaning under $20 - and should be easy for you to find. Our goal is to have some fun, learn about some new wines, and talk about wines in a way that regular people like us can understand. And we are proud to say we are officially recommended by the editors of Decanter Magazine, who call us fun, irreverent, chatty, and entertaining.
Carmela, we are back to the much beloved WTF or what the fucking fuck series where we learn about wines that most people have never heard of, or maybe have heard of but were afraid to try, so that we can expand our wine horizons and feel super smart and smug about our wine knowledge. Just kidding. But, really, I love this series because I know I am going to learn something new. And I am a dork, so I like learning new stuff. Do you love it?
AND, as we record this, we are getting to the end of November and evidently Carménère Day (CAR MEH NAIR) is on November 24th. Wowie wow wow! So, in honor of Carménère Day, we are going to learn just what the fuck Carménère is. And, for a little teaser, Carménère is a wine that was the victim of mistaken identity for over 100 years! How crazy is that?!?
Before we talk about what the f Carménère is, we have to talk about how we figure out how to pronounce all of these rando wines and regions and stuff that come up in our podcast.
Now, if you search for “how to pronounce a wine” on the Google machine you will inevitably run into this dude called Julien who is French and who has these funny short videos where he explains how to pronounce these tricky wines. Here is his video for Carménère:
How to Pronounce Carménère? (CORRECTLY) What Wine is It? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKlb5OTh4Hs
I love these videos because he pronounces the word a few times, he includes a phonetic spelling for the word, and then he gives a little short explanation of the word or the wine. And, he has a killer French accent. I love him! A couple of weeks ago at Sunday night dinner, we were just playing videos of him doing pronunciations!
Julien is the real deal, don’t you think? On YouTube he has over 560k followers for his Julien Miquel channel, and he has a couple of other channels, too, and his videos cover pronunciations of things other than wine as well.
Maybe he can tell us how to actually pronounce our last name!
I have no clue how many videos this guy has, but if you go to his page, it has to be hundreds of thousands. If anyone has counted, or knows the number, let us know. I mean, he has videos on how to pronounce the names of famous people, of spices, of common phrases, bacteria, I mean, this is nuts! But it is his wine pronunciations that I really like.
I did try to find out a little bit more about him on the interwebs, and we do have a link to an article about him on our website if you go to the show notes for this episode. But this is what I can tell you.
- He is a winemaker who actually worked for some well known wineries, including Château Margaux in Bordeaux region and Château St Jean in Sonoma County
- He worked at the website Wine-Searcher for about 6 years
- In 2015 he won some award for the best new wine blog
- I have no idea how much money he makes or how many videos he has created, but I will tell you that he has a ginormous number of videos and is the default solution most of the time when you are looking to figure out how to pronounce something.
Like how to pronounce Carménère. So, we better get back to Carménère and talk about what this wine is and the wines we are going to taste and rate in this episode and the area of Chile where it is currently being grown in high volume and what it was mistaken for for many many years . . .
But first . . . we have to do our shameless plug, right Carmela? If you are enjoying our show so far, and who wouldn’t be, why don’t you just go ahead and subscribe to our podcast, or leave us a nice a rating and review on our website on your podcast service so that people who might stumble upon us will say, hey, this looks like a podcast for me!
You can also follow us or reach out to us on Instagram at thewinepairpodcast or on CounterSocial - our Twitter alternative of choice, or contact us on our website thewinepairpodcast.com.
And, as we do every week, we’ll tell you someone we think you should tell about The Wine Pair Podcast, and this week we think you should tell anyone who loves Merlot and/or who is from or has been to Chile!
ARTICLES and LINKS
Topic: What is Carménère? 07:50
First of all, I am going to be totally honest. Before this episode, we, like most people we are guessing, had basically no idea what Carménère was. I don’t think either of us has ever tasted it before, and I am pretty sure that I have never even seen it in stores before - or at least I never thought to look for it.
I do know that this is a wine that is at least relatively easy to find, though, because I bought all of these wines on wine.com. You should also be able to find it at large wine sellers like Total Wine, and if you have a local wine shop or a wine seller you know, you can surely ask them if they can carry it or order it. Despite our ignorance about it, it should be easy to find.
Now, Carménère is a red grape and wine that originated in France, but is now pretty rarely grown there. In fact, this is a wine grape that was grown way back when in Bordeaux but that many people thought was basically extinct. Today, the vast majority is grown in Chile, but the interesting thing is that many people who started growing it in Chile thought they were growing Merlot!
Which is crazy! Right?!?
Well, maybe not so crazy. First of all, Carménère was traditionally one of the six major or “noble” grapes that went into Bordeaux blends, the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
In the mid-1800’s, an Aphid called Phylloxera basically destroyed all of the vineyards in Bordeaux from the 1860’s to the 1880’s, and many vineyards in Europe.How to Pronounce Phylloxera? (CORRECTLY)
After that happened, everyone thought Carménère was extinct because when they started to replant wine grapes, which actually were grafted from more resistant vines from the US, they found Carménère was just not able to make a comeback. So everyone thought it was dead and gone.
Interestingly, the first Carménère grapes were planted in Chile in the 1850’s, before the Phylloxera plague, and they thrived. However, as I said, everyone thought it was Merlot and not Carménère. What is also wild is that the grape and wine was called the “Chilean Merlot” because it had a different taste profile than traditional Merlot - but people just thought it was a different style and different terroir that caused the difference in taste.
This isn’t as dumb as it sounds. First, Merlot was a common Bordeaux wine as well. Second, there are some similarities in the look of the leaves between the two plants. Third, they both produce a very dark, rich red wine that has flavors of plum, berries, and vanilla, and both are low acid, medium bodied dry red wines. And finally, everyone thought Carménère was extinct.
However, according to several articles I found on the interwebs, including one from a website called The South American Wine Guide which you can find a link to in our show notes, it wasn’t until a French researcher visited the Maipo valley in Chile in 1994 and noticed that the stamens on the vines in a Merlot vineyard just didn’t look like Merlot vines. I am just pretending I know what that means, but maybe some wine or plant nerds out there may know, but evidently Carménère stamens are twisted in a way that Merlot is not, and this researcher identified the grapes as the presumed extinct Carménère wine. And, DNA tests proved it!
So this is a kookie story!
So, what is special about this wine, and why should we bother to drink Carménère now? Well, first, it’s kind of a cool story. So there’s that.
Second is that we probably just are not exposed enough to wine from Chile. Chile, according to Wikipedia which is never wrong by the way, is the 7th largest producer of wine in the world, and the 5th largest importer. And, although Chilean wine was considered to be of low quality in the 1980’s, it has since gone through a sort of a renaissance. So, we should definitely be getting to know more about wines from Chile.
In terms of taste and style, Carménère is, again, said to have some similarities to Merlot, but is definitely considered distinct. It is sometimes described as earthy, herbaceous, and peppery - both chili pepper and green bell pepper peppery.
It is also supposed to go well with roasted foods and anything spiced with cumin, so that makes me think about Mexican foods, especially Mexican roasts and stews, and Indian foods like curries that are often spiced with Cumin.
Now, again, we have never had this wine before, so we are hoping that this is a wine we will like, but I will be honest that I am a little worried this may end up like that other one that didn’t turn out so well - do you remember? In the Carignan episode (episode 48) where we kind of felt like that wine varietal was a clunker. Maybe we just bought three crappy wines for that episode! I am generally not a huge fan of Merlot, either, so this will be a google challenge for us. I should also say that Carménère is supposed to be aged just a bit - like 5 -15 years, so we may find that these wine come across as a little young - which often means “hot” or high in alcohol and tannins, although this is supposed to be a wine that is lighter in tannin.
As usual, you don’t have to worry about memorizing all of this information. Just head over to our website thewinepairpodcast.com, find this episode, and go to the show notes where we have lots of links and articles.
So, we’ll give these wines a taste in just a bit, but first, we are going to just talk for a quick minute or two about the wines we selected.
ARTICLES and LINKS
Carménère Wines We Chose for This Episode 17:55
Now, again, all of the wines we are trying today are wines that are under $20 and should be easy for you to find - and we found all of these on wine.com. So there’s that. Just a side note, we do buy all of our own wines and select all of our wines on our own. We just wanted you to know that.
Ok, a fun fact, Carmela. All of these wines are from South America, so that means what about their harvest time? Southern Hemisphere wines - from South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand - are harvested in what is our Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but is their fall. What that means is that a 2020 wine in a Southern Hemisphere wine is about 6 months older than a 2020 wine from the Northern Hemisphere. Not a huge difference, but it does add some age.
The first wine we are going to try is from the Rapel Valley of Chile called Casas del Bosque Reserva Carménère, and is a Wine Enthusiast Best Buy, so I am very curious what we think about this one.
The Rapel Valley is in the central coast area of Chile, about 20 miles or so from the coast. Evidently, the Rapel Valley produces around a quarter of the total wine made in Chile, it’s warm and dry, and they produce a large range of wines there.
Casas del Bosque is actually just a little closer to the coast - like 12 miles or so - and at an elevation of about 900 feet, and so they specialize in cooler climate wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. From what I can tell, they actually contract with vintners who grow Carménère to get their grapes for their wine that are further in the Rapel Valley where it is warmer, and where warmer wine grapes like Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon grow better.
What is also interesting about this wine is that they crush the wine in stainless steel tanks and then give them the initial fermentation. Then, they take half of the wine and put it in barrels to finish half of the wine, and then the other half is kept in steel tanks to complete malolactic fermentation, and then it is combined, filtered, and bottled. So, as a reminder, malolactic fermentation is used to reduce acidity in wine and smooth it out, and the fact that they put some in steel and some in barrels makes me wonder a lot about what the final product will taste like. My feeling is that this is going to be a soft wine.
Ok, our next wine is called Viu Manent Secreto Carménère. Now, the reason this wine is called Secreto is that, evidently, up to 15% of this wine is made up of a secret red blend. I’m serious, they don’t tell you what the blend is! What do you think the secret is?
Like the previous wine, they do malolactic fermentation, and they split the wine between stainless steel and oak barrels, but the mix of the two is a little different than the previous one. In the case of Viu Manent, 42% of the blend is aged for 10 months in French oak barrels, and 58% is held in stainless steel and concrete tanks for “greater fruitiness and freshness in the final blend.”
They also mention that their “secreto” line of wines is more experimental. The vines the wine grapes come from are young - 15 years old or so - and the grapes also come from the Rapel Valley, but from a specific area called the Colchagua Valley which is a highly regarded wine region in Chile.
So, I expect this wine to be a little fresher, probably sharper, and maybe more ready to drink than the Casas del Bosque, our first wine.
Our last wine is called Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Carménère. So, because it is not just a Reserva, which our first wine is, but a Gran Reserva, I am expecting a lot!
The Cromas Gran Reserva is 100% Carménère, and has received a bunch of accolades. This vintage, the 2019, has a 93 from James Suckling, 91 from Vinous (who we trust), and 90 from Wine Spectator (who we also trust). So, again, high expectations!
These different reviewers describe it as intense, muscular, creamy, flavorful, and vibrant. Sounds a lot like me.
Like the others, the wine is initially fermented in stainless steel, and then about 50% of this wine is aged in barrels of French oak, but these age a little longer - for 12 months. Which is my guess as to why this is called a Gran Reserva.
So, I am expecting this wine to be pretty intense.
So, we should have three wines with some similarities - the grape, the way they are produced, the oak aging for half the wine - but also some differences with the Secreto being a blend while the other two are 100% Carménère. And the longer oaking of the last one I expect will add some complexity and maybe some tongue smacking tannin as well.
All right, enough of that jibber jabber, I think it’s time to try some wine!
ARTICLES and LINKS
Carménère wine pairing tasting and review 23:11
Wine: Casas del Bosque Reserva Carménère (Click here to buy this wine - affiliate link)
Region: Chile, Rapel Valley
Producer: Casas del Bosque
Professional Rating: JS 91, WE 90
What we tasted and smelled in this Carménère: Wood, tart cherry, struck matchstick, red plum, cocoa, chocolate, red pepper flakes, pleasant. Probably young.
Food to pair with this Carménère: Red meat wine. Beef or pork roast. Could serve this on Thanksgiving. Hold up well to gravy and stuffing. Grilled lamb chops. Korean-style beef ribs. Would work well with spicy foods.
As a reminder on our rating scale, we rate on a scale of 1-10, where 7 and above means that we would buy it, and 4 and below means that we are likely to pour it down the sink, and in-between we are likely to drink it and finish it, but we are probably not going to buy it.
- Joe: 8/10
- Carmela: 7/10
Wine: Viu Manent Secreto Carménère (Click here to buy this wine - affiliate link)
Region: Chile, Colchagua Valley
Producer: Viu Manent
Grapes: 85% Carménère and 15% “secret blend”
What we tasted and smelled in this Carménère: Earthy, alcohol, old wooden chest, plant, leaves, not a lot of fruit. Tastes like “wine.” Grapey. Mint. Pencil.
Food to pair with this Carménère: might not be great with food.
- Joe: 5/10
- Carmela: 4/10
Wine: Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva Carménère (Click here to buy this wine - affiliate link)
Region: Chile, Colchagua Valley
Producer: Los Vascos, and they are part of the Taub Family of wine companies
Professional Rating: JS 93, V 91, WS 90
What we tasted and smelled in this Carménère: Wood, musty, earthy, cayenne pepper, red cherry, jalapeno, chili powder, raspberry, interesting. Complex. Still young.
Food to pair with this Carménère: A red that is good with spicy foods. Grilled foods. Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Jalapeno burger. Fried foods. Sushi (wasabi).
- Joe: 8/10
- Carmela: 7/10
Which one of these are you finishing tonight?
- Carmela: Casas del Bosque Reserva Carménère
- Joe: Casas del Bosque Reserva Carménère
What do you think about Carménère?
A good red wine find. A great change of pace! A fun wine to try with others who have not had it.
Taste profiles expected from Carménère: 45:47
- Wine Folly
- Raspberry, green bell pepper, plum, green peppercorn, vanilla
- Raspberry sauce, sour cherry, green peppercorn, and a granite-like minerality. On the more affordable end, you can expect to find Carménère wines with fruity red berry aromas and tart flavors of raspberry with a subtly bitter taste similar to kale. On the higher end, the herbaceous, bitter notes depart the scene in favor of sweet berries, refined light tannin, and a bittersweet note, like cocoa powder.
- Wine Traveler and Grape Grind also note these other flavors:
- Spicy earth notes, dark chocolate, tobacco and leather. Plum, black pepper, chocolate, pomegranate, blackberry, black currant, violets, coffee, mint
- Casas del Bosque
- JS: Nose of fern, moss, bramble bush, raspberries and wild herbs. Juicy.
- WE: Full bodied and balanced, this red opens with aromas of rose petals, plum, and struck match. The palate features concentrated blackberry, plums and meaty flavors with just enough acidity to lift it up. It has supple tannins and a good finish with dark-chocolate notes. Best Buy.
- Viu Manent Secreto
- Intense violet in color and complex on the nose with aromas of fresh red fruits and spices typical of the variety such as black pepper and sweet spices with notes of red fruits and berries with a bit of blonde tobacco
- Los Vascos Croma
- Dark berries with sweet-tobacco and flower-stem undertones. Full-bodied with a tight, juicy and rather tannic palate. A hint of chocolate and cedar at the end.
- Wood floats over blackberry and raspberry aromas accompanied by roasted red pepper and fruit jam. Ample and creamy on the palate, it delivers a satisfying, flavorful flow with a big, sugary but not overly sweet finish.
- Vibrant acidity backs the concentrated dark fruit and Asian spice flavors in this red, with plenty of dark chocolate accents, followed by dried mint and forest floor notes on the finish.
Outro and how to find The Wine Pair Podcast 48:14
As always, thank you so very much for listening to us, The Wine Pair, and you know, while you’re thinking about it, we think you should subscribe and give us a nice rating!
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Thanks for listening to the Wine Pair podcast, and we will see you next time. And, as we say, life is short, so stop drinking shitty wine