OK, so I realize I've had an almost week-long lull in the posting action here - I've had one heck of a week! So I'm going to post-date these blog entries to when they were supposed to have been written up! I'll catch up and get back on track - I promise!
Brief History of Carmenére
So, as I have alluded to in several previous posts, I am totally loving Chilean Carmenére. Don't worry if you've never heard of "Carmenére" - it's a bit of an obscure grape, but one well worth memorizing. Carmenére is a bit of an outcast, and I think that plays in to the appeal. Carmenére was originally grown in the Bordeaux region of France, but its low yields caused it to lose favor when French viticulturists were replanting after Phylloxera invaded Europe in the 1880s. This resulted Carmenére becoming all but extinct in its native Bordeaux.
Prior to the Phylloxera invasion, several plantings of Carmenére made their way to Chile (along with other Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec). Carmenére found a natural home here, and really took off. Interestingly enough, wine made from Carmenére in Chile was inaccurately labeled as "Merlot" up until genetic testing in the 1990s confirmed its identity as Carmenére. "Oops" said the Chilean winemakers, who then hastily remade their labels to say "Carmenére" instead of Merlot. Carmenére and Merlot look extremely similar in the field, and the winemakers really didn't know what they were dealing with until quite recently.
Carmenére = Chile
Similar to how Zinfandel is now associated with California, Shiraz with Australia and Malbec with Argentina, Carmenére is now seen as "Chile's grape". What could have been a mini-catastrophe in mistaken identity with Merlot, Chilean winemakers turned into a boon by instead touting the benefits and unique characteristics of Carmenére. And lucky for all of us that they did, as Carmenére has ended up being a very fascinating wine - with generally lower tannins than Merlot and big juicy fruit and spice, Carmenére is a very versatile wine that can match well with a variety of foods, or just be enjoyed on its own.
Anakena makes one solid Carmenére. And for only $10 (at Total Wine in McLean, VA), this wine has Excellent Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). The best way I can think of this Carmenére is as "a Merlot, but more so" - it's spicier, fruitier and more in-your-face than a Merlot (in a good way!), but with subtler tannins. Alternatively, think of this as a toned-down California Zinfandel. Regardless of how you think about it, I strongly recommend giving a Carmenére a shot.
The Anakena Carmenére had dark, ripe berries and spices on the nose that carried through to the palate. Clocking in at 14.5% alcohol, you'd think this wine might be a bit "hot" on the tongue, but somehow it manages to avoid that. I've had this wine on several occasions now, and enjoy it enough each time to make a point of buying more on my next vino purchasing expedition. Hopefully you'll give it a shot - let me know what you think!