Home Chile Considering Carmenere: A Wines of Chile Tasting for #BlogChile

Considering Carmenere: A Wines of Chile Tasting for #BlogChile


Wines of Chile ‘Terroir Master Class’ Tasting

To help bring awareness to the differing regions of Chile, and the unique expression of wines from these regions, Wines of Chile organized a tasting bringing together wines of 4 different grapes, 3 expressions each for a total of 12 wines.

Chile offers a unique environment for growing wine for multiple reasons. Most distinctive among them is the phylloxera free environment offered by the desert to the north, the mountains to the east, and the water everywhere else. Chile is essentially land locked so that the louse cannot sneak into the country via wind, animals, or other natural vectors, and the government keeps agricultural supplies in strict quarantine to protect the vines from human error. Grapes, then, are grown on their own rootstock throughout the country.

As described by the winemakers hosting our experience through the tasting, Chilean wine is about drinking the wine now “because you will be happy” but with the understanding that the wines have the ability to age as well.

I was pleasantly surprised by the focus on value in many of these wines. Following are descriptions for the twelve wines.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc from Chile has done well at catching attention in recent years for offering a lean, clean focus with a wealth of fruit. I have to confess these whites are not my style. However, these wines are also a recognizably popular style, offering consistent quality, and are generally an expression of value.

Vina Casablanca Nimbus Single VIneyard 2012, Casablanca Valley $13. This is a delicate wine with an elegant focus, bringing out the character of lily and nasturtium with citrus blossom and zest. There is a lightly salty texture on a soft palate. This is a value wine. The Nimbus was made with a slow fermentation, and kept on lees for a creamier texture.

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard 2011, Lyeda Valley $19. There is a creamy nose and palate here showing cooked asparagus, white grapefruit citrus, with light tomato leaf on the palate alongside white grapefruit, white pepper corn, and light evergreen. This is a clean, crisp wine with a long finish and a generally vibrant palate. The 1865 Vineyard offers limestone, and good proximity to the coast.

Casa Silva Cool Coast 2011 Colchagua Valley $25. The Casa Silva vineyard rises at 1300 feet elevation directly above the ocean. The wine carries a tomato leaf nose with creamy back note, light lily and light mango. The palate is vibrant, with a strong green leaf and green onion aspect carrying through to the finish. The flavors showing here include citrus blossom, light pepper, and pink grapefruit.

Pinot Noir

PInot Noir has developed as a more recent interest in Chile, with plantings beginning in the 1980s in newly established cooler climate areas of Casablanca, San Antonio and Bio Bio.

* Emiliana Novas 2010, Casablanca Valley $19. The Emiliana Novas Pinot was one of the stand outs of the overall tasting–the value on this wine is impressive. The overall presentation offered here are like an archaeological dig of texture and flavors. You get a lot for $19. The nose is vibrant with rhubarb, light strawberry-raspberry without being sweet, and touches of smoke. The palate offers red berry and rhubarb, smoke and cracked pepper. There is a cohesive structure with vibrant acidity and medium smooth tannin, and a generally clean presentation.

Cono Sur 2009, Casablanca Valley $32. The nose of this Pinot is earthy, with smoke, a mix of red and dark berries, and light cracked pepper. The palate carries the textural, light tar influence of lees, with vibrant red fruit acidity, smoke, and dark earth rich soil. You get here a long smoke finish, up acidity, and medium tannin.

Morandé Gran Reserva 2009, Casablanca Valley $18. More than the other two Pinots, this one wants to be opened and given time with air to allow the flavors to settle and come together. Without that time it presents as disjointed. There is a sense of sea water, red fruit, smoke, and both red and dark berry here on a textural palate. Give this wine some time to enjoy it properly.


Carménère has captured a unique role in Chile thanks to its accidental history. Planted extensively through the country under the guise of Merlot, Carménère took a foothold in the South American state while being actively ignored in its home country of Bordeaux. Prior to its true origins being discovered, the Merlot of Chile became known as offering a unique presentation in comparison to the Merlot of elsewhere. To investigate the phenomenon, a vine scientist was brought in to study the unique Chilean Merlot clone. Unique clone indeed! It turned out more than half of the Merlot harvested from Chile was actually Carménère! While it had seemed to go extinct in Europe it was going strong in South America.

Interestingly, Carménère takes a similar story in Italy where it had been planted in the North as what was believed to be Cabernet Franc. It is now understood that most of what has been taken to be Cabernet Franc in areas like Friuli-Venezia Guilia and Veneto is actually Carménère.

With its unique presence in Chile attention has turned to developing the overall quality of the fruit in the region. The grape demands extended hang time plus warm climate to ripen optimally, and likes clay for growing in.

Many consider the bell pepper elements common to the grape undesirable. In too strong measure it can overwhelm other aspects of the wine. However, in good balance with earthier elements and some fruit, I find it pleasant and a nice up note to lift the wine. The three expressions we tasted from Chile were good examples of how interesting wines of the grape can be.

We were able to ask the winemakers how well they expect their Carménère wines to age. They consistently said that on a good vintage and a quality wine, Carménère would readily age 10 years, but could be expected to do well longer. They also expressed that their favorite pairing for the variety is spicy curry or Mexican food.

Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha 2010, Cachpoal Valley $22. WIth 100% Carménère in this wine, it carries the most fruit focus of the three. The nose starts with the characteristic bell pepper element and opens into bacon fat, cassis, red berry, and light cracked pepper. On the palate there is a fresh water element layered into an ultra rich, slightly heavy palate. This wine wants to be decanted and given time to open up and unfold. There is a nice texture and movement in this wine opening into cooked down fruit, and hints of cocoa.

Carmen Gran Reserva 2010 Apalta-Colchagua Valley $15, 5% Carignan. Again, this wine wants to be decanted and let rest to open up. The initial breath gives distinct green pepper with light sulfur elements and a strong palate with intense flavor. The wine opens into light camphor and squid ink with distinct red fruit, pepper with spice, and a bread finish. This is a young, still tight wine. With air it opens up into a lot of richness and the acidity to carry it through–the Carignan helps provide some of this.

* Koyale Royale 2009, Colchagua Valley $26, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec. The most distinctive elements show on this wine. There is a lot of layering, and pleasant focus offered through this wine and it drinks beautifully into the second and third day. The green pepper element on the nose presents as refreshing, alongside a lightly bready character. The palate is intense with bacon fat, cassis, light clove, light bread, dark fruit and smoke. There is a distinctive textural finish here, and grippy tannin that is also pleasant. This was one of the stand outs in the tasting for its overall quality.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Though Chile has become associated with Carmenere, it is actually the success of Cabernet Sauvignon that brought attention to the red wines of the country. Cabernet Sauvignon helped show other areas of the world that Chile could produce quality red wines, thus bringing further interest in the rest of the wine industry of the area as well.

* Maquis 2010, Colchagua Valley $19. The value on this wine is utterly impressive. This wine offers a lot of sophistication for the cost. You get pencil lead, light green pepper, chocolate, and green leaf raspberry with a meaty, rich palate, and a medium long tang finish. It is still a young wine with a tight presentation, give it some open time if you choose to drink it now. This wine was one of the stand outs in the tasting for its value.

Ventisquero Grey 2009, Maipo Valley, $29, 6% Petite Verdot. The nose here carries dust and deep red and purple fruit, leading into a vibrant, gripping, and stimulating juicy mouth. The flavors bring a mix of dust, red and purple fruit, green leaf, and graphite, with a spice and light tar medium-long finish. Let this wine have some age or some air.

Los Vascos Le Dix 2009, Colchagua Valley, $65, 10% Carménère, 5% Syrah. This wine wants age and air. Decant it and let it open if you choose to have it now. A fresh green pepper, and light cassis nose moves into a strong palate of spice, dark fruit, cassis, cocoa and tobacco with both a juicy and grippy body. The tannins here are smoothed, giving the roundest and smoothest presentation of the three Cabernets. The Le Dix comes from over 80 year old vines. It would be a perfect pairing for a grilled rib eye steak.


To read more about the wine regions of Chile check out this map and click chart from The Wines of Chile: http://www.winesofchile.org/chilean-wine/wine-regions/

Thank you to the Wines of Chile for including me in this tasting. Thank you to the Fred Dexheimer and the winemakers for discussing the wines with us. What a treat!

Thank you to Amber, and Morgan for their work facilitating the event.

Thank you to Lori Tieszen and to Emily Denton for extending the invitation to me.

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