23 November 2008

Chilean Carménère

Augustus D. Juilliard, founder of the famous New York conservatory
Paul Revere, silversmith and patriot during the American Revolution
John James Audubon, painter and ornithologist

What do these three people have in common? All were born in the Americas of French parents who sailed across the Atlantic for better opportunities, and these children did great things with their lives in the Western Hemisphere.

Pinot Noir never needed to leave France; the successful stay home. Yes, it has accomplished much in California and New Zealand, but Burgundy still holds the World Welterweight Championship for this grape. Semillon has been planted all over the globe yet has never achieved the sublime glory of Sauternes from Bordeaux.

But for various reasons including Phylloxera France abandoned, neglected, or ignored a handful of native grapes that took root and flourished elsewhere, particularly in South America. Tannat in Uruguay. Malbec in Argentina. And in Chile, a grape that was misidentified for years as Merlot, nearly forgotten, and recently developed to incredible new heights: Carménère.

It's interesting to note that the current president of Chile is Michelle Bachelet, the great-great granddaughter of a French wine merchant who emigrated to Chile in 1860, a few years after the arrival of Carménère.

With a glass raised south toward the honored country for Memphis in May 2009, here are six great Chilean Carménères that I tried with friends and family over a long dinner.

Note: All wines were tasted alone before dinner, with food during the various courses, and one last time after dinner.

The first wine opened during the appetizer course (green grapes and Dubliner cheese) was the 2007 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carménère. 100% Carménère from the Rapel Valley, $10. Vegetal, green tomato leaf aroma, with cherry and licorice flavors. This, like the rest of the Carmeneres, was dark and deep purple.

For the first course, I roasted a rack of lamb (marinated in a Chinese tea--more on that in a future post) and seared in a skillet. I paired it with Raichlen's chimichurri sauce, a traditional South American accompaniment to roast meat. Avocado and kiwi are important Chilean exports, so I threw them on the plate as well. A little dry salami rounded things out.

With the first course I served two wines. The 2006 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carménère is 86% Carménère, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot from the Rapel Valley, $15. Smooth and rich with aromas of green bell pepper and flavors of black cherry. The 2006 San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carménère is 100% Carménère from the Maule Valley, $17. Grassy, with Haut-Medoc characteristics after breathing. Flavors included plum and black pepper. Surprising complexity over the course of the evening.

Next up was a course of French onion soup served in coffee mugs with baguette rounds toasted with shredded Gruyère. (Particularly in a dinner party setting, I love serving soup in cups. Smaller portions, easier distribution.) Here I served the 2006 Caliterra Tribute Carménère, 86% Carménère, 10% Merlot, 4% Merlot from the Colchagua Valley, $17. Bright raspberry aromas, with smooth coffee and chocolate flavors after breathing.

For the third course we took an intermission: with a nod to the seafood traditions of Chile, an ensalada de camarones, or shrimp salad. Tossed with a white wine/Dijon/honey vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and grapes over mesclun greens. Served with sparkling water to clear the palate and ready the taste buds for the next plating...

The fourth course was a (not pictured) ribeye roast cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a trio of Hollandaise, leftover chimichurri sauce, and a horseradish/sour cream sauce. The side dish (much loved by my sister-in-law) was sherry vinegar and molasses glazed carrots. With the beef I poured the last two wines, starting with the 2005 Estampa Gold Carménère Assemblage Red Blend, 53% Carménère, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, from the Colchagua Valley, $22. This was my favorite of the evening, combining a gorgeous eucalyptus and earth aroma with tart cherry flavors. A hint of anise completed the whole experience. Also well received around the table was the great 2006 De Martino "Alto de Piedra" Single Vineyard Carménère, 100% Carménère from the Maipo Valley, $30. Violets and spice aromas, blackberry flavors and a firm tannic finish.

To finish things off, honored guests the Squirrels were kind enough to make shortbread stuffed with a persimmon filling and topped with Bourbon-flavored whipped cream. Though belts were being loosened throughout the dining room, this dessert was a big hit and a definite new flavor for many at the table. Personally I want to see this dish replace pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

Dessert was accompanied by a handful of Ports that were on hand, but this post is all about Chile and the wonderful wines produced on the West Coast of South America.

For more on Chilean wines (not just Carmenere), be sure to check out Wines of Chile for lots of great links and information.


Anonymous said...

nice survey of an interesting grape. and since saying "Chinese tea" is the equivivlent of saying "French wine," we do want to read more about this.

Benito said...


The tea was the smoky Lapsang Souchong, and I'll have a long post about it next week or so. Worked great as a marinade, though I didn't leave the delicate rack of lamb in it for more than two hours.

Samantha Dugan said...

I love the idea of onion soup in little cups, done it with other soups but never thought to do it with onion, which I confess I don't serve often due to the fact that it can be a bit rich for a first course.

Up to this point I have had very little by way of Carmenere, in fact I think I have only had one made by Santa Ema...gonna have to investigate, check out a few others.

Anonymous said...

I am exhausted just from imagining the work involved in creating this elegant repast.

I gained three pounds just reading about it.

I love the Lost Grape.

Great post.

carmenerewineguru said...

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