As many wine nerds know, this native Bordeaux grape has found a thriving home in the warm, high elevation vineyards of Chile. Brought over from France in the 1800s, its true identity lay undiscovered until relatively recently — most people thought it was Merlot.
Nope! Carménère endures, and we have Chilean growers to thank for that. The country accounts for the lion’s share (>95%) of Carménère wine made anywhere in the world.
Within Chile, the grape has been challenging Merlot for the #2 spot (after Cabernet Sauvignon). With so many different valleys, terroirs, winemakers, growing and winemaking philosophies, Chilean Carménère is a diverse and dynamic category. I love the dark fruit, the herbaceous and spicy qualities, along with the tannic grip and moderating acidity I find in a lot of these wines, but the nuances are significant. While many are made to be consumed young, the more structured Carménères are clearly built to last.
And, when you consider the value of these wines, there’s a lot to get excited about. Year after year, I find more of these wines on offer in the U.S., and the quality and value seems to be consistent, with a few notable standouts.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2015 Concha y Toro Carménère Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile, Central Valley
Bright purple color. Juicy red currants and cherries, along with cola, sweet roses, rhubarb, black pepper, grilled bell pepper. Palate is medium-bodied, light tannins, tangy acidity. Strawberries, black cherries, showing notes of coffee, clove, charcoal, cracked pepper, violets. Fresh and lively style but still a range of quite complex flavors. (87 points)
2014 Errazuriz Carménère Max Reserva - Chile, Aconcagua Valley
Rich purple color. Dark and spicy aromas with black tea, clove, roasted poblanos, coffee, on top of black cherries and currants. Full-bodied, fleshy tannin, medium acidity, tangy black cherries and currants. Complex notes of tar, graphite, iron, dark chocolate, cedar, coffee. Delicious now but this has time in the cellar. Aged 12 months in about 28% new French oak, includes 5% Syrah. (89 points)
2013 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Carménère Los Vascos Grande Réserve - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Light purple. Aromas of black cherries, cranberry sauce, mixed with bell pepper, spicy green herbs, menthol, leather. Full-bodied with fresh acid, medium tannins, a spicy, tangy but structured wine. Lots of spicy tobacco, charred herbs, menthol, coffee and cedar to accent the black cherries and tart currants. Stays vibrant but nice structure here, spicy, herbal, delicious. All Carmenere aged 12 months in French oak. (89 points)
2013 Montes Carménère Alpha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Bold purple color. Tart black currants, smoky black cherries, the fruit is dark and tangy but loaded with charcoal smoke, grilled herbs, roasted red peppers, bacon fat, vanilla coffee. Solid grip on the palate but the acidity is refreshing, and the black currant and cherry fruit is rich but tangy. Lots of charcoal, magic markers, campfire smoke, roasted bell peppers, mocha, black pepper glaze. A loamy, earthy, mineral element lingers on the finish. This has a bunch of years in the cellar, but it’s seriously good stuff. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in 55% new French oak. (91 points)
2015 Concha y Toro Carménère Gran Reserva Serie Riberas - Chile, Rapel Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Peumo
Deep purple color. Aromas of charcoal smoke and grilled herbs on top of dense black cherries and blackberries, along with some graphite, roasted coffee and cedar. Full-bodied, nice grip, medium acidity, juicy but sturdy. Roasted fig and black currants mix nicely with coffee grounds, charred herbs, roasted chestnut, violets, dark chocolate. Highly delicious but quite complex. Includes 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 13 months in cask. (88 points)
2015 Concha y Toro Carménère Marqués de Casa Concha - Chile, Rapel Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Peumo
Deep purple color. Love the rich blackberry and sweet plum aromas with coffee, mocha, violets, eucalyptus and sweet pipe tobacco. Full-bodied, medium tannins and acidity, balance is on point, which is something because this is a suave and rich wine. Blackberries and black currants, lit up by complex elements of coffee, roasted chestnut, dark chocolate, graphite and loamy earth. A richer, flavorful style (less on the herbs and spice), but so good. 2-4 years in the cellar is fine but this is delicious now. Includes 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in French oak. (90 points)
2015 Apaltagua Carménère Envero Gran Reserva - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Rich purple color. Smoky and earthy aromas with clove, coffee, cedar, bell pepper, and blackberry and juicy plums. Medium/full-bodied with fleshy tannins and fresh acidity. Blackberries, dark plums, suave fruit but also lots of earth, charcoal, graphite, charred earth, cedar, and savory spices. Richly flavorful, impressive complexity, but also quite fresh and accessible. (88 points)
2013 Viña Santa Rita Carménère Medalla Real Gran Reserva - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
Rich purple color. Nose shows juicy blackberries, plum cake, blueberry, along with smoky herbs, espresso, violets. Full-bodied with chewy texture, medium tannins and moderating acidity. Black currants and cherries loaded with flavors of pencil lead, fallen leaves, chicory coffee, cedar planks. Impressive structure but balanced and accessible already. (89 points)