Santiago, Chile. It has been some time since my last visit. Today I am joined by friend and fellow sommelier, Monseratt Araya. We are in one of her favorite city spots, Cafe Mosqueto. From our patio table, we have a wonderful view of one of the city’s most popular streets. Calle Monjitas, in the Bellas Artas district, is filled with with tourists, revellers, and those just passing by. Over a glass of our favorite wine, it is the perfect place to leisurely watch the world go by.
Over the past few days we have been exploring a few of Chile’s wine regions in search of the best the country has to offer. We have trekked throughout a couple of my favorite areas, Maipo and Colchagua Valleys.
Most people are not aware of the simple fact that Chile has been producing wines since the 1500s, longer than anywhere else in the New World. Today Chile is known for producing a plethora of wines and excelling in reds. Carmenere is now their flagship varietal. How and when did this occur?
Long ago Carmenere was widely planted in Bordeaux. The sub-region of Medoc, in particular, specialized in the varietal. Carmenere was so important to Bordeaux blends, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, it became one of their foundation level varietals. However, in the late 1800s, it was struck down by phylloxera. Fortunately, many vines had been safely exported to Chile. An important move because Chile is an area where the phylloxera pest has never taken hold. Unfortunately, a new problem arose. Due to Carmenere’s similar characteristics to Merlot, the two vines were often planted together. Eventually Chilean vintners sorted out the problem, and today Chile is reputed as the foremost producer of Carmenere.
For our first wine, Monseratt selected an Arboleda Carmenere 2010 from the Colchagua Valley. Located in the southwest, Colchagua is home to the “huaso,” Chile’s legendary cowboys. When it comes to wine, Colchagua is renown for its premium quality reds. In the glass, the 2010 is a very dark red in color. On the nose, the bouquet is a concentration of blackberry laced with cassis, herbs, and just a trace of olive. On the palate, this full-bodied wine is elegant, smooth, and savory. There is plenty of ripe fruit dominated by plums. The finish is long and enjoyable. The alcohol content is 14% with a bottle price of only $20.
“What I like most about Carmenere is that it pairs so nicely with grilled lamb, braised beef, and hearty stews,” Monseratt paused lightly. “These dishes are all quite typical of the Chilean diet.”
“This wine drinks very well,” I nodded in approval. “I would definitely pair the 2010 with lamb.”
Our next selection, Errazuriz Vineyard Carmenere 2009. In the glass it is a deep purplish red ruby. On the nose, the bouquet is filled with sweet spice, hints of chocolate, followed by dried fruit. On the palate, there is an abundance of ripe tannins and good acidity. Pronounced flavors of blackberry and cherry are accompanied by subtle hints of pepper. The finish is long and refreshing. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a bottle price of $23.
“I like the intensity of this wine,” Monseratt paused for effect. “It is packed with flavors.”
“The 2009 definitely shows well and it will continue to do so with time.”
Next, Monseratt selected a Ventisquero Grey Carmenere 2007 from the Maipo Valley. This region lies southwest of Santiago, and is arguably Chile’s most renown wine region. Ventisquero is Chile’s most modern and state of the art winery. They are known for their ability to combine traditional methods with state of the art technology. In the glass the wine is an intense purple. Perhaps the most deeply colored wine I have seen in awhile. The nose is simply inviting. The bouquet is filled with ripe blueberries, blackberries, and coffee. On the palate, the 2007 shows great complexity from the very beginning. There are pleasurable notes of spice, ripe plum, dark fruit, and chocolate to this very earthy wine. The finish drops off a bit, but overall, a most enjoyable wine. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a bottle price of $25.
“This wine had me with the hint of coffee on the nose,” I chuckled softly. “The earthiness and complexity added to the pleasure profile.”
“I also picked up very subtle hints of pencil flint,” she added.
“This is from aging in American oak,” I smiled reassuringly. “It is an interesting mark of some vintners that adds more character and complexity to many wines.”
“I know that when aging in young American oak, the intent is to add hints of vanilla,” Monseratt was quick to add.
“Agreed,” I nodded. “What is our next wine?”
For our last selection, Monseratt decided on a Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenere 2009. In the glass the wine is a very dark and deep red. On the nose, the bouquet is complex with an elegant array of ripe berries, plum, spice, and a hint of tobacco. The palate is as equally complex. It is initially powerful followed a concentration fruit flavors. Caressed in tannins, the 2009 has excellent structure. The finish is smoke-tinged and lingering. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a bottle price of $40.
“With what dishes other than red meat would you pair this wine?”
“Duck, most game,” she paused to collect her thoughts. “Tomato based pasta, and robust cheeses.”
“That does it, ” I said with finality. “For dinner, we’ll have the duck accompanied by a bottle of the Cocha y Toro.”
“But that my friends, is another story … “