CARMENÈRE. Chile’s signature grape. I’m intrigued by this wine’s story, so I’m sharing it with you.
As I write, I’m still on staycation, staring out at blue Welsh skies brushed with rolling grey clouds, but happily sipping Viña Koyle Alto Colchagua Reserva Carmenère, 2012 (£8.95, The Wine Society) at the naughty wine time of 5.15pm. The dog is asleep, so she won’t spill the beans. The wine is ruby-red deep, with pepper and cloves, some violets, lavender and vanilla, and that’s even before I sip.
Then pepper that tingles the top of your mouth and juicy black plums smooth and cajole tastebuds.
So, carmenère. This is a grape which up to a few years ago was thought to have disappeared. In the 1870s a phylloxera plague of small aphids destroyed most of Europe’s vines.
Carmenère was as good as lost in its heartland of Bordeaux. But some early winemakers in Chile had taken the grape across the ocean, where for many years it was thought to be merlot. In 1997 DNA tests discovered that it was in fact carmenère and the following year Chile hailed it as an official variety.
Carmenère plantings have since shot up in Chile. I like that story. I like the wine too. Very much.
Adobe Carmenère, Emiliana Organic 2012 (£8, from winetrust100.co.uk). Winetrust 100 selects its wines on a Quality Price Ratio basis; three masters of wine pick their favourite wines at tastings and only those which reach a certain QPR appear on the site.
This wine has a rating of 93. Adobe is a brick dried in the sun. We have sun in a glass … and it is Fairtrade and organic too. It is a blend with syrah and merlot, true to its French roots where blending is King. A ruby red, with spicy peppered cherries on the nose, rippling and tingling in the mouth.
Ulmen Carmenère 2013 (£6.50) and Pintao Reserva Carmenere 2012, (£9.99, both M&S). The Ulmen is bright spice and jammy black fruits. No oak here, a bundle of rich fruit, simply that. The Pintao is a more complex thing. Six months in French oak. The spice is there again, the cherries, plums, some green pepper skin; what’s this? Some smooth chocolate too? I think so.
Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère 2011, (£11.95 Wine Direct). Plums, black peppers, violets and herbs. This includes 15% cabernet sauvignon and the wine has also been aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. Vanilla creeps in.
Finally, look out for these … Estevez Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère Reserva 2012 (Aldi, £4.99) with the chain hitting the spot again with a great wine at a great price; and SPAR has an award-winner in SPAR Chilean Reserva Carmenère (£6.39) which won silver at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards.
Also in my glass … a vodka spritz. Nola Vodka Spritz is available in Raspberry & Elderflower and Watermelon & Strawberry. (Tesco and Asda, RRP £2.99, 250ml can; £7.99, 700ml bottle).
Both, I’m told, contain half the abv and 35% fewer calories than a standard glass of pinot grigio. Though why would you want a glass of pinot grigio? Raspberry and elderflower has 81 calories in 175ml with an abv of 6.4%; the watermelon is the same abv and 79cals.
That may be a hook for some people to buy; for me, did it taste good? Well with lots of ice both were refreshingly tasty as an after-work-sit-in-the- sunshine chill-out. For when you need something pink and sweet like a rosé but don’t want wine.
This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine August 16, 2014