Even if you have not been to Chile, you should try their signature wine, Carmenere. Winespeed agrees with me: Today considered Chile’s signature grape, carmenère was brought to Chile from Bordeaux in the late 19th century. Chilean landowners and mining barons had begun to showcase their wealth by building wine estates modeled after the grand châteaux of Bordeaux. The Chileans planted vineyards with imported French grapes, most notably cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and carmenère. Indigenous to Bordeaux, carmenère ripens late in the year—so much so that, in Bordeaux it barely ever achieved ripeness, producing wines that tasted more like rhubarb juice than a grand vin. After the phylloxera epidemic in France, it was almost never replanted. But in Chile carmenère thrived in the long, warm growing season.
You can find a few Carmenere bottles at Trader Joes. You will be surprised at the taste, and the price is right! Well under $20.
Some background on Carmenere: A member of the Cabernet family, it was originally planted in the Medoc region of Bordeaux. It is often used in blending red wines, along with the more commonly used Petit Verdot. It is one of the six original grapes of Bordeaux, and often mistaken for merlot. It generally does not age (three to five years) well by itself.
But most of the Carmenere is planted in Chile, with more than 8800 hectares in the Central Valley (south of Santiago). We found it to be both inexpensive, and tasty on our trip through Chile. Lately, vintners are blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, since Carmenere has softer tannins, and less acidity. It is also grown to a lesser extent in Italy, Argentina, California, Washington, and North Carolina.
Pairing Carmenere is fairly easy, like with most Bordeauxs, it goes well with grilled meats, hard cheeses, and as well as less fatty, lighter dishes like vegetables, and stews. I like it with both turkey, and duck. I tend to treat it like the younger cousin to Cabernet, but with more of a “pepper” note.
I am sure, if you like the medium bodied reds, you will fall for the Carmenere.