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Sunday, November 1, 2009

'Cabernet Sauvignon in Silk Pajamas'

For a long time we considered Chilean Carmenère our own little secret. Not because we were hiding it, but because no one seemed to be writing about it. We discovered a great (and cheap) Carmenère about two years ago.

The New York Times reviewed the wine and noted that its favorite was $70, but its second favorite was less than $10. It was Mont Gras and we quickly ordered a case. We paid much less than $10, and we loved it.

Now, Saveur magazine's David Rosengarten has written a piece about the "Long Lost Grape" that is "finally getting the attention it deserves."

The carmenère grape is actually one of the six grapes that in the 19th century France's Bordeaux winemakers blended to create the red wine that was, and is, considered the world's best. The six: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, petit verdot and carmenère.
But carmenère was the Eddie Haskell of the gang. It was troublesome because it ripened far later than the others. Why wait for this late bloomer? Deep burgundy color and complex herbal contributions.

In the 1880s, the Mrs. Cleavers of the French vineyards gave up on the grape because it was just too much trouble during the phylloxera epidemic. Today, red bordeaux is a blend of five grapes.

When Europeans began to plant vines in Chile in about 1900, they didn't always know exactly what grapes they planted — hard as that seems to believe. And current owners don't always know what they have. "Such was the case with Chilean carmenère, which was," says Rosengarten, "for most of the 20th century, identified as Chilean merlot."

Only recently, in 1994, was this Chilean merlot, identified correctly for what it was. The grape is fruity, deep in color and light in the tannins. Rosengarten notes that this has led some wag to proclaim that it is "cabernet sauvignon in silk pajamas."

"What you end up with," Rosengarten says, "is a wine with lots of fruitiness up front that magically turns dry and suave."

This wine can stand up to any meat, any spice, any mad adventure of a meal. When you're looking for carmenères, your wine merchant is as likely to be lost as you are, so pick up one from the Colchagua Valley, a diamond of a little valley in Chile that produces exquisite wines at reasonable prices.

1 comment:

  1. We love Cabernet Sauvignon, so we'll have to give this a try - especially at such a good price. Thanks for the tip!