FIRST THE ACCOMPANYING BOOK: The Carménère Wines of Chile, from the Cachapoal Valley, originally published in 2009.

Class act: Along with these three wines pictured below, I also received “Red Grapes, Hidden Treasure: The Carmenere Wines of Chile, from the Cachapoal Valley.” The book is gorgeous, and I’m about to get a major knowledge bump (without falling on my head) about Carmenere from Chile’s Cachapoal Valley.

This coffee table sized book has images by photographer Sara Mathews. The stories are written by Sara Matthews, Mariana Martinez, and Rafael Guilisasti, and the forward was written by Isabel Guilisasti, the marketing director of Concha y Toro. What a magnificent collaboration. Eye candy at its finest and words for your Spanish soul, even if you have no Spanish DNA.

Ten great things that I learned about the book for Cachapoal Valley from Sara Matthews:

  1. The images for this book are NOT going to be from vineyards and wineries.
    1. Sara Matthews decided to create a book that does exactly what I tend to do with stories about wine; i.e., focus on terroir… people, landscapes, foods, culture. From these elements, you learn a lot about what the wine is going to have for a focus. [EXAMPLE: The Wines of Portugal ~ First you must understand the people]
  2. In the Cachapoal Valley, it is comprised of tranquil lands and modest, colonial homesteads.
  3. Winemakers arrived late in the 19th Century.
  4. By 1980, it became recognized for its Carmenere, but at that time it was thought to be Merlot.
  5. By 1990, the DNA identity of Carmenere came from the Maipo Valley.
  6. Carmenere is named for its “carmine” color. Think of vibrant, autumnal leaves.
  7. The wine has a silky soft and spicy character, with a very velvety body.
  8. The soil of the Cachapoal Valley has fertile alluvial terraces, comprised of clay, sand, and silt.
  9. When Carmenere was nearly wiped out of France by Phylloxera, there is no such pest in South America.
    1. Phylloxera is indigenous to North America, and was brought to France during the late 1800s.
    2. This just about wiped out the fickle-to-France grape. As a result, when it came time to replant, Carmenere wasn’t a priority.
    3. South America has been very careful to not import the devastating pest.
  10. Carmenere is very particular about what soil it grows best in, and the Cachapoal Valley sets the gold standard for South America.
    1. Best location is in the town of Peumo, because of the breezes from the ocean, to river beds, and then across reservoirs.

While Burgundy is well known for its Pinot Noir, the US is the world leader for its Petite Sirah, Australia is known for Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc has crafted its own signature identity in New Zealand, and in Chile Carmenere is becoming known world-wide for its best world flavor characteristics.

So, let’s get on with the tasting. I’m going to be looking for that “silky soft and spicy character, with a very velvety body.” Thanks to Concha y Toto, I have three samples.

The Carmenere Wines of Chile from the Cachapoal Valley

2012 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere

  • I’m going to start with this one, because it’s a 2013. Just because it’s one year older, tannins will have softened more than the 2013, so the flavors should be more straight forward and elegant. [Wine Ed: Tannins dissipate over time.]
  • It’s from the Peumo Vineyard, in Cachapoal Valley.
  • Bright garnet in the glass, aromas of plums, earthiness, and I was right about the tannins… Just as soft as ever I’ve tasted for a three year old wine. HOWEVER… When the color is considered, as bright garnet as it is, I’m very impressed with its lovely tannic structure. As Joni Mitchell has sung, “I could drink a case of you, darlin.” Silky smooth and velvet delivered, with a touch of smoke on the finish. I believe I’ve just tasted this variety for the first time; although this ISN’T the first time I had it.
    • The book has greatly helped to prep me for this tasting.
    • The wine was aged for 18 month is French oak… It’s got classic flavors, egged on by the French oak.
    • Big Wow yummy… Yes, sir. I would sever this wine anytime, to anyone. It’s delicious.

2013 Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

  • This one is brand well enough known that it’s become one of my favorite wines to purchase, when I’m in Puerto Rico. It’s a comfort wine.
  • This second Carmenere is still very garnet in color, but it’s more translucent. This suggests to me that it is also going to be very approachable, even though it’s a year younger than the 2013 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere.
  • Tannins are tighter, fruit is still very easy to enjoy. More plums and blueberries, too .A touch of pepper makes this one racy and fun.
  • Looking forward to Puerto Rico’s next return and having this be the “house” wine, during that stay. (The store is just down the street from where we stay, and Puerto Rico has an unbelievable import program.) While working with the Hambrecht Wine Group, Puerto Rico was one of my sales territories. The folks at V. Suárez & Company were like family.

2013 Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenere

  • Gran Reserva Serie Riberas is a special selection of Gran Reserva wines, which come from vineyards located close to different river basins. This creates uniquely distinctive and fresher wines, according to info from Concha y Toro, and the flavors back that up.
  • Always the consistent garnet color for Carmenere, very soft tannins, and really bright fruit tell me all I need to know.  My neighbor Gary is going to love me today. Three open bottles, and only Jose and I living in this household. This wine is too good to not allow others to also enjoy it. Soft tannins, juicy fruit of black currants and dark chocolate, this seems to be a classic style, at least as far as I can tell, with my limited scope for this variety. I’ll tell you this, I’m now going to be looking for Carmenere on wine lists.

Concha & Toto’s Winemaker: Marcelo Papa
Marcelo holds a degree in Enology from the Universidad Católica de Chile and he has followed a successful career in Viña Concha y Toro. Since 1998, he’s been in charge of the range Casillero del Diablo. A year later, he took on the responsibility of Marques de Casa Concha, one of the best-known and traditional brands of Chile.