I dream of visiting Chile. As I was studying regions to become a Certified Specialist of Wine, I began studying Chile and was enthralled. This sliver of a country in the southern hemisphere stretches almost 2,700 miles north to south and is narrow with only a few places that it is wider east to west than 100 miles.
Its northern end is the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on the planet, while to the south you have the stunning Tierra del Fuego frozen archipelago, the Chilean Fjords, and Chilean Antarctica. What an amazing array of climates.
This is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations. It has also been blessed in being phylloxera free (the root louse that wiped out vineyards across Europe) as far as grapes go, so own-rooted vines abound.
With Carménère being one of the best-known varieties from this stunning country and Carménère day coming up on November 24th, we wanted to pass along a couple of great and affordable ways to travel in a bottle to Chile.
It’s not been that long since Carménère had its coming-out party. In 1994, this grape that had been in Chile for a century, that everyone had believed was Merlot, was discovered to be Carménère.
This sneaky grape with leaves so close in appearance to Merlot had managed to escape France and head to Chile. Good thing too! Carménère in France was all but lost to phylloxera. Until the French ampelographer, Jean Michel Bousiquot, rediscovered it masquerading as Merlot in Chile, this grape was thought to be lost. Since then, more Carménère was discovered in Italy, where it was impersonating Cabernet Franc.
Carménère was once widely grown in Medoc within the Bordeaux region. Cabernet Franc is one of its parents and it inherited those Cab Franc pyrazines, which lend it herbaceous green notes. It is also a late-ripening grape. Luckily, in Chile, it has found a home where it can ripen until May (think November in the Northern hemisphere).
Concha Y Toro is one of the largest wine companies in the world, but they began here in Chile in 1883 founded by Don Melchor Concha y Toro.
We received 2 Carménères, one that comes with a story, the other with a deep history and sense of place. Let’s start by zeroing in on the area these wines come from in this 2700-mile North-South expanse of Chile.
The wine regions of Chile
This almost 3000-mile long country spans quite a few climates, from the dry Atacama Desert to the north to the frozen fjords in the Tierra del Fuego in the South that almost reach Antarctica. The country is divided into 6 regions north to south.
- Atacama Region
- Coquimbo Region
- Aconcagua Region
- Central Valley Region
- Southern Regions
- Austral Region
While the 2 extreme regions are not ideal for grape growing, there are those renegades, pushing the boundaries and you can find wine from both the Atacama region as well as the Austral region.
The Carménères we are tasting both hail from right in the middle of the country north to south in the Central Valley Region.
Central Valley Region
The Central Valley Region encompasses 80% of Chile’s winegrowing area, begins just north of the capital city of Santiago, and runs south about 230 miles. This region has 4 sub-regions, north to south they include:
- Maipo Valley – this is the region around the city of Santiago
- Rapel Valley – around the city of Rancagua encompassing the Colchagua and Cachapoal Valleys
- Curicó Valley – including the Lontué and Teno Valleys
- Maule Valley – the largest wine producing region in the country encompassing the Claro, Loncomilla and Tutuvén Valleys. (this is the region between Talca and Constitución on our map)
Their wines come from this region.
*Note – We received these Carménère wines as samples from Concha y Toro. All opinions are our own.
Casillero del Diablo Reserva 2019 Carménère
This wine comes from the Central Valley region where you find mainly alluvial soil with granitic subsoil. There are not many details on this wine that comes from so large a region, but… this wine has a great story.
Casillero del Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar)
Don Melchor Concha y Toro had visited Bordeaux, he returned to Chile with vines to plant a vineyard and make wine. He put some of the best wines he created aside for himself, under lock and key. But bottles kept disappearing. So Don Melchor started a rumor that the devil lived in his cellar. The rumor spread, people trembled with fear, and his wines stopped disappearing.
- 88% Carménère, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon
- Aged 10 months partially with oak, 25% of that oak is new
- 8% abv
- SRP $12 (this is a great value)
A ruby with slight blue notes in color, this wine was clear in the glass. The first notes I picked out with my nose were herbaceous, medicinal herbs. Michael got green pepper. As it began to open the bramble fruit came through. I found this fruit-forward in my mouth with tooth drying tannins and a warmth that filled my mouth and crept down my gums. Cocoa notes slipped in at the end.
Concha Y Toro 2018 Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carménère
The second wine is a bit more specific on where it comes from. You remember we were in the Central Valley. Within the Central Valley, we move specifically to the Rapel Valley.
Sitting south of the Capital city of Santiago and the Maipo Valley this Valley is divided into 2 zones the Cachapoal Valley Zone and the Colchagua Valley Zone. This wine comes from the Peumo Vineyard within the Cachapoal Valley Zone.
The Peumo Vineyard is named for the nearby town. It sits at 560 feet above sea level and is protected by steep hills. Its unique position nestled in a bend in the Cachapoal River gives the grapes a long growing season. This is good for the late-ripening Carménère.
The soil here is Alluvial (it is on the banks of the river) with enough clay to hold moisture.
This vineyard has 650 hectares of vines, 345 of which are Carménère. This is one of the oldest vineyards of Carménère in the country.
- 86.6% Carménère, 13.4% Cabernet Sauvignon
- Destemmed and “gently dropped” into Stainless Steel
- 8-10 day ferment
- Aged 10 months in 80% French Oak, 20% American Oak.
- ABV 13.8%
- SRP $17
This wine was deeper in color with more blue notes. On the nose, I again got those herbaceous notes, so telltale for Carmenère, followed by candied fruit. Spice notes followed with a French roast intensity. There were notes of tobacco, and dill or fennel fronds.
This wine had more body than the first and much more black and blue fruit on the palate. Rather than cocoa, I got full-on chocolate notes.
What to Pair with Chilean Carménère?
For our pairing for these wines, we did a pork loin stuffed with bacon, onions & spinach, and gouda topped with chimichurri sauce, alongside a fresh spinach, bacon, & blue cheese salad.
Stuffed Pork Loin with Chimichurri
There are a couple of great things about a stuffed pork loin. First, they are inexpensive. I got mine on sale 2 for $10. Even when they are not on sale, a 1.5 lb pork loin will rarely cost you more than $10.
Second, you can stuff them with a wide array of things, which allows you to cater to your tastes or to the wine you will be drinking. I opted to go with spinach, bacon, onion, and smoked gouda.
Full disclosure: this loin did not want to butterfly easily, my technique is new, so I will get better. We did end up kind of butterflying each half again so that we could pound it out and accidentally cut all the way through in one spot. Guess what? Wasn’t a disaster! It worked just fine and looked beautiful when it was done anyway!
Bacon, spinach, gouda stuffed Pork Loin
- 1- 1.5 lb pork loin
- 2 slices of bacon
- 2 tbs olive oil
- ½ cup of chopped onion
- ½ cup of thawed frozen spinach
- ½ cup shredded smoked gouda
- 1 tbs minced garlic (optional)
- Salt & pepper
Here is another sauce that you can play with a bit if you like. It is built around fresh parsley and cilantro, but you can adjust your herbs to suit your taste.
- 1 cup of fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves only.
- ½ cup cilantro leaves only
- 1/3 cup of chopped red onion or shallot
- 2 cloves of garlic peeled
- ½ tsp red chili flakes (adjust to your preferred heat level)
- ½ cup EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- The juice of one lemon
- Heat the oven to 400 F.
- In a large skillet cook the two slices of bacon with 2 tbs of olive oil for about 3-4 minutes. (I cooked 2 extra to add to my salad)
- When it is crisp, add in the ½ cup of onion and sauté for 5 minutes until soft.
- During the last minute, add salt and pepper (and minced garlic if you are using it)
- Butterfly the pork loin, cutting a deep slit in it lengthwise, but not all the way through. Spread the sides open, cover with plastic wrap, and pound to about ¾ inch thickness.
- Sprinkle the pork loin with salt and pepper and any other seasonings you might choose.
- Spread half of the loin with the spinach, top that with the bacon, the onions, and finally the cheese.
- Starting at the side with the filling, roll up your pork loin.
- Tie with string (3-5 pieces).
- Season the outside and sear the pork loin in the pan with the bacon drippings (about 2 minutes per side).
- Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil, transfer the pork loin there and roast for 18-25 minutes. Check for drippings periodically and baste your pork loin with those. After 18 minutes begin checking the temperature with an instant meat thermometer. You want the interior temperature to be between 145 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When it is at the right temperature, remove it from the oven and place the loin on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes.
- Remove the strings and slice.
- Serve with a drizzle of chimichurri sauce
To make the Chimichurri Sauce
Put the ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until it’s to your desired consistency. This will keep in the fridge for several days.
I pulsed mine quite a bit to integrate the elements. If you want more authentic chimichurri, blitz the herbs, onion, and garlic until they are minced, then add the rest and pulse just enough to mix.
*Variations: Add fresh oregano (or dried), or use basil instead of the cilantro. Feel free to riff on the herbs! Spice it up with jalapenos or other peppers, try different varieties of onions, or even experiment with greens like kale or chard.
Dip into red peppers and paprika, there are tons of variations, each of which will change the way it works with your wine pairing! Explore!
How did it pair with the Carménère?
The Chimichurri was accentuated by the Casillo del Diablo Carménère and both wines were brilliant with the bacon and blue cheese. The smokiness of the gouda in the pork loin was enhanced by both wines. I think the green notes in the Chimichurri made the green notes in the wine disappear, leaving you with deeper dried herbs and more prominent fruit in the wine.
Both of these wines are an exceptional value. The Casillero del Diablo Carménère pairs well with white meats, so I would suggest you pick up a spare bottle. Enjoy one on the 24th for Carménère Day and the other with your turkey on the 26th for Thanksgiving.
If you are doing a virtual dinner, you can provide the wine and send on a bottle at these affordable prices to each of the households in your gathering! The Gran Reserva will also pair well, just add bacon to your harvest dinner! Or if you are going unconventional, this wine pairs great with red meats.
More Travel in a Bottle
There are so many amazing places that you can #TravelInaBottle! Here are some other fascinating wines and regions to explore.
- 2 days in Orange? Too little time for this beautiful Australian Region
- Moldovan Wine – Moving forward while not losing track of the Authentic grapes of their past
- Snow-capped Pyrénées to the Mediterranean Sea – Exploring the Stunning and Diverse Roussillon Wine Region
- Cava: Traditional Method Sparkling Wine from Spain
- Sangiovese by another name…like Morellino or Prugnolo Gentile
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.