This month, I am leading the #WorldWineTravel Writers in a celebration of Carménère. You can read my Preview Post here. You will find links to all of my colleagues’
articles at the bottom of this post. I look forward to diving into the different perspectives on Carménère!
Saturday, November 24th is International Carménère Day. We are focusing on the Carménères of Chile, but you might see wines of this grape from other regions tucked in.
Wines of Chile
I was lucky enough to participate in an online tasting of Chilean Carménère recently with Wines of Chile, thanks to CPalate. This was moderated by Julio Alonso, the Director of Wines of Chile US, and led by Joquain Hidalgo. You will see a bit about that tasting in my Preview post.
Today, I will focus on two wines we paired with Charquican, a traditional Chilean dish.
These wines were sent as media samples. No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.
Brief history of Chilean Carménère
Carménère was grown in France and was used in Bordeaux Blends until phylloxera hit France. Most Carménère was lost and was not replanted. But…the grape had made its way to Chile with Merlot cuttings. Mixed in with the Merlot, no one realized that this was a different grape until, in 1994, it was discovered that almost 1/3 of what had been thought to be Merlot in Chile was actually Carménère. This grape was thriving in this climate!
It is primarily found in the Central Valley of Chile in the regions near the capital Santiago. It is most well known in Cachapoal and the Rapel Valley.
Apalta in the Colchagua Valley
The Colchagua Valley is in Central Chile and is part of the Rapel Valley, covering its southwestern half.
Apalta is a horseshoe-shaped valley running along the Tinguiririca River, which is a tributary of the Rapel River. (You can see it in the top center of the map below) The Valley has a Mediterranean climate and is close to the Pacific Ocean. The Humboldt Current is a cold ocean current that flows north along Chile’s western coast from the Antarctic. This creates cool, moist air that is brought inland by the westerly winds.
Days here are warm and bright, with cool nights. This diurnal temperature shift is perfect for allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining their acidity.
The Wines – Montes and Primus Carménères
Montes is a landmark winery in Chile. Aurelio Montes began the winery in 1987 with his partner Douglas Murray. The winery has expanded its vineyards, which began in the Colchagua Valley with their Apalta vineyard, to also include the Zapallar vineyard on the Aconcagua coast and the Marchigüe vineyard in the Colchagua Valley.
Beyond that, they are experimenting with vineyards further afield in Chile, including one in the archipelago of Chiloé, which is currently the southernmost vineyards in the country. This fascinating project is on the Island of Añihué, with vineyards just 40 meters from the sea. This small island has no vehicles and less than 100 people.
Feng Shui, gravity flow and Gregorian Chants
Montes designed their winery with the concept of feng shui. A balance in materials to complement the elements were incorporated into the design, and the floor plan was set to create harmony.
They also made this a gravity-flow winery. This is good for minimizing energy needs and gently handling the juice and wine.
They also have had classical musical performances in their barrel room, designed in semi-circular tiers, much like an orchestra. The dimly lit room resonates with Gregorian chants as the wine ages. (They once had an Orchestra play live in the room).
You can read more about that on their site.
The legacy of winemaking
Aurelio Montes Jr now heads the winery, joining the team in 2007. (It was he who started to expand the vineyards and began the project in Chiloé.) Before coming to his father’s namesake winery, he travelled visiting and learning in wine regions around the world and worked as assistant winemaker to Felipe Tosso at Vina Ventisquero. He also spent several years heading the family winery in Argentina called Kaiken, before returning home to become Montes’ Cheif Winemaker.
There is an interesting article on his thoughts on how music affect the wines written by Coravin Corespondent Jacqueline Coleman “The Mystical Role of Music in Winemaking”
But this article is about Carménère, and Montes created the first “Premium” Carménère, launching “Purple Angel” in 2005. This full-bodied, fruit-forward wine took the world by storm when it was first released and continued on to receive 99 points from James Suckling in 2018. The wine was 92% Carménère and 8% Petit Verdot (hence the purple).
Aurelio Montes Jr. debated the best way to make Carménère with his father. His answer to this came in “Wings,” which, rather than blending with Petit Verdot, adds a splash of Cabernet Franc, adding to the pyrazine note of the Carménère rather than trying to cover it. Fresher than the Purple Angel, this wine defined a new style of Carménère.
Montes Wings Carménère 2020
Rather than blending with Petit Verdot, as they did with “Purple Angel,” this wine adds a 15% Cabernet Franc, adding to the pyrazine note of the Carménère rather than trying to cover it. Fresher than the “Purple Angel,” this wine defined a new style of Carménère.
The grapes for this wine come from their Apalta Estate in the Colchagua Valley. Steep slopes with granite and clay soils that are well drained and facing southwest. This is the southern hemisphere, so this is the cooler side. The vines on this side of the slope get fewer hours of sunlight, so they ripen more slowly and completely.
Hand-harvested the bunches also were hand sorted before de-stemming. This wine was aged in 80% New French Oak for 16 months before bottling.
Deep ruby in color, this wine held aromas of red cherry, Blackberry, blueberry, Anaheim pepper, and green pepper, with dried herbs and cracked black pepper. Smoky notes, as well as a bit of sweet vanilla from the barrels, rounded out this wine.
In my mouth, it held onto those sweet vanilla notes, with rich, sweet fruit making it seem off-dry, which the tasting notes validate with 3.17g/L residual sugar noted. It is round and supple on the palate with added notes of anise and black cherry and a slight saline note. This wine is elegant and velvety. It’s a glass to fall into.
It is recommended that you pair this with “red meat, rosemary lamb chops, pork ribs, and cannelloni.” 14.5% abv $55 SRP.
Huneeus Wines and Primus
The second wine we tasted was from Primus. Their vineyards are also in Apalta in the Colchagua Valley. They have vineyards that sit a bit lower on the slopes than those of Montes in the alluvial soils of the Tinguiririca River and some further up the slope in volcanic, granitic soils. Here, they have 100-year-old own-rooted vines (Chile being so isolated on the west side of the Andes, was spared the scourge of phylloxera.) The climate is semi-arid.
In addition, there are vineyards in the Maipo Valley south of Santiago where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon.
Primus was founded by Agustin Hunneus in the late 1990s. He began his career in wine with Concha y Toro in 1960, when it was a small winery. His wife, Valeria, co-founded Huneeus Wines with him. She is a microbiologist and viticulturist and designed the Quintessa vineyard. Her focus is being a good steward of the land.
At Primus, they grow Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, making single varieties and a blend. The Cabernet comes from the site of Chile’s first vineyard in Alto Maipo.
This is just one of 4 brands in the Veramonte portfolio, which also includes Veramonte, Ritual, and Neyen. In these vineyards, they follow organic and biodynamic practices.
Beyond that, the Huneeus family owns Quintessa Estate in Napa Valley. Directed currently by Rodrigo Soto, who spent time transforming their Chilean properties until becoming their General manager at Quintessa, Rodrigo began his journey into organic and biodynamic viticulture with Benzinger in California.
(They also own Benton-Lane outside of Eugene Oregon, a vineyard and winery we visited thanks to our friends Alyse and Neil, a few years ago)
The current winemaker is Sofía Araya, who works with Agriculture Manager José Aguirre, creating wines with a sense of place grown organically in these vineyards.
Primus 2020 Carménère
This wine is made with organic grapes from their Apalta vineyard, a combination of the higher vineyards, where they pick early, and the lower vineyards, with their 100-year-old vines.
These are native yeast fermented and aged in 20% New French oak for 12 months before bottling.
Deep Ruby in color with notes of cumin, white pepper, roasted green pepper, cranberry, and black cherry. Additional notes include clove, anise, and smoked meat. This wine felt drier than the “Wings” but was still off-dry at 2.2 g/L residual sugar. I got black licorice, cherry, chocolate, smoke, tart cassis, balsamic, and spice on the palate.
The tannins here were not as smooth as the Wings, but the complexity of this wine was lovely.
This wine was warm and savory.
14.5% abv $21 SRP
The Pairing – Chilean Charquican
This dish is a traditional stew originally made with dried Llama meat. The name comes from the Incan word “charquikanka, ” meaning “stew with jerky.” Jerky was used because it traveled well, and this stew was often made by soldiers and peasants, withstanding the extreme weather encountered by nomadic people.
Today, this dish is often made with ground beef, with corn, peas, and beans.
My recipe used cubed tri-tip with beef jerky plus red potatoes, onion, pumpkin puree, butternut squash, corn, peas, and green beans with cumin, paprika, and Mexican oregano for spices. We topped it with a fried egg.
The wines were both lovely with this dish, which is a good stick-to-your-ribs dish. This was a little blending of quality wine with the food of the people. Not a fancy pairing, but altogether satisfying.
More on Carménère from the writers with #WorldWineTravel
Here are the links to the articles the #WorldWineTravel Writers will be sharing! (Some of the links won’t go live until tomorrow, so watch for updates!)
Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Wine Predator shares From Lost to Found in Chile: 6 Carménère from 3 Regions + Chilean Beef Stew or Chimichurri Chicken
Sharon Parsons of Wine Travels with Dr. Sharon shares Celebrating International Carménère Day with Clos Apalta Carménère.
This traditional Chilean stew is made with jerky. Originally, the dish was made with Llama jerky for all the meat, as it was easy to keep and travel with for nomadic people in Chile.
Our stew has tri-tip and beef jerky with potatoes, squash, and warming spices. Top it with an egg for a rustic but decadent dish, and ideally, sip a glass of Chilean Carménère with it!
- 10-12 small red potatoes peeled and cubed
- 1 small yellow onion diced small
- 1 lb tri-tip cut into ¾ inch cubes
- 3.5 oz beef jerky chopped small
- 1 cup of pumpkin puree
- 1 cup of diced butternut squash
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- ¼ tsp of cumin
- 1.5 cups of vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup frozen corn,
- ¼ cup frozen peas
- ¼ cup frozen cut green beans
- 6 eggs for serving
- Add the oil to a Dutch Oven and cook the onion over medium until translucent.
- Add the tri-tip and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to brown all sides.
- Add the jerky and cook for an additional minute.
- Add the pumpkin, squash, potatoes, paprika, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper and stir.
- Add the broth and cover, cooking for 15 minutes on a simmer.
- Mash the mixture with a fork or masher to break up the potatoes and butternut squash. (cook longer if they will not break up easily)
- Add the corn, peas, and beans. Stir and cook another 4 minutes.
- While that is cooking, fry your eggs, sunny side up to top each plate.
- Serve with a Chilean Carménère.
You can also make this with ground beef!
Adjust the potatoes, squash, and spices to suit your taste
If you have fresh corn, peas or beans, add those! Or even swap out vegetables!
Amount Per Serving Calories 596Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 257mgSodium 761mgCarbohydrates 68gFiber 9gSugar 9gProtein 40g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. 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.
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