Happy Carménère Day!

November 23rd is #CarmenereDay

Should Carménère earn a spot at your holiday table?

Should Carménère earn a spot at your holiday table?

Carménère – The Lost Grape
Ever hear of Carménère? It’s a bit like one of those “Switched at Birth” mysteries with a happy ending.  Carménère was originally one of 6 allowed blending grapes for use in Bordeaux red wines, but it was particularly hard hit during the 1800’s Phylloxera epidemic in Europe.

Thought to be extinct, the grape turned up in Chile 21 years ago.  As it turns out, Merlot vines were imported and planted, but some of them didn’t behave as expected.  They ripened later than the other Merlot vines, and they didn’t look quite the same. After some detective work, these mystery vines were identified as Carménère. Voilà! Since then, Chile has embraced the grape and considers it one of their flagship varieties.

#CarmenereDay is an annual event organized by the Wines of Chile, designed to promote greater awareness of Carménère based wines from Chile. As part of the event, they provided bloggers with samples of four different wines and invited us to participate in a live chat on Twitter, enhanced with some live video on Periscope. 

One important fact I learned during our chat: winemakers in Chile value their diversity. Beyond differences in vineyard conditions, they have dramatically different approaches to their wines. This is great if you like a grape, but it can present a challenge if you’re standing in a shop, looking at several wines and wondering which style each might be. Time to find your knowledgable shop employee!

Carménère is a natural choice with grilled red meat and earthy squash.

Carménère is a natural choice with grilled red meat and earthy squash.

Food Pairing with Carménère
The promotion was also timed with the suggestion of Carménère as a choice for the Thanksgiving holiday table. Thoughtfully, the materials included several side dish suggestions as recipe cards. I tried their squash suggestion, which was perfect with the wine. After tasting the wines, I would place them at the table with red meats.  The deep flavors and tannins make them a hard sell for poultry for me. So for my test, I made a simple grilled sirloin along with the squash, a combination I would highly recommend with Carménère.

The Wines

If opening this blind, I'd have guessed it was from France.

If opening this blind, I’d have guessed it was from France.

Los Vascos Grande Reserve Carménère 2013 (available around $15)
In 1988 Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) from Bordeaux purchased land in Chile to expand their horizons into the new world. The Los Vascos wine is from Chile, but it’s French roots are so clear!

Eye: Inky opaque dark center, purple edge
Nose: Stinky nose, especially at opening. Blind, I would guess Rhone, old school. Herbal green pepper, dark chocolate, red fruit but obscured by the other smells.
Mouth: Medium body, not overly ripe. Med + tannins, but refined and smooth. Nice length in the finish.

Probably my favorite of the bunch, but only good for an old world palette.  Friends with a typical American palette wouldn’t care for it. Still, I liked it a lot.

Casa Silva

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard Carménère

Casa Silva Los Lingues Vineyard Carménère 2013 (available around $18)
Eye: Opaque center, but translucent before the very edge. Purple edge.
Nose: Dark blue fruit, a touch of herbal green pepper. Plus cocoa and smoke.
Mouth: Medium tannins, medium body, not overly ripe.  Short finish. I have to admit, I just couldn’t figure this wine out, something in the flavor just seemed off balance for me.

Lapostolle Cuvee Alexander

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexander Carménère

Lapostolle Cuvee Alexander Carménère 2012 (available around $16)
Eye: Purely opaque, purplish red-brick edge
Nose: Sweet red fruit, strawberries, chocolate background. No herbal edge.
Mouth: Medium body, medium + tannins. Pure clean finish, medium length.

Good choice for a wide variety of tastes, very clean, no stink or green pepper.  Probably the best of the group for a first foray into Carménère. If you enjoy this one, you might want to try some others for variety.

Maquis Viola

Maquis Viola comes in a big, heavy bottle with a deep punt. Big bottle = big wine?

Maquis Viola Carménère 2009 (available around $50)
Eye: Opaque center, deep dark right to the edge.  Purple edge just barely tending warm.
Nose: Clean, deep dark blue fruit, chocolate, maybe some leather in there.
Mouth: Strong tannins, most tannic of the bunch, but lower acidity. Gave a smooth impression.

Good wine for people who like a big lush deep dark red wine.  Not my type, but well made in that vein.

Earthy squash flavors pair nicely with Carménère

Earthy squash flavors pair nicely with Carménère

Roasted Squash with Pepita & Queso Fresco

Adapted from a recipe provided by Wines of Chile, developed by Omni Hotels & Resorts

This recipe was provided as a suggested side dish for Thanksgiving served with Carménère from Chile. As we were previewing the wine shortly before Thanksgiving, we served the squash with a simply grilled steak.


  • 1 medium size Hubbard Squash
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) in a pump sprayer
  • 1/2 Red onion, sliced very thinly on a mandolin
  • Salted, toasted seeds from the squash
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Queso Fresco
  • 1 bunch de-stemmed cilantro leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


  • Pre-heat oven to 425 F
  • Cut the hubbard squash in half
  • Scoop out the seeds and pulp. Separate the seeds from the pulp, rinse and dry the seeds.
  • Scatter the seeds on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Spray with EVOO and a pinch of salt
  • Toast the seeds in the oven, usually about 10 minutes, but watch closely and listen. When the seeds begin to brown and a few “pop”, remove from the oven to cool.
  • Spray the squash halves lightly with EVOO, add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Place the squash halves cut side down and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately flip the squash cut side up.
  • Cut each of the squash halves in half again to yield 4 servings.
  • Top the squash with the red onions, toasted seeds, queso fresco and cilantro.
  • Enjoy!

The wines for this post were provided by Wines of Chile as part of a promotion around #CarmenereDay.  All opinions expressed are my own. Thanks to the Wines of Chile and the participating wineries for providing the wines to try!

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7 Responses to “Happy Carménère Day!”
  1. chef mimi says:

    Interesting post! What would the difference(s) be between an American and a European’s palate?

    • Good question, Mimi, and one that generates lots of arguments. At least for me, the first thing is that both preferences are 100% valid. Here’s my take:
      New World (or American, or International) palate: big, bold flavors. clean, ripe fruit with few “earthy” aromas. Preference for “smooth” mouthfeel, which means lower acid. Enjoys strong oak influence to include vanilla aroma. Wines taste just fine without food.
      Old World (or traditional, or European): subtle, more elegant wines. Fruit is good, but enjoys earthy aromas, too (forest floor, mushrooms, leather, garrique herbs). OK with a stinky nose upon opening a bottle. Less ripe, leaner mouthfeel. Higher acid, best with food. Oak influence should be integrated, not obvious. No overt vanilla component.
      All that being said, there are New World producers in Europe and Old World producers in the US!

      • chef mimi says:

        I’m European!!!! Thanks, I appreciate your time in explaining this. Very very interesting!

      • My palette is decidedly Old World, too. But, I do want to ensure I have high quality wines available for friends when they visit. The rare case is a wine which will satisfy both.

      • chef mimi says:

        I have to say that I also enjoy what I call “sipping wines” too, those that are handy and delicious before any food is served, although it’s not too long before the food shows up!!!

  2. Duff's Wines says:

    Great explanation and bang on. There is too much back and forth on what’s ‘right’ when everything is personal preference anyway. I prefer Old World but that’s just me.

    • Absolutely! I want good descriptive words for both styles and less bashing. One wish I have: to be able to discern the style of the wine from something on the label, or in print, or something.

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