- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Santa Rita, Carmenere “120,” Colchagua, 2002, $7.50

Carmenere, long mistaken for merlot, came to Chile from Bordeaux in the mid-19th century. A late-harvested variety, it was largely abandoned by the French when they replanted their vineyards, as autumn rains made getting undiluted, ripe fruit difficult. But it thrived in Chile’s central valleys, where it rarely rains in autumn, and was planted with other Bordeaux imports, most notably merlot.

Only in the past decade or so have growers separated merlot, an early ripening variety, from carmenere, and vinified them separately. The result has been an upsurge in quality for both varietals. With merlot, Chilean vintners now produce some of the best wines anywhere, and they are just about the only ones in the world making carmenere.

With a soft texture like merlot but a spicier flavor profile, carmenere is a grape worth getting to know. This value-priced rendition, aged primarily in stainless steel so as to preserve the freshness of the fruit, tastes bright and lively. Its secondary notes of pepper and spice add complexity to the more dominant plum and cherry flavors.

A good partner for roast chicken or pork, this wine should provide good drinking over the next year or so. On a hot summer evening, don’t be afraid to chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour or so before opening it. (Imported by Vineyard Brands.)

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