- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Baron Philippe de Rothschild Maipo Chile, Carminere Reserva, Valle del Rapel, 2002, $10

Carminere, the forgotten Bordeaux grape, grew in abundance in France until the late 19th century. Then, as virtually all the vineyards were replanted after a plague, it was replaced by merlot, a variety with similar attributes when vinified into wine, but one that ripens earlier.

In Chile, however, the insect responsible for the pandemic vine disease, phylloxera, never appeared in the vineyards, so growers did not need to replant, and carminere never had to be replaced. As a result, Chile today is the one place in the world where it is cultivated in abundance.

Until quite recently, most Chilean vintners could not recognize carminere. They mistook it for merlot, the variety that scientists told them it had to be. Although the two grapes look quite similar, the fact that they ripen at such different points renders them very different.

Many Chilean “merlots” made a decade ago were actually carminere. They tasted green and harsh because the grapes had been harvested too early. These days, botanical trials have enabled vintners to identify carminere precisely, and they are harvesting it and making wine with newfound care and respect.

Carminere can yield wines with rich, full taste but soft, supple tannins. Good examples display sweet fruit coupled with an intriguing spiciness, resulting in a savory array of flavors.

This example, from the Chilean outpost of one of the most esteemed Bordeaux chateaux, seems especially seductive, its creamy texture supporting long, ever-evolving nuances. Medium-bodied, it will pair nicely with a Sunday roast, but is priced attractively so you can sip it with weekday burgers or pastas as well.

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