- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Santa Rita, Carmenere Reserva, Rapel Valley, Chile, 2004, $12

Carmenere, a grape imported to South America from Bordeaux in the 19th century, is undergoing a revival there in both quality and prestige. Largely abandoned in France, it makes distinctive, delicious wines in Chile. At their best, they have a firm structure but a seductively supple charm.

Bordeaux producers gave up on carmenere because it ripens late. When they replanted their vineyards in the 1890s, they switched to an earlier maturing variety, merlot. In Chile, where rain rarely disturbs the harvest, late ripening isn’t a problem, so the grape flourished.

Later generations of vintners, however, were unsure what it was. They called it “Chilean merlot,” and often picked it before it was ready.

Only in 1994 did scientific testing positively identify this grape as carmenere. Since then, growers are learning how best to cultivate it and vintners how best to make wine with it. Many vineyards still have merlot and carmenere growing side by side, making them difficult to harvest. Newer vineyards, though, are being planted separately.

More and more good Chilean carmeneres are showing up in wine shops. Santa Rita’s 2005 Reserva is a fine example. This always reliable winery has fashioned a substantial red that far outperforms its price tag. With dark fruit and spice flavors, and a savory bouquet, it tastes both compelling and complex.

Drink it with the same sort of foods that you would cabernet — grilled or roasted meats, earthy pastas and risottos, or hard cheeses.

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