I really don’t mean to, but I rub off on people. It might be my youth, insatiable personality, or the mullet I’m currently working on. But I’m also pretty sure it has something to do with my wine knowledge. I wrote last time about how I have a little wine box – chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir. Unfortunately sometimes I think that my little box rubs off on my clients as well. As I have started to venture outside the box, subsequently they do as well.
Recently, I suggested a bottle of Purple Angel to a group for dinner. Purple Angel is a premium carmenere and petit verdot from Chile. We also added some other bottles to the pile including Soda Canyon’s newly released 2009 Cabernet. So what happened with my little experiment? The Purple Angel was popped open at dinner to reveal a complex, but tightly wound wine. Giving it even just an hour to breathe doesn’t do it justice. So the group opened the Cabernet which paired wonderfully with the meal. The Purple Angel was put aside for another day and time.
The next day, one member of the group tasted the Angel. Better. The day after, better still. The wine continued to develop over the next three days and blew the client away – something he was not expecting from a carmenere or Chilean wine.
Lesson learned? Drink what you like, but have the courage to explore once in a while. Oh…and always bring a back up bottle to dinner, who knows what is going to happen!
Ninquen was founded in 1998 by brothers Eduardo and Hernan Gras and Cristian Hartwig when they boldly sowed Chile’s first mountain vineyard. Ninquen translates to “Plateau on a Mountain” in the ancient Mapuche language. They specialize in three wines at their winery; a red blend, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenere blend. The Antu Niquen Cabernet Sauvignon- Carmenere is a beautiful and uncommon blend, especially in terms of our domestic wines. Chileans have been working with Carmenere since its rediscovery in 1994. See The Lost Grape. Because of the combination of these two specific grapes with their own unique qualities, this wine has a deep complexity. It boasts the dry tightness of a Cabernet and the peppery finish of a Carmenere. This wine is dusty with firm tannins, black fruits, mocha and spice.
Antu means “sun” in the Mapuche language. With the combination of Antu and Ninquen, this wine loosely translates to “Sun of the Mountain.” Fitting, as this shining star stands out among Cabernet blends. Even the marigold colored label emits a sense of warming and draws your eye to it as it stands out on the shelf.
The vineyard is at 1000 ft elevation and the grapes that thrive in that climate is Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah and Petit Verdot. One of the best things about this winery is their sustainability practices. The wine makers feel they are a part of a special place and have been accepted by the rough and rugged landscape. They believe in the importance of understanding the terrior and being in harmony with their surrounds versus trying to take control. They state: “Our policy has always been to not attack or alter nature in its wild state. Instead, we want to become part of it as we want to share the value of its natural state.”
I am sure many of you are familiar with this varietal, but do you know the story behind it? And why it is typically only produced in Chile? Carménère – I had to copy and paste so that I had the correct accents, but for the remainder of this article, the e’s will be sans accents – comes from the French word carmin which means crimson, due to the bright red color of the leaves in the fall. Carmenere was considered one of the six original Bordeaux grapes, the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Vine clippings were transported to Chile in the mid-1800’s, just before the phollexera virus ravaged Europe destroying many varietals, including Carmenere. When the Carmenere grape was first grown in Chile, it was thought to be Merlot. The wine makers blended the Merlot and Carmenere grape, which gave the Chilean Merlot’s different qualities than Merlots in other parts of the world. It wasn’t until years later in 1994, when they did extensive testing that the so-called Merlot grape was actually found to be Carmenere. Since then, the Chileans have capitalized on their newly re-found varietal and have been producing some outstanding wines. The Carmenere grape is somewhere in the middle ground between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot, the tannins are softer than that of a Cabernet, but it has a bit more bite to it than a Merlot, with cherry, fruit, smoke, spice and earth. It is typically not meant to age.
One of my personal favorite Carmenere’s is produced by Puerto Viejo. Their signature wooden label with the burnt impression of an old time sailing ship makes this wine memorable on the outside. On the inside it is a wonderfully valued, full-bodied quintessential Carmenere. Puerto Viejo is a United States subsidiary of Vina Requingua, which owns AR and Vina Tunquelen as well. We actually paired this wine with chicken cooked in red wine, garlic and tarragon. But its versatility would allow this wine to hold up to a hearty beef meal as well.
Puerto Viejo Carmenere – $12
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes
Deep ruby red with purple reflections. Intense nosewith blackberry and plumb followed by hints of tobacco and caramel. On the palate this wine is round and generous with blended tannins and a sweet caramel finish.