(Estate Bottled, Colchagua Valley, Chile)
(Lunardi's Market - Danville, $9.99)
Once widely planted in the early 1700s, Carmenère has been almost totally ostracized from its regal birthplace of Bordeaux due to its propensity to fall well short of full ripeness in the unpredictable climate. Today, finding a block of this low yielding red variety anywhere in the Médoc is a true rarity.
If it were not for the pre-phylloxera cuttings introduced 7,000 miles away in Chile during the 1850s, Carmenère may have become commercially extinct. Thankfully, the "lost Bordeaux" grape is alive and thriving in the Colchagua Valley, less than 100 miles southwest of Santiago. In addition to Chile, small plantings are also found in northeastern Italy.
The Apaltagua estate, established in the prestigious Apalta region of Colchagua Valley and owned by the Tutunjian family, is a Carmenère specialist. Combine the correct growing region, a family's single-minded zeal for the varietal, 50-60-year-old vines along with the artistry of a leading Chilean winemaker (Alvaro Espinoza) and there's potential for something remarkable. This wine is indeed unique and special.
Bask in the high-tone colors of ruby and red. A slight orange tint is also noticeable around the rim.
Its aroma and bouquet seem limitless and ever changing: cherry, blackberry, African violet, geranium, freshly cracked black peppercorn, poblano chili, leather, Italian herbs, Caribbean jerk spices and chocolate. Just a hint of stewed tomato peeks through as well, but nothing near overwhelming or too flawed. There's plenty here for everyone to enjoy.
As for the palate, the hits just keep on comin'. Plum, cranberry, cherry, raspberry, blackberry and bittersweet chocolate flavors are both succulent and racy.
But wait, there's more! Medium bodied in intensity, Apaltagua's Carmenère has an ethereal, intoxicating, smoky, seductive textural component I found totally captivating.
The finish is deliciously lengthy and silky smooth. Savor the cherry, tart plum and sweet berry tones.
What food would pair best with this little gem? No doubt, a few slabs of your favorite ribs.
Lastly, drinking this Carmenère compares to watching a sultry flamenco dancer in a dive bar on the outskirts of a sleepy Spanish border town: It's a very sexy, mysterious experience requiring a strong spirit of adventure. Highly recommended.
Let your palate be the judge...
Have comments or questions about wine? Gregory Peebles, wine industry professional and East Bay resident, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.