The Story of Carménère and a Perfect Pairing

11 Jan


Having spent the past couple of weeks in Texas, arguably the barbecue capital of the world, I am compelled to share the story of Carménère, considered the national grape of Chile and known throughout the world as an ideal wine to pair with barbecue.  It was a happy surprise to find this bottle of 2012 Los Vascos Grande Reserva Carménère in a small south Texas town near the Rio Grande.

While not widely known in the United States, Carménère is to Chile as Malbec is to Argentina, and is one of the six varieties that are allowed for use in making red Bordeaux wines.  While born on the left bank of Bordeaux, Carménère really came into its own with the climate and terroir of the Chilean wine regions.  The grape is persnickety in the French climate and is rarely seen in Bordeaux wines these days.  A few cuttings were fortuitously imported into Chile in 1850 and, ironically, for a century the variety was mistaken for a late-ripening Merlot (and at times is still seen to be mislabeled as Merlot).  Chile is one of the few areas in the world that have remained free of Phylloxera, which caused The Great French Wine Blight and nearly wiped out the French wine industry in the 1860’s.  Because of this, Carménère from Chile is still grown from old Bordeaux rootstock rather than being grafted and cloned off of American rootstock as are most wines today.

The management of Los Vascos vineyards and winemaking was taken over in 1988 by Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite), one of the four Premier Cru’s named in Napoleon’s 1855 Classification which ranked Bordeaux’ best wines from first to fifth growths (crus).  As one of the top wine producers in France, Lafite Rothschild is an ideal fit to bring about the full expression of this old Bordeaux varietal.  The oversight of Los Vascos’ vineyards and winemaking was not the first time Lafite’s wines crossed paths with the new world:  on the eve of the French revolution when Lafite was at the height of its winemaking legacy, Thomas Jefferson, future President of the United States, waxed poetic about its wines and became a lifelong customer.

The 2012 Los Vascos Grande Reserva Carménère has been aged 12 months in oak, with at least 60% of the barrels being new oak, which has the greatest concentration of oak flavors and tannins.  The vineyard is in the Colchagua Valley, one of Chile’s best known wine appellations and highly regarded for its full-bodied Malbecs, Cabernet Sauvignons and of course Carménères.  This is a rich and full expression of Carmenére, with a deep purple hue and medium body.  Red fruits on the nose, with a smooth palate of plum and blueberry and a long finish of dark chocolate and soft tannins.  I see this as a 90 to 92 rated wine.  There were 13000 cases produced in the 2012 vintage, so should still be widely available.  My recommendation is to grab some mesquite-smoked brisket or beef ribs and a bottle of Los Vascos.  Cheers!


One Response to “The Story of Carménère and a Perfect Pairing”

  1. Fred Culvyhouse January 11, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    Bill…great article..,will try a bottle of Los Vacos with a rack of beef ribs…Fred Culvyhouse..Jacksonville Fl

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