Did you feel that evening chill in the air this past week? Yes, it’s a sign that autumn is fast approaching and that like the changing seasons, it’s time to make a move to the red wine cellar.
For me, however, I’m out for something that settles in nicely, like a blanket by the firepit with the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, and two glasses of Chilean Camenere. Here’s a native grape from Bordeaux’s Medoc region where it is used as a as a second fiddle blending partner to Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Merlot. In Chile,however, winemakers have turned Camenere into the star of the show, crafting full varietal bottlings that produce succulent, juicy red and blue fruit flavors on a smooth, feathery tannic frame.
If you aspire to a unique, earthy and spicy wine that won’t overpower the palate, Camenere is a good companion during the fall and winter seasons. Actually, it’s an excellent wine for burghers, barbecue fare, and meatballs and pasta, but Americans don’t often explore these gems from South of the Border they way they should. For that reason, I recently called by good friend Kate Corcoran-Morgan of Creative Palates, who represents Chile’s top wine producer, Concha y Toro, and asked if she had anything new and exciting to share. Sshe did. Much to my joy, several new vintage samples of Camenere arrived at my doorstep for a private tasting.
Concha y Toro’s lineup features three tiers of Camenere. This allows the curious to try Camenere at a budget-concious price and move up to more refined and structured versions. Overall, the brands are inexpensive, ranging from the suggested retail price of $12 a bottle to $28. Of course, I’m going to tell you where you can get these wines at a discount of as much as 10-to-20 percent.
- Casillero del Diablo Reserva Camenere 2016, $12 – This is a “devil” of a wine according to a 19th-century legend attributed to Concha y Toro founder Don Melchor. The Don learned that field hands were sneaking in at night and sampling his best wines. He spread the rumor that his deepest, darkest cellar was the Casillero del Diablo (Cellar of the Devil) and bad things would happen to those who dared to enter. It worked. There’s a devil’s face embedded on the bottle, which makes this a nice conversation piece for Halloween parties. It’s got a beautiful deep plum color, like most Camenere wines do, and inviting chocolate, coffee and plum aromas. Winemaker Marcelo Papa takes pride in delivering this 100 percent Camenere with fresh flavors and a supple texture. Plum traits dominate, aided by chocolate espresso and cinnamon spice nuances. Diablo’s a quality, entry level wine. It’s on sale now for $10.99 in New Hampshire and several Massachusetts retail outlets. We enjoyed this with a a garden tomato, black olive and onion salad with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar, and homemade meatloaf.
- Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Camenere 2015, $17 – We’re stepping up a notch here to a more structured wine, a mixture of 95 percent Camenere and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from sloping vineyard sites located on the banks of the Cachapoal River, hence its part of Conca y Toro’s “Serie Riberas” (River Series) brand. Some vines are from the original planting in 1998. They reside in deep alluvial soils with a top layer of clay that helps retain water in the dry, Mediterranean-like climate. Winemaker Mario Ramirez smooths out the rough edges by aging the wine for 13 months in large oak barrels. The result is a toasty, more velvety Camenere with a lot of depth on the palate. The color is darker, the aromas a bit sweeter and fragrant, and the taste is intensified. It touches a wide spectrum of dark cherry and blackberry flavors and, of course, there’s a peppery, dry finish. The winemaker suggests pairing Gran Reserva with duck magret and meats dappled with sweet-and-sour sauces. Four our sampling, the Wine Goddess prepared tender, broiled porkloin chops sprinkled with a sweet-and-sour sauce. It was superb. Gran Reserva is on sale for $13.99 over the state line.
- Marques de Casa Concha 2015, $25 – Here’s Concha y Toro’s premium brand and it delivers all the rich and focused qualities expected for a No. 1 Camenere. I’m excited to say that this is now on sale for $19.99 in New Hampshire, quite a bargain for an elegant bottling. Once again, Marcelo Papa does the honors with grapes from the Peumo Vineyard which is located about 500 feet above sea level in the Cachapoal River Valley. After destemming, the grapes are placed in closed tanks for eight days to lock in aromas and flavors. Once fermented, the wine ages for 16 months in French oak barrels where it softens to a silky, mouth-pleasing texture. The tannins are firm and the acidity moderate, making this a wine that can easily cellar for the next five years. The blend relies on 12.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds structure, and 87.5 percent Camenere. The result is a wine bolder in color (purple) and energized in red and black current traits. Nuances of dark chocolate and coffee are also detectable. You can pair this with lamb, venison, or stir-fried beef, according to the winemaker’s suggestions, although we matched it with a grilled sirloin, green beans, summer squash, and sliced baked potatoes that we grilled to a golden brown. It was a sumptious meal. Camenere is a softer yet unyielding red wine that delivers ample, spicy tastes for the cool nights ahead.