CASA SILVA CARMENERE Cuvee Colchagua 2015

“In wine, there's truth.”  …  Pliny the Elder

Well, not always.  But truth did ultimately win out when (in 1994) what was thought to be Merlot in Chile was actually Carmenere.  This is thanks to Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot of the Montpellier School of Oenology who suspected wine from these grapes produced more than just a spicy clone of Merlot.  Later, DNA testing proved him right.  Carmenere was brought to Chile after phylloxera destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards, but it was brought over as cuttings of what was thought to be Merlot.

Carmenere was not replanted to any extent in France. Growers found its late ripening habit inconvenient for a grape that was used in blending.  And Carmenere vines were subject to Odium, a fungal disease not terminal to the vine, but destroying its grapes.   

In their new warmer home with a Mediterranean climate, these cuttings thrived.   And so - or so it was thought - Carmenere was extinct.  Flash forward about 100 years and “we know it ain’t so” and I’m delighted for it.  Carmenere is softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, but it has more attitude than Merlot.  I've heard it referred to as “Merlot on steroids.”   As with all wine, there are great and not so great examples of the varietal, but I suppose remembering that reference can be helpful.

This Casa Silva Cuvee is the winery’s entry label.  ARP is about $15.  The winery is 5th generation family owned, having started over 100 years ago producing wine from their estate vineyards in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, a D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) within the Rapel Valley, itself within the Central Valley Region of Chile.  Casa Silva produces several varietals, but even within their Carmenere line, you might select a Reserva, Grand Terroir or even a Micro Terroir.  The cuvee is a blend of grapes from three of their estates and a good introduction to Carmenere at a very modest cost.

Carmenere pairs well with smoked, grilled or roasted beef or lamb. It gets even better with dishes seasoned with oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic or black pepper and prepared with tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, eggplant and onion.  It’s a natural with middle-eastern meatballs and lamb kabobs or empanadas with green olives.   Seared tuna works surprisingly well.  But Carmenere is so food friendly and versatile it works with many dishes: There’s a smokiness to some Carmenere that makes it pair wonderfully with a spinach, bacon and blue cheese salad.  I like it with roasted Mediterranean vegetables: some slow cooked eggplant in a tomato sauce with onion, zucchini and bell peppers.

This bottle came to my rescue as a pairing with a filet of grass fed beef over a bed of caramelized onions and shitake mushrooms.  I’m fine with a Cabernet Sauvignon (in fact, Cab is the most widely planted grape in Chile), but my “sweetie” often complains of Cabernet Sauvignon being too tannic.  As a compromise, I often serve Merlot on such occasions.  But on this occasion, I increased the ante, yet not so much as to attract attention. I bet with the Carmenere (Chile’s 5th most planted wine grape) and won.  Not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more attitude than Merlot.

Aromas of ripe, soft, juicy black fruit. A touch of black pepper accents black raspberry.  These notes carry to the palate, but hold the wine in your mouth a moment and enjoy developing tastes of red fruit.  The meld of black raspberry, spice and floral notes on the nose is enough to win over most tannic adverse people, but the smooth and supple texture of this wine is a certainty to close the deal.

Good on James Suckling for unabashedly awarding this wine 93 points.  Most wines priced at this budget friendly level are rarely so highly awarded.  I found it at $12.99, making a non-prejudicial opinion even more difficult.  But good wine speaks its own worth and while I’ve had more complex Carmenere, I’ve not had it at under $15. It’s really as simple as that. And if there is any disappointment, it’s in Carmenere not being more appreciated.  As Malbec is associated with Argentina, I think Carmenere could do with a better public image associated with Chile.  Were it not for Chile, there would be no more Carmenere (1). 

…………… Jim

(1) Carmenere is now grown in California, Australia and others areas, but these are from cuttings and grafts from Chile, so, fairly, Chile it can be said, saved Carmenere.  Interestingly, Chile, thanks to the natural barriers of the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes on its east, enjoys being phylloxera free.

Produced & Bottled By:          Vina Casa Silva S.A.
Variety:           Carmenere
Certified Sustainable
ALC:                 14%
Imported By:   Vine Connections, Sausalito, CA.

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