Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hacienda Araucano Carmenere (2008)

A couple weeks back, Clare and I met some friends at Fogo de Chao, or, the "meat church."  There is something about a restaurant where you can have a seemingly endless number of waiters come to you with long skewers of meat to enjoy.  But, apart from the company of Clare and my friends, which is always the best part of any meal, I was taken back by the glass of wine I had.  Feeling like trying something different, I ordered a glass of Carmenere wine.  And, after one glass, I was wondering if I could have a new favorite grape.

Carmenere is, in fact, a grape of the Cabernet family that was originally grown in the Medoc region of France.  Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, the Carmenere is considered one of the original six grapes of Bordeaux, France.   Despite its long history in France, the Carmenere grape is not really grown there any more; instead, the grape is grown elsewhere, such as the eastern parts of the Veneto region, as well as the Friuli region in Italy.  But, the preeminent region for the Carmiere grape is not even in Europe; rather, it is in the valleys of Chile, where the French brought the grape in the 1800s.

Eager to try another Carmenere to see if I could repeat the vinous experience I had at Fogo de Chao, I picked up a Carmenere wine.  Not knowing which wine to pick, I chose a reasonably priced one and took it home to try.  The wine is the Hacienda Araucano Carmenere, which was produced by Francois Lurton, a winemaker whose reach extends from France to Chile -- with Spain, Portugal and Argentina in between. 

In doing a little research for this post, most of what I found compared a Camenere to a Merlot or a Cabernet Franc, which kind of makes sense in a way given the common heritage of these grapes originating in France.  However, for me at least, I think the Carmenere has much more spice and pepper than a Merlot or Cabernet Franc.  Perhaps that is because of the soil in Chile.  The grapes for the Hacienda Araucano come from the Valle de Colchagua, which boasts of deep sedimentary soil protected by two mountain ranges (one of which is the Andes Mountains).  Apparently, the Colchagua Valley is a well regarded wine growing region in Chile, garnering commendations including the Best Wine Region in the World from the Wine Enthusiast in 2005.

Whatever the reason, both the wine I had at Fogo de Chao and the Hacienda Araucano had strong notes of pepper and spice, reminiscent of something bolder and stronger than a Merlot.  The Carmenere wine is definitely gentler than a bolder wine, like a Zinfandel, because tannins in the Camenere wine are not as strong.  Thus, the drinking experience is rather unique ... a peppery wine that is smooth to drink. 

I can't say that Carmenere is my favorite grape.  Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Syrah and Petit Syrah still rank higher.  But, the Carmenere is definitely a different and interesting grape.  I bought this bottle of Hacienda Araucano for $10.99 at Rodman's in Washington, D.C.  Other Carmenere wines may be available at wine stores.  

One last note, they say Carmenere wines should be enjoyed while young, so if you buy a bottle, drink it!


For more information, check out the Francois Lurton website for info on the wine, the Colchagua Valley website for more information about the Colchaqua Valley, and Wikipedia for the Carmenere grape.

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