WSET Diploma tasting practice (photo courtesy of Alexandra Balakireva)
WSET Diploma tasting practice (photo courtesy of Alexandra Balakireva)

It’s a challenge to explore the world of fine wine if you live in Chile. Forget the supermarkets: you can count on one hand the wines that don’t hail from Chile or Argentina. When I signed up for the WSET Diploma late last year, I toured the biggest wine stores in the nation’s capital, Santiago, and found their foreign wine sections very limited.  So discovering Edwards Fine Wines was a real breakthrough for me as I will only pass my exams if I get practice in tasting wines from around the world.

Diego Edwards

EF Wines is a small company that imports fine wines from Europe and sells them via email and social media to wine aficionados here in Chile. So I went to the avant-garde Barrio Italia district of Santiago to talk to the company’s founder, Diego Edwards, and asked him how it all started.

“I used to work for Viña Santa Rita and I travelled a lot with my job. Visiting different countries, I had the chance to try some fantastic wines. I also realized that in other countries, even those that produce wine, it is possible to buy wines from around the world. So I knew that there must be a market for foreign wines in Chile too. But at that time nobody offered them.”

So two and a half years ago, Diego and his father Eduardo set up Edwards Fine Wines. Diego is responsible for buying, marketing and selling the wines, while Eduardo takes care of the administration. Their philosophy is to bring in a portfolio of carefully selected wines, mainly from small producers and their list reads like a who’s who of the major European wine regions.

I asked him if the paperwork involved in importing small amounts of bottled wine from many different suppliers isn’t a headache, but he smiled and said “you’ve just got to be well organized.”

Diego with Christian Moueix of Chataux Lafluer Petrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa
Diego with Christian Moueix of Chataux Lafluer Petrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa

Diego travels each year to different wine regions and selects wines, buying small lots; for instance this year he went to Bordeaux and the Loire in France and Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy.

chateau-guiraudHe buys some wines en primeur, a common practice for European wine merchants but quite a novelty in Chile. It entails taking a gamble by buying a new wine from its French producer before it has finished developing, so you can’t be completely sure how it will turn out. The upside is you buy it at an advantageous price. The wine you have bought remains at the winery until it is ready for release and only then will you know if you have made a good purchase.

Fortunes are made by some en primeur buyers who buy these new wines at good prices and then a few years later are able to sell the bottles at far higher prices. Diego says that he has no intention of doing this: he wants to offer fair prices to his customers so that they keep coming back for more. Hence the Château Guiraud Sauternes that was awarded 97 points by Wine Spectator and 99 by James Suckling was still available at a just about accessible price (53,600 pesos for a full bottle) to my wine tasting group recently.

So who are EF Wines’ clients, I wondered. “Wine lovers, restaurants and sommeliers,” Diego told me. “Perhaps because we are on social media, our clients are mostly younger people, people with a real interest in wine.” French and Italian restaurants are an important part of their clientele too, as they buy wines to complement their cuisine.

He is happy that the company is growing organically and sees the arrival of other wine importers as good for business. “Of course, we are just small and bringing in small lots of wine; the arrival of other companies only raises the profile of foreign wines. There’s plenty of room for all of us.”

Pinot Noir tasting: EF Wines provided the two from Burgundy
A recent Pinot Noir tasting: EF Wines provided the two wines from Burgundy

Find out more:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter: @DiegoEdwardsS
  • Email:

I asked Diego to name some wines he had really enjoyed recently. These were his choices:

  • Canto a Lo Divino from Viñateros Bravos in Itata Valley, Chile. This is a Cinsault, 2014 vintage.
  • Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in the Bolgheri DOC in Tuscany. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc.
  • Cabernet Franc from Vulturwines.

Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

There is more Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the world than any other variety: 290,000 hectares in 2010. It’s the number one variety in Chile and, with over 40,000 hectares dedicated to this variety, Chile has the second largest area of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the world, after France, the birthplace of this traditional grape.

Time to eat


Much loved by the Chilean people, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice for accompanying barbecues, and, above all, for the annual national 18th September holiday, when the country downs tools for the best part of a week to eat, drink and be merry in celebration of the country’s independence.

Cabernet Sauvignon is beloved because it is a grape you can rely on for certain characteristics wherever in the world it comes from: the classic blackcurrant aroma, high tannins and medium to high acidity. The acidity level depends on how warm it is where the grapes were grown. If they are from a hotter climate, the wine will have lower acidity. With its thick, highly-coloured blue grapes, it gives deep-coloured wines.

When aged in oak, it can gain aromas of toast, coffee, vanilla or nuts, the mouth can become rounder and the tannins smoother.  Over time, the wine might develop notes of tobacco.

18 wineFresh and fruity or big and beefy?

Some Cabernet Sauvignon wines are made to have a lighter body, moderate, smooth tannins, refreshing acidity and lots of fruit aromas and flavours.  This style is quite versatile and will pair with lots of different dishes, especially red meat.

At the opposite extreme are full-bodied, tannic wines with oak-ageing, which can have a thick, “cigarbox” feel in the mouth, almost like you swallowed an ashtray. This is a style people either love or hate; it’s certainly very good with fatty, full-flavoured meat dishes.

Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon
Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon

Bordeaux blends

Cabernet Sauvignon originates in France and is one of the main grapes used for making red wine from Bordeaux, along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As in much of Europe, Bordeaux wines are blends for two reasons. Firstly Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late in the season and needs warmth to ripen fully. In cooler, damper years, it can fail to ripen fully in Bordeaux and so the other grapes grown in the region help make up for its underripe flavours and tannins. Secondly, by blending different varieties, a more complex and sophisticated wine is obtained. In a classic Bordeaux blend, the Cabernet Sauvignon will provide tannins and colour, while the plump and fruity Merlot rounds it out. Petit Verdot and/or Cabernet Franc are often used to give spice or perfume to the wine.

Many countries around the world, including Chile, make “Bordeaux blends” featuring Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and sometimes a touch of the other grapes. The result is usually a sophisticated wine with lots of upfront fruity aromas, some cigarbox notes and a meat-friendly mouth featuring lots of body, tannins and acidity that make such wines age well.

What style of Cabernet Sauvignon do you like? Do you have a favourite?

Our tasting panels have been hard at work this month, tasting Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

The first panel test-drove budget Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon during a barbecue and ranked them in order of how well they paired with barbecued meat. See the results here.

The second panel blind tasted mid-price Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines. See the results here.

Are you looking for a good-quality, affordable Cabernet Sauvignon? Wondering how to choose from among the barrage of Chilean reds lining the shelves in supermarkets and wine stores? 

In preparation for Chile’s national holiday on 18 September, a group of 8 people recently got together to blind taste 6 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines that retail in Chile at between $5,000 and $11,000 pesos. We each scored the wines out of 10 (10 being perfect, 1 being undrinkable) and then worked out the average score for each wine.

Tasting panel members hard at work

Many thanks to the tasting panel members: Crystal Minafi (USA), Carola de Rodt (Chile), Kerry Dudman (UK/USA), Lauren Hand (USA), Ricardo Parada (Chile), Dave Harry (UK), Smilja Radosav (ex Yugoslavia) and Helen Conway (UK).

Bottle line-up
Bottle line-up


  1. Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo. 14% ABV. Score 7.125.
  2. Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo. 14% ABV. Score 6.875.
  3. Ramirana Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo. 13.5% ABV. Score 6.
  4. Chamán Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Colchagua Costa. 14.5% ABV. Score 5.5.
  5. Miguel Torres Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Curicó. 14% ABV. Score 5 .
  6. Tres Palacios Family Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo. 14% ABV. Score 4.25.
The wines are revealed
The wines are revealed

My tasting notes

Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo. 14% ABV. (Retail Price $11,000 in Chile, 2012 vintage £13.49 in UK from

A big wine, ideal for accompanying meat or richly flavoured meals. This wine revealed a black fruit nose and in the mouth had high levels of acidity, lots of grippy tannins, full body, pronounced flavours and aromas of black fruit, especially blackcurrants and a hint of minerality.  Very pleasant.

Which wine is best?
Carola considering which wine is best

Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo. 14% ABV. (Retail Price $8,899 in Chile)

I strongly recommend decanting this wine a while before drinking. It was slow to open and several of us found it nondescript at first and were surprised when we tried it again half an hour later. Rich black fruit aromas, combined with notes of spice. Lots of tooth-coating tannins and medium (+) acidity, medium body and finish. Black fruit and ashtray notes in the mouth. A good option for a barbecue or other meat-based meal. It would also pair with cheese-based dishes.

Ramirana Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo. 13.5% ABV. (Retail Price $7,410 in Chile)

A very classic Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon with clean blackcurrant aromas and a great choice for a barbecue or other full-flavoured meal. It was full-bodied, with fairly high acidity, lots of tooth-coating tannins and pronounced flavours, particularly of black fruit.

Chamán Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Colchagua Costa. 14.5% ABV. (Retail Price $9,190 in Chile)

A little shy on opening, the nose revealed notes of blackcurrants and spices. Medium, tooth-coating tannins, fairly high acidity and good body, this was a classic style of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and would pair well with red meat or cheese-based dishes.

serious-judgingMiguel Torres Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Curicó. 14% ABV. (Retail Price $7,990 in Chile)

A smooth, easy-to-drink, versatile wine that could be enjoyed on its own or with a wide variety of food. A subtle black fruit nose and medium body, acidity and tannins, this is the lightest of the wines we tried.

Tres Palacios Family Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo. 14% ABV. (Retail Price $7700 in Chile)

Herbal and cooked fruit aromas and flavours. High acidity and medium tannins and body, this wine was disappointing.

More information about Cabernet Sauvignon:

Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice – the lowdown on the different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Budget Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon – results of a tasting of wines retailing under $5,000 a bottle.


Chilean flag.

El 18 de septiembre es entre las fechas más importantes en Chile. Ya con la llegada de septiembre, la onda nacional se mejora gracias a los inicios de primavera con días más largos y cálidos y la brotación de flores en los jardines. Y para celebrar la independencia, la gente chilena saca sus parillas y se prepara para un festín.

Durante varios días, nadie trabaja y todos celebramos con mucha comida – sobre todo carne roja y bebestibles. Cabernet Sauvignon es un favorito durante este periodo y por lo tanto recién llevé 5 vinos Cabernet Sauvignon  BBB (bueno, bonito y barato) a un asado y pedí la gente ahí a clasificarles según cual combinaría mejor con un asado.

full barbecue

Catadores: Alexandra Balakireva (de Rusia), Enrique Moreno Arrué (Chileno) Olga Milova (de Rusia),  Patricio Rojas (Chileno) y Helen Conway (del Reino Unido). 

Estos fueron los resultados:

  1. Viña Ventisquero Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Valle de Colchagua. (26 puntos)
  2. Casa Rivas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Valle del Maipo. (23 puntos)
  3. Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Apalta. (22 puntos)
  4. François Lurton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Colchagua. (21 puntos)
  5. Viña Ventisquero Yali Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Valle del Maipo. (8 puntos)

Todos los 5 vinos tienen un precio de venta entre $4.000 CLP y $5.500 CLP.



Mis notas de cata

El ganador

Viña Ventisquero Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Valle de Colchagua. 13.5%.

Vino expresivo con aromas a frutos negros (grosellas y ciruelas negras), especias dulces, café y caramelo. Con su alta acidez, cuerpo medio y taninos ligeramente gruesos y toscos, este vino fue el indiscutible favorito de nuestro panel de cata para tomar con un asado.

Casa Rivas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Valle del Maipo. 14%.

Un vino de término medio (cuerpo medio, acabado medio, acidez media). Nota inquietante al hongo Brettanomyces en nariz, entremezclado con aromas a fruta cocida (ciruelas y grosellas negras cocidas) y especias. Mejor en la boca, con taninos suaves y maduros y sabores frutales.

Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Apalta. 14%.

La nariz tuvo la expresión de Cabernet Sauvignon más clara de los cinco vinos que probamos, con aromas claros y frescos a grosellas negras en primer lugar, seguido de un dejo ligeramente dulce que podría indicar algo de roble. Boca agradable y frutal con una acidez bastante pronunciada y taninos maduros, lo que lo convierte en un estilo agradable, bien equilibrado y simple de Cabernet Sauvignon.

François Lurton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Colchagua, 14%.

En mi opinión, este vino fue el más sofisticado de nuestra cata; con una nariz compleja y sutil en la que se puede distinguir aromas a toffee, conserva de grosellas negras y algunas especies por el envejecimiento en roble.  Cuerpo medio (+), taninos bastante gruesos y agradablemente frutal, este vino de cuerpo medio combinaría bien con una variedad de comidas.

Viña Ventisquero Yali Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Valle del Maipo, 13.5%.

Al igual que el vino de Casa Rivas, este es claramente un vintage cálido con fruta de mermelada – particularmente los aromas característicos a grosellas negras – y especias dulces en la nariz. También tenía ese dejo ligero al hongo Brettanomyces pero mucho menos pronunciado en este caso. Este es un ligeramente más caro, con una boca agradable y frutal y taninos maduros y suaves. Buena relación precio calidad.

Más información acerca de Cabernet Sauvignon:

Cabernet Sauvignon es el vino favorito – un artículo acerca de los distintos estilos de vino Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon de precio medio – Ranking de un panel de cata

Chilean flag.
Chilean flag.

18 September – Chilean independence day – is one of the most important dates in the Chilean calendar. The national mood always lightens with the arrival of September and the first signs of spring – longer days, warmer weather and the gardens bursting into flower.  And so the people of Chile start stocking up on food and drink and bring out their barbecues from winter storage.

For several days everyone downs tools and celebrates with lots of food – particularly red meat – and drink. Cabernet Sauvignon is a firm favourite during this festive period and so, in a spirit of investigation, I recently took 5 budget Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines along to a barbecue and asked everyone there to rank the wines according to which went best with the food.


Tasters: Alexandra Balakireva (Russian), Enrique Moreno Arrué (Chilean) Olga Milova (Russian),  Patricio Rojas (Chilean) and Helen Conway (British). 

These were the results:

  1. Viña Ventisquero Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Colchagua Valley. (26 points)
  2. Casa Rivas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley. ( 23 points)
  3. Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Apalta. (22 points)
  4. François Lurton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Colchagua. (21 points)
  5. Viña Ventisquero Yali Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo Valley. (8 points)

All 5 wines retail at between $4,000 and $5,000 pesos in Chile.


My tasting notes

The winner

Viña Ventisquero Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Colchagua Valley. 13.5%

Expressive wine with black fruit (blackcurrants, black plums), sweet spice and coffee and caramel aromas. With high acidity, medium body and slightly coarse, grippy tannins, this wine was our tasting panel’s clear favourite for drinking with a barbecue.

Casa Rivas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley. 14%.

Very much a medium wine (medium body, medium finish, medium acidity). Disturbing note of brett on the nose, intermingled with cooked fruit (prunes, stewed blackcurrants) and spice aromas. Better in the mouth, with smooth, ripe tannins and fruity flavours.

Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Apalta, 14%

The nose had the clearest Cabernet Sauvignon expression of the five wines we tasted, with fresh blackcurrant aromas coming through first, ahead of a slightly sweet note that could indicate a little oak. Nice, fruity mouth with fairly pronounced acidity and ripe tannins, making this a nice, well-balanced, simple style of Cabernet Sauvignon.

François Lurton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Colchagua, 14%

To my mind, this wine was the most sophisticated of our tasting; with a complex, subtle nose in which it was possible to discern toffee, blackcurrant preserves and some spices from the oak.  Medium (+), quite grippy tannins and pleasantly fruity, medium-bodied wine that will pair well with a range of food.

Viña Ventisquero Yali Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo Valley, 13.5%

Like the Casa Rivas, this is clearly a warm vintage with jammy fruit – particularly the characteristic blackcurrant aromas – and sweet spice on the nose. It also had a faint brett taint to its aroma but it was much less pronounced. Somewhat more expressive, with a nice, fruity mouth and ripe, smooth tannins. Good quality for the price.

More information about Cabernet Sauvignon:

Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice – the lowdown on the different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Chilean mid-priced Cabernet Sauvignon – Tasting panel ranking

Charming Porto

view towards OportoPorto charmed me from the moment I landed in the modern airport and took the very smooth, modern metro to the city centre. It’s a matter-of-fact city that receives tourists with an urbane, friendly attitude, without being cloying, and goes calmly about its daily business.

church in Porto

This is a place that seems comfortable with itself. Grocers’ shops are Aladdin’s caves crammed with long, spicy sausages, sacks of dried beans, whole sheep’s cheeses and shelves lined with bottles of Port and wine. Old-fashioned underwear shops, fine bed linen emporia, elegant granite buildings and blue-and-white tiled churches line the roads along which trundle little old trams and ultra-modern, gas-powered buses.

One could almost be seduced into thinking about living here – if it weren’t for the rain, of course. It rains a lot here – in fact, with 1,200mm of rainfall each year, Porto gets more rainfall than Manchester.

it rains a lot in PortoBut no matter, there are plenty of great places to retreat to from the rain and enjoy a bite to eat, washed down by a glass of local wine or Port, of course.

People in the MajesticI started my visit as I meant to go on: in style. The Majestic Café is one of the iconic landmarks of Porto and it featured high on my list of things to do. I was clearly not alone in my ambition, as I had to queue to get in and the place was packed. But the service was slick and efficient, despite the number of customers.

Ornate mirrors framed in dark wood and gold-painted cherubs with garlands of plaster flowers cover the walls and high ceilings. I sat on a dark leather bench mid-café, leaning on the small, marble-covered tables and gave myself over to people-watching: here a couple of tourists sipping coffee, there a group of well-dressed middle aged local ladies having afternoon tea.

The must do in PortoI got my visit off to a good start with a glass of Ex Libris Super Reserva Brut 2008, a traditional method sparkling wine made with Arinto, Bical and Chardonnay grapes from the Bairrada DOC in Portugal. It was a beautiful, deep golden colour and had lots of fresh citrus fruit, toast and yeast aromas. It was very refreshing and fruity in the mouth with zesty acidity and delicate bubbles. It went very well with the traditional egg custard pastry known as pasteis de nata.

Two days later, at the very delicious, high-end The DOC, Rui Paula’s restaurant in the Douro Valley, I sampled another excellent sparkling wine, this one from the Távora Varosa area, which borders the Douro region. Terras do Demo was made from 100% Malvasia fina and was a medium lemon-green colour. The nose revealed aromas of citrus fruit and green apples, as well as the characteristic yeast and sponge cake notes from the in-bottle fermentation. Very pleasant, fruity, dry sparkling wine with moderate alcohol (12.5%) and the notes of fruit and sponge cake coming through again in the mouth.

The delicious three-course lunch at The DOC ended with one of the best Port wines I tasted on my trip. Rozes 10 year old Tawny was medium garnet in colour. The nose was pronounced with notes of red fruit, together with hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, toffee and chocolate. In the mouth, the sweetness was well-balanced by the high acidity and the tannins were ripe and well-integrated. This full-bodied Port was packed with flavour, including notes of chocolate, marzipan and red fruit (raspberries and cherries).

another light snackMy sister and I liked the restaurant Douro Sentido so much we went back twice, dining on tapas, such as marinated octopus, creamy sheep’s cheese, spicy sausages and fresh bread, washed down, of course, by still wines.

Herdade das Albernoas, a simple, non-aromatic white from Alentejo made from 80% Antāo Vaz and 20% Arinto grapes. This wine was pale lemon in colour with high acidity and medium body. Subtle in the mouth with notes of citrus (lemon zest) and green apple, this is an easy-drinking wine.

Casa Ferreirinha Esteva 2014, a red wine from the Douro region made with traditional Douro grapes: 35% Tinta Roriz, 30% Tinta Barroca, 20% Touriga Franca and 15% Touriga Nacional. Medium ruby in colour, this wine had a medium nose with notes of violets, red fruit (raspberries) and black fruit (plums, blackcurrant). In the mouth, it was dry with moderate acidity, tannins and alcohol. Medium-bodied with lots of fruit flavours and a floral touch, this is another easy-to-drink, food-friendly wine

During my short visit to Porto, I enjoyed the traditional local fare, including lots of  bacalhau (salt cod). I heard it said that there are 365 different recipes for bacalhau in Porto. I can’t vouch for that, but the two or three different dishes I tried were excellent. My overall impression was of simple, wholesome and delicious cuisine without excessive use of cowsmilk – a real plus for people like myself who are intolerant to this ubiquitous ingredient. All in all, charming Porto is a city I would definitely come back to. Next time, I’ll come with oversized clothes, a suitcase large enough for a good stock of wines and, of course, an umbrella. Nothing like being prepared!

To see my other posts about my visit to Porto:

The Douro – the birthplace of Port wine covering how and where Port is made.

Vila Nova de Gaia where Port is aged, including a tasting of 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman’s Tawny.

Douro still wines from Quinta de Tourais


Logo-4-Sept-Dia-del-VinoSunday 4 September is Chilean National Wine Day and there are events all over Chile this week to celebrate.  As Carménère wine has a very special association with Chile, it seems like a great choice for toasting this important day in the wine calendar.

For details of just some of the events going on around Chile, see my posts on the Chilean Wine Day in Valparaíso Region, the Chilean Wine Day in the Santiago area, Celebrate Chilean Wine Day in Colchagua and Chilean Wine Day in southern Chile or check out nosgustaelvino.

vina-santa-cruz_vista7-(1)What is the big association between Chile and Carménère anyway?

Once upon a time, vast swathes of France were planted with many different varieties of vines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carménère, to name but a few. Then, in 1863, vines began to die, but nobody knew why. First one vineyard, then another and soon vast areas of vines began to be wiped out by an invisible disease.  By the time the small, yellow, root-eating Phylloxera louse had been identified and a solution found, French wine production had been devastated and Carménère wiped out.

Time went by and the French wine industry recovered, its vast acres now planted with the same noble varieties grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, Carménère being a notable exception. As far as the world knew, Carménère had become extinct.

The twist in the story of Carménère came over a century later on the other side of the world, when some Chilean vines thought to be Merlot were actually identified as this long-lost variety.

Many regard Carménère as Chile’s flagship variety: certainly Chile leads the way in terms of number of Carménère vines planted – with 10,000 hectares in 2012. There are some plantings of the variety in France and Italy and DNA profiling recently led to a similar surprise discovery of Carménère vines, this time in China, where they are called Cabernet Gernischt.

which carménèreSo what’s Carménère like?

This deeply coloured grape needs a long growing season to reach its full potential and thrives in many of Chile’s warmer wine regions, such as Maipo, Rapel, Colchagua, Curicó and Maule. The best results come from plantings where the vigour is controlled.

Ripe Carménère contributes spicy aromas and flavours, such as black pepper, red and black fruit, herbal and smoky qualities to a wine. Depending on its level of oak-ageing, it may also have chocolate, coffee and leathery notes too. It tends to be an accessible and easy to drink smooth red wine with well-rounded tannins. If the grapes were a little underripe when picked, the wine can have herbaceous aromas and flavours like green peppers or olives.

Carménère pairs well with smoked, grilled or roasted meats, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and veal and holds its own with spicy food, like Indian and Mexican food.

Tasting carmenereFellow British expat Natascha Scott-Stokes and I recently tasted three Chilean Carménère wines that retail under $10,000 Chilean pesos. Here are our tasting notes.

Viña Von Siebenthal Carmenère 2013, Aconcagua Valley, 14% ABV (Retail price CLP$9,990 in Chile, £16.00 from Highbury Vintners)

85% Carménère, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10 months oak-ageing.

Deep ruby colour. An enticing nose in which aromas of sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and cedar, intermingled with fresh fruit, like raspberries and black cherries. In the mouth, it was medium-bodied with fine, ripe tannins, refreshing acidity and the same seductive mixture of fruit and spice flavours.

Natascha: “If I were going to buy a wine for a special dinner, this is the one I would choose.”

trio of carmenereApaltagua Envero Carmenere 2014, Colchagua Valley, 14% ABV. (Retail price CLP$7,990 in Chile, £11.95 from Stone, Vine & Sun)

90% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep purple colour. A pronounced, very fruity nose featuring notes of blackcurrants, blueberries and plums, with a touch of spice from oak ageing. This wine had high acidity, high levels of rather coarse, grippy tannins and plenty of body. Very fruity in the mouth with a slightly bitter note in the aftertaste. Overall a very pleasant wine and a good example of Chilean Carménère.

De Martino Gran Reserva Legado Carmenere 2014, Maipo Valley (Retail price CLP8,440, 2012 vintage retails at £7.65 at Berry, Bros & Rudd)

Deep purple colour. Pronounced, complex nose which was slow to open. Indeed this wine smelled and tasted better the day after we opened it. Upfront farmyard and forest floor aromas with the fruity aromas slow to appear. With high acidity, high levels of smooth tannins, this was a bigger, heavier wine and would pair well with rich food.

…And here are two more Carménère wines you might like to try:

QueulatViña Ventisquero Queulat Carmenere 2014, Maipo Valley, 13.5% (CLP$7,790)

85% Carménère, 15% Syrah

An expressive nose with notes of black fruit, like plums, black cherries and blueberries, some sweet spice from the oak ageing and a herbaceous touch. With refreshing acidity, plenty of body and smooth, ripe tannins, this is a good choice for accompanying barbecued meat or other full-flavoured meals.

Koyle Single Vineyard Carmenere 2013, Los Lingues, Alto Colchagua. (CLP$8,490)

This wine included 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec to contribute aroma and tension.

A nice, concentrated example of Chilean Carménère with lots of black and red fruit aromas and flavours, such as blueberries and raspberries, a touch of minerality and some spicy notes like black pepper, and just a hint of forest floor. With a good level of acidity, high levels of somewhat astringent tannins and all those primary fruit, mineral and spice flavours, this wine has the potential to benefit from further ageing.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing this weekend, I hope you’ll find time to raise a glass of your favourite Chilean wine in celebration of Chilean National Wine Day! Cheers!