The South American red wine carmenere offers one of the most appropriate, and most poetic, red wines for fall.
The vine that was once a supporting player in Bordeaux blends has another unique trait: it’s the only vine whose leaves — even when healthy — turn color in the fall. (In other vines, turning leaves can be a sign of disease.)
The crimson color of the leaves led to the grape’s name, which means a sort of crimson. Beyond that, flavors of carmenere often include earthiness, the forest floor, cinnamon, chili and cocoa, seemingly evocative of autumn.
Most of it comes from Chile and, to a lesser extent, Argentina. It is terribly under-appreciated. Wine buyers seem more interested in Chilean cabernet sauvignon and merlot than something unique to the country and its wine regions.
This closeout deal, Ventisquero 2017 Queulat Gran Reserva Carmenere Maipo Valley, is difficult to pass over. With smells of fruit and earth, the wine tastes of herbs, spice and coffee with a sweet edge reminiscent of a cherry cordial. $10. ★★★★
Concho & Toro Casillero del Diablo 2017 Carmenere smells juicy and tastes of raspberry with a hint of chili, milk chocolate and smoke with a light finish. $9. ★★★ 1/2
Carmenere has such strong flavor that I’ve seen it appear in some jug wines, offering heft to pinot noir. While you will most often find carmenere in the lower end of the price scale, don’t think carmenere is just for value wines. You can find some at higher price levels that show off the character of the grape. De Martino is an outstanding producer to look for. Montes Alpha is another to watch.
Pour a glass of carmenere, put on your jacket and watch the leaves fall.
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.