Following our tour and tasting at the Viña Montes winery overlooking the Apalta Vineyards, Colchagua Valley, Chile [see our previous blog post], we drove west to another major Montes vineyard, the Marchigüe Estate, also in the Colchagua Valley
Closer to the coast, this vineyard enjoys a cooler climate, allowing slower ripening of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Syrah grapes planted there. We had a chance to briefly tour the property and then convened by the open pit fireplace, bread-baking oven and outdoor grills for a spectacular Chilean barbeque. Of course, with all the appetizers and the proteins and salads, we enjoyed a wide range of Montes wines, including our favorite, Montes Folly (100% Syrah). Another favorite of our group was the Carménère, a varietal that is now only grown in Chile (having originated in Bordeaux, before their vines were destroyed by phylloxera) and closely resembles Merlot.
As it was a new grape variety for most of us, a little introduction to Carménère is probably in order here…
Carménère is a dark skinned grape variety which has found a particularly suitable home in Chile. The red varietal disappeared from European vineyards in the late 19th century when a sap-sucking insect (phylloxera) decimated ancient root stock and Carménère was presumed to have died off. Chilean winemakers had long been intrigued by what they thought was a unique clone of the Merlot grape growing in many of their vineyards. But in the 1990s French ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot determined that the mystery fruit was, in fact, the long-lost grape variety from Bordeaux. It is believed that vine cuttings from Bordeaux were brought to Chile in the late 1860s and that Carménère found a safe haven from phylloxera due to its geographical isolation. In the years since Carménère was forgotten about and when its true identity was revealed, Chileans began to embrace it as if it were a native son and they have ramped up its production dramatically. Chile has capitalized on its status as the savior of Carménère and has incorporated the vine’s memorable story into its famously efficient wine marketing. Montes Purple Angel, Concha y Toro Carmin de Peumo, and the Vina Errazuriz Kai are examples of prestige wines, all competing for the status of Chile’s best Carménère and “Chile’s Signature Wine”.