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Chilean cab is on the rise

on 25/05/11 at 8:19 am


Argentina has found a signature wine with the wildly popular malbec. For neighboring Chile, things have been less clear-cut.

The country has gained a reputation for good-value wines, despite efforts of some vintners to sell more expensive bottles. But no single wine type is associated with Chile.

Some have suggested that the country could make inroads with carmenere, a grape that originated in Bordeaux but now is grown almost exclusively in Chile.

I have my doubts. Carmenere is difficult to grow. It ripens late in the season, when rain is a threat, and not that much of it is planted. And cabernet sauvignon accounts for more than four times the vineyard acreage of carmenere.

Carmenere does have an interesting back story. For decades, much of the carmenere in Chile was thought to be merlot. But carmenere ripens much later than merlot, and when it’s picked too early, it has a strong green pepper flavor.

In many cases, the two varieties were planted side by side and picked together, which might explain why Chilean merlot used to be so green. The difference between the two varieties officially was recognized in 1996, although I suspect that some carmenere still slips into bottles of cheap Chilean merlot.

Even when carmenere is properly ripe, it tends to have a cracked peppercorn flavor that I find appealing, but isn’t for everyone. One longtime Chilean wine industry observer noted that carmenere has had 10 years or more to catch on, so why hasn’t it taken off like malbec?

{Full story via Mercury News}

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