Skip Malbec — Choose Carmenere

Remember a few years ago when the movie “Sideways” came out and some people decided to stop drinking Merlot?  I thought that was silly and didn’t swap Merlot for the main character’s favorite varietal, Pinot Noir.  Of course at that time the only Pinot Noirs I liked drinking were beyond my price range (most still are).

Now it seems the current wine craze is Malbec, particularly Malbecs from Argentina.  In the past few weeks I’ve come across several articles praising the varietal, from Food and Wine Magazine’s article on Argentina’s Best Reds for $10 to $20, to an article on Argentina’s signature red in this week’s Wall Street Journal.

It’s easy to see why Argentine Malbecs are getting attention now — you can get a great bottle of wine without spending a lot of money.  If you’re familiar with my AG Picks section you know I’m a fan of the great value wines coming out of South America.

If you want to stay ahead of the trend skip Argentine Malbec and go for Chilean Carmenère.

carmenereCarmenère was originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, though it’s pretty much disappeared from France.  It was brought over to Chile, which now produces the majority of Carmenère wine in the world.  Carmenère is similar to the Merlot grape — so much so that many winemakers in Chile thought they were producing Merlot when in fact they were producing Carmenère.  In 1994 a French oenology professor identified the grapes as Carmenère.

Carmenère is deep red in color.  It has the flavors of ripe red fruits, berries, black pepper and spice.  Gentle tannins give it a nice mouthfeel.  Carmenère is medium-bodied with a nice earthiness like Malbec, but with flavors of dark chocolate and tobacco that give it extra oomph.  It pairs well with grilled red meat, hearty pasta and fish dishes and baked or roasted pork dishes.

One of my current favorites is the 2006 Carmenère from Anakena in Chile’s Central Valley.  It has aromas of blackberry, pepper and chocolate, with a rich fruit flavor and smooth finish.  It was $9.99 at my local wine shop, which is an incredible deal.  Serve this with dinner and you’ll think you’re drinking a $30 wine.  I also like Anakena’s Ona Red Blend (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Carmenère), which I recently reviewed in the AG Picks section and costs $14.99.

I’m a big fan of Malbec and certainly won’t stop drinking it because it seems to be the new “it” grape.  But if you want to stay ahead of the trend, choose Carmenère.