January 25, 2006

Concha y Toro 2003 Cachapoal Valley 2003 Terrunyo Block 27 Peumo Carmenère

(Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.; about $28)

As I'm writing this, the snow is on its way. I'm hoping it'll stick around, give me an excuse to stick a stew in the oven and crack open a bottle of carmenère. Like malbec, a French grape that actually performs far better in Argentina than it does in its homeland, carmenère does better in Chile than in its native France. Maybe it's the abundant sun that gives it its plump plumminess, or perhaps it gets its chocolatey richness from the rich soils that have tumbled down the Andes into the vineyards. Both aspects make it a grape hard not to like.

The clincher, however, is carmenère's hallmark herbal edge—something like the scent of a forest, only more exotic (maybeit's how forests smell in the Andes?) That edge works like pepper in a dish, adding a little zing, elevating carmenère from just another juicy red to a wine that lives up to the exotic sound of its name.

To taste the grape at its height, check out Concha y Toro's Terrunyo line; it's $28, and worthy of a white-tablecloth dinner. For dinners in front of the TV, though, the company's $5 Frontera version fits the bill just fine.

This review first appeared in the Denver Post.

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