Carmenere: The Other Red Meat Wine

With grills firing left and right it’s time to take a look at Carmenere, a great wine for grilled red meat!


I am a big fan of Carmenere, and really appreciate the way the fruit and savory flavors of a well done Carmenere pair with beef. Not just any beef, mind you. What comes to mind is a beautiful sirloin steak from grass-fed beef grilled over a hardwood fire. The steak should not be a monster; not so thick that one needs to really char it to get it warmed through, but rather about an inch thick so that it gets a nice caramelized crust, yet remains just barely past rare. That is my ideal Carmenere steak, and while this detail may seem a bit excessive, I do have my reasons.

Wine Cork image via Shutterstock

Why Carmenere

Reason #1: Carmenere is not a big wine, so there’s no need to pair it with a more powerfully flavored cut of beef, like something dry aged for 30 or 60 days.
Reason #2: Carmenere is not particularly tannic, nor are better examples particularly oaky, so a well-charred steak may overpower the flavors of the wine.
Reason #3: Full of red fruit, herbal notes, and bright acidity, Carmenere works ideally with the flavors of rare beef.
This does not mean that there aren't exceptions, both on the wine side and the steak side, that allow you to enjoy Carmenere with a broad selection of meats. You can enjoy your Carmenere any way you want to, but me? I’m sticking to my steak.
Here are 10 examples of Carmenere to help get you in the mood. I’m tasting many of these wines for the second time, and two years after first tasting them I am becoming convinced that you don’t want to cellar too many Carmeneres. Enjoy these wines on the younger side!

2010 De Martino Carmenere Single Vineyard Alto de Piedras Isla de Maipo 13.5% $35

A bit tight but showing compelling complexity with floral, tobacco, and green peppercorn spice aromas framing the core of blue plum and black currant fruit. There's a noticeable dose of oak here, but it remains buffered by the fruit. Rich with fruit tannins, this really pops on entry with bright, pure boysenberry and plum fruit layered over toasty oak spice, dried herbs and an earthy base note. There's fine power here, but at the same time this remains focused and transparent with an almost lacy structural component supporting everything. The oak becomes more apparent on the back end, but melds seamlessly with the tart blue and red fruit on the earthy, long, mineral and dark chocolate-laced finish. This is lovely, really showing compelling clarity and cut while delivering excellent intensity and purity of fruit. 92pts

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2009 Concha y Toro Carmenere Marques de Casa Concha Peumo 14% $20

Lots of sweet fruit and spicy oak greets the nose along with notes of candied herbs, dried tomato and black currant fruit. Supple yet bright, this shows a lovely, lively character in the mouth with a blend of red and black berry fruit wrapped around subtle herb and clear baking spice flavors. There's a hint of creaminess to the texture, and a touch of sweetness from oak, but this remains refined with good power and lovely balance. The finish is moderately long with a nice blue plum and spice note. Very complete wine. 90pts

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2008 Apaltagua Carmenere Grial Apalta Valley Colchagua 14% $60

A touch candied on the nose, but with good definition to the slightly smoky and leather aromas of medicinal herbs, black fruit, licorice and vanilla. A touch on the low acid side, this does show significant tannins, adding a little bit of a rough edge to the palate. There's a nice lashing of oak here, under which one finds slow to emerge blackberry, black cherry and earth flavors. The fruit is fairly bright, with subtle complexity fighting with the oak for ones attention, but beginning to emerge on the back end which shows a little pepper and braised herb quality. The finish remains a bit tannic and a touch short, though the fruit does try and make its way through the finale. This might even improve with a bit more air or time in the cellar, as it is it remains interesting if a bit tough. 89pts

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2009 Aromo Carmenere Private Reserve Maule Valley 13.5% $15

A bit oaky at first, this really pops in the glass with aromas of violets and cracked pepper that recall Syrah, layered over pomegranate, sour plum and green citrus peel fruits. This is a rather big wine, with lots of richness and a slightly creamy texture. The tannins and acidity help add tension to all that richness, keeping this lively in the mouth. Expressive blueberry and damson plum flavors are framed by fine oak spice and vanilla notes, all leading to a rich, polished and long finish that shows more of a red fruit profile. This is a bit of a wine of texture, big yet so smooth, though it retains a certain sense of transparency and freshness as well. Sure to be a crowd pleaser. 89pts

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2009 Montes Alpha Carmenere Colchagua Valley 14.5%

Reticent on the nose with sweet aromas of coffee and cola plus a hint of rhubarb. This gains nice subtle nuance with some air. A bit tightly knit in the mouth, this is not a big wine, but it shows a bit of firmness to the tannins. There are nice layers of flavor here, dried herbs, well-judged oak, soft, warm red plum and cherry fruit. It's all knit together very well in an unassuming package. The finish is fairly long, and shows a lovely edge of sour berry fruits and nice ripe fruit tannins with just a hint of vanilla. Subtle and elegant. 88pts

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Carmenere Tasted April 2013

De Martino Single Vineyard Carmenere Alto de Piedras Case of 6 Bottles (2010)
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Concha Frontera Carmenere Chile Valle Central Rapel Colchagua Valley Red (2009)
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Apaltagua Carmenere Grial Reserve Apaltagua (2008)
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Viña El Aromo Carménère Talca Private Reserve (2009)
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Montes Carménère Colchagua Valley Alpha (2009)
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Santa Ema Camernere Reserve Barrel Select (2009)
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Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Red 97js Premier (2010)
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Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere (2011)
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Calcu Carmenère (2010)
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Aromo Estate Bottled Maule Valley (2009)
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