One of the perks of going to Fresh Market is the ladies at their wine tasting tables. If you go in the evening, they’ve been at it a while and are quite, um, cheerful from handing out samples. I’m absolutely positive these girls don’t have a little sip of the wine here and there throughout the day. They must be just naturally cheerful and talkative at the end of a day-long shift on their feet.
Dinner guests stopped at Fresh Market on the way over, and the lady giving out samples of wine actually talked so profusely, they were late to arrive at our place. Which is fine because in my opinion, the stated time of a dinner party or gathering is merely a suggestion. They eventually arrived bearing a bottle of carménère by Cremaschi Vineyards, a Chilean wine.
Carménère is a dark red varietal that originated in France but is now virtually extinct in its homeland. It was one of the original ‘six red grapes of Bordeaux‘, which sounds like the name of a good children’s song. A tremendous (vineyard) plague in the mid 1800s pretty much wiped the carménère vines out of existence. Once the growers had recovered from the loss, they couldn’t find many healthy vines, and were hesitant to commit to such a temperamental plant.
It was purely by accident that the carménère vines were preserved, having been taken to Chile and confused with the merlot varietal. Once they got it sorted out, they found that the carménère grapes thrived in Chile, and produced a remarkable wine. And because Chile isn’t wall-to-wall vineyards, the chance of another plague devastating this fragile grape is minimized. (There is also a small presence of this grape in California, Australia, and New Zealand, and a growing interest in France again.)
Carménère wine tends to have noticeably softer tanins, which gives it a lovely velvet mouth-feel and a creaminess that is remarkable. We sure remarked upon it a few times while quickly draining the bottle and smacking out lips appreciatively. This wine also had smoky, dry grass, peppery notes typical of a Chilean wine, but on top of this was a very distinct honey flavor that supported the creamy texture well. There were a few hints of dark fruits, and a touch of a dark chocolate, but major notes of honey and earth remind me of what I wish mead tasted like.
It is on the sweet side, so it makes a delicious after dinner wine. It’s best served with foods that have distinct but subdued flavors like many traditional Chilean ingredients: corn, beans, peppers, potatoes, rice, and chocolate. Although it is a typical trick at wine tastings to have people eat chocolate while drinking to improve the taste of a mediocre wine, the carménère wine actually makes a wonderful pairing with a dark chocolate.
As for Cremaschi Vineyards, I couldn’t find a whole lot of info about them. With the globe riddled with vineyards, Google can only help me so much. And buying at a big box store further muddies the origin once a big import/export company gets their mittens on it (usually a small vineyard will focus on landing a big exporter rather than creating their own website to draw interest). Cremaschi Vineyards exports seven varieties of wine, and has been growing grapes for over a century. Apparently Cremaschi is a common name in Chile, and there are several other vineyards that use the name in some way, so it can probably get confusing.
We’re quite interested in trying another bottle of carménère. I’ve not been particularly interested in Chilean wine in general because they tend to be overly peppery and earthy for my taste, but this was nice for a once-in-a-while treat. And I’d love to get my hands on an Australian and a Californian bottle. Purely for research purposes of course. It’s amazing how a grape can make its way to a different part of the world and take on a new life.
On a side note, I have to wonder about the secret lives of the wine tasting women. How do you get that job? And why? Is it a great dating tool? How many people try to give you their phone numbers? How many other propositions do you get? Just how drunk do you get? And do you do this every day? Do you have giant bottles of aspirin and cases of coconut water at home to combat the perpetual hangovers? How do you manage this on a daily basis without seeming to know all that much about wine?