A few days ago, we took advantage of the sunny, warm weather in the Pacific Northwest and fired up our Traeger. We slowly roasted a huge prime rib of beef and invited a few friends over. Someone brought over a bottle of Carménère to pair with the meal and although I was skeptical, I went in with an open mind.
Typically, I have found this varietal to be equivalent to drinking a liquid bell pepper with a pucker factor on the finish. Not that I don’t enjoy a snappy bell pepper in my salad but if the flavors are present in my wine, I’d prefer they be more of a lingering hint in the background rather than the main event.
To my surprise, I was hooked, as were our other guests. I found that the pepper notes on the wine balanced beautifully with the smokiness of the meat and the herb seasoning that encrusted the surface of the roast. It made me realize that my lack of love for Carménère may be due to not pairing it well with food. So, that may very well be the secret.
A Bordeaux variety that is almost only grown in Chile, Carménère contains higher levels of aroma compounds called pyrazines, which are responsible for the herbaceous quality of the wine. Once thought to be a nearly extinct variety, it was discovered that nearly 50% of the “Merlot” planted in Chile was actually Carménère. It is a medium-bodied red and, as we found, very food friendly due to a higher acidity level.
Carménère is widely available at many markets and is relatively affordable. The Chateau Los Boldos from Cachapoal Valley is the one we had, and while it did have the signature green pepper notes, it was heavier on dark fruit and a bit of dark chocolate. It can be found at Total Wine for around $15.