There is no grape that is more inextricably linked to the culture and identity of Chile than Carmenere. It is no wonder that Casillero del Diablo takes its bottling of Carmenere very seriously. This is a matter of Chilean pride after all! This is the grape that has been, and will continue to be, Chile’s legacy for the wine world.
How Carmenere almost faced extinction
Like many of the other famous grapes planted in the country, Carmenere originally comes from France, specifically Bordeaux. However, Carmenere has a very different history than the other grapes of the region. In the 19th century, Carmenere was a common blending grape around Bordeaux, predominantly in Graves and Pessac-Leognan. After the phylloxera infestation of the 1870s, most of the vines in the region were wiped out. As a result, Bordeaux replanted most of their vineyards. However, they didn’t replant everything; instead, they focused on the easier vines to grow varieties of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenere vines were left out and as a result, Carmenere faced extinction. And if it weren’t for one of the wine world’s biggest case of mistaken identity, Carmenere may have been forever lost to history.
The rediscovery of Carmenere vines
The first grapevines were planted in Chile by Spanish missionaries over 500 years ago, but they were varieties we seldom hear about these days, with names like Pais and Mission. It was in the mid-19th century that a number of Chileans decided to plant Bordeaux varietals in the Central Valley of Chile (Valle Central). The most sought after vines of Bordeaux were shipped over - this time bearing vines we are all very familiar with. These vines included Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot. These grapes flourished and helped to establish the Valle Central as the Bordeaux of South America. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that a grape botanist by the name of Jean-Michel Boursiquot noticed that there were many “Merlot” vines that took much longer to ripen. He began to research this strange phenomenon and ended up discovering that about 50% of the Merlot planted in Chile was actually the long-forgotten Bordeaux varietal of Carmenere. Chile had unknowingly played the role of preservationist and wine laboratory. So, in 1998, Chile officially recognized Carmenere as its own distinct variety (although it had been growing in the country for almost 150 years!!!).
How Carmenere is grown
Winemaker Sebastian Rodriguez has embraced the personality and history of this unique varietal for our Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, sourced from the Valle Central. The choices he makes in the vineyard are in line with the estate’s philosophy of sustainability and environmental stewardship. The vineyards for the Carmenere are on stony, rocky soils of an alluvial variety (meaning they were moved by water at some point, be it river or floodplain). These loose, rocky vineyards provide excellent drainage which is key when choosing vineyard sites. In addition, there are hillside parcels based in granitic subsoil from the coastal mountains. The soil compositions work in concert with the ideal weather conditions that the valley provides (between the coastal mountains and the Andes). Since Carmenere has such a long ripening period, these conditions are especially important.
The Casillero del Diablo Carmenere
The Casillero del Diablo Carmenere is a wonderful example of the classic flavor profiles and components of the grape. Rodriguez pushes for a riper, fruit-forward style while keeping the telltale elements of Carmenere. The flavors include elements of bell pepper and paprika, offset by the fresh fruit elements of raspberry and pomegranate. With Casillero del Diablo, the drinker is offered a medium-bodied wine of exceptional balance and elegance, with smooth tannins and an easy-drinking finish. This unique blend of flavors makes Carmenere an ideal pairing for a vast array of foods, anything from grilled meats with chimichurri sauce, crudité plates, pizza, or lighter meats such as pork and chicken. The versatility of this wine, along with its history, is part of what makes it so impressive.