Carménère grapes, which originated in the Médoc region of Bordeaux in France, are almost extinct in Europe, initially a victim of the Phylloxera plague in 1867. Later, when Bordeaux vineyards attempted replanting the vines, they proved to be extremely susceptible to the coulure, which prevented the vines from flowering. Some time in the 19th century, Carménère vines were imported to Chile from Bordeaux and the vines have been thriving there ever since. I recommend reading about the history of this grape if you like viticulture, because it's extremely interesting to learn how climate, soil, weather patterns, insect life and other extraneous factors can affect how varieties evolve and survive. Now pretty much "the grape" of Central Valley, Chile, Carménère continues to thrive and Chilean wines are getting more recognition every year.
Verdict: This wine is a medium-bodied red that has almost a chewy quality to it. It's typically jammy with vegetal notes of bell pepper and dried herbs. The nose on it isn't exceptionally fragrant, but the palate lingers and the finish has a spicy licorice and chocolate undertone that is reminiscent of a great anise chocolate bar I had recently. I enjoyed this wine, but it is extremely tannic (they aren't very integrated, so the wine is almost soupy in mouthfeel), so if your head is susceptable to tannins like mine is, don't drink the whole bottle by yourself!
Pairing: Traditional pairings of Carménère wines include lamb and beef (and not-so-traditional, but likely delicious is Shepherd's Pie!). Not exactly being "traditional" folks, my friends and I enjoyed this wine with Clare's homemade sirnica and krompiruša, two varieties of Bosnian "pita". While the wine had a bit too much flavor to balance with the light, flaky dough and the creamy farmer's cheese in the sirnica, the spice vegetal notes seemed to go better with the sauteed potatoes in the krompiruša. This wine is a bit too hearty for vegetarian cuisine, but it's still an enjoyable bottle - especially for the price!
Wine: Santa Rita 120 Carménère, Vintage 2008
Price: $6-8 (depending on when you buy it and sales!)
Purchased: The Wine Source, Baltimore MD