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Top 10 Carmenères from Chile

After an extensive ‘blind’ tasting of Chilean wines last year, we have picked out 10 brilliant reds based on the country’s emblematic grape: Carmenère.

More than 10,000 hectares of the variety can be found in Chile today, making Carmenère the third most planted red grape in the country after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 

Capable of producing soft, fleshy and spicy reds, often with a note of green peppercorn, it yields distinctive and delicious wines, and something unique in a world of Cabernet rivalry. While often found in Chilean blends featuring the great grapes of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), in more recent times, following a better understanding of how to manage the grape in the vineyard, single-varietal Carmenères from Chile have become a proven source of serious, delicious, and cellar-worthy wines.

How the wines were chosen

The wines featured in this selection were taken from 28 leading producers in Chile. Wines of Chile asked them to submit no more than two wines for sampling by db. The wineries put forward commercially available samples that they were most proud of, representing new and exciting bottles, along with the latest vintages of established labels. All the samples were assessed ‘blind’ in August 2022, with the full results of the tasting featuring in the September edition of the drinks business. Listed below are the single-varietal and Carmenère blends from the tasting, with my tasting notes and scores. 


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Colchagua
ABV: 14%
RRP: £16.50
Score: 91

This organic Carmenère from Emiliana hails from the producer ’s prized Los Robles estate in Colchagua, particularly a plot of 30-year-old ungrafted vines on a rocky site at 250m above sea level. The resulting wine displays Carmenère’s traits, with plenty of spice and soft ripe red fruit, with layers of flavour ranging from capsicum to cherry, raspberry and white pepper, along with a touch of roasted coffee, and some fine, gently grainy tannin. An attractive, gently leafy red with a firm structure and plenty of fleshy ripe berry flavours.


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Cachapoal Andes
ABV: 14%
RRP: £16
Score: 93

This latest release from Sogrape’s Chilean winery, Château Los Boldos, is a fine addition to the slowly expanding sector of upmarket varietal Carmenères. Coming from Cachapoal, immediately north of Colchagua – the better-known source of Carmenère – it may offer a less famous source area, but the key characters of this distinctive grape are clearly present. Ripe red berry flavours abound, along with some plum and sour cherry, some green pepper spice, bay leaf, and cedar, and a pleasant, fine, mouth-coating tannin.


Varieties: 60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Carmenère
Region: Maule Valley
ABV: 13.5%
RRP: Approx £10
Score: 88

Using a mix of Cabernet Franc and Carmenère from the Maule Valley, this is a distinctive and leafy inexpensive red from Oveja Negra. Featuring flavours of bay and celery, there is a herbal, green element to the wine, along with ripe, fleshy red berry fruit and some vanilla and milk chocolate notes from the new and used French and American oak used to age the wine. Along with these flavours is a peppery note and a firm tannic finish.


Varieties: 38% Carmenère, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 10% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot
Region: Colchagua
ABV: 14%
RRP: Approx £22
Score: 93

A Carmenère-dominant blend taking in all of Bordeaux’s red grapes, this top expression from Sutil, Acrux, is something of a intriguing rarity, and an enjoyable one too. Layers of flavour are apparent, from red berries to black cherry, supported by a fine-grained chalky tannin texture and some toasty oak, followed by a capsicum character on the finish.


Varieties: 60% Cabernet Franc, 29% Carménère, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Colchagua
ABV: 14.1%
RRP: Approx £30
Score: 94

In line with the Maquis style, the Lien red blend is restrained in character, with a bright, finely tannic edge and red fruit. Also present is some green pepper, cherry, dark chocolate, and roasted coffee, along with a hint of nettle and dried grass. An elegant, complex red of subtle and lasting appeal.


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Apalta
ABV: 13.8%
RRP: £25
Score: 92

Proving that old-vine Carmenère from Apalta – where it performs brilliantly – can be used to craft a wine that’s pure, age-worthy and elegant is this Floresta expression from Santa Rita. The opposite of jammy, alcoholic and oaky variants that once emanated from Chile, this is a wine that shows another side to Carmenère, drawing attention to its potential for producing balanced reds without being overtly green. So while this Carmenère is deeply coloured, and contains plenty of intense, blackberry, blueberry and raspberry fruit, making it a ripe, concentrated wine, it manages to have a moderate alcohol level of 13.8% by Colchagua standards, and a bright acidity. Also, while there’s a hint of cracked pepper and nettle, this is not a Carmenère that tastes of pyrazines. Neither does it contain overt oak-derived characters, from chocolate to toast, having been aged in concrete and foudres, rather than barriques, leaving one with pure berry fruit flavours on the finish (which are neither masked by alcohol warmth nor wood sweetness). What’s impressive is the quality of the fruit, and balance of this wine, but, with lots of tight-knit tannins, the finish is a little firm right now. Over time, it will no doubt soften – this style of wine should age slowly and brilliantly.


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Colchagua Andes
ABV: 15%
RRP: £30
Score: 93

An impressive, structured varietal Carmenère from the Andean foothills in Colchagua, this TerraNoble red from 2019 vintage provides a strong reason to re-assess this grape as an unblended source of fine wine. Tasting youthful now, it’s a powerful, concentrated Carmenère framed by plenty of firm, though fine tannins. Flavour-wise there’s lots of black berry fruit, backed up by notes of raspberry, peppery spice, dark chocolate, and just a touch of capsicum.


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Colchagua Costa
ABV: 15%
RRP: £30
Score: 92

In contrast to Terranoble’s Carmenere from an altitudinous site close to the Andes, this example hails from vineyards nearer the Pacific Ocean, with its cooling Humbolt Current. The style is a little fresher and crunchier that the ‘Andes’ expression, with notes of red fruits – there’s a summer pudding like appeal – along with capsicum characters, and some vanilla and milk chocolate flavours too, while the finish features plenty of mouth-coating ripe tannins and a touch of green peppercorn too.


Varieties: 100% Carmenère
Region: Puemo, Colchagua
ABV: 14%
RRP: £20
Score: 94

My favourite single-varietal Carmenère of this year ’s line-up, this expression from MontGras comes from an ungrafted 25-year-old vineyard in Peumo – which, with Apalta, is considered the best place for Carmenère in Chile. The wine, called Antu, occupies a really appealing middle ground for this grape, being neither too ripe and sweet, nor grainy and green. There’s pure, smooth and fleshy cherry, plum and raspberry fruit, complemented by notes of white pepper, dark chocolate, cedar and toast, and then a finely-tannic finish with a touch of crunchy cranberry to make one salivate. It’s not a heavy, powerful red, but complex, balanced one with a fairly taut character that suggests it could reward cellaring for a further two to five years.


Varieties: 68% Carmenère, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc
Region: Cachapoal
ABV: 14%
RRP: Approx £50
core: 97

This strikingly packaged bottle from Vik features La Piu Belle, the goddess of Millahue, where the wine estate is based, painted by Gonzalo Cienfuegos specially for this expression. Notable in this 2019 release is the use of unique barrels to age the wine, which were made using oak staves toasted with fires fuelled by fallen branches from French oak trees on the property in the Cachapoal Valley. As for the taste of La Piu Belle, this is a seriously good Carmenère-dominant blend that’s soft and open, but not overdone or excessively alcoholic. It’s surprisingly easy-to-drink for a £50 barrique-aged top-end expression. The fruit is both fine and fleshy, ranging from ripe cherry and raspberry to blackberry, with notes of cracked pepper, roasted coffee, cedar and, finally, dark chocolate and toast. As for the finish, it’s fresh, featuring plenty of fine tannins, offering a gentle drying sensation – there’s a lovely structure to this wine.


Chile is also home to further great Carmenère-based reds that did not feature in the 2022 blind tasting, but have been submitted in the past, and can be read about by clicking here. Among these are the lovely biodynamic Carmenère blends from Koyle (Cerro Basalto and Auma), and the outstanding Clos Apalta from Lapostolle – the top-scoring example in 2021’s Chile tasting. A further exceptional red, and made entirely with Carmenère from Apalta, is Santa Rita’s Pewën – which gained a 95-point score for its 2018 vintage when sampled in 2021. 

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