Chilean carmenere is akin to South African pinotage, only darker and more sultry. In both cases, a country’s one unique and distinctive grape, which used to be undrinkable, is now a delicious and undiscovered bargain. All the $12 to $15 bottles of carmenere on the market today are terrific, to my palate anyway, and that bang for the buck increases exponentially the higher up the price ladder you ascend. What’s caused the change from green and mean to lush, supple and silky? Experience. The late-ripening, tough-skinned red grape was planted in sites designed to elongate the growing season, while also providing adequate heat and sunshine to develop complex red and black fruit flavors. Go find these three wines, which are seriously good.
Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere El Penasco Vineyard, Apalta, 2014
From one of Chile’s legendary high-altitude zones, this wine is what quintessential carmenere is about: violet-scented and fresh with blackberry fruit and undertones of smoked meat, tobacco, pepper and mint. It’s velvety-smooth, juicy and soft in tannin, and it kills with anything grilled or barbecued.
$15, Common Vines, Boston
Casa Lapostolle Grand Selection Carmenere, Rapel Valley, 2013
This is the producer that almost single-handedly put Chile—and coincidentally carmenere—on the map when the 2005 vintage of its iconic Clos Apalta was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year. This wine has a lovely dried-fruit character, with figs and raisiny notes that round out into cocoa, vanilla and roasted nuts. Very sensual and smooth, this mellow style of carmenere can take a light chill and works beautifully with cured meats and other salty flavors.
$12, Blanchards Wines & Spirits, Boston
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Peumo Vineyard Block 27 Carmenere, Cachapoal Valley, 2015
A perennial favorite, this single-vineyard estate wine is really something special and well worth the price. Aged in French oak, it is ultra-full bodied, with deep blueberry and black-cherry flavors nicely balancing the mocha, nutmeg and bold Asian spice notes. This is the one to reach for if rib-eye is on the menu.
$35, The Wild Duck, Boston
Sandy Block is a master of wine and the vice president of beverage operations for Legal Sea Foods.