Cheap Wine That Doesn't Suck: The Fickle Grape of Chile

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One of the world's unique and most interesting wines has long been one of its most mysterious. The wine is Carmenere, today made almost exclusively in Chile, though until a dozen or so years ago, even the people who made it thought they were making Merlot. 

Carmenere was once one of the "noble grapes" of Bordeaux (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec). In the 1800s, the phylloxera louse devastated French vineyards, and when replanting, growers shunned the fickle and disease-prone Carmenere grape, leaving it to virtually disappear from the French wine scene. 

Luckily, enterprising vintners had brought Carmenere cuttings to Chile, where the more hospitable climate allowed the grape to flourish. Over the years, however, Carmenere vines began to be confused with Merlot, whose leaves are similar in structure. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that sophisticated DNA typing proved that many of Chile's "Merlot" vineyards were actually planted with Carmenere.

This is a very good thing, because Carmenere makes a wine that delivers a ton of big, bold, rustic flavor for only a few meager ounces of coin.  

I happen to have a modest example here. It's the 2007 Terra Andina, which costs only about ten bucks. But it can kick the ass of the biggest steak, the spiciest barbecue, the fattest, greasiest sausage on the planet and still come back to fill up your mouth with an earthy, dusky mélange of black cherries, currants, cloves, anise, and pepper. It's not the most subtle wine you'll ever taste, but if you're the kind of guy or gal who takes a top-fuel dragster to the market for a quart of milk or kills a mosquito with an Uzi, then you'll like this wine a lot. 


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