Sitting down in front of a blank screen, scanning the entire globe in my mind, and thinking about every growing area and grape, is a challenge to decide on what to write. At this time of year it only makes sense to suggest a wine pairing to go with Thanksgiving dinner, right? At our house, I usually do a large portion of the cooking. So over the last 5-10 years of family dinners during the holidays, I’ve had only a few “perfect!” wine pairings, and probably more than I would like to admit being just “okay”. I think everyone’s first thought (and recommendation they usually receive from wine people and friends) is a nice Pinot from Oregon or Burgundy for Thanksgiving. This works just fine, as long as all the food is somewhat subtle and simple, and the seasonings aren’t going crazy. A few years back it was the worst yet. See, I love a fresh fruit compote with meat, and I also added fresh lemons to the roasting turkey. When we sat down to eat and we started to pour the wine and taste everything, it was obvious how much acidity was on the plate. It literally was competing with what was in the glass. All I could taste was alcohol. It sucked. I learned a huge lesson that day; wines with higher acids (and tannins too) go wonderfully with a little more fat or cream and less acidity. It’s all a balancing act – really. Remember that the next time you are about to make a cranberry sauce from scratch! I sure will.
Now to the grapes. The wines of Chile have had a bad rap for quite a while now, especially in the American market. The perception has been pretty good bulk wines for the low end, average and unexciting bottles in the middle, and some very expensive high-ends like Don Melchor, Purple Angel, Neyen, or Clos Apalta. I think to a lot of people for the money, the wines don’t compare to what the guys in Napa are doing. Part of the problem has been grape variety. Just like the Argentines with their beloved import from Bordeaux – the Malbec, the Chileans have held tight to their Carmenere – also an import from Bordeaux. In the right hands, it has made some pretty stunning wines. In a more mass-produced bottle, the grape tends to scream red bell peppers, stewed tomatoes, and has a gamey spice quality to it. Sometimes with the right food, or mood (I guess), these characters can be somewhat attractive. Most of the time they can seem clunky and out of balance. So the question to be asked is this: Do we scrap Chile altogether, or is there possibly another grape variety that could be a shining star? A savior to a struggling fine wine exporter?
It is my pleasure to re-introduce you to Carignan (pronounced “kah-ree-nyahn”). If you’ve ever traveled though the south of France, or in the northeast part of Spain, then you have drunk its wine. It ironically has a bit of natural cranberry fruit flavors, and is somewhere between a Pinot Noir and a Malbec in body style. It’s intense enough for those of you who love a big cab, and elegant enough to be appreciated by someone who loves a spicy Pinot. As early as 1323, Carignan got its start in an area of Spain called Aragon, and was most likely named after the town of Cariñena. By the middle of the 19th century, Carignan made its way to France and became a go-to by many winemakers because of its naturally high yields and amazing color. In the hands of a knowledgeable viniculturalist, the grape can achieve amazing purity and concentration if yields are held back by green harvesting. Green harvesting is the removal of immature grape bunches with the goal of decreasing final yield, with the aim of improving the quality of those that remain on the vine.
It wasn’t until very recently that I found out that Carignan was being made into fine wine in Chile, in a small sub-region of the greater Central Valley. At the far southern and coolest part of the larger valley, one will find the Maule Valley. It was here that some of the first vines were planted in the country, and all on their original roots (this goes for all of Chile – the vine pest called Phylloxera has never survived in the country because of its sandy soils). It is here that Carignan is at home – whether taking up a large percentage of a blend, or as in 100% varietal, where most of the vines are 100 years old.
Before the world was introduced to the wines of Felipe Garcia & Connie Schwaderer, they were found working as winemakers for the much larger wineries, Viña Casas del Bosque and Viña Veranda respectively. Their passion for discovering the best place and grape variety that would be the “shining star” of Chile is what brought them together. They felt Chile had a story to tell. It only seemed natural for them to start making wine together on the side of their bigger projects, to make wines that encapsulated their passion and zeal for perfection. The story develops as the larger conglomerates they were working for found out about their artisan garage wines. They fired them on the spot, and I love their reaction! They said, “They helped us!” They took what could’ve been looked at as a bad thing and jumped headfirst into what they felt in their hearts was true: making wines with no experiments or tricks, but in complete accordance with their own taste and what they wanted to offer the world. // garciaschwaderer.cl/en
Vigno -100% Carignan
Maule Valley, Chile (50 cases produced)
“This is a very aromatic wine with distinctive nose of dark berries, intense flowers, and a little tar. The blackberry and spices come out when you taste it, along with a little pepperiness. It is earthy and medium-bodied, giving an Old World impression. Perfect with the Chilean pastel de choclo (meat and corn casserole), grilled salmon, or some stews.” (vineconnections.com)
Facundo – 50% Carignan, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, & 7% Malbec
Maule Valley, Chile (700 cases produced)
“Bright yet brooding. Up front, it is all fresh and expressive red berries. Then, on the palate, you find touches of herbs and cocoa. It finishes with bright cherry and vivacity. It has the backbone for a pairing with grilled meats from lamb to steaks, but would shine with slow-cooked short ribs.” (vineconnections.com) // This is what I’m drinking this year at Thanksgiving! – Paul
Sofia – 100% Pinot Noir
Santa Rosa (Casablanca Valley), Chile (400 cases produced)
“The deep color temporarily masks high-tone fruit like raspberries and strawberries. There is impressive concentration of fruit and an unusually textured mouthfeel, along with spicy floral notes. It is quite Burgundian in style with superb minerality and tension.” (vineconnections.com)
Marina – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Santa Rosa (Casablanca Valley), Chile (300 cases produced)
“Loads of minerality, pithy citrus fruit (especially grapefruit), and a touch of more tropical sweetness and honey. The wine is focused and powerful, with more stone fruit coming through when you taste it. There is plenty of acidity and structure. Pair it with strong cheeses or a creamy seafood pasta dish.” (vineconnections.com)