Did you feel that even-ing chill in the air this past week? Yes, it's a sign that autumn is fast ap-proaching and that, like the changing seasons, it's time to make a move to the red-wine cellar.
To many Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, there's really no need to panic. You can drink that big, bold, heavenly grape all year-round with steaks and barbecue, and never miss a beat.
For me, however, I'm out for something that settles in nicely, like a blanket by the firepit with the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, and two glasses of Chilean Camenere. Here's a native grape from Bordeaux's Medoc region where it is used as a second-fiddle blending partner to Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Merlot.
If you aspire to a unique, earthy and spicy wine that won't overpower the palate, Camenere is a good companion during the fall and winter seasons. Actually, it's an excellent wine for burgers, barbecue fare, and meatballs and pasta, but Americans don't often explore these gems from South of the Border the way they should.
Concha y Toro's lineup features three tiers of Camenere. This allows the curious to try Camenere at a budget-conscious price and move up to more refined and structured versions.
Casillero del Diablo Reserva Camenere 2016, $12: This is a "devil" of a wine, according to a 19th-century legend attributed to Concha y Toro founder Don Melchor. The Don learned that field hands were sneaking in at night and sampling his best wines. He spread the rumor that his deepest, darkest cellar was the Casillero del Diablo (Cellar of the Devil) and bad things would happen to those who dared to enter. It worked. There's a devil's face embedded on the bottle, which makes this a nice conversation piece for Halloween parties. It's got a beautiful deep plum color, like most Camenere wines do, and inviting chocolate, coffee and plum aromas. Winemaker Marcelo Papa takes pride in delivering this 100 percent Camenere with fresh flavors and a supple texture. Plum traits dominate, aided by chocolate espresso and cinnamon spice nuances. Diablo's a quality, entry-level wine. It's on sale now for $10.99 in New Hampshire and several Massachusetts retail outlets. We enjoyed this with a a garden tomato, black olive and onion salad with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar, and homemade meatloaf.
Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Camenere 2015, $17: We're stepping up a notch here to a more structured wine, a mixture of 95 percent Camenere and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from sloping vineyard sites located on the banks of the Cachapoal River, hence it's part of the Conca y Toro's "Serie Riberas" (River Series) brand. Some vines are from the original planting in 1998. They reside in deep alluvial soils with a top layer of clay that helps retain water in the dry, Mediterranean-like climate. Winemaker Mario Ramirez smooths out the rough edges by aging the wine for 13 months in large oak barrels. The result is a toasty, more velvety Camenere with a lot of depth on the palate. The color is darker, the aromas a bit sweeter and fragrant, and the taste is intensified. It touches a wide spectrum of dark cherry and blackberry flavors and, of course, there's a peppery, dry finish. The winemaker suggests pairing Gran Reserva with duck magret and meats dappled with sweet-and-sour sauces. Four our sampling, the Wine Goddess prepared tender, broiled porkloin chops sprinkled with a sweet-and-sour sauce. It was superb. Gran Reserva is on sale for $13.99 over the state line.
Marques de Casa Concha 2015, $25: Here's Concha y Toro's premium brand, and it delivers all the rich and focused qualities expected for a No. 1 Camenere. I'm excited to say that this is now on sale for $19.99 in New Hampshire, quite a bargain for an elegant bottling. Once again, Marcelo Papa does the honors with grapes from the Peumo Vineyard, which is located about 500 feet above sea level in the Cachapoal River Valley. After destemming, the grapes are placed in closed tanks for eight days to lock in aromas and flavors. Once fermented, the wine ages for 16 months in French oak barrels where it softens to a silky, mouth-pleasing texture. The tannins are firm and the acidity moderate, making this a wine that can easily cellar for the next five years. The blend relies on 12.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds structure, and 87.5 percent Camenere. The result is a wine bolder in color (purple) and energized in red and black current traits. Nuances of dark chocolate and coffee are also detectable. You can pair this with lamb, venison or stir-fried beef, according to the winemaker's suggestions, although we matched it with a grilled sirloin, green beans, summer squash and sliced baked potatoes that we grilled to a golden brown. It was a sumptuous meal.
Camenere is a softer yet unyielding red wine that delivers ample, spicy tastes for the cool nights ahead. Salud!