Xplorador Carmenere 2008, Chile

Cost: $8-10

What: There’s an awful lot to like about the Xplorador Carmenere. It’s rich, full-bodied and very smooth. And it comes at a great price.

Though I have been drinking Carmenere for years I sometimes forget that it is a largely unknown grape. That’s a shame, because it produces tasty wine at many different price points.

If you are unfamiliar with Carmenere this is a perfect wine to begin your explorations. It is widely available, and you often can find it on sale for as little as $6 or $7. But even at $10 it is an incredible bargain.

The wine is a rich red-purple in the glass, with pleasant aromas of dark fruit, roasted red peppers and black pepper.

Xplorador Carmenere
Xplorador Carmenere

It is a soft and approachable wine, but it retains good structure. Sweet plum and chocolate flavors are rich and full on the tongue. It does not have a long aftertaste, but what’s there is pleasant. This would be a good wine for someone who is not sure they would like wine, but it’s also great for experienced wine drinkers.

The Carmenere (Car-Men-Yehr) grape originated in France as one of the Bordeaux blending grapes. It was nearly wiped out by the phylloxera plague more than 100 years ago. The grape was widely planted in Chile where they thought it was Merlot until 1994 when DNA tests revealed its identity.

These grapes were grown in the Central Valley of Chile, one of the best spots in the world to grow Carmenere. Though Chile grows a wide variety of outstanding grapes, Carmenere could be considered the national grape of Chile.

About 60% of the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks and 40% in 3-year-old medium toasted French and American oak barrels for three months. The oak gives just enough structure to the wine without overpowering it.

If you ask American wine drinkers to name their favorite red wines the most common answers are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah. As Chile continues to get the word out about its wines, I suspect Carmenere will move up into that list.

It is an elegant, approachable and versatile wine.

Winery: Xplorador is one of the labels in the well-known Concha y Toro lineup, which ranges from bargain brand Frontera to top-of-the-line Don Melchor and Carmin de Peumo.

The Xplorador brand seems to be positioned for a younger audience with bright labels and catchy marketing. The low price also appeals to young wine lovers.

The winery traces its roots back to 1883 when politician and businessman Don Melchor Choncha y Toro brought grapevines from Bordeaux to plant in the Maipo Valley and hired a French winemaker.

Concha y Toro is the iconic winery of Chile and is one of the world’s most important wine businesses. The firm sells more than 29 million cases a year in more than 135 countries.

Its principal subsidiaries are Viña Cono Sur, Viña Maipo, Viña Palo Alto, Viña Maycas del Limarí, Trivento Bodegas y Viñedos, which operates in Argentina, and the joint venture with the prestigious winery Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which produces the Almaviva brand.

Brands within the Concha y Toro winery are Casillero del Diablo, Don Melchor, Terrunyo and Marqués de Casa Concha. After gaining worldwide acceptance for its low-end wines Concha y Toro has constantly experimented and pushed for the highest possible quality at all price points.

In 2007 Robert Parker awarded 97 points to Concha y Toro’s flagship Carmenere Carmin de Peumo 2003, The Wine Advocate’s highest score for a Chilean wine.

Xplorador also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc.

Xplorador Carmenere with crab cakes.
Xplorador Carmenere with crab cakes.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this with a hearty black bean soup. I got this recipe years ago from an old friend who grew up in Cuba, and it has many of the same flavors you find in bean dishes in Chile.

After simmering for several hours the soup is mellow and rich with wonderful flavors. It was a perfect match for the warm and complex Carmenere. I served the wine slightly chilled and allowed it to warm up in the glass.

The wine sips nicely without food, but it also pairs well with spicy meats, pastas and aged cheeses. Carmenere is a good match to stews, casseroles and paté. This also is a great pizza wine.

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