Archive for food + beverage

Carménère’s 20th anniversary



Monday, November 24, marks the 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of Carménère, now Chile’s signature red wine. Although the red grape variety is one of the original types grown in Bordeaux, France, it was thought to be extinct, or at least very rare, until that fateful day in 1994 when the grapes believed to be Merlot were discovered to be Carménère.

French ampelographer (a botanist who specializes in grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was visiting Chile and was tromping through vineyards in the Apalta Valley vineyards, part of the Colchagua Valley. He was studying the grapevines at Chile’s oldest winery, founded in 1850, when the grapevines were brought from France. Coincidentally, the winery’s name is Carmen.

The Carménère grapes grown in France were killed out in 1857 from the infestation of phylloxera insects. In Chile, however, the Carménère grape was

Carménère grapes

Carménère grapes

flourishing in the high-elevation vineyards. But for almost 150 years, the grape was thought to be Merlot because the leaves of the two varieties are almost identical. However, the two grapes don’t ripen at the same time, with Carménère reaching ripeness before Merlot.

Carménère tasting

Carménère tasting

Thus, for all those years the Merlot of Chile was considered “different.” But the winemakers were unwittingly producing a Carménère-Merlot blend.

By now, Carménère is the signature grape of Chile and is an extremely popular export.

In 2012 I was part of a wine writers’ tour of Chile and Argentina. My personal discovery of Carménère was a big moment for me. I loved the smooth, rich flavor of this dark purple wine. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since.

I’m saving a bottle of 2011 Gran Reserva Carménère from Carmen Winery for my Thanksgiving table. It will be the perfect accompaniment for all the delicious, rich food we’ll be consuming. Salud!

Drinking on the job

I recently enjoyed one of the perks of free-lance writing, a media tasting. This is not to be confused with a media lunch, a media dinner or even a media trip. But actually all of these are related because they involve journalists, bloggers and other members of the media, and their hosts, who are likely representatives of brands that they hope the media guests will publicize.

At a warehouse in Southeast Portland that houses ADX, a wood- and metal-working studio that operates like a gym (members only), I met with a drinks magazine editor and a bunch of bloggers and spirits writers to sample Highland Park single malt scotch. The brand ambassador, Martin Daraz, had come all the way from Glasgow to share the attributes of this fine elixir.

Martin Daraz

Martin Daraz

I actually recognized his accent immediately and asked, “Are you a Glaswegian?” What I didn’t tell him is that most Portlanders, or anybody who watches The Simpsons, can easily recognize a Glaswegian accent, thanks to the barely intelligible cartoon character, Groundskeeper Willie. (Note: Martin spoke quite clearly  and was not at all unintelligible.)

First of all, we learned why we were in a woodworking studio. Although I had visions of trying out all the saws after the scotch tasting, we were served only water before our woodworking project, which simply entailed sanding wooden coasters bearing the brand logo, and then oiling them with mineral oil. Then we got to take home our coasters.

Once we finished that it was time for the tasting. We sampled the 12-year-old, the 15-year-old and the 18-year-old. Then, as a special treat, Martin brought out the 25-year-old for a final tasting.

I liked them all and frankly, I was already partial to single malt scotches that bear a more peaty, smoky taste. Highland Park is one of only two distilleries in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. The Arcadian peat found there is distinctive for the slightly sweet, smoky taste it imparts. Although the taste grew more refined with the older scotches, all were very smooth and caramely, with only a slight burn on the tongue. To accompany the tastes of Highland Park, we snacked on smoked almonds and pieces of chocolate from Vosges Chocolate of Chicago. A perfect pairing!

And, in the “I Love My Job” Department, a parting gift from Martin was a bottle of 15-year-old Highland Park single malt scotch. Fortunately for us, we all had wooden coasters to perch a wee dram upon.

Cheers! Or as they say in Scotland, Slainte!