For most, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about tradition: the green bean casserole, the dusty cornucopia filled with fake plastic leaves, a night out in your hometown with old friends. But this year, odds are your holiday plans look a little different.
And while Pinot Noir and Beaujolais have served us well at Thanksgiving tables of the past, this year seems as good as any to switch up what we’re drinking, too. Enter Carménère, a red-berried, herb-scented, full-bodied red wine from Chile. The berry and herbal notes complement traditional Thanksgiving sides of cranberry and stuffing with a modern twist, and having a fuller-bodied wine on the table adds an extra layer of richness and indulgence to the festivities.
If you aren’t acquainted with Carménère, you’re not alone. In Chile, Carménère has long been overshadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon, despite having both been imported from Bordeaux (they’re from the same grape family, in fact) sometime in the mid-19th century. Whereas Chilean Cab went on to find an international following, Carménère remained in relative obscurity (and at the same time nearly went extinct in France, thanks to phylloxera) — partially because of a little grape confusion. For many years, Chilean growers of Carménère thought that they were growing Merlot — a version that had pronouncedly green and herbaceous flavors. But in the 1990s, a French ampelographer (a.k.a. an expert in the study and classification of cultivated grape varieties) named Jean-Michel Boursiquot conducted a study in Chile that showed that most of these so-called Merlot vines were actually Carménère. It’s been officially recognized by Chile as its own variety since 1998.
The hallmark of Chilean Carménère is its green pepper characteristic, which, depending on the winemaker, can be really intense or a nice background note. As growers learn more and more about the grape variety, they’re figuring out how best to farm it, namely delaying harvest and moderating irrigation, in order to dial back this quality and to let the delicious spiced berry fruit come through.
Today, Chile grows all but 2 percent of the world’s Carménère, particularly in the Colchagua region, a province in Chile’s warm Central Valley, tucked between the Pacific and the mighty Andes mountains. Within Colchagua is the sub-region of Apalta, which has proven to be an outstanding place for Carménère. The region’s dry climate, especially during the ripening months when grapes are developing sugar and flavor, is what makes it prime for this late-season grape variety. Other optimal regions in and around the Central Valley include the Maipo, Cachapoal, and Rapel valleys.
Carménère has an intense red garnet color (it gets its name from the French word carmin, which means crimson), and aromas of red fruits, damp earth, and spices — the perfect pairing for a table loaded with fresh cranberries, sage-scented stuffing, and rich gravy.
As for the main event, high in acidity and with the aforementioned distinct notes of pepper, Carménère is a great companion for turkey and its accompanying tryptophan buzz — whether you’re brining, deep frying, tofurkey-ing, or turkduckening. The wine’s signature bright herbaceousness expertly cuts through what’s notoriously one of the heaviest meals of the year.
And better yet, bottles of Carménère offer serious value, making it easy to find a top-notch bottle for between $25 and $40.
There’s one more aspect of Chilean wine that makes it so well suited to this holiday in particular: Currently, 80 percent of Chile’s wine being exported is certified sustainable, with a focus on ways to reduce waste through reusable and recyclable packaging and water conservation and making sure that the wine industries’ workers are well taken care of. Chile that has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. That’s a lot to be thankful for.
Check out our Carménère suggestions to pick up for your Thanksgiving meal!
- Montes Purple Angel Carménère
- Maquis Carménère
- Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carménère
- Los Vascos Grande Reserve Carménère
- Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carménère
- Aresti Trisquel Carménère
- Terra Noble Reserva Carménère
- Montes Alpha Carménère
- Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carménère
- Santa Carolina Herencia Carménère
This article is sponsored by Wines of Chile. Taste the Unexpected.