Cuda Ridge Wines – 2019 Carménère

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Before talking about the wine, here is a quick overview / refresher on the history of Carménère:

History of Carménère

The history of the Carménère varietal is as fascinating as it is happenstance! It was once one of the grapes in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. It served a similar purpose as Petit Verdot does today – producing a deep red ink on wines. It was one of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux. Carménère originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) which refers to the crimson color of the autumn foliage.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

When the Phylloxera plague hit in 1867 destroying most of the vineyards in Europe, many thought the Carménère grape was extinct. It wasn’t until 150 years later that it was discovered that Chile had preserved the Carménère grape thinking it was Merlot (from clippings planted from France). DNA confirmed that it was the missing 6th varietal of Bordeaux.

Carménère Today

Carménère grows mainly in Chile, specifically the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley and in the Maipo Province. It is also grown in the Veneto region of Italy, and recently several wineries in Mendocino, Livermore, Lodi, Napa and Calaveras are producing it, albeit in small quantities. Walla Walla also has some root stock growing in Carménère.

Uniqueness of Carménère

As a varietal, it has the deep ruby coloring and aromas of red fruits. Tannins are softer and milder than Cabernet Sauvignon, thus its use in blending to soften a strong Cabernet. The use is similar to the use of Merlot in formulating an enjoyable blend. Chile produces a 100% Carménère which has a cherry and fruity flavor but has traces of smoke and earthy notes with the inky coloration.

The 2019 Cuda Ridge Carménère

©Michael Kelly

This wine lived up to and exceeded some of the key characteristics of Carménère.  On the eyes, a medium-heavy viscosity wine with a unique inviting deep purple coloration. On the nose, ripe Bing cherries greeted the senses.  The palate is where this wine excelled. First the bright cherry taste was intense and concentrated. Plums and dark fruits then came forth with a hint of soft dry and wet earthen tones (minerality and forest floor) with black tea in the background. The earthen notes are generally found in Chilean Carménère but not found too often in California. The finish was long lasting with mocha and pepper finishing off the enjoyment. The wine is aged in French oak barrels (100%) for 18 months. This wine immediately after tasting made my “Best Wines” tasted in 2021 (full list published in December). It was still a bit “tight” but will last 5-10 years in the cellar.

Larry Dino owner and winemaker at Cuda Ridge Wines now has all six modern Bordeaux varietals available at the tasting room. The Carménère is the first locally produced wine varietal in the Livermore AVA. This second release is larger than the first year but will be flying out the door. Inquire at the winery for availability.

One of the solid and simple marketing ideas that Larry devised is his coloring scheme: White label for his Reserve wines, Black label for his non-Bordeaux wines and Purple label for his Bordeaux varietals.  Obviously the Carménère falls in his Purple label.

His Carménère will surely garner many awards in the upcoming wine competitions. The wine lists for $50. Truly a good price point given the uniqueness and scarcity of Carménère plantings in California and the only current Livermore grown Carménère being offered.

The Food and Wine Pairing

©Michael Kelly

Dinner with this wine was a beautifully prepared Carne Asada. The ingredients included, fresh chopped cilantro, olive oil, soy sauce, fresh squeezed orange and lime juice, minced garlic cloves, a diced jalapeno, ground cumin, Kosher salt, ground black pepper marinated for 24 hours with a flank steak. The steak was seared at 650 degrees for about 5 minutes a side along with jalapeno peppers roasting on top of the steak. Topped off with fresh minced cilantro and a modicum of fresh squeezed lime juice. Accompanying the meal was Mexican rice and a fresh garden salad.

Truly a wonderful food and wine pairing last evening.




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