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Wine of the Day • 19 October 2020


Cellar of the Devil

Carmenere sounds like a Spanish variety.

After all, Carmen is a popular name for the female gender in Spanish speaking countries. Except Carmenere is identified with Bordeaux. Well, at least in the past, before phylloxera decimated the vineyards of France from the 1860s, reaching Bordeaux in the 1870s.

When replanting took place later, there was hardly any Carmenere left to graft onto imported American rootstock.

Carmenere

The quality of Carmenere was never in doubt. It was, however, relatively low yielding, late ripening and sensitive to coulure. The Bordelais were, therefore, not particularly perturbed by not reintroducing Carmenere, preferring Cabernet Sauvignon instead. The two varieties are related and, today, there is some Carmenere in Bordeaux in Saint-Emilion on the Right Bank.

Fortunately for the wine world, Chile imported Carmenere in the 1850s from Bordeaux before phylloxera struck. Except they thought it was Merlot. In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that the Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognised Carmenere as a distinct variety.

This was all thanks to Jean-Michel Boursiquot who in 1994, identified Carmenere in Chile.

Highly respected, I once interviewed the French professor of ampelography at the National School of Agronomy in Montpellier, since renamed Montpellier SupAgro.

Chile has the largest Carmenere plantings in the world, more than 8,000 hectares.

Casillero del Diablo is owned by Chile’s most famous, and largest, producer Concha y Toro.

Translated sometimes as “Cellar of the Devil”, the Casillero del Diablo winery is located in Pirque, a 30-minute drive from the capital Santiago. How the cellar became associated with the devil is the stuff of wonderful imagination.

In the 19th Century, Pirque was the summer residence of the wealthy Conch y Toro Family. Meals were enjoyed with bottles from their cellar. Except the patriarch and founder of the winery  Don Melchor de Concha y Torodiscovered that bottles when missing. Even though the cellar was locked.

Unable to find the culprit for the unexplained loss, the wily Don Melchor started spreading a rumour that the devil himself was living inside the cellar. The ruse worked because after that, bottles stopped disappearing.  

TASTING NOTES

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenere 2019 

Very aromatic and leaping with fruitiness. The intense, layered fruit includes blackcurrant cassis, mint, herbs and a hint of liquorice. Carmenere is the superstar variety of Chile. This outstanding red over-delivers BIG TIME! Delicious on its own and with roast chicken, roast pork, duck, lamb and beef.

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