Tasting T3.8 Chilean Reds Carignan and Carmenere

This tasting is focusing on two red grape varieties that Chile is making its own. Carmenere is well known as a Chile centric grape, what is less well known is their love of Carignan. Both grapes have their history in Europe. Carmenere originates from the Bordeaux region although it is now rarely found there. Carignan is of Spanish origin, most commonly planted in France, but spread throughout the Mediterranean.

It was back in early 2015 that Kim and I (with a couple of good friends) visited some vineyards in Chile. It was a wonderful trip and we tasted many truly interesting and great wines, so I have been looking forward to this tasting particularly.

One morning as we departed Santiago on our way to Valparaiso, our guide Jeanette from the Chilean Wine Lovers company had advised us not to have breakfast. Did we listen? Of course not. So we found ourselves just an hour after departure, roughly 10am, pulling off the road to a small hut like restaurant for breakfast Empanada’s and a Carmenere tasting.

In each of our tastings, we first taste all wines on their own then we taste them all again with food. So tonight, after our initial taste we will be devouring a selection of Authentic handmade Empanada’s from Carminito. https://www.caminitoempanadas.co.uk/  Apparently, they love Empanada’s.

To the grapes..

Carignan is an unlikely grape variety to be taken to a wine growers heart, but the history of the grape in Chile is quite unique. It all started with a particular area of Secano in Maule. The land was incredibly dry and poor with little nutrients in the soil. Farmers in the area eked out a living from olives and just two grape varieties Pais and Carignan with a few sheep and goats. Vineyards with old, low-yielding vines and traditional viticultural techniques were handed down from one generation to another but, as with many places, the older generations retired, the young generations moved away in search of a better life and the vineyards lay idle or lost altogether.

In 1990 a number of producers realized that some interesting wines could be made from these low-yielding old vines, particularly Carignan and set up an association (Vignadores de Carignan) to safeguard the remaining vineyards and viticultural know-how of the historical local producers. After much discussion ‘Vigno’ was born in 2010. There are rules to follow if you want to put Vigno on your label. First you must join the association, then..

  1. The grapes must be from dry-farmed, gobelet or bush trained vines that are at least 30 years old and be located in Maule Secano
  2. 70% or more (a recent change from 65%) of the blend must be Carignan, the other grapes must meet the same criteria.
  3. The wine must be aged for a minimum of two years.

Vigno has become a wonderful shared brand for many growers whose commitment to this joint ideal has saved an interesting area and wine from extinction. There are plans to develop the future of Vigno in terms of certification of vineyards and one assumes qualitative levels. For us, it is a lovely idea that we were introduced to on our trip.

Carmenere has become synonymous with Chile.

The Carmenere vine has been preserved in Chile over the last 150 years, where it was mistaken for a Merlot clone known as Merlot Selection as the leaves and grapes are very similar. It often contributed up to 50% of wines stated as Merlot giving them a unique flavour compared to other Merlots from around the world. Chilean growers believed this vine to be the clone of Merlot until 1994 when a French ampelographist correctly identified it. The Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognised it as Carmenere in 1998.

Carmenere’s strength is in a blend, but there are many interesting single varietal or Carmenere dominant blends. Chile now has the largest area of Carmenere under vine in the world and as such is the largest producer of Carmenere single varietal or blend dominant based wines.

The wineries are,

Bouchon Family Wines

In 1887 Emile Bouchon travelled by ship to Chile. He was hired as a winemaker’s advisor and over the years came to own an antique wine cellar in Colchagua valley. Now the 4th generation of the family work and run the company.

Garage Wine Company

A small wine company that started quite literally in a garage by Derek and Pilar. They believe in reviving old vineyards in marginalized Chilean communities and making coveted wines.


Pablo Morande was the first person to plant vines in the Casablanca valley, later in 1996 he founded Vina Morande. Often at the forefront of innovation, they were the first Chilean winery to make a late harvest wine and first to be 100% sustainable.

Viu Manent

Founded in 1935 when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-Garcia and his two sons Agustin and Miguel started Bodegas Viu in Santiago. In 1966 they acquired the Hacienda San carlos de Cunaco in Colchagua. Since 2000 Viu Manent has been led by the third generation of the family Jose Miguel Viu.

Casa Lapostolle

The Bournet Lapostolle family had business in wines and spirits since 1827. Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet visited and fell in love with Chile founding Casa Lapostolle in 1994. Today the business is headed by the seventh generation, Charles de Bournet.

Vina Errazuriz

Don Maximiano founded Vina Errazuriz in 1870. He planted the first French grapes in the Aconcagua valley. Kim and I had a fantastic lunch and wine tasting here courtesy of their good selves.

Tonight’s wines will be tasted by David, Harry, Kim and Jen.

The first three are all Carignan wines from the Vigno collective. Hence all are called simply Vigno.

The second three are all Carmenere dominant wines.

Bouchon - Vigno 2016

Apologies we did not manage to get a photo of the single bottle, it is the bottle on the far left of the photo above!

100% Carignan, aged in foudres for 12 months and bottle for 12 months.

Nose: Light to medium red on first viewing. Cherries, cherries, cherries… my lord cherries. Hints of vegetation like blackberry leaf and slight hints of eucalyptus.  

Palate: Red fruits on the palate with mountains of cherries. So precise and clean. Eucalyptus has definitely come through on the palate but it is not overpowering. A light bodied wine with moderate acidity, certainly this can still age for 3-4 years. Low tannin with a moderate finish. A very lovely start.

Garage wine Co –  Vigno 2016

Carignan with a smidgen of Mataro. Only 2389 bottles made. Dry-farmed by hand and horse, 70+ year old vines. Aged for two winters in barrels.

Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Deep red fruits and lots of cherries, starting to sense a theme here. This has more depth and intensity however with leather, stalks and farmyard hints coming through.

Palate: Sour cherries!! Wow this is intense. This really needs time to soften, this is very cherry. Unfortunately slightly overpowering at the beginning, however after we had left it open for a while and tried it with food it became much more open. (It had already been open for an hour before we tested it the first time!) Eucalyptus coming through, A medium body with high acidity (definitely one for ageing this!). Moderate tannins to assist the ageing process and a medium length finish. Make no mistake this was truly excellent, it just needs more time.

Morande - Vigno 2009

A blend of Carignan, Syrah and Chardonnay. Vines planted in the 1950’s. Aged for 24 months in foudres and oak barrels.

Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Well this is certainly different! Farmyard, cherries and red fruits in general coming through in spades. An extremely intense nose with eucalyptus and leather coming through as well.

Palate: Perfect red fruits and cherries on the forefront with beautifully integrated tannins. Perfect balance and structure, this is lovely. Farmyard and leather coming through towards the end. Medium-full bodied with high acidity, moderate tannin and a full length finish. This is a 2009 and can continue to age. We have one bottle of this left and will not be touching it for a while, the evolution is fantastic. Watch this space!

Viu Manent – El Incidente 2017

90% Carmenere, 8% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. Aged 85% in French oak Barrels (40% new) and 15% in concrete eggs for 19 months.

Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Intense notes on the forefront of black cherries, kirsch and black fruits. Eucalyptus again coming through but not overpowering. Some vegetation again on the nose with blackberry leaf.

Palate: Incredibly smooth wine, a perfect representation of the fruit from the nose. Slightly sweet and jammy, velvety in the mouth as well. Perfect balance and structure this truly was outstanding. A medium body with moderate acidity and tannin. This will certainly age for longer and will become even better for it. A medium length finish and what a finish!

Casa lapostolle – Clos Apalta 2016

64% Carmenere, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot.  Some vines planted circa 1915. Aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels

Nose: Deep red on first viewing. A bit closed on first smell, however after a while did open up. Kirsch, blackberries and hints of ripened stalks and blackberry leaf, almost garrigue style. A lot of potential already in this one.

Palate: Very smooth, very easy to drink. Lovely black fruits coming through, mixing well with leather and good integrated tannins. Hints of eucalyptus coming through and perfumed hint, like Parma violets but not nearly as strong. A medium body with moderate acidity and tannins. This will age very well and again only get better, already incredible. A moderate finish again leaving room for wanting more.

Errazuriz – KAI 2012

95% Carmenere, 5% petit Verdot.  Aged for 22 months in French oak, 47% new.

Nose: Deep red on first viewing. A very savoury nose, mushrooms, cooked fruits. Extremely earthy. Not quite forest floor, much more earth and vegetation. Tobacco coming through and we even had ‘wet autumn leaves’. Quite the difference from everything else we have had so far this morning.

Palate: Cooked fruits, leather, earthy notes. Fantastic. Balance and structure of the others are unmatched to this. Smooth and elegant, slight peppery heat. Full bodied with high acidity and moderate tannins. This will easily age for 5+ years but in all honesty would not push any further. A full length finish to cap off an extraordinary wine!


Extremely lovely tasting. I must admit I was unsure on what to expect here and to be honest I loved tasting these wines. I do not have a huge amount of knowledge in terms of Chilean wines, I have tasted many but not drank/enjoyed many. This was a really great tasting that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Of course the last two we tasted are extremely expensive and therefore should be top of the pile… however I think there might be a surprise in store for you all 😉

The scores:

Vigno (Bouchon) 2016 – 87 Points

Vigno (Garage Wine) 2016 – 90 Points

Vigno (Morande) 2009 – 91 Points

El Incidente 2017 – 94 Points

Clos Apalta 2016 – 93 Points

Kai 2012 – 96 Points

If you didn’t spot the surprise… the El Incidente surpassed all expectation and rose above the Clos Apalta. The Incidente was honestly incredible and for £30 an absolute bargain in my opinion. Of course nothing was going to beat the Kai. An astonishing wine.

Thank you as always for reading!

David & Harry

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