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Taste Explorations #3 - Carménère, Tannat and Bonarda: South America's Unsung Heroes

Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely love finding new and exciting things to try, whether it be food and drink or even a new sporting venture (more to follow, keep your eyes peeled). So, you can imagine my wine-nerdy excitement when I discovered what are now three of my absolute favourite grape varieties: Carménère, Tannat and Bonarda. Not only do they create some delicious wines but each one comes with an intriguing little back story and can even be likened to another better-known grape variety. If, like me, you always on the lookout for your next exciting experiment, read on and find out about these underrated grapes and what they can offer.

Fans of Merlot will love Carménère - but those of you who say no to Merlot should also give this guy a go. Bursting with rich red fruit flavours, sometimes smoke and earthiness and quite often a dark chocolate/tobacco like note, I often like to refer to Carménère as Merlot with a bit more "oomph". Thought to have originated in the Médoc region of Bordeaux as one of the original six grapes of Bordeaux, cuttings of Carménère were taken to Chile by growers from France in the mid 1800's just before the Europe's vineyards were devastated by Phylloxera. Thought to have been wiped by the evil vine killing bug Carménère was confused with Merlot in its travels across the pond and forgotten about for 150 years. Until 1994, when Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot - an expert in the study and classification of cultivated varieties of grape - was wandering among a plot of vines thought to be Merlot and spotted characteristics not usually found on Merlot vines but instead Carménère. Almost overnight there was a boom in Carménère's popularity and now 98% of the world's plantings can be found in Chile. A great pairing with Carménère would be a quality piece of Gouda: the nuttiness of the cheese alongside the rich chocolatey notes in the wine creates a really sexy mouthfeel that leaves you wanting more and more... and more.

When I decided to write about Bonarda I didn't expect to be met with such a confusing back story. As far as I understand (and please feel to correct me) the South American Bonarda in question is a grape variety variously known as Douce Noir/Corbeau/Charbono, and originating from the Savoie region of France, and before that in Italy... However, it is not to be confused with the Bonarda of today's Italy which, in typically confusing Italian style, is the name for three different varieties found throughout the country. If you're not following, worry not! For the most important part is how it tastes, and should you try it. Well, it tastes delicious and yes you should try it! Very similar to Argentina's claim to fame, Malbec, and only second to it in the amount planted in the country, Bonarda typically shows fruit-forward flavours of blueberry, sweet plums and the good expressions have earthy notes of all-spice and cloves. With less tannin than Malbec it's a real glugger!

And finally, on to Tannat. You can find its roots in a small town in south-west France called Madiran where you will find wines famously high in tannins. Much like the history of Carménère, Tannat was taken to South America in the late 1800's to escape Phylloxera, in the present day Tannat is considered Uruguay's national grape. Having spread over to Argentina where the grapes are grown at a very high altitude you can expect to find lower levels of tannin and more influence on fruit forward wines. Still, a full bodied Tannat will pair perfectly with rich red meats: think Rib-eye steak or beef stew, and for the non-meat eaters among you go for a dish with lentils and a rich tomato-based sauce! What's more, this grape variety has high levels of antioxidants contained within its skins, so drinking Tannat can actually make you healthier! (not scientifically proven..._

Date: 11/04/2018 | Author: Aljoscha Wright