Carmenère: Still the Best Red Wine Value

Carmenere Grapes
Carmenere Grapes

Carmenère deserves more recognition that it gets.  Of all South American wines, Carmenère stands out to me as the most distinctive and enjoyable, especially in the first five years of life which is when the vast majority of all wines are consumed, and as an added bonus, well made Carmenère ages gracefully to perfection for up to a decade or more.  Critics and writers sing the praises of Carmenère, especially from top producers such as Casa Silva, Carmen, and Errazuriz, and every time I bring a fine Carmenère to a tasting or share it with friends, it’s a hit among young and old.  When asked why they don’t drink more Carmenère, the usual retorts sound something like these:  “I didn’t know what it was” or “I never had one before, so I was afraid to try it.”  Adam could have exercised a bit more caution when handed the apple, but when it comes to wine, let’s be more audacious!  And to help dispel the mystery surrounding Carmenère, it’s safe to say that it is close to being the missing link of Bordeaux varietals, and that link now thrives in Chile. 

Although still one of the six legal red Bordeaux grape varietals and in evidence at a few Bordeaux châteaux among a sea of Merlot and Cabernet, Carmenère has not figured prominently in Bordeaux since the advent of phylloxera in the 19th century.  Brought to Chile in the 19th century before the dreaded vine disease, Carmenère was mistaken for a clone of Merlot until the 1980s, and perhaps this is the reason it languished in relative obscurity, though it’s hard to believe that one of Bordeaux’s six legal red grape varietals could be misidentified for so long, but then the truth is nearly always stranger than fiction.  So, what does Carmenère have going for it?  Plenty!  Let’s start with Carmenère’s deep purple color, followed by a hedonistic aroma: savory red and black fruit flavors, deft touches of bell pepper, black pepper, dark chocolate, coffee and spice.  But best of all, Carmenère’s tannins are smoother than those of Cabernet and its other Bordeaux compatriots.  Most of all, people enjoy it, especially after it’s had a few minutes to breathe.  But never judge a Carmenère on first sip; any good Carmenère needs a few minutes of aeration to undergo metamorphosis in the glass.  One doesn’t have to wait years to enjoy this varietal, but allow it a little time in the glass to collect itself, and enjoy!


photo credit: Carlos Varela via photopin cc

Don’s June Collector Series Top Pick

thomas alexander le tigreFor me June’s Collector Series Top Pick is tougher than usual.  We are offering three distinctly different wines this month with little in common, except quality.  Variety is after all the spice of life and quality wines are exactly what most avid wine drinkers spend endless hours searching for as if shopping for wine were a quest for the Holy Grail.   Even though I am enamored of all three wines for different reasons, a choice has to be made.  So this month’s Top Pick goes to Thomas Alexander’s 2010 Le Tigre, a rare California blend of Syrah and Grenache of just 175 cases that was bottled un-fined and un-filtered.  This is a wine that manages to deliver rich California fruit along with the finesse and charm of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  In short, this wine’s quality, singular expression and scarcity earn it this month’s Top Pick.   Taste and see for yourself!


Ahi Tuna & Edamame on Won Ton Crisps

The spread and crisps can be made ahead, so this appetizer comes together fairly quickly just before serving. Baking the won tons skins instead of frying them minimizes the amount of oil and keeps the crisps from curling up. The meaty tuna – lightened by the puree – pairs well with brut rosé sparkling wine and lighter-style Pinot Noir.

Ahi Tuna & Edamame on Won Ton CrispsEdamame Spread

  • 8 ounces frozen shelled edamame
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, to taste
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil, or as needed
  • Kosher salt to taste

Won Ton Crisps

  • 12 (square) won ton skins (see Note)
  • Canola oil, or pan spray
  • Kosher salt, to taste


  • 1 6- to 8-ounce rectangular block of sushi-grade ahi tuna
  • Canola oil, as needed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Japanese seaweed and sesame seed furikake (see Note)
  • Vegetable oil as needed

Garnishes (optional)

  • Tobiko caviar
  • Black and/or toasted white sesame seeds
  • Cilantro leaves


For the Edamame Spread:

Cook the frozen edamame according to package directions. Drain well. Add the garlic and vinegar to a food processor and pulse to combine. Add enough oil to make a fairly smooth, moderately thick paste. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before serving. The puree can be made 1 to 2 days ahead. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Save leftovers for another use.

For the Crisps:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut a dozen won ton skins in half diagonally. You will have extra crisps, which are good to have on hand in case of breakage. Save the remaining won ton skins in the package for another use.

Place the won ton triangles on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with oil or lightly coat with pan spray; sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Cool thoroughly, then place in an airtight container or plastic bag. These can be made a day ahead. Makes about 2 dozen.

For the Tuna:

About 2 hours before serving, season the tuna with salt and pepper to taste; roll all sides in the furikake, pressing it onto the tuna.

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; coat lightly with oil. Add the tuna and sear on all sides, about 10 seconds per side. Clean out the pan as needed between searing each side if any loose furikake flakes start to burn.

Remove the tuna from the skillet and place the tuna in the freezer to thoroughly chill and partially freeze, which makes it easier to slice evenly, about 45-60 minutes.

To Assemble:

Remove the tuna from the freezer and slice it about 1/8 -inch thick. Spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the edamame mixture on each won ton crisp; top with a slice of tuna and a light sprinkle of salt, then garnish as desired.

Note: Packaged won ton skins are located near tofu in the refrigerator case of most markets. Furikake – a Japanese condiment – can be found in Japanese markets and some Asian grocers.

Recipe and photo from

Don’s June Premier Series Top Pick

herdade-de-gambia-2012For several reasons my Premier Series Top Pick this month belongs to Portugal’s 2012 Herdade de Gambia Peninsula de Setubal.  We have searched long and hard for wines from Portugal that offer true value, yet represent the heart and soul of Portugal.  In the sustainably made 2012 Herdade de Gambia we found the red wine we were looking for.  This wine offers concentrated aromas of wild blackberry and mulberry, exotic spices, and vanilla that will captivate the nose.  In the mouth the wine shows its authority and weight, offering a spate of spicy complex flavors as well as remarkable balance and elegance.  Silky smooth tannins add structure but no biting astringency.  Made primarily from Portugal’s signature red grape, Touriga Nacional, Herdade de Gambia expresses the region’s natural setting (the winery and vineyards are surrounded by a nature preserve) as well as the heart and soul of Portugal.  Enjoy!


Sustainable Wine: What’s that?

6979329968_5220a907da_bAfter decades of treating viticulture like a chemistry experiment, wine growers have been steadily moving away from chemical intervention in favor of more sustainable methods of viticulture.  And it’s about time.   Less is often more in the growing and making of wine, and healthier for the planet as well as the wine drinker.  That’s not to say that all chemicals are bad because let’s face it, if I get really sick I want a medicine that will make me better.  However, the best way to treat disease is through prevention and management of chronic ailments and the same is proving true in viticulture. Instead of spraying to prevent all insects from appearing in the vineyard, natural predators such as ladybugs are introduced to control the vine destroying pests.  And in place of chemical herbicides, soil enriching ground cover is sown beneath the vines and occasionally plowed under to invigorate the soil.

These and other sustainable agricultural practices lead to sustainability made wines.  That is wines made with the minimal amount of intervention in ways that preserve or even enhance the natural environment.  At The International Wine of the Month Club™, we value the time, effort, and cost that wineries make to produce sustainable made wines because such wines are better for us, the planet, and they typically taste better than their non-sustainable counterparts.

Although not all of the wines we feature are certified organic or biodynamic (both of which require expensive certifications and may at times prevent an occasional necessary intervention), the vast majority of the wines we choose to feature are sustainability made.  All of the Trinchero Family Wines from California are products of organic and or sustainable viticulture as are the following upcoming features from the Thomas Alexander, the Molnar Family, Herdade de Gambia, Eidos de Padrinan, Querciola, Le Potazzine, Chateau Margui, and Vinya Gormaz to name just a few.  Enjoy!