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  • Writer's pictureMolly Jean

Molly's Meal Match: Carménère

I am sure many of you have heard of France's noble grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. But did you know that the red headed step child Carménère once was included in this exclusive clique? And yes, I said step child, more accurately I should have said half-sibling. Carménère shares the same parent grape (Cabernet Franc) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernet Franc has actively pursued many grape partners and has created some phenomenal off-spring. But, realizing you and your bestie have the same dad is a little unsettling. What happened at that key party Cab Franc?

It was after the Ted Bundy of louse (Phylloxera) massacred all grape vines in Bordeaux, that Carménère was booted out of the Noble Grape club and not re-planted. It was too hard to grow and ripened roughly a month later than its constituents - causing a delay in harvest and a challenge in blending. As a result grape farmers let the grape native to the Southwest of France, go extinct.

Prior to the 19th century grapevine devastation in Europe, untainted Vitis Vinifera were transported to South America. The new opportunity to vinify "clean" Bordeaux varietals, influenced many European winemakers to relocate to the region for work. Ultimately, bringing talented winemakers to Chile to establish wineries and allow a new wine market to emerge.

Throughout this time, people noticed the Merlot in Chile was incredibly peppery. The wine was bold, tannic and enjoyable, but it lacked some of the fruit forward notes commonly found in Bordeaux Merlot. Was it perhaps the terroir of the region? The soil in Chile is much more sandy and comprised of granite, volcanic rock and schist. Regardless of the different soil type, the taste of the wine still did not seem right.

A DNA test conducted in the late 1990's found that 50% of the grapes said to be Merlot in Chile were misidentified. This funky tasting Merlot was in fact the lost grape - Carménère! While it was presumed extinct, the grape was actually preserved for 150+ years in Chile. Without this perfect sequence of events, we may not be able to enjoy this wine in a single varietal.

Since this time, Carménère has found its place in several different regions including, China, Argentina, Croatia, Brazil, New Zealand, and the United States. I have had my fair share of Carménère from Chile and Washington State, but I look forward to trying this varietal from these other regions.

The uniqueness of this varietal allows for exciting and daring pairings. The medium tannin, bright acidity and peppery profiles make it great to pair with roasted meats from chicken to beef (chorizo, sausage, pork), anything seasoned with cumin, herbs, tomato based sauces, spice, tacos, BBQ, empanadas, beans, hard cheeses, Tex-Mex, and Cuban-style dishes.


Flavors + Aromas

Primary (grape and alcoholic fermentation):


Red Fruit: raspberry, red cherry

Black Fruit: black plum, blackberry

Green Fruit:

Citrus Fruits:

Stone Fruits:

Tropical Fruits:

Herbaceous: green bell pepper

Herbal: eucalyptus

Spice: pepper, paprika, white pepper, green peppercorn

Fruit Ripeness: ripe, dried, cooked

Other: granite

Secondary (post-fermentation winemaking):

Oak: vanilla, coffee, cocoa powder

Tertiary (maturation/aging):

coffee, tobacco, leather

*Cellar for 5 - 15


Chimichurri Flank Steak

(Martinez & Martinez Carménère, 2016)

This smooth, lightly peppered Carménère has well balanced acidity with delicious black cherry aromas. The flavors of the wine create a delicious partner for this Chimichurri topped steak. The steak is lean, yet juicy - the perfect vehicle for the oily and herbaceous tang of the Chimichurri. These flavors and textures soften the tannin on the palate and enhance the fruity, floral aromas of the wine.


1. In a large flat dish or a Ziplock bag, combine the ingredients for the flank steak. Marinate the steak in a refrigerator for 5 hours, flipping 1/2 through.

2. Pull the steak out 30 minute prior to cooking, to bring to room temperature.

3. Meanwhile make the Chimichurri. In a small bowl combine: avocado oil, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, juice of 1 lemon, shallot, parsley, oregano. Set aside. 4. Bring your grill to high heat. Once it's up to temp, throw your steaks on the grill. After 5-7 minutes, flip the steaks and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

5. Pull the steaks and let them rest for 5 minutes.

6. Serve warm, with Chimichurri.


​Flank Steak

Dry Goods:

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/4 avocado oil

red pepper flakes (to taste)

salt & pepper (to taste)

​Dry Goods:

2/3 cup avocado oil

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp red wine vinegar


1 tbsp oregano

2 handfuls fresh parsley (choppped)

1 large shallot

1 lemon juiced

Refrigerated Goods:

1 lb flank steak


1/2 lemon (juiced)


4 cloves (minced)


Tex-Mex Skillet

(Reininger Carménère, 2018)

This loaded skillet is a flawless pairing for a wine that encapsulates peppery, spicy and juicy qualities. This Reininger Carménère is bold, with a strong tannin and aromas of eucalyptus that are enhanced by the garnishes of the cilantro, avocado & sour cream. It's a hearty dish with bright flavors, in need of an equally dynamic wine.


1. In a large pan, warm a tbsp of avocado oil. Add in the diced chicken seasoned with salt & pepper. Cook the chicken on medium-high, using a a lid to cover the chicken. Cook for 15 minutes, or until completely cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan warm 1 tbsp of avocado oil. Add in the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the chipotle seasoning and salt & pepper to taste. Stir to ensure coverage.

4. Add in the corn, tomatoes, black beans, zucchini and cooked chicken.

5. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Sprinkle with cheese, cover for a few more minutes - until the cheese melted.

7. Serve warm, topped with green onion, cilantro, avocado and sour cream.



​Dry Goods:

2 tbsp avocado oil

15 oz black beans (drained)

15 oz fire roasted tomatoes (diced)

15 oz whole kernel corn (drained)

1 tbsp chipotle chili seasoning

salt & pepper (to taste)

​Refrigerated Goods:

1 lbs boneless-skinless chicken breast

8 oz shredded Colby Jack cheese

sour cream (garnish)


2 zucchini (diced)

2 bell peppers (red & green - diced)

1 avocado

1 onion (diced)

4 cloves of garlic (minced)

1/2 cup green onions (diced)

1/2 cilantro (reserve some for garnish)


Completo Italiano

(Porta Carménère Reserva, 2020)

If you are looking for a quick and easy dinner, that fulfills your mature palate while requiring elementary cooking skills - this is it! This traditional Chilean street fare is meant to be paired with a Chilean Carménère. The wine is peppery, with a leathery tannin and dark fruit flavors of blackberry and plum, juxtaposed by bright notes of raspberries. The fattiness of the avocado, mayo and beef is balanced by the acidity and tang of the sauerkraut and diced tomatoes. It maintains a balance that impersonates that of the wine.


1. Heat your grill to high heat.

2. Meanwhile, core the avocados and lightly mash in a bowl with a pinch of salt.

3. Cook your franks based off of your package instructions (cooked-through and hot)

4. Before building your Completo Italiano, lightly toast your buns on the grill.

5. Build your delicious dog!

bun > frank > diced tomato > sauerkraut > avocado > mayo > sprinkle of red pepper flakes



Dry Goods:

hoagie rolls


salt (to taste)

red pepper flakes (to taste)

Refrigerated Goods:

sausage franks (Hempler's Bun Busters)



2 avocados

4 tomatoes (diced - Campari or Roma)


Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

(Carmen Gran Reserva Carménère , 2019)

Pairing Carménère with an acidic and slightly spicy pasta dish is a delectable decision. Puttanesca is a simple sauce made with tomato, olives, garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes! The spice and mouthwatering acidity of the sauce compliments the tannin in wine, while the oiliness enhances the aromas of cooked plums and blackberry jam. There is also unique iron quality to the wine, that mimics the flavors of the Kalamata olives in the sauce. This dish serves 4, but can be devoured by 2!


1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

2. Meanwhile in a large sauce pan, warm avocado oil. Add in minced garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovy paste. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.

3. Stir in the capers, 1/2 of the olives and the dry white wine. Cook for a few minutes.

4. Add in the tomatoes and the oregano. Bring to a gentle simmer and maintain the simmer for 15 minutes, regularly stirring.

5. Add the noodles into the sauce using tongs and toss in the sauce with the fresh parsley.

6. Serve warm, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano and the remaining olives.



Dry Goods:

1/4 cup of avocado oil 4 tsp anchovy paste 1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp capers 1/2 cup Kalamata olives 1 tbsp dried oregano 1/4 cup of dry white wine 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes 16 oz spaghetti noodles

Refrigerated Goods:

Parmigiano Reggiano (for garnish)

Produce: 6 cloves of garlic (minced) 1/4 cup Italian parsley (choppped)


I hope you enjoyed learning about Carménère and checking out these pairing suggestions. If you have feedback, comments, or questions please feel free to comment below, post to The Wine Tails Facebook Page, or message me on Instagram. Thank you Wine Simple, Wine for Normal People, The Wine Bible, and Wine Folly for providing me with amazing research materials. Follow along with The Wine Tails Pinterest page to see what gets me motivated and gives me inspiration for these pairings. Cheers and happy sipping!

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