Wines at Altitude – Carmenere and Malbec

Jan 27, 12 Wines at Altitude – Carmenere and Malbec
South American wines at Altitude

The tasting was on 29th floor of Millbank Tower in Central London (pic via Santa Rita Estates)

I don’t hate Carmenere. It’s often referred to as the “marmite” of wine, you either love it or hate it. I fall into the ambivilent category, neither hating it nor loving it. I was given a little more insight into carmenere when I participated in a wine workshop sponsored by Santa Rita Estates, a premium Chilean producer, which sought to shed a bit more light on not only the wines of Chile but also it’s neighbour, Argentina and it’s flagship grape, Malbec.

I participated only in the red wine tasting of the seminar but there was a white wine tasting in the morning. The Carmenere tasting was lead by Tim Atkin MW, Brian Croser and Peter Richards MW with Panellists Andres Ilabaca and Sebastian Labbe. Peter Richards MW noted that carmenere is still relatively new and that it needs more time and that he has “…no doubt that quality will increase in time. Lots of different kinds of Carmenere will emerge, as it’s a naturally varied variety…”

Sebastian Labbe, Edgardo del Popolo & Peter Richards MW

Sebastian Labbe, Edgardo del Popolo & Peter Richards MW (pic via Santa Rita Estates)

Viña Casa Silva, Santa Rita Estates, Carmen Winemakers, and Concha y Toro were all on show, an mix of 2008 and 2009 vintages. What was most evident was the slight green notes of the wines and the tannins. I also found that there was a coffee bean character to them, but I liked that! The standout was not surprisingly a blend, 85% carmenere, 10% carignan and 5% cabernet the 2009 Apalta by Carmen Winemakers. Carmenere seems to work best when blended and this wine was fresh, spicy and full of fruit. The added varities seemed to give the wine a lift and extra dimension. Carmenere is still a work in progress for the Chileans.

A few of the wines on tasting

A few of the wines on tasting

After a short break we reconvened for Malbec. I’ve drunk a lot of malbec, mostly in Argentina, so I was looking forward to tasting these wines. Colome Estate, Bodega Noemia, and Dona Paula were all on tasting. Salta is one of the highest altitude wine producing regions in the world, if not the highest and it is here that Colome Estate produces their malbec. The 2009 was full rich and warm, well balanced with a streak of acidity running down it’s backbone. The winemakers had added a small bit of tannat, cabernet and petit verdot all of which added a bit of ballast for the wine, not letting the fruit run away with it.

All of the malbecs showed bright fruit, floral noses and elegant bodies, these are some serious wines being made from the Argentine soils. It was very nice to not be battered down by jammy ripe fruit and tannins softer then a goosedown pillow which is sadly often what we get from the supermarket. The most interesting wine of the tasting was a wine grown on alluvial soil, the Dona Paula Alluvia Parcel 2010. Savoury and intense, very spice notes and hints of rosewater on the nose, not at all what you would expect from an Argentine malbec. The only downside I would say is the price. If you’re used to paying under a tenner, you won’t get any of these wines. Some were topping out at £90 with others costing around £40-£50.

All in all an enlightening day of carmenere and malbec, both showing sides of themselves that I have previously not known. Santa Rita Estates deserves a pat on the back for bringing not only their wines but also wines from competitors to the forefront and giving we here in the UK the chance to see and taste the difference for ourselves.

Carmenere. Love it or Hate it? Tell me about your experiences with carmenere or any other Chilean wine for that matter.


  1. Nice article. I’m glad that Carmenere and Malbec are getting more press. I am planning a trip to Chile and Argentina in May. We will definitely be trying Carmenere and Malbec!

    • If you are in Argentina, look out for their Cabernets and cabernet blends. The Argentines much prefer them to malbec. Malbec is really their export wine, they keep the good stuff for themselves. Enjoy your trip! I love it there 🙂


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