The label of the 2008 Root: 1 Carmenere from Chile's Viña Ventisquero winery (about $13 at supermarkets and wine shops) tells a tale we found intriguing. The claim is that making wine from grapes grown on original, ungrafted roots (most vines are grown on grafted rootstock) produces an especially complex varietal. We liked the idea and had to taste for ourselves. We're glad we did.
The deep red wine in this painted bottle is an earthy, elemental carmenere blended with just a touch of cabernet sauvignon and syrah for balance. Its aroma and flavors are, indeed, complex and richly satisfying. As we swirled and sniffed we were treated to subtly tantalizing dark plum and caramel with a hint of tobacco. If the first sip lived up to this olfactory preview we would have a winner in our hands.
It did. On the tongue, black plum and black currant blossomed and then a luscious burnt caramel kicked in, the whole underpinned by a tempering minerality attributable to the rocky soil on which the vines grow. Silky tannins give the wine a satisfyingly full body. The soft finish is not particularly long but it is intense, introducing a faint coffee note right at the end.
Ideally, we would drink this superior carmenere with a rare but crusty grilled New York strip steak set off by mushrooms sauteed in butter, red wine and garlic.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.