The carmenere grape, considered one of the six original red grapes of Bordeaux, is rare in its native France these days but is thriving in Chile. If the Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2007 (about $9 at well-stocked wine shops and big-box liquor retailers) from Concha y Toro is any indicator, Chilean winemakers are putting it to very good use indeed.
The 2007 vintage is being celebrated in some quarters as one of the best for this immigrant grape. Our tasting confirms that this is an extraordinary wine for the price. If you can't find the 2007 on your retailer's shelf, you can go confidently for the 2006, which Wine Spectator scored at 86 points and Wine Enthusiast declared a "Best Buy." Both vintages drink smoothly, with a mouth feel somewhere between the silk of a merlot and the briar of a cabernet sauvignon. The 2007 shows notes of bell pepper, currant and tobacco with a satisfyingly medium-long finish and a structure that should repay cellaring for a couple of years.
Drink this modest beauty with mushrooms sauteed in the wine itself with shallots and herbs and topped with baked eggs, as we did, or bring on the steak and au gratin potatoes.
Next up: a beautifully balanced chardonnay that just happens to be organic.
By Colette and John Bancroft. Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor. John Bancroft is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.