Daily Archives: July 14, 2013

The Armchair Sommelier: Drinking Carmenere with the Devil

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

This is the third installment of my summer 2013 guest blogging series with the theme “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. Today’s blogger is Kirsten, “The Armchair Sommelier“. Kirsten is married to a German and has spent considerable time in Germany, to be more precise, Bavaria. But that is not the reason why I asked her for a contribution to this series. As you will be able to tell from this post, she has a wonderfully chatty tone that keeps me floating right through her blog. It is a quality I enjoy a lot. She mixes information with impressions and keeps you entertained while at it. Most of all, I am drawn in by her awesome food and wine pairings, which have put me on a mission to get myself invited to her table. One of these days…Thank you, Kirsten!

Drinking Carmenere with the Devil

I always thought the Devil lived on a cul-de-sac in Hell.  He doesn’t.  He lives in a wine cellar at the Concha y Toro winery in Santiago, Chile.  A couple of years ago, I visited The Devil’s Cellar (El Casillero del Diablo).  The Devil and I hit it off, and before I knew it, we were drinking Carmenere together.

This is the Devil’s Cellar, and there’s the Devil, pitchfork and all.  This picture makes me think about that little kid from The ShiningRedrum  Redrum  Redrum.  Creeptastic.

So how did the Devil wind up living in a wine cellar in Chile? 

Don Melchor de Santiago Concha y Toro founded his eponymous winery in 1883.  Many of the first grapes he planted were vines he brought from Bordeaux.  That will be an important detail in about 4 paragraphs, so stay with me.

According to legend, over 100 years ago, Don Melchor hid some of his finest wines deep in his cellar.  Over time, some of those bottles started disappearing.  Don Melchor was convinced the locals were stealing his wine.  And, knowing the locals were a highly superstitious lot, he started a rumor that the Devil lived in his wine cellar . . . and the stealing stopped.  Cue dramatic music.

The bars on the cellar amuse me.  Like bars are going to keep the Devil inside.


The bars

Even without the Devil’s red party light, this kind of dark and creepy makes the hairs on the back of my neck twitch.  Would you steal the Devil’s wine??

The cellars

The cellars

When Don Melchor wasn’t hanging out in his wine cellar with the Devil, he and his family lived in this Devil-free manor house.  Not too shabby, eh?

The mansion

The mansion

After we emerged unscathed (mostly) from The Devil’s Cellar, our tour guide told us the story of the Carmenere grape – a story that reads like a CSI script.

Before phylloxera decimated French vineyards in the 1860s, Carmenere was considered one of the great red wine grapes of Bordeaux.  When French vineyards replanted with phylloxera-resistant North American rootstock, Carmenere didn’t take well.  And so it was written off as collateral damage — lost forever.  Nobody even bothered to put Carmenere’s picture on a milk carton.

BUT . . . rewind.

Back in the 1850s, some pre-phylloxera Carmenere vines had been exported to Chile.  People in Europe forgot all about those vines because they were so distracted by the phylloxera plague.  Don Melchor planted some of those Carmenere vines at Concha y Toro.  And because Chile’s terroir is largely immune to phylloxera, Carmenere survived . . . and thrived.

But Carmenere can’t catch a break.  Somehow, the Carmenere got lost in a Merlot vineyard, and everyone just thought it was Merlot.  Whose job was it to babysit the Carmenere vines?  My money is on the Devil.

Can you find the Carmenere?

Carmenere Vineyards

Carmenere Vineyards

Chilean wineries unwittingly sold and marketed Carmenere as Merlot for over 100 years.  Until about a decade ago, when a few folks with ultra-sensitive palates noticed that Chilean Merlot had stronger and spicier flavors than Merlot from anywhere else in the world.

Several DNA tests later, Chilean “Merlot” was identified as Carmenere.

Pre-phylloxera Carmenere.  Carmenere wasn’t extinct –- it had survived the phylloxera plague!  This is the viticultural equivalent of finding a dinosaur egg in your backyard.

Just to clarify, this is not the Devil.  This is the Devil’s Hostess.  She poured us a glass of Carmenere from The Devil’s Cellar.

Tasting Carmenere

Tasting Carmenere

And you know what?  Carmenere from the Devil’s Cellar is pretty tasty.  For a bargain red ($10ish US dollars), it’s tough to beat.  I’ve been buying Casillero del Diablo Carmenere as my party red for years now.  It’s not overly complex, but always reliable and fun.  It’s also widely exported, so you can find it almost anywhere.

Casillero del Diablo

Casillero del Diablo


So the next time you’ve got $10 burning a hole in your pocket, pick up a bottle of Casillero del Diablo Carmenere . . . and have a drink with the Devil!



Special thanks to Oliver at The Winegetter for inviting me to write a guest post for his blog.  I had fun writing it . . . I hope you have run reading it!

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