Carmenere and Curry: Wines of Chile at New York’s Michelin Indian Star, Devi

by Mark Thompson

EDGE Style & Travel Editor

Saturday June 25, 2011

Good things come to those who wait. That's the lesson of Carmenere. By now, nearly every oenophile worth his/her nose knows that Carmenere is the Chilean wine industry's signature grape.

The most indigo of all grapes, Carmenere disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century, ravaged by phylloxera, the native louse indigenous to North America. More than a hundred years later, the Bordeaux-born grape resurfaced, thanks to DNA analysis, which discovered Carmenere masquerading among Chile's Merlot vines.

More mellow than Malbec, Carmenere wines are less astringent than Cabernet Sauvignon - and prized for their velvety soft tannins. And not unlike the way Argentina appears to have claimed Malbec as its own, Chile has reclaimed Carmenere.

One of the primary and first producers of wines in the New World, Chile has been cultivating vineyards since the sixteenth century. And when European vineyards were decimated by phylloxera, it was Chile that saved the worldwide wine industry.

With nearly three thousand miles of coastline, Chile looks like a long brushstroke along South America's western edge. Bordered by mountains, desert, ocean, (and Antarctica) Chile has been, historically, immune to the phylloxera louse - and, like a bloodline running down Chile's center, there are nearly 300,000 acres of vineyards with more than 20,000 devoted to Carmenere.

Carmenere’s natural spiciness (along with that softness) makes this wine a perfect complement for Indian curry - and a recent wine tasting luncheon at Devi, one of Manhattan’s more innovative Indian restaurants, made for a very convincing argument about the compatibility of Chilean wine and Indian cuisine.

Named for the mother goddess, Devi is the only Indian restaurant in the States to have earned a Michelin star. Located near Union Square, the 75-seat restaurant opened in 1994 with Chef Suvir Saran and, today, is widely considered one of Manhattan’s top destinations for Indian cuisine - and for romance.

Too many people seem to feel that Indian cuisine is best married to beer - or perhaps tea. Such was not the case with an appetizer of bhel puri, a refreshing Indian salad of rice puffs, chickpea noodles, tamarind, mint, tomatoes, potatoes, and onion, which was paired with a Falernia Pedro Ximenez 2010. Named for the Spanish soldier who brought the grape to Chile, this dry white wine has brilliant mineral notes, making it as perfect for an aperitif by the pool as it was alongside the aromatic bhel puri.

Take down the name; this wine makes for a welcome host/ess gift - and at ten dollars, you can afford to bring two bottles.

The star of the luncheon was the Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009, which was served with maher methi / malai paneer and cashew curry. You’ve probably had a variant of this signature Indian dish - and alas, probably too often in take-out - but Devi’s version was richly layered with a creaminess and the depth of a mole sauce, and nicely complemented by a refreshing cucumber, radish, and green pepper salad.

What made this entree soar, however, was its immediate compatibility with the wine. Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere is smooth and silky, with a mouthfeel as seductive as Diana Krall’s voice. Velvety soft, the wine blossoms into something that you can’t keep your mind off - and your palate keeps begging for another sip. Smooth, and slightly smoky, the Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009 is rich with black fruit notes - and on this occasion, the perfect complement to the rich spiciness of Devi’s cashew curry.

Again, at this price point - fifteen dollars - you can afford to serve this wine at your next rooftop sunset cocktails party. Pair it with Indian cuisine - and smarten your friends.

Carmenere and curry - it’s the oenophile’s call of the summer.


(Also, as a side note, one of the joys of Chilean wines is that due to the wonderfully consistent Mediterranean climate, vintage is not nearly as important as it is in other parts of the winemaking world. In other words, a 2009 is most probably as good as a 2010 or 2007.)

Wines of Chile: Perfect for Summer and Curry

Falernia Pedro Ximenez Reserva 2010 / $9.99
Carmen Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2010 / $14.99
Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009 / $14.99
Falernia Carmenere Reserva 2007 / $14.99
Carmen Gran Reserva Petite Syrah 2008 / $14.99
Falernia Carmenere-Syrah Reserva 2007 / $12.99


Wines of Chile

Carmen Vineyards

Falernia Vineyards

Devi Restaurant

A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.