Follow by Email

Monday, November 5, 2012

Carmenere---Chile’s “Lost” Superstar Grape from Bordeaux

                     Chile's dramatic vineyards with the Andes looming in the background

Carmenere is Chile’s signature red varietal.  Unless you’ve been to Chile you may not know this delightful wine as the grape is rarely grown outside of the country.  Even if you’ve been to Chile, you probably don’t know that carmenere was brought over in the early 1800’s from Bordeaux.  In the last part of the 19th century, however, all the vineyards in Bordeaux were wiped out by a bug called phylloxera*.  Bordeaux vineyards were not replanted with carmenere as the varietal had problems with ripening, as well as it often produced low yields.  Carmenere was thought to have been extinct.

That might have been the last word on carmenere unless a team of French scientists visiting Chile in the early 1990’s had not been troubled by the appearance and character of Chile’s merlot.  Upon careful analysis with D.N.A., it was revealed that much of the merlot planted in Chile was actually carmenere...traceable most likely to the cuttings that were brought over pre-phylloxera.

The name "carménère" in fact originates from the French word for crimson which refers to the wine's deep red color.   Carmenere is a member of the cabernet family of grapes, but its tannins are gentler and softer than cabernet sauvignon which means that carmenere is far more approachable while its young.   Paralleling its cabernet lineage, carmenere’s aromas and flavors include red fruit, spice and berries, but dark chocolate, tobacco and leather nuances may also be present. 

Carmenere is imported into the US and is becoming increasingly popular because of its terrific quality price ratio and because it can be drunk young.  Best producers?  I would suggest Casa Silva, Macquis and Montes Alpha (listed in alphabetical order, these are all under $15.)  Best year?  The 2009 was stunning and there’s plenty of it still around on places like, or 

Coming with us to Chile & Argentina for the harvest in March 2013?   There will be plenty of carmenere to sample, not only as a single varietal, but also blended with other grapes.  No doubt, you’ll return to the US as an aficionado of this lost varietal.

* If you want to learn more about phylloxera, check out my earlier posting on the bug that destroyed not only Frances’s vines, but all of Europe’s vineyards:

No comments:

Post a Comment