Carmenere, Chile’s Favorite Grape

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Carménère is to Chile as Malbec is to Argentina. It’s a unique wine that was born in France, but never truly found its place there, instead finding fame and fortune in the climate of a South American country. Carménère is now considered the national grape of Chile, known as a great wine the world over for meat dishes and BBQs, but it wasn’t always so well known by the wine drinkers of the world.

History 

Carménère was born, like a majority of the world’s prominent grapes, in the French wine region of Bordeaux. A distant relative of Merlot, Carménère was used as both a blending grape for the region’s famous Bordeaux blend as well as to create its own single varietal wine. Like its cousin Malbec, the grape was finicky in the French climate, and it often had a difficult time growing. In fact, there would be many vintages where almost no Carménère was harvested at all. Following the Phylloxera plague of 1857 that wiped out a majority of Europe’s grapes, Carménère was considered extinct.

However, as luck would have it, just before Phylloxera would hit Europe, a few cuttings of Carménère happened to be imported to Chile, whose wine region was just getting started. The vines were planted around the valleys of Santiago and almost immediately began to flourish in the new climate, thanks chiefly to the sparse rainfall and hot days the region received, a contrast to the grape’s French home.

Carmenere profile

In the beginning, Carménère was blended with its cousin Merlot, but the Chilean winemakers soon realized the beauty of the grape’s flavors on their own, and began creating a single varietal wine. The grapes create a deep red wine that has flavors of cherries, blackberries and spice.  It’s a savory wine that has just a hint of bitterness at the end, making it ideal for dishes involving meat.

Profile

Most Carménère wines have striking aromas of raspberry sauce, sour cherry, green peppercorn and a granite-like minerality. On the more affordable end, you can expect to find Carménère wines with honest fruity red berry aromas and tart flavors of raspberry with a subtle bitter taste similar to kale. In fact, Carménère has many similarities in terms of body and texture to Merlot. On the higher end, the herbaceous bitter notes depart the scene in favor of sweet berries, refined light tannin and a bittersweet note, like cocoa powder.

Food Pairing

Matching Carmenere with wine and food pairings is easy. Carmenere naturally matches well with smoked, grilled or roasted meats, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and veal. Due to its character, it also holds up with and matches perfectly with some spicy dishes and strong, hard cheeses. (sourced from Vinepair.com and Winefolly.com)

Our Pick: 2014 De Martino Legado Reserva

De Martino Legado Reserva Carmenere

Extraordinary intensity, dark brooding fruit balanced elegant round tannins and a fresh mineralogy on the finish. Black licorice and earthy notes throughout. Delicious.

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Want to Learn About other Uncommon Varietals?

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