Whenever The World of Wine Club shines the spotlight on Chile, you can bet that one of the featured varieties will be Carmenere.
Because it’s not one of the “famous” winegrape varieties, we herewith offer 10 fascinating (or at least mildly interesting) facts about Carmenere…
- Historically, Carmenere was one of the grapes used in crafting the great red blends of Bordeaux. But when Phylloxera devastated Bordeaux’s vineyards in 1867, Carmenere all but disappeared from that appellation.
- Fortunately, cuttings of Carmenere were brought into Chile prior to the Phylloxera outbreak, and the variety found a welcoming home there.
- Today, Carmenere is considered Chile’s signature red wine.
- The variety actually fares far better in Chile’s climate than it ever did in Bordeaux. The reason? It’s a late-ripening variety, and Bordeaux’s harvest season often is cut short by potentially damaging rains. In Chile, the growing season is longer and drier, enabling the Carmenere grapes to dependably attain full ripeness.
- Before going any further, it might be good to know that Carmenere is pronounced car-men-air.
- Like Cabernet Sauvignon, to which it is genetically linked, Carmenere wines possesses the structure and concentration that enable it to improve with time in the bottle.
- Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere has fairly sweet tannins, which makes it approachable at a younger age.
- For much if the 20th century, Carmenere was unknowingly intermingled with Merlot vines in Chile, which explains while Chilean Merlot had a distinct aroma and flavor spectrum; it did not taste like Merlot grown and made anywhere else. DNA “fingerprinting” in 1994 helped separate the Merlot from the Carmenere, enabling Carmenere to gain in stature.
- To the untrained eye, Merlot grapes and Carmenere grapes look very similar. Their leaves are slightly different in shape, and when young, Carmenere leaves are reddish in color, while Merlot’s are white. Other than that, they are easily confused for one another. In vineyards where the varieties are still intermingled, it’s important for the picking teams to accurately identify the vines because Merlot grapes attain full ripeness two to three weeks before Carmenere grapes.
- In the glass, Carmenere is noted for its spicy and fruitful aromas… its sweet, gentle tannins… and flavors reminiscent of cherries and lush blackberries. When aged in oak barrels, spice and vanilla accents often emerge, creating a very complex yet still easy-drinking wine.