Wine Word: Carmenère

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This week I am traveling in Chile and Argentina, so I thought I would fill you in on Chile signature grape Carmenère.

How much do you know about this grape variety?

Firstly, Carmenère is a thick skinned, late ripening black grape variety that makes deeply colored wines, which often have a signature herbaceous or soy sauce tang.

The Origin of Carmenère — France not Chile: While most associated with Chile, Carmenère is in fact native to Bordeaux. The grape was widely cultivated in the Médoc as far back as the early 1700’s. However, between the destructive outbreak of Phylloxera that ravaged Europe’s vineyards, plus Carmenère’s inherent fruit set and ripening challenges, the grape all but disappeared from France.

Chilean Merlot or Carmenère: Almost two hundred years later Carmenère emerged as part of a field blend in Chile in the mid 1900s. In fact for a long time producers in Chile did not know what it was and assumed it was a variant of Merlot, calling it Chilean Merlot. It was in 1997 that DNA analysis confirmed the grape as in fact Carmenère and not Merlot.

Carmenère wines: Today, according to Wines of Chile there are almost 22,000 acres of Carmenère planted in Chile. Wines produced are either varietal Carmenère or blends where it partners with Cabernet Sauvignon and or Merlot. Wines are not as firmly tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon or as fleshy as Merlot – sitting somewhere in between in terms of structure. Flavors are typically spicy with an underlying savory soy and herbaceous note with dark plummy-blackberry fruit.

(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga/Shutterstock)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.