Red Wine Basics: Carmenere

Carmenere (Photo credit: Daquella manera)
Carmenere has been made popular by winemakers in Chile, where it grows in abundance; however it can trace its roots to Bordeaux, France. It is thought to have been one of the six original grapes of Bordeaux, also including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. 

Plague in Bordeaux
During the late 1800s, a terrible plague of phylloxera, a louse that primarily attacks grape vines, nearly sent Carmenere into extinction in Europe. After the plague, the grape never re-emerged as a large player in France. The grape variety was difficult to find and tough to cultivate. The cool climate of the Bordeaux region is not ideal for growing Carmenere, so the grape all but disappeared from its native home.

Carmenere Migrates to Chile
Carmenere found its way to Chile from France by accident. Chilean winemakers looking to import Merlot cuttings from France ended up importing a mix of Merlot and Carmenere. Unbeknownst to winemakers in Chile, it was processed along with Merlot grapes and bottled as Merlot. Chilean Merlot was known for its distinctive flavors actually provided by the Carmenere blend. In the mid-to-late nineties, Carmenere was finally officially discovered and recognized in Chile. Now the grape is celebrated as a native Chilean vine, and Chile is the top Carmenere producer world-wide. The grape is also grown in Italy and on a small scale in California and Washington.

As a Blend
Carmenere 2
Carmenere 2 (Photo credit: rgomez74)
The name Carmenere comes from the French word for crimson, carmin. Before the leaves drop in the autumn, Carmenere foliage turns bright crimson, inspiring its namesake. Carmenere is most commonly used in blends, usually in the company of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Carmenere helps round out the taste of these better known grape varieties.  

Flavors and Pairings
Carmenere varietals are generally medium bodied, with soft, rounded tannins. The wine exhibits fruity, smoky, spicy and earthy qualities. Dark chocolate, tobacco and leather are commonly detected flavors. Carmenere is best paired with red meats, pastas and grilled meats.

This completes my exploration of Carmenere. Join me next time for a discussion about Dolcetto, an Italian grape variety.

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Louise Bryant

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