Carmenere is a red grape know for it’s intense crimson colour, who’s name comes from the word Carmin, which means crimson. It is an old grape, known to have been brought to Bordeaux by the Romans, where it was one of the 6 main grapes in the production of red wine. It had reached as far as Italy and Chile by 1850, but was never a favourite as it was always a difficult grape to produce, suffering from mildew, late flowering, slow ripening and low yields. In the 1870s the disease mite Phyloxera basically wiped Carmenere out in Bordeaux, particularly as it responded poorly to grafting, the cure to the problem.
Thankfully it had already been planted in Chile in the 1850s and, as Phylloxera touched very few of Chile’s vineyards, it thrived. Until around 1996 it was believed to be part of the Merlot family and, as such, was used alongside the Merlot grape to produce a more robust Chilean Merlot. Finally it’s heritage was solved and it was identified as a Cabernet family member. It’s recognition as such by the Government led to it’s establishment firmly in the Chilean range of wines.
Carmenere grows mainly in the Central Valley regions and has become synonomus with Chile. It’s long growing season produces high sugars and the skins its deep crimson colour. The tannins are softer and gentler than the normal Cabernet grape, making a younger style and earlier drinking red. The aromas are very much of red berries and spice, which give a warm fruit flavoured style, from cherry to blackcurrants and plums. It has smoky, spicy flavours with hints of chocolate, tobacco and black pepper and a good warming finish.
Carmenere is grown in small volumes in other parts of the world, in Italy & California. The growth in Chile also encouraged the Australians to try it, and after quite a challenging time Carmenere is beginning to emerge from the Geelong area in Victoria. In New Zealand vines were imported and planted in the Warkworth areas north of Auckland – what was ordered as Cabernet Franc was discovered in 2006 to be Carmenere.
At present Chile still has almost the monoply, and remains the only serious region for Carmenere. Here it goes from strength to strength, and the Chileans take immense pride in the fact that its uniquness has evolved through their expertise. Santa Luz in the Colchuagua Valley won a Gold medal for their Carmenere at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.
Carmenere is a delicious glass of red wine more than capable of supporting food. It’s character can accompany most smoked, grilled, or roast meats including chicken, veal, pork , lamb, and beef. It also goes well with spicy dishes and hard cheeses . Served at just below room temperature Carmenere has developed a unique character of its own, and a following that is being added to daily. It has great future potential and at excellent value it’s a must try.