Carménère (“car-men-nair”) is a medium-bodied red wine that originated in Bordeaux, France and now grows almost only in Chile. The wine is treasured for its supple red-and-black berry flavors (in a similar style to Merlot) and herbaceous notes of green peppercorn. Originally, Carménère was thought to be Merlot when it was first transplanted into Chile. This case of mistaken identity is perhaps what saved Carménère from extinction when Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Bordeaux in the late 1800’s.
“Originally, Carménère was thought to be Merlot when it was first transplanted into Chile”
Carménère Wine Guide
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.
Carménère has many similarities in taste to Merlot.
Expect to Spend:
- $17 for a well-made example of Carménère
- $38 for an outstanding example of Carménère
Food Pairing with Carménère
Carménère makes an excellent everyday food pairing wine for several reasons. For one, its natural higher acidity make so it’s never lost when paired next to foods with higher acidity sauces (Cuban-style roast pork Lechon Asado anyone?). Another keen benefit is Carménère’s herbaceous peppercorn-like flavor that often embellishes roasted meats (from chicken to beef). Finally, the lower tannin in Carménère make it a friendly option for lighter, less fatty dishes. In short, this is one to keep around for just about everything. Still, make note of the keen matches to try with Carménère below:
- Chicken Mole, Carne Asada, Cuban-style Roast Pork, Roast Dark Meat Turkey, Beef Brisket, Beef Stew, Filet Mignon, Lamb w/ Mint, Lamb Stew
- Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack, Farmer’s Cheese, Cotija Cheese, Feta Cheese
- Green Peppercorn, Black Pepper, Red Chili Flake, Chipotle, Garlic, Cumin, Coriander, Thyme, Oregano, Chives, Lemon
- Olives, Stuffed Peppers, Roasted Peppers, Capers, Sautéed Garlic Kale, Black-eyed Peas, Black Beans, White Bean and Kale Soup, Pinto Bean Chile, Lentils
Chilean Wine Bottle Tips
- D.O. Wines: Chile’s wine classification system defines regions, sub-regions, zones and areas as D.O. (Denomination of Origin) to identify the origin of the grapes. In order to use D.O. on the label, 85% of the grapes must come from the defined origin.
- Estate Bottled: This label term can only be used if the winery and winery’s vineyards are located in the same D.O.
- What does Reserva, Gran Reserva, etc, Mean?: Reserva, Gran Reserva, Gran Vino, Reserva Especial, Reserva Privada, Seleccion and Superior are allowed on Chilean wine labels, however they do not have a specific definition or quality requirement. Be sure to look into the wine’s tech sheets if you want to understand the blend, aging information, and technical data to estimate the wine’s potential quality.
Detailed Carménère Information
Maipo is the northernmost region of the Central Valley Region. Quality Carménère from this area is somewhat lighter with lovely floral notes of cherry, hibiscus and rose with a subtle petichor/granite-like minerality.
The Cachapoal Valley tends to produce Carménère wines with a balance between sweet and sour cherry fruit along with the characteristic herbal green peppercorn note. Wines often have heightened acidity which indicates this region could produce age worthy wines.
- Peumo: Wines from Peumo are consistently rated amongst the very best Carménère from Chile. The region is one of the oldest wine producing areas in Chile. Carménère wines here have a more full-bodied style with sweet red berry aromas and heightened alcohol. Carménère wines from Peumo have been shown to age 15 or so years.
You’ll find that most Carménère on the market today hails from Colchagua Valley. Most wines will exhibit rich raspberry sauce aromas along with a distinct green peppercorn herbal note. However, the region is quite varied in style from the coast to the foothills of the Andes.
- Apalta: Within Colchagua valley is a sub-region called Apalta, which is located in the transverse range between the Andes and the ocean. Carménère wines from this area produce more structured tannin and are often oaked to reveal sweet raspberry notes and very little herbaceousness. The region is home to just 6 wineries as the rest is protected forest land.
Wines labeled with Rapel Valley are made with grapes that can hail from both Colchagua and Cachapoal Valleys.
Things to pay attention to when buying Carménère
- Carménère wines with blackberry, black plum or other black fruit flavors almost always contain about 10–15% of another wine variety blended in (Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common). This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, the blended wines consistently outperform in ratings compared to the 100% single-varietal Carménère wines.
- Be sure to pay attention to vintage when buying more affordable Carménère. While the top-tier Carménère wines are consistent year after year, the more affordable options can develop a bitter kale-like note on less-than-stellar vintages. The 2013, 2011, 2010 and 2008 vintages are great.
- The wines from the valley (Entre Cordillas) and coastal (Costa) areas tended to have less acidity, taste richer and have more color than the wines from the Andes areas. The wines from the Andes tended to be more floral with great length in the finish due to the heightened acidity. So, if you tend to prefer a lighter more elegant style, keep your eyes peeled for higher elevation, Andes wines and vice versa.