10 Cool Things to Know About Carménère Wine
Here are 10 drinking facts about Carménère wine that will help you get the most out of each sip.
Mark your calendar! Carménère Day is on November 24th!
Carménère will celebrate 20 years as an officially recognized variety in Chile in 2018. In 1996, Viña Carmen was the first winery in Chile to release a Carménère wine, but did so under the name of Grande Vidure, since the Carménère variety was not inscribed at the Ministry of Agriculture or approved by law until 1998.
See the wine day calendar for more wine days of the year.
Carménère is known for producing wines with red fruit flavors, along with an unmistakable pepper note.
Carménère contains higher levels of aroma compounds called pyrazines, which give wines like Carménère, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon subtle flavors of bell pepper, green peppercorn, eucalyptus, and even cocoa powder. Find out more about this impact aroma compound and what other wines have it in their taste profiles.
Wines labeled Carménère can contain up to 15% other grape varieties.
In Chile, a single-varietal wine is allowed to have up to 15% other grape varieties blended in with it. With Carménère, winemakers have discovered that a small percentage of Syrah or Petit Verdot makes the wine more lush!
- Wines noted for having blackberry, black plum, and blueberry notes usually have a percentage of other grapes blended in with the primary varietal.
- 100% Carménère wines generally have more red fruit flavors of raspberry and pomegranate along with the classic notes of green pepper and paprika.
Top-Rated Carménère Wines age well and typically cost between $50–$100.
Fine Carménère wines offer dense, ripe, and powerful flavors of plums, berries, and cocoa notes, along with a creamy mid-palate and fine-grained tannins. The best rated wines typically have boosted alcohol ranges in between 14.5–15% ABV and easily resemble fine Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon (with softer, more gentle tannins). Here are the Carménère wines (from some of Chile’s largest producers) that consistently top the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate charts:
- “Herencia” by Santa Carolina: A 100% Carménère wine from Peumo in Cachapoal Valley.
- “Alka” by Francois Lurton: A 100% Carménère wine located in Lolol in Colchagua Valley.
- “Carmín de Peumo” by Concha y Toro: About 85% Carménère blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, from Peumo in Cachapoal Valley.
- “Kai” by Vina Errazuriz: 95% Carmenère and 5% Syrah from the Aconcagua Valley.
- “Purple Angel” by Montes: 92% Carménère and 8% Petit Verdot from Marchigüe and Apalta areas in Colchagua Valley.
Keep in mind, that many producers don’t get their wine rated, so there are more gems to find if you dig!
The boldest Carménère wines come from Cachapoal and Colchagua Valley.
Carménère is known to produce the boldest styles from the Cachapoal and Colchagua Valleys. The 2 most famous sub-zones within these Valleys are Apalta and Peumo in Colchagua and Cachapoal, respectively. Wines made with grapes from both valleys blended together are usually labeled as Rapel Valley.
Carménère pairs exceptionally well with roast pork and lamb with mint.
The lighter tannin and higher acidity in Carménère wine make it quite an easy red to pair with a great variety of dishes. Ideally, leaner grilled meats with savory sauces like Chimichurri (a cilantro-based sauce), green salsas, mint, or parsley pesto will complement the herbal qualities of the wine and make it taste more fruity. Carménère will even do well alongside darker white meats, including turkey and duck.
Carménère is nearly extinct in its homeland, but is the 5th most important grape of Chile.
Carménère originated from the Bordeaux region of France. Before the 1870s, Carménère was a prevalent blending grape in Bordeaux, found mostly in Graves and the Pessac-Léognan appellations. However, due to the phylloxera infestation, nearly all the Carménère vines – along with most of the vineyards in Bordeaux – were wiped out. When vignerons in Bordeaux replanted however, they opted to plant the easier-to-grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot instead, and Carménère was thought to be on the verge of extinction.
Carménère was first brought to Chile in the mid 1800s and was thought to be Merlot until 1994.
When Carménère was first transplanted from Bordeaux into Chile, it was thought to be Merlot and often planted alongside Merlot vines and blended together with the other varietal. Then, in 1994, the French ampelographer (grape botany expert), Jean-Michel Boursiquot, noticed how some of the “Merlot” vines took a much longer time to ripen. Boursiquot carried out research to determine that somewhere close to 50% of the Merlot planted in Chile was actually the long lost Carménère variety of Bordeaux. Finally in 1998, Chile officially recognized Carménère as a distinct variety.
Carménère is a half-sibling of Merlot, Hondarribi Beltza (from Basque Country), and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The four grapes of Merlot, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Hondarribi Beltza have the same parent, which is Cabernet Franc. Carménère is particularly unique because Cabernet Franc is it’s parent, as well as it’s great great grandparent – perhaps this helps explain why Carménère and Cabernet Franc taste so similar!
Carménère is a very slow ripening grape, best suited for long indian summers.
Carménère ripens usually about 4–5 weeks after Merlot, which means the grape needs ample hang-time (and good weather) to properly mature. When it does, it produces small bunches of deep blue-black grapes and in the fall, when the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and orange. The overall production of a Carménère vine is naturally quite low, which could be considered a positive for highly concentrated, high quality grapes. Overall, the grape is said to be moderately difficult to grow well, but has been noted to perform promisingly in sandy soils (where it produces elegant, aromatic wines) and clay-based soils (where it makes richer, more structured wines).
Map of Chile’s Wine Regions
Wine was brought into Chile first by Spanish Conquistadors in the mid 1500s. Make sense of the wines and regions of Chile with this detailed map.