I love exploring lesser-known wines. Recently, I explored Carignan, a lighter styled fruit-forward red wine that also has salty umami flavors. Today, I thought I would explore another lesser known C wine – Carménère. Carménère doesn’t have the ugly history of Carignan. But it certainly has a colorful past worth exploring – and a delicious present. Thank you to Wine Folly for their help with this article.
The Meandering History of this Grape
How did this Bordeaux grape make its way to Chile? Well, it turns out that this ancient Bordeaux grape didn’t even start out as a Bordeaux grape. Wine historians believe this grape originated in Spain but was brought to Italy by the Romans, where it was blended with Sangiovese in Tuscany. Through Roman transport, the grape made its way up to the Left Bank of Bordeaux, where it lived volatilely for hundreds of years until phylloxera wiped most of it out in the mid-1800s.
The good news is that the Chileans had been making wine from European vine cuttings for 150 years outside of Santiago. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that they realized that their Merlot tasted different and took a lot longer to ripen than traditional Merlot. Why? Because it wasn’t Merlot. In 1998, officials finally finished a DNA study, and the Chilean government recognized this unique grape. Carménère is now considered the national grape of Chile.
What to Look for in Carménère
Let’s start by comparing Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The two wines have a lot of similarities. A key difference is the more vegetal green pepper notes of Cabernet Franc.
Now let’s compare Merlot and Carménère. Like the Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc comparison, the two wines are very similar. They both have supple red and blackberry flavors, but Carménère has many more herbaceous notes – specifically, green peppercorn.
Because of its relatively high acidity, Carménère makes an excellent everyday food pairing wine. Its herbaceous peppercorn-like flavor makes this wine a perfect pairing for roasted meats. Its lower tannins make it a nice option for lighter, less fatty dishes.
The wines from the Chilean valley (Entre Cordillas) and coastal (Costa) areas have less acidity, taste richer and have more color than the wines from the higher elevation Andes areas.
I would love to hear about your Carménère tasting experiences.
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