Carménère is a medium to full-bodied, dry, red wine that originated from Bordeaux, France. It’s considered one of the ancient wine varietals in Europe and classified as one of the six original varietals of red Bordeaux grapes.
Fast Fun Facts About Carménère
- Grapes: small and spherical dark skin grapes
- Parents: Bordeaux varieties
- Sweetness: dry
- Acidity: medium-high
- Body and tannins: medium
- Ideal wine glass: flute, tulip, universal, and flared lip
- Flavors: spice, cherries, and blackberries
History of Carménère
Historical records indicate that the ancient Romans were the first people to bring carménère to the Iberian Peninsula and Bordeaux between 100BC and 400 AD. For several centuries, carménère was one of the six types of grapes predominantly grown in the Medoc region of Bordeaux.
But the unsuitable weather conditions forced the growers to pick the grapes prematurely before they were fully mature and ripe. The challenges facing the growth of this grape were made worse with the onset of Phylloxera aphid in the mid-1800s, which swept out all vineyards. This deadly pest destroyed up to 90% of Bordeaux vineyards. The local growers, after that, decide to replace this finicky variety with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
While the local growers assumed that carménère was fully extinct, carménère had arrived in Chile around 1850 from Bordeaux, and noble Chileans had started to recreate this type of wine. That’s how it became predominant in Chile, and slowly, its popularity forced winemakers to even pay more attention to it while trying to understand its varieties. In 2010, carménère was declared the flagship wine variety in Chile, becoming the symbol of red wine in this country.
Carménère Taste Profile and Aromas
This wine is rich in herbal and spicy flavor and has several notes:
- Green peppercorn
- Fresh green bell pepper
- Roasted red pepper
Deep tasting notes
- Cocoa powder
- Dark chocolate
Carménère belongs to the Cabernet family; hence it has the exclusive green pepper note coming from alkyl-methoxypyrazines compounds normally found in all the classic varietals of Bordeaux. There is also the presence of sweet herbs, jalapeno, snap pea, olive, plant stems, etc. This creates an amazing wine flavor with distinct notes.
However, the different notes can be disgusting sometimes. For instance, when underripe carménère grapes are harvested, the pyrazines produce aromas with a smell that can be likened to rotten asparagus. That’s why grapes must first attain the ideal ripeness before being harvested. But this annoying aroma can be slowly converted into a more appealing jalapeno or green pepper aroma if the grapes are left in optimal sunlight exposure since this helps burn the harsh tannins.
Carménère wine made from ripened grapes has a mellow profile and a rich body. It’s normally fine-grained, and the tannins are usually almost non-existent. Once you start drinking it, you will notice that the dark fruit flavor will hit your notes with a spicy green pepper hint. This is complemented by aromas such as blackberry, peppercorn, cherry, and raspberry. This is then succeeded by darker flavors such as tobacco, chocolate, coffee, and leather.
Generally, varietal carménère is made with at least 75% carménère grapes with the remainder coming from cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. This gives it more boldness and moderate flavor, unlike other Bordeaux varieties. The best time to consume this wine is while it’s still young.
These grapes are quite challenging to grow since they are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. Thus, the flavor output heavily depends on the growing and production process. Note that carménère grapes need moderate irrigation, and an overwatering mistake could lead to more green pepper and herb notes.
Extremely hot temperatures will lead to wines with high alcoholic content with poor balance. Meanwhile, low temperatures lead to a high risk of plague.
Where Does Carménère Grow?
This Bordeaux grape takes up to three weeks longer than other grapes of the same origin to ripen. So, it needs a long growing season with a sunny climate. The ideal growing environment includes regions such as:
This country boasts up to 80% of carménère plantings globally. Chile’s climate is suitable for growing carménère grapes, with up to 25,000 acres devoted to them. The vines are mostly found in Cachapoal, Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Valley.
- Maipo Valley: found in the northernmost area of the Central Valley. Maipo Valley’s carménère is lighter and has sweet floral notes of hibiscus, cherry, and rose.
- Colchagua Valley: most carménère wines in the market come from this region. They exhibit enticing raspberry sauce aromas with the green peppercorn herbal note.
- Cachapoal Valley: wines from this valley have a sweet balance of sour and sweet cherry fruit. Additionally, it has some notes of herbal green peppercorn. It should be noted that they have high levels of acidity.
- Rapel Valley: wines with the “Rapel Valley” label are usually made with grapes from Cachapoal and Colchagua Valleys
It has small amounts of vines found in Veneto and Friuli. These north-eastern regions have cooler climatic conditions that lead to the growth of grapes with more green pepper flavors and are more herbal. The Italian carménère is usually blended with red cabernet franc grapes and refosco.
The amount of carménère grown by Bordeaux producers is vanishing rapidly, and they can now be found in small quantities of red blends. This is because Bordeaux has a damp and cool climate that makes it challenging to grow carménère.
Apart from these regions, there are still ongoing experiments in other regions like China, New Zealand, and Australia.
Carménère Food Pairing
Carménère wine makes a great pairing with everyday food. It has a quite versatile profile thanks to its naturally high acidity that makes it ideal for pairing with foods served with higher acidity sauces. The rich herbaceous peppercorn flavor makes a perfect pair with roasted meats. Meanwhile, this wine has lower tannin, which suits less fatty foods. Overall, you can pair with basically everything, including:
- Vegetables: They include Pinto Bean Chile, Roasted Peppers, Stuffed Peppers, Sauteed Garlic Kale, Lentils, and Olives.
- Meat: Lamb Stew, Beef Brisket, Roast Pork, Chicken mole, Filet Mignon, Roast Turkey, etc.
- Herb/Spice: Lemon, Garlic, Thyme, Green Peppercorn, Oregano, Black Pepper, etc.
- Cheese: Feta Cheese, Goat Cheese, Cotija Cheese, Pepper Jack, etc.
Handling and Drinking Carménère Wine
Carménère needs to be served and stored at the right temperatures for you to enjoy it fully. Understand that heat is always an enemy regardless of the type of wine. Therefore, you shouldn’t store your carménère in places with temperatures that are higher than 21 degrees Celsius because this will cause the wine to age. Additionally, temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius will deplete all the flavors and aromas, leaving your wine flat. The ideal serving temperature range is 15 to 18 degrees Celsius.
This wine has lower acidity levels, and therefore it shouldn’t spend some years in your cellar. So, if the wine is 1-2 years old, it needs aeration. Uncork the bottle and transfer the wine evenly into your decanter/ glass pitcher. Leave it for 40-60 minutes to release carbon dioxide and nitrogen gases.
Difference Between Carménère, Merlot, and Malbec
Carménère, merlot, and malbec are all blending grapes included in Bordeaux. These three wines are usually confused since they have almost similar profiles.
For instance, merlot and carménère vines have almost similar shapes, but carménère takes longer to ripen than merlot. However, they both make fruity wines that are slightly tannic. In terms of red fruit character, carménère takes the lead since merlot has more Blackstone fruit flavor.
Malbec is mostly grown in Argentina’s Mendoza region. It has an extremely smooth texture with ripe berry and dark floral flavor. Both carménère and malbec have chocolate and coffee notes. However, carménère has a distinct bell pepper note that usually defines its profile.
Carménère Wine Key Producers and Brands
It’s not easy to find carménère wine, unlike other popular types of red wines such as pinot noir and merlot. However, you are highly likely to find it in premium wine shops, but the stock will somehow be few. Top selections include:
Reserva carménère 2019: it has a concentrated juicy profile and overflows with blackberries and cherry flavor.
Sibaris carménère 2018: an elegant and well-textured wine with a savory meat profile.
Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenere 2018: has blackcurrant and mulberry profile.
Despite its Bordeaux origins, carménère never truly found a home in this region until Chilean growers took over. It’s currently the country’s flagship wine variety, and it’s known to pair well with almost all food varieties, especially savory sauces, grilled meats, and vegetables. Its spicy, black cherry, and blackberry flavors have earned a massive reputation among wine lovers.
It’s part of the cabernet grape family and has that distinct green pepper note from pyrazine compounds. It’s renowned for its mellow tannins and fruity profile, making it suitable for drinking while still young and fresh. Overall, carménère grapes thrive in sunny climate conditions like those in Chile. Still, tests are currently being conducted in New Zealand and Chile to determine its growing versatility.