Carménère is to Chile as Malbec is to Argentina. It’s a grape that was born in France, but never truly found its place there, instead finding fame and fortune in the climate of a South American country.
Carménère is now considered the national grape of Chile, known as a great wine the world over for meat dishes and BBQs, but it wasn’t always so well known by the wine drinkers of the world.
Carménère was born, like a majority of the world’s prominent grapes, in the French wine region of Bordeaux. A distant relative of Merlot, Carménère was used as both a blending grape for the region’s famous Bordeaux blend as well as to create its own single varietal wine. Like its cousin Malbec, the grape was finicky in the French climate, and it often had a difficult time growing. In fact, there would be many vintages where almost no Carménère was harvested at all. Following the Phylloxera plague of 1857 that wiped out a majority of Europe’s grapes, Carménère was considered extinct.
However, as luck would have it, just before Phylloxera would hit Europe, a few cuttings of Carménère happened to be imported to Chile, whose wine region was just getting started. The vines were planted around the valleys of Santiago and almost immediately began to flourish in the new climate, thanks chiefly to the sparse rainfall and hot days the region received, a contrast to the grape’s French home.
In the beginning, Carménère was blended with its cousin Merlot, but the Chilean winemakers soon realized the beauty of the grape’s flavors on their own, and began creating a single varietal wine. The grapes create a deep red wine that has flavors of cherries, blackberries and spice. It’s a savory wine that has just a hint of bitterness at the end, making it ideal for dishes involving meat.
Wine Folly even recommends Carménère for the beer drinker in your life who loves IPA. The flavors and aftertaste of Carménère resemble the complexity of an IPA, making it the ideal wine for someone more loyal to beer, but looking to branch out into wine.