Originally from Bordeaux, Carmenère has found a worthy home in South America, particularly in the country of Chile.
The grape is a late-ripening variety that requires ample warmth and sunshine to reach its optimal ripeness.
In France, Carmenère is also referred to as Grande Vidure, a name that comes from its home region of Bordeaux.
Wines produced from Carmenère are often compared to Merlot, as they are often fleshy, silky, and fruit-driven. Additionally, Carmenère-based wines frequently show a ‘Cabernet-like’ side as well, as their flavour profiles commonly boast herbaceous undertones and notes of sweet, cedar-driven spice. However, this isn’t all that surprising, in that Carmenère, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon all share Cabernet Franc as a parent grape variety.
In the past, Carmenère played a significant role in its birthplace of Bordeaux, especially within the Médoc, as it was used as a major component in the region’s famed Claret blends.
Upon the phylloxera epidemic, Carmenère fell out of fashion in Bordeaux, as the variety did not respond as positively to grafting as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Thankfully, a handful of Chilean winemakers mistakenly brought Carmenère cuttings from France to South America (thinking that it was Merlot) and began cultivating the grape in their home country. This serendipitous error is a big reason why Carmenère did not find itself completely extinct!
In the vineyard, Carmenère prefers longer growing seasons and thrives in warmer climates. The vines perform their best when not introduced to high amounts of water, as excess rainfall causes the grapes’ green characteristics to become more pronounced.
In comparison to Merlot, Carmenère buds and flowers earlier than Merlot, however, Merlot tends to ripen earlier. Additionally, Carmenère vines generally produce smaller yields.
Today, Carmenère is synonymous with Chilean winemaking and has unofficially become the country’s ‘signature’ grape. The grape’s popularity is also on the rise in New Zealand, the United States, and Italy’s Veneto and Friuli regions.
A few Bordeaux estates continue to cultivate small amounts of Carmenère, though its plantings have significantly decreased over the last century.