We held a tasting featuring Bodega Santa Christina from Chile and one of the wines was a Carménère. I had never heard of it before, but it’s Chile’s premier grape. It does really well there.
So is this a native Chilean grape that no one else has thought to grow. Heck no!. Let me tell you it’s history.
The Carménère grape began in Bordeaux, where local winemakers grew it along side the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that are what you most expect from their red wines. Then the region had an aphid infestation that destroyed the vines in much of the Bordeaux. It was a disaster known as the “Great French Wine Blight.” It caused a massive shortage of wine as the vineyards had to be replanted. Bourdeaux started all over again from scratch.
The Carménère was not Bordeaux most resilient grape. It’s difficult to grow in the winemakers having gone through this disaster weren’t going to take any more risks than necessary. The they replanted the heartier Cabs and Merlot grapes and Carménère pretty much disappeared from the region.
That would have been the end of the Carménère story except that years before Bordeaux’s wine disaster, French immigrants in Chile had brought cuttings from the old-growth Bordeaux vines hoping to break new ground across the ocean.
What do you know? The Carménère liked the soil in Chile much better than what it had in France and it thrived. Today it is one of Chile’s most important grapes!
Under 100 acres of Carménère vines are grown in France today, Chile boasts nearly 22,000 acres. It is now officially a recognized varietal, a treasure that was nearly lost.
If you talk to a good sommeliers, they’ll tell you that Carménère pairs well with grilled meat, and has a black cherry flavor as well as accents of chocolate and spice.