Origin: One on the “original” big reds from Bordeaux. Carmenère found its true success far from home in Chile, where it was initially mistaken for Merlot. Carmenère has turned out to be the offspring of Cabernet Franc (which makes it a half-sibling to both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon)

Grown: France (Bordeaux), Chile, Northern Italy, USA, New Zealand, Australia and China (where it goes under the name Cabernet Gernischt)

Climate: Moderate to warm climates

Soil: In sandy soils it gives more elegant, aromatic wines, while in clay-based soils it tends to give richer wines with more structure

Viticulture: The vines are susceptible to Coulure and produces very low yields. Contains the same flavour compounds that gives Cabernet Franc its green tone. It needs a long ripening period for the tannins to ripen fully. The hardest part of growing Carmenère is to decide when to pick the grapes. If picked while the tannins are still unripe, the wine will taste undeveloped, with unpleasant green tones. If the farmer waits too long, the wine will be overly sweet with jammy tones and no structure.
The grape variety gets its name from the fact that the leaves have a red undertone during summer and then turn a deep crimson before they fall of in autumn. The French word for crimson is carmin

Vinification: Small yields of dark-skinned grapes results in a concentrated, deeply coloured juice. The tannins must be completely ripe, otherwise the wine will taste overly herbaceous. Back in the days, winemakers tried to mask this overly green tone behind lots of new oak, but new discoveries and better location selection have taught them better and now the trend tends more towards discreet additions with the use of older oak barrels

Regional names to look for on label:

  • Cachapoal Valley
  • Colchagua Valley
  • Rapel Valley (if it is a blend of the aforementioned regions)

General Personality:

  • Colour: Ruby red
  • Aromas: Red berries like raspberry and pomegranate, green pepper (capsicum, bell pepper), eucalyptus, green peppercorn (sometimes even jalapeño), cacao
  • Taste and Texture: High acidity, moderate tannins, rich and juicy if done right, always dry with moderate alcohol
  • Conclusion: Chile’s equivalent to Argentina’s Malbec. Both Malbec and Carmenère originated in southern France but found their true homes somewhere else. Carmenère was not officially recognised in Chile until 1998, before that it was treated as an odd version of Merlot. But this new realisation has allowed vine growers to adjust their farming methods for this unique grape variety, to try to make the best of it. New discoveries and new science have vastly improved the quality of Carmenère, and its potential for the future looks promising
  • Future: You are not in a hurry to drink it, but as a single variety it is rarely a wine to age any longer periods. But as new stiles of Carmenère are being created, this will most likely change

Food pairings:

  • General: Rich, juicy, fruit driven and (if produced correctly) with a fresh green tone that makes it a perfect pairing to dishes flavoured with similar green spices. The tannins are moderate, making it versatile. Not the wine for a heavy steak, but it goes surprisingly well with lighter meats like duck and pork. The acidity is well balanced and the alcohol not to high, making it a handy red wine for different dishes (and a nice pleasure on its own as well)
  • Obvious pairing: Tofu Steaks with Avocado Chimichurri
    Yum! And so simple! The key to This Recipe is the Avocado Chimichurri, the green spices in the sauce just brings out the best from the Carmenère wine, but as always be careful with the Cayenne pepper, even if the wine is low in alcohol and tannins, it can only handle so much. Here, I like it with the smoky tofu, since the oak aromas from the wine together with the smoke adds an extra side to the pairing. Other than that, the tofu is just enough to help to add texture to the dish bringing balance to the pairing. Serve some oven roosted root vegetables with it and enjoy!
  • On the wild side: Sausage Rolls with Pico de Gallo
    Unexpected party combo! This is a perfect and funny starter to put out on the side table while people are mingling around. Odd mixture of British Sausage Rolls (that are rich and crispy), together with traditional Mexican Pico De Gallo (an uncooked salsa with lots of coriander in it), all of that toped up with Chilean Carmenère to bind it all together.
    Again, do not go overly crazy on the peppers in the sauce, and be careful with the lime juice (I tend to overuse both). Buying vegan Sausage rolls will not cut it here! I have never really figured out the store-bought ones, but this one is perfect, especially with a fruit driven Carmenère. The tofu/bean/potato filling is rich and flavoursome, which rounds of and brings out the fruit of the wine. Carmenère is also light enough to be a good wine for mingle in general