The Lost Grape

I am sure many of you are familiar with this varietal, but do you know the story behind it? And why it is typically only produced in Chile? Carménère – I had to copy and paste so that I had the correct accents, but for the remainder of this article, the e’s will be sans accents – comes from the French word carmin which means crimson, due to the bright red color of the leaves in the fall. Carmenere was considered one of the six original Bordeaux grapes, the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Vine clippings were transported to Chile in the mid-1800′s, just before the phollexera virus ravaged Europe destroying many varietals, including Carmenere. When the Carmenere grape was first grown in Chile, it was thought to be Merlot. The wine makers blended the Merlot and Carmenere grape, which gave the Chilean Merlot’s different qualities than Merlots in other parts of the world. It wasn’t until years later in 1994, when they did extensive testing that the so-called Merlot grape was actually found to be Carmenere. Since then, the Chileans have capitalized on their newly re-found varietal and have been producing some outstanding wines. The Carmenere grape is somewhere in the middle ground between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot, the tannins are softer than that of a Cabernet, but it has a bit more bite to it than a Merlot, with cherry, fruit, smoke, spice and earth. It is typically not meant to age.

One of my personal favorite Carmenere’s is produced by Puerto Viejo. Their signature wooden label with the burnt impression of an old time sailing ship makes this wine memorable on the outside. On the inside it is a wonderfully valued, full-bodied quintessential Carmenere. Puerto Viejo is a United States subsidiary of Vina Requingua, which owns AR and Vina Tunquelen as well. We actually paired this wine with chicken cooked in red wine, garlic and tarragon. But its versatility would allow this wine to hold up to a hearty beef meal as well.

Puerto Viejo Carmenere – $12

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes

Deep ruby red with purple reflections. Intense nose with blackberry and plumb followed by hints of tobacco and caramel. On the palate this wine is round and generous with blended tannins and a sweet caramel finish.