Everyone loves a comeback, and who couldn’t love a grape that was deemed extinct more than 100 years ago only to be discovered alive and kicking thousands of miles from its birthplace? This is the story of Carmenère (Carmen-AIR), Chile’s prize varietal.
Carmenère was born in Bordeaux, France and was an important part of the famous red-wine blends of that region until phylloxera, an aphid that destroys the roots of grape vines, wiped out vineyards in a good portion of Europe in the late 1800s. Bordeaux growers did not replant their Carmenère vines and this stoked the belief that the varietal had been snuffed out.
Fast forward to Chile in 1991; grapes that were previously thought to be Merlot were identified as Carmenère, setting off a buzz of excitement among winemakers who now possessed the world’s only heirloom Carmenère vines. Its ripe fruitiness and velvety hue do call to mind Merlot, but with the structure of Cabernet and a shot of Old World spice and earthiness. These brawny wines pair wonderfully with food, especially grilled, roasted or barbecued meats.
Considering its noble origins and fantastic flavor, Carmenère is a bargain with most respectable bottles hovering around the $10 price mark. But as word spreads about Chile’s best kept secret, prices will no doubt increase. Montes, for example, just released its reserve “Purple Angel” Carmenère which retails for around $50.
Some recommended Carmenères:
Santa Rita Reserve Carmenère ($10)
Concha y Toro 2004 Casillero Del Diablo Carmenère ($9)
Montes “Limited Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère ($16)