Also known as: Cabernet Gernischt, Grand Vidure
Table of Contents
- Bell Pepper
- Black Plum
Carménère contains higher levels of aroma compounds called pyrazines, which give wines like Carménère, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon subtle flavors of bell pepper, green peppercorn, eucalyptus, and even cocoa powder. In many cases it can have a mixture of red and black fruit flavors, not unlike Merlot.
On the nose, Carménère has a distinctive herbaceous and bell-pepper aroma. But it also has intense red cherry and blackberry aromas too. When aged in oak (which is common) you’ll also find vanilla and smoke aromas. With age you’ll find leather and earthy notes too.
On the palate Carménère has more moderate tannin and acid than its relatives of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Though some of the most age-worthy Carménères do have pretty high levels of tannin. They range from moderate to full in body and sometimes the alcohol levels can be upwards of 14-15%.
How to Serve Carménère Wine
Carménère should be served at just below room temperature, between 60-68°F (15-20°C). This will allow the aromas to open up, but will keep it cool enough to prevent higher alcohols from interfering with the aromas.
A universal wine glass, or standard red wine glass is perfect for Carménère to ensure you get enough air into the wine, also so the aromas are funneled directly to your nose. Most wines will benefit from 30 minutes of decanting to open up the aromas.
Carménère gets very leathery and earthy with age. Most wines will improve over 2-3 years with the best wines lasting upwards of 10 years.
60–68°F / 15-20°C
Carménère Food Pairing
The moderate tannin and fresh acidity in Carménère make it quite an easy red to pair with a great variety of dishes. Ideally, leaner grilled meats with savory sauces like Chimichurri, green salsas, mint, or parsley pesto will complement the herbal qualities of the wine and make it taste more fruity. A great example would be Cuban-style roast pork Lechon Asado.
Carménère will even do well alongside darker white meats, including turkey and duck.In short, this is one to keep around for just about everything. Pinto bean Chile and white bean and kale soup is a great pair for vegetarians too.
5 Fun Facts About Carménère
- Carménère is a half-sibling of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and its parent is Cabernet Franc.
- Carménère is a very slow ripening grape, and is often the last one picked during harvest, about 4-5 weeks after Merlot.
- Carménère was first brought to Chile in the mid 1800s and was thought to be Merlot until 1994.
- Carménère is nearly extinct in its homeland, France, but is the 5th most important grape of Chile.
- Carménère has possibly been around since Roman times, when it was known as Biturica.
Where it Grows
Carménère originated from the Bordeaux region of France. Before the 1870s, Carménère was a prevalent blending grape in Bordeaux, found mostly in Graves and the Pessac-Léognan appellations.
However, due to the phylloxera infestation, nearly all the Carménère vines – along with most of the vineyards in Bordeaux – were wiped out. When vignerons in Bordeaux replanted however, they opted to plant the easier-to-grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot instead, and Carménère was thought to be on the verge of extinction.
Brought to Chile in the mid 1800s, it’s now found an adopted home there and is thought of by many to be Chile’s flagship variety. Brought to China in the late 19th century and known as Cabernet Gernischt, China now has the largest plantings of Carménère in the world.
- China: 27,676 acres (11,200 hectares)
- Chile: 25,953 acres (10,503 hectares)
- Italy: 1570 acres (635 hectares)
- Argentina: 146 acres (59 hectares)
- France: 59 acres (24 hectares)
Total Vineyard Area – 55,564 acres (22,486 hectares) (data from 2016)
What to expect: Caménère here is known as Cabernet Gernischt and is often blended with other Cabernet, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Most of these blends have a very distinctive green bell pepper note and high levels of peppercorn too.
Ningxia is home to the most critically acclaimed wines in China. The region specializes in Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Gernischt (Carménère). You will find Carménère planted throughout the many wine growing regions of China too.
What to expect: The majority of Carménère hails from within the Central Valley of Chile. This is the largest wine-producing zone in Chile, and it contains several regions known for Carménère. Overall you can expect Chilean Carménère to have ripe red and black fruit flavors alongside a healthy dose of green bell pepper notes and fine tannins with fresh acidity. There’s a purity of fruit you won’t find elsewhere.
Maipo Valley: Maipo is the northernmost region of the Central Valley Region. Quality Carménère from this area is somewhat lighter with lovely floral notes of cherry, hibiscus, and rose with a subtle petrichor/granite-like minerality. These more refined and elegant aromas come from altitude but also cooling influences from the Andes.
Cachapoal Valley: The Cachapoal Valley tends to produce Carménère wines with a balance between sweet and sour cherry fruit and the characteristic herbal green peppercorn note. Wines often have heightened acidity, which indicates this region could produce age-worthy wines.
Peumo: A sub-zone within the Cachapoal Valley, Peumo wines are consistently rated amongst the very best Carménère from Chile. The region is one of the oldest wine-producing areas in Chile. Carménère wines here have a more full-bodied style with sweet red berry aromas and heightened alcohol. Carménère wines from Peumo have been shown to age 15 or so years.
Colchagua Valley: You’ll find that most Carménère on the market today hails from Colchagua Valley. Most wines will exhibit rich raspberry sauce aromas along with a distinct green peppercorn herbal note. However, the region is quite varied in style from the coast to the foothills of the Andes.
Apalta: Within Colchagua valley is a sub-region called Apalta, which is located in the transverse range between the Andes and the Pacific. Carménère wines from this area produce more structured tannin and are often oaked to reveal sweet raspberry notes and very little herbaceousness. The region is home to just 6 wineries as the rest is protected forest land.
Take a deep dive into understanding the complex nature of Carménère.
Why so green?
In the world of wine, Carménère is like the eccentric uncle with an unforgettable personality, all thanks to a family of aroma compounds known as methoxypyrazines. Picture this: it’s like a family reunion with its parent, Cabernet Franc, but instead of bringing a bottle of Bordeaux, Carménère rolls in with bowl of green peppers.
These bold, veggie-like scents are the handiwork of a methoxypyrazine named isobutyl methoxypyrazine (IBMP). Yet when Carménère has had enough sunbathing, it can also unleash a burst of rich, dark fruit flavors. Yes, Carménère’s a bit of a show-off, but we wouldn’t want it any other way – it’s what makes this ancient grape variety so distinctively delightful!
Witness Protection Program
Carménère, an old-world grape with a sense of adventure, took a journey from the vineyards of Bordeaux only to find itself unwittingly settling in Chile, creating a cozy home away from home.
It’s like the grape’s version of a witness protection program, hiding under the guise of Merlot until the mid-90s, when a snoopy ampelographer revealed its true identity. But the plot thickens!
Across the Pacific, China was busy nurturing vast vineyards of what they charmingly called “Cabernet Gernischt”. Surprise, surprise, it’s our globe-trotting Carménère again!
A victim of mistaken identity twice over, Carménère has found a renewed popularity in these distinct terroirs. Now, it’s standing tall in Chile’s vineyards and coloring the vast expanses of Chinese countryside with its deep purple clusters, adding a spicy, earthy flair to the global wine narrative. Talk about a grape with a double life!