That wasn’t the end of the story for this unique variety though, despite what botanists believed. Little did they know that on the other side of the world, Carmenere was not only alive and well – it was thriving. In the viticultural paradise of Chile, where phylloxera has never reached, Carmenere was growing in the vineyards of Maipo and being used in some of the country’s top wines. Winemakers at the time though believed it was Merlot. Easily confused for the variety, Carmenere also shares the meaty, fleshy qualities of Merlot but has a particular spice and pepper more readily associated with Cabernet Sauvignon. The plant though did have a peculiarity… their leaves often changed to a flame red colour before harvest. Although agronomists just put this down to plant to plant variation at the time.
It wasn’t until Jean-Marie Boursiquot, working with winemaker Claude Valat, found that Chile’s unique Merlot was indeed unique, it was Carmenere. Since the discovery two decades ago, Carmenere (this time rightly labelled as the variety) has grown from a few dozen hectares to almost 9,000 hectares around the country. Chile is home to 97% of the world’s Carmenere but other European countries and New World countries like France and the USA have also replanted the variety.
Best planted in the warmer Central Valleys of Chile, Carmenere characteristically has rich red fruits, spice and berry notes often with a trademark cedar or green pepper aroma. As one of the most important varieties in Chile though, you will now find a great diversity of styles made from the different valleys around the country: from lean and fresh Carmenere that goes well with Pastel de Choclo (corn and meat pie) to plump and juicy Carmenere that might go better with a rich, barbecued lamb. You can easily find a different Carmenere for each day of the year, but today there is more reason than ever to raise a glass…
Happy World Carmenere Day!