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From its humble beginnings in Bordeaux to playing a major role in establishing Chile’s viticultural scene, the carménère grape has quite the story to tell. The grape and the silky yet savory bottles it produces are some of the industry’s biggest unsung heroes, especially if you’re looking for something similar to New World cabernet and merlot—and with a much cheaper price tag, too.
What Is Carménère?
Carménère is a red grape variety grown around the world, known for creating wines with prominent acidity, dark fruit flavors, and approachable, silky tannins.
Where Does Carménère Come From?
Originally from the Médoc region of Bordeaux, carménère has since found its claim to fame in other parts of the world, in particular in Chile. In Bordeaux, the small amount of carménère that’s still cultivated is almost always used in cabernet sauvignon- or merlot-dominant blends, whereas in South America, the grape is generally vinified on its own.
How Is Carménère Made?
Depending on where it is grown, carménère can be used as a blending grape or vinified into a single-varietal wine. As with every grape variety, the flavors of the final wine will depend on its style (whether a blend or monovarietal), as well as where and how the fruit was vinified. Generally speaking, carménère-dominant wines tend to be medium-bodied and supple, marked by pleasant levels of acidity, dark fruit flavors, smoky bell pepper undertones, and soft tannins.
In the vineyard, carménère tends to do well in areas with relatively long growing seasons as well as moderate to warmer climates. Similar to merlot, the grape can show herbaceous, vegetal notes of green pepper if harvested too early. Carménère almost always buds later than merlot and produces smaller yields.
What Does Carménère Taste Like?
Carménère is often compared to merlot due to its supple mouthfeel, dark fruit flavors, and hints of smoky, herbaceous undertones. If you enjoy silky, medium-bodied reds with savory nuances, you’re almost certain to like carménère.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Carménère?
Carménère’s bright acidity and smoky undertones make it ideal for sipping with all things grilled, whether vegetables, red meats, or veggie burgers are on the menu. The wines’ vegetal nuances also make it ideal for herb-heavy dips and sides, roasted poultry, lamb, root vegetables, and beyond.
These are five bottles to try.
Inama Azienda Agricola Carménère Piu
Not all great carménère comes from Chile: This Italian expression is perfect for those looking to discover more off-the-beaten-path expressions. This rich yet restrained bottle is produced from organically-farmed fruit in the country’s Veneto region. The wine jumps with flavors of black cherries, smoke, and a hint of pepper. This might just be one of the best Old World expressions of carménère out there.
Leyda Carménère Reserva
This varietal carménère comes from Chile’s Leyda Valley, located within the coastal mountain ranges of the Leyda Valley. The winery’s optimal location, just eight miles from the Pacific Coast, adds a saline freshness to the estate’s wines. Expect flavors of sweet cherries, raspberries, and warm baking spices.
Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Carménère (Apalta Vineyard)
This winery was founded in 1994 by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet after the renowned alcohol-producing duo (Alexandra Marnier is of the Cognac-based Marnier family) fell in love with Chile’s Apalta Valley on their first visit. Winemaker Andrea Léon produces this varietal carménère from hand-harvested fruit fermented with native yeasts. Flavors of dark fruits, plums, sweet spice, and dill dominate the wine’s mouth-coating palate.
Viña Laurent Inocente Carménère
Viña Laurent is working to show just how great natural wines from Chile can be. This fresh and textured Carménère shows flavors of blackberries, bell pepper, smoke, and a touch of used leather. For those who prefer their reds on the more savory side, look no further than this bottle.
Wildmakers Metic Carménère
Wildmakers showcases the frequently untapped potential for natural winemaking in the southern hemisphere. This delicious bottle from Chile’s Colchagua Valley oozes with spicy flavors of red fruits, black currants, star anise, and hints of black pepper. Enjoy it with all things grilled.