I recently found a South American wine called carmenère. I’ve tried a number of South American wines and had never heard of this one from Chile. It has a great, full-bodied flavor without being overpowering (I hope I sound like a wine snob). The bottle said it is a variety of grape. The maker is MontGras and the price is great!
I'm glad you asked. It’s an interesting story. The rich, red grape called carmenère was widely planted in France’s Bordeaux area in the 1800s. Late in the century, as faraway Chile was trying to modernize its wine industry, it imported carmenère along with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other Bordeaux grapes.
It was a good thing. As 1900 approached, Bordeaux’s vineyards were devastated by an aggressive root louse called phylloxera. Most of its vines were destroyed. But phylloxera never reached Chile, which was protected by distance, the Pacific Ocean and the Andes.
As Europe slowly recovered from phylloxera, carmenère was not replanted there because it ripened late, risking killing frosts, and often set few berries.
In the 1990s, as Chile started entering the international wine market in a big way, visiting growers noted that the country’s huge vineyards of merlot had some maverick grapes intermingled. The leaves were different, it ripened later. But the growers had just been tossing it in with the merlot.
Finally, scientists using DNA testing discovered that the maverick grape was carmenère. Intrigued, Chilean winemakers started cultivating it separately and using it with conscious effect in their wines.
The difference is stunning. To demonstrate it, pour yourself a glass of Casa Lapostolle Merlot, at about $13, which is 100 percent merlot. And pour a glass of Casa Lapostolle’s Merlot Cuvée Alexandre, at about $22, which is 85 percent merlot and 15 percent carmenère, and taste the difference. The carmenère adds richness, smoothness, opulence and a nice mulberry/mocha scent to the wine.
For more inexpensive proof, try the Miguel Torres Santa Digna Carmenère Reserva or the Viña MontGras Carmenère Reserva, both at $9.
As Chile’s wine industry continues to grow, carmenère may become as important to that country as malbec is to Argentina. Snap them both up before they realize what they have and jack up the price.