Merlot is a red wine that is a safe choice for most people; it’s fruity with low tannins and acid which make it soft, smooth and easy to drink. However many wine drinkers are now venturing out of their safe zone and are exploring new varietals and wine. I am asked quite frequently about the Carmenere (pronounced Carmen-AIR) grape and the type of flavours associated with this wine.
It is quite an interesting story. Carmenere was originally planted in Medoc, France over two hundred years ago. It was used primarily as a blending grape alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In the 1850’s vine disease affected the region and the Carmenere grape never really made a comeback, today very little is grown anywhere in France. However the vine was imported to Chile where most of the Carmenere grape is found today. The vines love the sandy soils and the dry warm summers and Carmenere has found a successful place to grow and make good wines.
Over 5000 hectares is planted in the Maipo and Elqui Valleys in Chile where dry conditions favour the growth of the Carmenere vine. To create a more structured and full bodied wine, Carmenere is sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile. A small amount of Carmenere is also grown in California and Washington.
Carmenere is, for the most part, a smooth wine due to manageable acid and tannin levels. Its’ profile includes red and dark berry flavours and spice. Many feature an attractive smoky cedar bouquet that is due to aging the wine in toasted oak barrels. The tannins are soft and the colour is rich and deep. Carmenere has a silky texture and is best drunk young, usually within five years of the vintage date. So don’t be intimidated and try it the next time you are selecting a bottle.
A fabulous introduction to the potential of Carmenere is the 2012 Falernia hailing from the Elqui Valley for around $20. A big wine, ideal for fall and winter dinner, this wine features big, ripe, fleshy, warm black cherry and blueberry mingled with forest floor and a delicate touch of smoke. Full bodied and rich wine perfect for roasted meats and rich gravies.
The next time you reach for a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz stop and try a Carmenere. A whole new world of flavors await you.