Carmenère is a red grape originally from the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France. The grape was favored in Bordeaux in the early 18th century, though today it is nearly extinct there and is much more popular in Chile, where it undoubtedly produces the best wines.
The Carmenère grape was likely introduced to Chile from Bordeaux in the late 19th century, though it was not until 1994 that it was correctly identified—until then, it had been mistaken for Merlot. Its key regions are in Aconcagua and the Central Valley, especially within Colchagua Valley. Carmenère has become a national specialty and a point of pride for many Chilean wine producers.
Today, there are Carmenère wines made in Italy and China as well as Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, New Zealand and the United States. In the Italian regions of Trentino and Lombardy, varietal wines are produced under the local name Carmenero.
Carmenère can produce full-bodied wines with a deep red color and aromas of black fruit, bell pepper, spice, subtle herbs and berries. Its tannins are softer, resulting in wines that are often more readily accessible when young as opposed to other red cultivars like Cabernet Sauvignon. While there are many single-variety expressions, it is also commonly used in blends.
Some wineries use tiny amounts of Carmenère as a component of their red Bordeaux-style blends, rarely accounting for more than 1% of the overall blend. Its decline in popularity in Bordeaux may be attributed in part to its low yield and late ripening, later even than Cabernet Sauvignon. If harvested early and underripe, the wine can have an excessively herbaceous character. After Phylloxera had decimated Bordeaux vineyards, Carmenère was not widely replanted and was virtually abandoned in the region.
Perhaps not surprisingly given its history of mistaken identity, Carmenère is often confused with or compared to other wine grape varieties; red Bordeaux varietals, in particular. It is comparable to the Cabernet Sauvignon regarding its weight and body, though with less tannic structure. Both wines are robust, full-bodied and relatively long-lived.
It also shares some of the elegance and charm of Merlot, as well as its propensity to offer bold dark-fruit flavors when ripe, which may go some way towards explaining why the two were confused for so long in Chile. Cabernet Franc, another Bordeaux grape, shares tendency towards an overly herbaceous flavor profile if harvested too early, or when yields are not kept low enough, though many people consider touches of those herbal qualities to be favorable qualities for added depth and complexity.
Learn more about this popular grape, and browse top-rated Carmenère wines, selected and tasted by the professionals at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Our easy-to-use database will help you find the wine to suit your palate.