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.
Montes 2016 Purple Angel Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileRipe berry aromas are supported by notes of coffee, mocha, smoldering charcoal ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$80
Undurraga 2016 T.H. Terroir Hunter Carmenère (Peumo)ChileRipe berry aromas are earthy and show an olive note. In the ...See Full Review$30
Siegel 2016 Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileCool, herbal berry aromas give off complex notes of tobacco, olive and ...See Full Review$25
Haras de Pirque 2016 Albis Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (Maipo Valley)ChileTightly focused aromas of berry fruits, leather, wild herbs and oak lead ...See Full Review$50
Errazuriz 2016 Max Reserva Carmenère (Aconcagua Valley)ChileRipe black fruit aromas offer a balsamic side note, while an intense ...See Full Review$21
Casa Silva 2012 Microterroir de Los Lingues Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileCasa Silva makes some of the most varietal Carmenère in Chile, and ...See Full Review$50
Casa Silva 2017 Los Lingues Vineyard Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileHerbal, leafy berry aromas are spicy and common for this producer and ...See Full Review$20
Jason-Stephens 2014 Swing Carmenère (Santa Clara Valley)Central CoastFrom a grape rarely seen in California, this bottling shows cranberry, crushed ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$38
Casa Donoso 2016 1810 Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (Maule Valley)ChileSpiced plum and berry aromas are a bit rough, raw and herbaceous. ...See Full Review$43
Multi 2017 Best Taste Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (Central Valley)ChileHerbal berry aromas are spicy and a touch stewed. A huge palate ...See Full Review$25
Montes 2017 Alpha Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileBlueberry, blackberry, coffee and green herb aromas are stacked, as is an ...See Full Review$22
Santa Carolina 2017 Carolina Reserva Carmenère (Cachapoal Valley)ChileLightly herbaceous aromas suggest a field of flowers, herbs and weeds baking ...Best BuySee Full Review$12
Concha y Toro 2017 Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Ribera del Cachapoal Carmenère (Peumo)ChileGrassy, green aromas are a big part of the nose, which also ...See Full Review$17
Viña Tarapacá 2017 Gran Reserva Carmenère (Maipo Valley)ChileSavory plum and berry aromas are stewed and a bit soupy. This ...See Full Review$18
College Cellars 2017 Clarke Vineyard Carmenère (Walla Walla Valley (WA))Columbia ValleyAromas of fresh and dried green herbs along with braised green pepper ...See Full Review$25
Montes 2017 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileA heavily charred and smoky nose recedes to campfire and barbecue with ...See Full Review$17
Maryhill 2016 Vineyard Series Elephant Mountain Vineyard Carmenère (Rattlesnake Hills)Columbia ValleyAromas of whole and sliced green pepper, dusty cherry and herbs are ...See Full Review$46
Ventisquero 2014 Vertice Apalta Vineyard Carmenère-Syrah (Colchagua Valley)ChileVentisquero may make more expensive wines but none are better than this ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$30
Casa Donoso 2015 Sucesor Blue Limited Release Red (Maule Valley)ChileBold black currant and wild berry aromas are made complex by oaky ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$47
MontGras 2015 Antu Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileA warm, spicy nose with earthy plum and berry fruit shows a ...See Full Review$20
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