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.
Neyen 2015 Espíritu de Apalta Carmenère-Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley)ChileRipe, foresty aromas of cassis, sous bois and root beer are classy ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$60
Santa Carolina 2012 Herencia Carmenère (Peumo)ChileBaked berry aromas are accompanied by spicy oak and rooty hints. A ...See Full Review$100
Casa Silva 2011 Microterroir de Los Lingues Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileDamp earth and foresty berry aromas require lots of air to unwind. ...See Full Review$50
Fielding Hills 2016 Estate Riverbend Vineyard Carmenère (Wahluke Slope)Columbia ValleyExamples of this variety are a rarity from this appellation, and this ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$44
Santa Rita 2017 Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileBerry, plum and spice flavors are common to the grape variety, while ...See Full Review$20
Errazuriz 2016 Kai Carmenère (Aconcagua Valley)ChileBerry and cassis aromas are slightly green. On the palate, this rainy ...See Full Review$235
Santa Rita 2015 Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileBlack-cherry, dark plum and raspberry aromas are spicy, dry and earthy. On ...See Full Review$20
Aresti 2017 Trisquel Gran Reserva Carmenère (Curicó Valley)ChileAromas of spice, sandalwood and dried leaves accent herbal berry fruits, while ...See Full Review$22
Chilcas 2015 Las Almas Carmenère (Lolol Valley)ChileRipe spicy berry aromas are aided by notes of coffee, charred oak ...See Full Review$50
Montes 2017 Limited Selection Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileBriary dark-fruit aromas include notes of olive, green herbs and gamy meat, ...See Full Review$17
Errazuriz 2017 Max Reserva Carmenère (Aconcagua Valley)ChileSpicy, minty black-fruit aromas are herbal, something Carmenère fans have smelled a ...See Full Review$20
Casa Silva 2018 Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileSavory, gamy black-fruit aromas are a touch green and herbal, but that's ...See Full Review$15
Viña Maipo 2015 Gran Devoción Carmenère (Maule Valley)ChileCondensed blackened aromas of charred oak, shoe polish and black fruits are ...See Full Review$25
Oveja Negra 2017 Single Vineyard Carmenère (Maule Valley)ChileEarthy berry and dark-plum aromas fall within the norms for quality Carmenère. ...See Full Review$17
Concha y Toro 2017 Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenère (Central Valley)ChileAromas of blackberry and black cherry carry this easygoing Carmenère. Toasty black-fruit ...Best BuySee Full Review$12
Santa Carolina 2016 Reserva de Familia Carmenère (Rapel Valley)ChileEarthy cassis and black-cherry aromas include a green note often associated with ...See Full Review$20
Bodega Volcanes de Chile 2018 Reserva Carmenère (Rapel Valley)ChileAromas of herbal tea, dried beef, black olive and spiced plum are ...See Full Review$14
Santa Rita 2017 120 Reserva Especial Carmenère (Central Valley)ChileAromas of blackberry and black cherry come with whiffs of balsam and ...Best BuySee Full Review$9
Anakena 2018 Carmenère (Central Valley)ChileA minty green essence is a big part of a lean nose ...See Full Review$10
Tussock Jumper 2018 Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)ChileLeafy black plum aromas are bungled by green scents of leaves, veggies, ...See Full Review$12
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