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The Carménère Grape


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About Carménère

(Synonyms: Bouton Blanc, Cabernelle, Carbouet, Carbonet, CarmÉNeyre, Carmenelle, Grande Vidure)

Background

Map showing Chile

Carménère is a red-wine grape originating in Bordeaux, but now grown almost exclusively in Chile (chiefly in the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Province). It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

In Bordeaux, Carménère was, and to a small extent still is, one of the minor blending grapes in the red-wine blends characteristic of that region. In the New World, it has achieved respect and is typically bottled as a monovarietal, or with only small admixtures of other reds. A key factor is that it needs a long, warm growing season to succeed: Bordeaux lacks that, but Chile does not. Chile "inherited" the varietal from French emigrés who brought cuttings over in the 19th century. For a long time, those were mistakenly thought to be Merlot, but genetic analysis corrected the error and led to the grape's resurgence as a premier varietal.

Its qualities are broadly similar to those of its Bordeaux "stablemates", Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Its chief distinguishing characteristic is a smoky, dusty quality; its fruit tends to be "darker", and it is fairly light on tannins.

Tasters regularly report two broad styles, which might crudely be called "good" and "bad". The grape seems always to have a bit of green-pepper taste; the distinction is whether that is an accent (good) or dominates (bad). Even the same vintner can produce lines of both kinds in a given year.

Note: the original spelling of the grape and wine is Carménère, and we use that throughout; but more and more nowadays, it is being rendered without the accents as just "Carmenere".

Factoid: Carménère might be the Biturica, an valued grape in ancient Rome and the name by which what is now the city of Bordeaux was then known.


Some Descriptions of Carménère Wines


Some Carménères to Try

(About this list.)

Many, many Carménères are absurdly inexpensive; but you mustn't think that that in itself means they're plonk. The bargains here are simply amazing (in part because Carménère has yet to make much of a dent in the American market).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard Carménère
(They bottle several Carménères; this is the "Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard" bottling; it is not quite 100% Carménère.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Dense and powerful, this hits squarely with deep blackberry aromas matched by brushy, herbal notes. It's a wide-bodied load with full but soft tannins and tons of extract. Toast, bitter chocolate and baking-spice flavors accent core blackberry fruit, while the finish tastes of coffee and feels a bit hot. 91 points.

A dense, flashy red, displaying a toasty frame of fine tannins, with grilled herb and baking spice notes to the racy cassis, kirsch and plum skin flavors. Well-cut, with ample acidity and a minerally finish. 92 points. [Wine Spectator]

The 2012 Carmenere has a deep spicy nose as you swirl it in the glass. That prepares you for the intense red fruit and chocolate taste as it hits your tongue. As you savor it hints of spices make their presence known. One thing about this wine is it lingers on the palate long after you have swallowed. This is not a wine to be quaffed it is one to savor at an easy pace. It will reward you every time.

The fruit for this wine, a blend of 85% Carmenère and 15% Syrah, comes entirely from the top-quality Apalta vineyard. And as with all Lapostolle’s wines, the fruit was hand-harvested. The attention to detail makes a difference — this wine had a meaty, red-fruit aroma and notable focus on the palate, with restrained red fruit, green-peppercorn spice and some soft tannins undergirded by a meaty note. Again, it packs a lot of flavor considering its $15 price tag.

Cuvée Alexandre Carmenère, a true expression of its origin, comes from single vineyard selection of Lapostolle’s Apalta vineyard. Showcasing a distinct blend of predominantly Carmenère grapes (coupled with a touch of Merlot), the wine demonstrates great balance and depth. The resulting wine can be attributed to a rigorously maintained terroir that includes a hillside vineyard with granite soil and a special, sandier Carmenère area known as “the Island.” Surrounded by creeks, the Island creates great drainage, a key factor to producing mature Carmenère grapes.

Carmenere is a unique red grape that thrives in Chile. No one makes a better wine from that grape than Casa Lapostolle. The 2007 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere is one of the best reds you'll ever taste. If you like really good merlot, you're going to love this wine.

In the glass – it had deep garnet colour. In the nose – there was light smoke, woodiness, herbs, spice and dark berry fruits. In the mouth – it was savoury and smooth, the fruit came through on the finish and it had a medium length finish…I can easily recommend this wine.

The dark, fully opaque purple color of this wine is absolutely stunning in the glass. If you like merlot, you are bound to like Carmenère, which has has an even more herbal note to it. Look for characteristic flavors of blueberry, chocolate, tobacco and a hint of smokiness. The wine is mouth-filling and luscious on the palate. As the weather starts to get cooler, this wine will taste better and better. At 14.1 percent alcohol by volume, it warms you up very quickly.



Alcance Gran Reserva Carménère

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

A magenta color and ripe grapy aromas of black fruits accented by spice and olive open this plump wide-bodied Carmenère. Spicy black cherry and blackberry flavors are stout and rock solid on a unwavering finish. 92 points, Editor's Choice.

This appealing example [of Carménère] combines ripe red and black fruit flavors with the alluring herbal or leafy character inherent to the grape. Mild supple tannins allow for immediate enjoyment — perhaps with grilled chicken — while providing sufficient structure. Bright acidity keeps it interesting throughout a meal.

Sweet tea, spice and blackberry aromas follow through to full body, round tannins and a juicy finish. 92 points. [James Suckling]

A fetching, semi-savory wine of medium+ body and fine-grained texture. Mocha, dark and briary berries, earthy spice, black pepper and eucalyptus. Good length.



Veramonte Primus Carménère
(There is also a Veramonte "Primus blended red containing some Carménère; don't confuse them.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The Primus Carmenere 2011 from the modern Veramonte Winery is one of our favorite representations of this style…On the nose this deep red Carmenere boasts a pleasant fruit flavor: spice, plum, blackberry. On the tongue, this Carmenere is a medium bodied and velvety wine: berries, oak, fig.

Fascinating aromas of dark berry, hot tar, and black olive. Full-bodied and very intense with a pretty mouthfeel this is polished and velvety. Persistent. Now one of the best carmeneres in Chile. [James Suckling]

♣ There isn't a lot on the web about this bottling—reviewers seem to prefer focussing on the "Primus" blended wine.



Vina San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Carménère

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Nose of notable Carmenère character checked and in restraint. Certainly modern, somewhat fortified, but acceptably precipitous, delectable and fun. The whiffer is sweet pepper, currants and rings of defined tobacco. The give way goes to flavours silky in roasted pepper and a shot of espresso. If, “in the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive,” this Carmenère would have kept us warm. No cake, no jam, no overwrought excessive behaviour. Though like any good band, it does drive Dixie down. Well made.

Precise and savory, with a powerful cocoa powder accent to the intense cherry, wild berry and currant flavors. Concentrated notes of clove and olive carry through to the finish. 91 points. [Wine Spectator]

This bottling is made from San Pedro's best grapes from vineyards sited in thin alluvial, well-drained soil. Aromas of mint/eucalyptus, dusty blackberry, red cherry and cinnamon hints plus a little earthy component. Plum, dried berry and toasty oak flavors with moderate dusty tannins; cocoa and an acidic kick on the fresh finish. Barely detectable heat that remains in check.

[B]ramble and blueberry, black cherry, balsamic-strawberry and elegant spice. (****)

Vina San Pedro 1865 Carmenere, also from the Maule Valley is an elegant example of this beautiful wine, which flourishes in Chile's Central Valley. The smoky, aromatic nose and flavors of ripe plum and black cherry make it a delicious complement to grilled or roasted meats, particularly game meats such as duck, pheasant or venison. If you're a fan of blue-veined cheeses or those made from sheep's or goat's milk, you'll find this wine especially pleasurable.

Rich and refined, with good cut to the red plum, crushed berry and raspberry flavors matched to notes of sandalwood and cardamom. Creamy midpalate, with a finish that's filled with chocolate and dark currant details. 91 points. [Wine Spectator]



Errazuriz Max Reserva Carménère
(There is also a more expensive "single-vineyard" bottling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Complex and well-built for the money. Full-bodied and dry. Cassis infused with mint, smoky leather, spice and cigar-box notes. Balanced acidity and soft tannins.

Opaque ruby. Smoky cherry, cassis and dried rose on the pungent nose. A suggestion of mint comes up with air and adds an edge to the wine's fleshy dark fruit flavors. Dusty tannins give shape to the finish, which lingers with very good spicy persistence. I'd have guessed that there was some Cabernet in here. 90 points. [Antonio Galloni, Vinous]

Stewed red berries and an herbal streak define the nose, which also offers carob and spice notes. The palate feels mostly deep and padded, with layering and flavors of herbs, pepper, spice and plum. A meaty, herbal finish with a tomato paste quality is the final act. 89 points.

Rich milk chocolate and cassis in a seamless powerful wine.

Aromas of blackberry, black olive, figs and blueberry follow through to a full body, round and silky tannins and a delicious, dry finish. Lovely fruit, austere character. Typical high quality carmenere. 91 points. [James Suckling]

Drip irrigation combats the hot summer days and cool ocean breezes help ripen the fruit, which is fermented with the skins for up to a month and aged a year in French oak. The result is a big, dense, dark wine that is best enjoyed after ample breathing time. Reviewer #1: “Dry, tannic black cherry with cassis and plum.” (3 stars out of 5) Reviewer #2: “Leather and blackberry bouquet with smoky plum and blackberry flavor and long tannins.” (3.5 stars out of 5)



Santa Rita "Medalla Real" Gran Reserva Carménère
(Santa Rita makes many Carménères: be careful.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

[It] starts with a very nice, very fragrant bouquet featuring aromas of blackberry, plum, spice, oak and vanilla. The wine tastes of dark fruit plus a little bit of oaky spice. This is a surprisingly smooth wine with a lush, velvety texture that opens up a little more as it gets air. It ends with soft tannins and blackberry flavors that linger for awhile. Very nice. Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 6; Overall Rating: 7.5

Heady, oaky, pushy aromas of green-leaning red-berry fruits and coffee grinds are earthy and strong. This is concentrated in the mouth, and also pasty and resiny in feel. Flavors of lactic oak, cardamom and blackberry finish with vanilla sweetness and a lasting wave of wood. 87 points.

The color…is opaque, dark ruby; distinct aromas of mint, tomato skin and black olive are given exotic sway by notes of cinnamon bark and sandalwood, all at the service of heady and intensely ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries, black cherries and blueberries; quite a performance there. This wild and winsome character, however, translates on the palate to a dense chewy texture and a structure freighted with dry grainy tannins that coat the mouth and lip-smacking acidity. Fruit is an afterthought that requires another couple of years to find eloquent expression, though I would not hesitate to recommend this wine with steaks, full-flavored and hearty braised dishes and rich pastas. Very Good+.

When choosing Carménère I recommend always looking for a wine with a little bit of age as this grape can be rather green and even stalky in its youth. The 2008 is [tasted in 2014] fully mature with black fruit and toasted aromas and finely balanced fruit and tannins on the palate.

Black cherry, camphor and rich, smooth flavors of coffee, black plum and dark, peppery spice. 94 points.

[This wine] has the personality of a well known, loved yet quirky friend, a comfortable level of familiarity, but always interesting and new. With each bite of our meal this wine opened a pleasing shining of flavors at just the right moment. It is a winner, try it soon.



For a Splurge

The choice here is Montes "Purple Angel".

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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