Carmenère: The Signature Grape of Chile

Carmenère has had a rocky reputation over the years. It is a thick skinned grape that requires a longer than usual growing season in a sun-drenched, dry growing region. Although it originates in France, the conditions were simply not harsh enough for this grape to achieve the fullness of its expression. However, Carmenère found ideal growing conditions in Chile. Once winemaker understood the grape and its needs it has blossomed into the “signature grape of Chile.” So won’t you join me today in honor of National Carmenère Day in toasting this illustrious grape?

Carmenère is one of the six original Bordeaux grapes. However, in the mid nineteenth century as phylloxera spread throughout Bordeaux Carmenère was all but wiped out. Because it was difficult to grow, winemakers replaced Carmenère with Cabernet Sauvignon. At the same time, in 1851 Carmenère was brought to Chile from France; however, it was believed to be Merlot. It was not until 1994, when Chilean winemakers discovered the grape they believed to be a variation of Merlot was in fact Carmenère. Today, Carmenère thrives in Chile.

Wines of Chile describes Carmenère:

The warming spice and berry notes of Carmenère couldn’t be more appropriate for a November wine. Not only does it match the autumnal month in style, but Carmenère Day also falls on wines-of-chile-logoNovember 24th. Carmenère Day commemorates the day that Carmenère was first discovered in Chile, and rediscovered in the world, in 1994. Chile’s own signature grape, this red varietal disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century and reappeared among Chile’s Merlot vines a hundred years later. The deepest, darkest, purplest of all red grapes needs a long growing season to reach its fullest potential. Rich in berry fruits and spice (think blackberries and black pepper), with smooth, well-rounded tannins, making this a very pleasing and easy to drink varietal. Enjoy it with red meats and corn-based dishes, such as Chile’s favorite pastel de choclo (corn and meat pie), or take advantage of its natural fruity spiciness and serve it up with Indian curry or a Mexican mole.

Colchagua Valley via
Colchagua Valley via


Colchagua Valley is home to most Chilean Carmenère because it possesses the ideal climate the grape desires. It is warm and dry, and cooled by ocean breezes from the Pacific, offering redemption from a latitude that is closer to the equator than any European vineyard. In honor of tomorrow’s #CarmenereDay here are twelve outstanding wines to celebrate:





2012 Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Carmenère Central Valley Chile ($11): bold wine, dark cherry, plum, savory notes of mint, and dried tobacco; rich and round on the palate, juicy with fine tannins, easy to enjoy, even better with food.

2013 Casa Silva Gran Terroir Los Carmenère Colchagua Chile ($16): beautiful expression of blackberries, black cherries, plums, spice notes, dark chocolate, espresso, tobacco; rich and sultry; sweet tannins, long finish.

2011 Francois Lurton Hacienda Araucano Alka Carmenère Colchagua Chile ($56): dark marmalade of blackberries, black cherries, and plums, with balsamic, leather and savory herbal notes; sultry and sophisticated, an extraordinary expression, full body, long finish.

2011 Apaltagua Grial Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($58): baked plums, cherries, and blackberries wrapped in baking spices with a chocolate drizzle, and served in a cedar bowl; dark and mysterious, almost brooding, a wine to last, full body, full tannins, elegant structure, finish lasts forever.

2011 Santa Rita Pehuen Carmenère Central Valley Chile ($58): plums, blackberries, and cherries were met with black licorice, damp tobacco leaves, toasted walnuts, and vanilla; elegant on the palate, round and balanced with firm tannins and structured acidity, juicy yet earthy at the same time.

2013 Alpaltagna ‘Envero’ Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley Chile ($15): blackberries, black cherries, green bell pepper, savory herbal notes, touch of forest floor, ending with a lingering orange zest on the finish; quintessentially Carmenère; well-structured, tastes bigger than the price.

2011 Koyle Royal Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($21): striking appearance of deep purple with black hues; blackberries, black plums, black cherries, black olives, anise, definitive graphite, spice notes, toasted walnuts; long, bold tannins, rich and round on the palate, full body, long finish; great with a steak.

2014 MontGras Reserva Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($9): blackberries, cherries, plums, touch of cocoa, spice notes, savory herbal notes, lingering forest floor and cedar; deep and penetrating, rich mouth-feel, oak adds a sharpness, full-body, long finish.

2012 La Playa Axel Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($21): blackberry, cherry, and plum marmalade, smoky notes, spice, savory herbal notes; a bit over baked, rich and concentrated, sweet on palate, full-body, long finish.

2013 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Colchagua Valley Chile ($16): black cherry and blackberry marmalade, black olives, spice, cocoa, concentrated and ripe on the palate, full-body, mouth-coating wine with over-reaching tannins, long, penetrating finish.

2012 Vina Maquis Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($19): deep blackberries, plums, cherries, mocha, spice notes, cloves, green olives, savory herbal notes; fresh and clean, easy drinking, pleasing, juicy yet balanced with a lingering finish.

2010 Santa Carolina Herencia Carmenère Peumo Chile ($87): dark chocolate covered black cherries and blackberries, licorice, anise, baking spices, fresh cut herbs, damp tobacco leaves, smoky cedar; lush and round on the palate, sophisticated and elegant, beautiful structure, full-body, mouth-coating, long, pleasing finish. A show stopper.

*Disclaimer: these wines were media samples shared with me for Carmenere Day, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

These twelve wines are widely distributed in the US and the world. They would make a perfect accompaniment to your Thanksgiving meal as well as any fall cuisine. At some point over Thanksgiving weekend I get turkey-d out and crave Tex-Mex, Carmenère is an absolutely great wine to pair with Tex-Mex or any Latin cuisine. These twelve wines I have shared with you range in price from $9-$87. Carmenère is a wine that is pleasing at any price range. Furthermore, if you are unable to locate one of these wines, head to your favorite local wine retailer and get your own bottle of Carmenère to celebrate #CarmenereDay.

Please take a picture of the Carmenère you chose to enjoy on #CarmenereDay and tag me to share on social media!

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