Every famous wine region or country is known for one or two particular grape varieties. New Zealand has its Sauvignon Blanc, Australia Shiraz, Burgundy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Alsace Gewurztraminer, Germany Riesling, California Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, and Ontario Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Riesling.
Up to now Chile, one of the best wine producing countries of South America (some say the best), had go grape to call its own. Now it seems winemakers have found one they can claim to be uniquely suited to prevailing climatic conditions and soil types –terroir! Carmenere, a member of the Cabernet family of grapes, originates in Medoc, Bordeaux. In the late 19th century phylloxera and the lack of suitable soil in Bordeaux forced growers to abandon it completely. Although the variety is still officially permitted in Bordeaux, one would be hard pressed to find any today.
Carmenere derives its name from the word crimson (carmin in French) the hue of the grape in fall. It is a shy bearing, strong plant and likes temperate climes and fertile soil. Carmenere must be harvested late, if not the wine exudes unpleasant herbaceous and “green” aromas that aficionados reject. At optimal ripeness, the wine is fruity (cherries), crimson in colour, full-bodied, with spicy, earthy notes. The after taste is particularly long, Integrated tannins allow early consumption, although the wine ages well.
Chilean winemakers were ignorant of its existence until 1994 when French ampelographer Jean Michel Bourisignot discovered it amongst Cabernet blocks. The grape was brought over from France in 1850 along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot cuttings, and got mixed up with its more famous brethren.
Today Chile is the foremost and largest producer of Carmenere from phylloxera –free stock. Chile’s warm climate, long growing season, and fertile soils are ideal for this unique grape. In the 150 years plus of its replanting, Carmenere adapted its new home and yields wines that are particularly rewarding.
Conch y Toro, one of the leading wineries and largest wineries of Chile, has 100 hectares planted from best Carmenere clone and produces a varietal that is ages in both French and American white oak barrels for at least 3 – 4 years before release.
Carnemenere best complements medium-rare steaks, roasted filer of beef with Sauce Choron, Gruyere, Menthol, Pecorino Romano, Oka, Parmegiano Reggiano, papardelle and pastas with meat sauces, roast rack of lamb, and braised duck breast with bing cherry sauce.
More and more Carmenere is now exported to the U K, U S A and Canada, particularly Ontario. A bright future for this superb grape is now assured in its adopted land.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu