This strain, full of mysteries, has its history rooted in the conquest of the New World. Let’s discover the beautiful girl from the Chilean vineyards: the famous Carmenere.
1. Where does it come from?
Carmenere has its origin in northern Aquitaine. Before the plague of phylloxera in Europe of the nineteenth century, it was one of the varieties that were originally used for blends in Bordeaux, where it has been known for centuries. After this fatal episode, it was grafted with American patterns, but its performance became erratic. Hence its marginalization.
No one knows how and when exactly arrived in Chile, but the best known theory says that it was transported from France in the nineteenth century. For decades, the Chilean vineyards thought that this strain was a clone of Merlot, which matured in a late form.
This situation changed in 1994, when the French ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot of the University of Montpellier, exhibitor of the Sixth Latin American Congress of Viticulture and Oenology held in Chile, identified it as Carmenere. From then on, and under his real name, it broke into the Chilean wine scene.
DNA tests show that Carmenere is a cross between ancient strains such as Gros Cabernet (hybrid of Servadou and Txakoli) and Cabernet Franc.
2. Did you know how it’s called?
Its name probably refers to the carmine red color of its leaves, berries and the color of its wine. I invite you to visit our Variety Garden in Pirque in the month of April and see how the beautiful leaves of this strain look. It is an intense red show. The other name of the Carmenere is Vidure, due to the hardness of its wood. In the literature is also the name Cabernell.
3. Not only in Chile
Today in France the Carmenere crops are very small. However, new plantations appear every year. The strain is established exclusively in the temperate zones and, in the case of France, only in the Médoc peninsula, in the north of the department of Gironde, shows its best attributes.
Some Carmenere vineyards can be found in Argentina and California. Also in northern Italy, especially in Veneto and Fruili – Venezia Giulia, where for a long time it was bottled as Cabernet Franc.
Winemaker Richard Smart imported Carmenere from Chile to Australia in the late 1990s. The first nursery vines were planted in 2002 in the Morabool Valley (Geelong, Victoria), which was then used for red blends. It has also been established in small quantities in New Zealand. DNA tests confirmed in 2006 that the Cabernet Franc plantations in the Matakana region were actually Carmenere.
In Chile, although it is cultivated in several valleys, only some zones present the optimum conditions for this variety. Concha y Toro discovered a very special place to grow Carmenere. It could be called “the filet mignon” – using the culinary terminology for a synonym of something extraordinary in its quality: in the heart of the Cachapoal Valley, on a small plateau near Rapel Lake, is the Peumo vineyard, characterized by the microclimate and perfect soil for Carmenere.
4. In the vineyard
The vineyard in Peumo, where Carmín del Peumo and Terrunyo Carmenere come from, is an example of the ideal conditions demanded by the grape. The soil here is deep, with a very proportional level of clay and sand. That rich and well-drained soil is a key aspect so that the roots of this strain can deepen and find their balance.
Carmenere is a very late variety, it needs time to mature and achieve its perfect equilibrium. That’s why it requires mild autumns. It is the last strain to be harvested in Chilean vineyards, usually in late April and early May.
This variety does not appreciate the excess of water during the vegetative period, which contributes to form too marked vegetable aromas of green pepper type. Winemakers emphasize that Carmenere demands a lot of attention in the vineyard, but above all it need to be cultivated in specific climatic and geological conditions, with a good balance of the days of sun and rain, warm days and cold nights. In Peumo, the proximity of the Cachapoal River and Rapel Lake contribute to a humid Mediterranean sub climate, perfect for this capricious strain.
5. In the glass
Carmenere offers a great color, soft tannins and intense flavors. The more appropriate the conditions of the vineyard and crop, the finer the tannins that this strain develops. For example, Terrunyo Carmenere and Carmín del Peumo are velvety wines, with silky, juicy tannins and a tremendous future during bottle aging, which can exceed twenty or even thirty years.
Its characteristic aromas are: red fruits such as raspberry and sour cherry. Depending on its management in the vineyard and the cellar, Carmenere has also certain vegetable notes, from green to sweet red pepper and grilled paprika.
The aging in the barrel gives the strain aromas such as meat, tobacco or mushrooms. Sometimes Carmenere has some mineral notes such as granite or graphite, so elegant that they emulate the senses, so characteristic of our Carmín de Peumo wine.