Carménère grapevines are very similar to Merlot grapevines, which is why questions regarding their relationship have arisen and why they are often confused with each other. There are definite distinguishing characteristics however: Carménère grapevines differ from those of the Merlot in that their leaves have a light red tinge to them, and the grapes ripen about three weeks later. The Carménère also has a more pronounced flavour than the Merlot and produces the most heavy-bodied red wines, following Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Bouquet of Carménère Wines
Carménères are generally pleasant and easy to drink. They are characterised by a low tannin content, their dark red colour, and a diverse palate consisting of berry, chocolate, leather and tobacco notes. Carménère is usually used for varietal wines, and maturing them in barriques leads to very fine, complex wines.
Carménère – A Chilean Success Story
The Carménère vine has experienced significant success in Chile, where it has been grown since the middle of the 19th century. Due to its similarities with the Merlot grapevine, the Carménères imported from France were often unintentionally planted in polyculture. After the Carménère was almost completely destroyed by the phylloxera plague in Europe, its name almost sank into oblivion in Chile, and the vines were simply viewed as variations of Merlot. Due to its geographical distance, Chile was spared the devastation of the phylloxera plague, and so the Carménère survived almost undiscovered. The difference in flavour between the Merlot wines from Chile and those of other countries was, however, conspicuous. A French ampelographer was finally able to shed some light on the mystery in 1994, when he identified the 'Chilean Merlot' as Carménère grapevines with a DNA analysis.
Chilean vintners recognised the potential of being able to be the exclusive source of Carménère wines. They increased cultivation of the Carménère grapevines, and in 1996 the Carmen Winery produced the first varietal wine. In the meanwhile, Carménère grapevines cover over 7200 hectares in Chile, and almost 30 % of Carménère wines from Chile are classed as high-quality. Most Carménère wines in the lower price segment are blends.And the Carménère grapevine is also becoming increasingly important in Europe again. Northern Italy, for example, now also produces good varietal Carménère wines, and the ‘Vini del Piave Carménère’ represents the first Carménère wine to be awarded DOC status.