Carmenere, the spotlight varietal of Chile, actually originated in Bordeaux, where is was one of the six original red varietals (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Cabernet Franc; Malbec; and Petit Verdot). It was found found primarily in Graves and the Pessac-Léognan appellations. It’s still allowed as a red blending grape in Bordeaux, but it’s highly unusual to find it in a blend today. In the late 1800s, Europe’s vineyards were decimated by the vine pest phylloxera, an insect which eats the roots of the vine. When Bordeaux vineyards replanted with grafts onto phylloxera-resistant North American rootstock, most vineyards decided not to plant the temperamental Carmenere as it struggled to ripen in their maritime climate. The grape was thought to be on the verge of extinction.
Fortunately, Carmenere migrated south to find a good home in the new world. The grape was first brought to Chile in the mid 1800s and was mistakenly thought to be Merlot until 1994, due to its very similar leaf structure, often planted alongside Merlot with the two grapes blended together. The resulting wines were often overly herbaceous and thin. According to Wine Folley “in 1994, the French ampelographer (grape botany expert), Jean-Michel Boursiquot, noticed how some of the “Merlot” vines took a much longer time to ripen. Boursiquot carried out research to determine that somewhere close to 50% of the Merlot planted in Chile was actually the long lost Carménère variety of Bordeaux. Finally in 1998, Chile officially recognized Carménère as a distinct variety.” Today it is one of the most important and celebrated grape varieties of Chile.
Organic Carmenere is a very slow, late ripening varietal, preferring the warmer regions of Chile, away from the coast. Some of the boldest Organic Carmenere wines come from Colchagua Valley, the home of Biodynamic vineyard Vina Koyle. The natural characteristics of Carmenere are a nice herbaceousness, deep color, soft tannins and good acid. Carmenere is known for its red fruit flavors of raspberry and pomegranate along with the classic notes of green pepper (the distinct aroma compound pyrazine) and paprika. Carmenere is often blended with up to 15% other grape varieties including Tempranillo and Petit Verdot.