If you’re looking for a dry red wine you haven’t experienced before, try Carménère. Currently a major player in Chile’s wine industry, it’s similar to New World Merlot and Cabernet but more affordable.
Let’s find out more about this Chilean marvel.
What is Carménère Wine?
Carménère is a very popular red wine grape in Chile although it originated in Bordeaux. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, Carmenère is considered to be one of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux. It is a deep red wine with flavors of plum, berries, and spices and a bitter finish and it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Carménère is medium-bodied with medium acidity with a standard amount of alcohol for red wine and its lack of tannins makes it more suitable for immediate consumption as opposed to cellaring. It does not enjoy the wide popularity outside of South America that it has in Chile where it has become the signature grape.
In Chile, Carménère was originally mistaken for Merlot because they are similar in body and flavour – both exhibit fruit flavours like berries and plum and both have a softer tannin structure. Carménère has a more herbaceous quality than Merlot but both are blended in red wines.
To get the best out of the grapes, Carménère must be allowed a long summer growing season as grapes that are harvested too early tend to be bitter. The vines grow well in hot, dry climates which is why they do so well in Chile. Carménère is not a grape that is built to age and is best consumed within a couple of years of its vintage date.
How to Pronounce Carménère Wine
The correct pronunciation is kahr-meh-NEHR with a guttural French roll of the two ‘r’ letters.
Where is Carménère Wine From?
The Carménère grape is a wine grape variety originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, where it was used for blending purposes and to make red wines. The name originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) which refers to the beautiful crimson colour of the autumn foliage just before the leaves fall. Carménère is now rarely found in France and is mostly grown in Chile which has more than 8,800 hectares of this grape.
How is Carménère Wine Made?
If you want to make your own Carménère wine you can try the following method:
After the grapes are pushed into a fermentation vessel and pectin enzyme is added, the must is left to warm up overnight (must is freshly crushed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit). When the must reaches the required temperature, the yeast can be pitched. Tannins are then added. The grapes can then be covered with a sheet or cloth to allow gases to release during fermentation.
Every day during fermentation punch down the must at least three times a day and take your Brix measurement and temperature measurements. Brix is a measure of the amount of dissolved sugar in wine.
After transferring the juice to an aging vessel, check the wine and airlock weekly. Be sure it is topped off. After 8-12 months bottle the wine or transfer it into oak for more aging.
What Does Carménère Wine Taste Like?
Most Carménère wines have prominent aromas of raspberry, sour cherry, green peppercorn and a granite-like minerality. On the more affordable end, you can expect to find Carménère wines with fruity red berry aromas, the tart flavors of raspberry with a slightly bitter taste similar to kale. Other flavours exhibited in this wine are cherry, pomegranate, blackberry black currant and plum. There are also herbal flavours such as jalapeño pepper, green pepper, black pepper and tobacco.
Is Carménère Wine Sweet or Dry?
Carménère is a medium to full-bodied dry red wine with aromas of tobacco, leather, dark fruit, coffee and chocolate.
What is Carménère Wine Similar To?
Carménère is comparable in body, taste and texture to Merlot.
How to Drink Carménère Wine
After you uncork the bottle, transfer the wine into the decanter and leave it to breathe for an hour. Aeration releases gases found in young red wines, letting them open and display their character. Full-bodied, premium-quality wines do not need oxidation, but they might need to be decanted if there is sediment at the bottom of the bottle. The right glass for Carménère should be bell-shaped but you can use any wine glass, as long as you leave room for the flavours by not overfilling it.
Before you drink the wine, swirl it around your glass and take a quick whiff. Then put your nose into the wine glass and inhale deeply to get an impression of the wine. Then take a small sip, allowing the wine to roll over your tongue and try to notice different levels of tannin, acidity, alcohol and sugar. Thereafter, simply enjoy!
Food to Pair with Carménère Wine
Carménère makes a great food pairing wine because the high acidity pairs well with foods with higher acidity sauces such as Cuban-style roast pork Lechon Asado. Carménère’s herbaceous peppercorn-like flavour often embellishes roasted meats from chicken to beef. The lower tannin in Carménère makes it a good option for lighter, less fatty dishes.
Try these matches with Carménère:
Lamb stew, Lamb with mint, Filet Mignon, beef brisket and beef stew, Chicken Mole, Carne Asada, Cuban-style Roast Pork and Roast Dark Meat Turkey
Feta, Cotija cheese, Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack and Farmer’s Cheese.
Herbs and Spices
Chives, lemon, oregano, coriander, chipotle, garlic, red chilli flakes, green pepper corn and black pepper, rosemary, thyme, fennel, curry powder, saffron, paprika, anise, and cumin.
Lentils, Pinto Bean Chile, white bean and kale soup, black beans, black-eyed peas, capers, roasted peppers, stuffed peppers, black and green olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potato and corn.
Carménère is a good barbecue wine – its dark notes complement the smoky flavors and go perfectly with steaks, lamb ribs, and all kinds of sausages.
Dishes that Carménère pairs well with:
- Braised Californian Short Ribs
- Asian Pilav
- Earthy Irish Stew
- French Ratatouille or Cassoulet
- German Beef Rouladen
- Indian Tandoori Chicken
- Italian Pizza, Salami, and cold sliced meats
- Mexican Chile con Carne
- Moroccan Lamb Tangine
- Russian Pozharsky Cutlets
- Spanish Chorizo or Botifarra
- Turkish kebabs
Is Carménère Wine Expensive?
You can shop online to find the Carménère you are looking for and the wines tend to be affordable with some bottles priced under £10.00. There are, of course, more expensive options as listed on wine-searcher:
- Concha y Toro Carmin de Peumo Carmenere, Cachapoal Valley, Chile Peumo £108
- Santa Carolina Herencia Carmenere, Chile £84
- Errazuriz Kai Carmenere, Aconcagua Valley, Chile £71
Where to Buy Carménère Wine
Affordable options can be ordered online from Waitrose Cellar:
- Mont Gras Reserva Carménère £9.49
- De Martino Legado Carménère £11.99
- De Martino Single Vineyard Alto de Piedras Carménère £21.99
Carménère Belongs to Chile
Carménère was initially mistaken for Merlot until DNA tests confirmed it as Bordeaux’s Carménère and it is now known worldwide as Chile’s red grape!