Varietal in Focus: Carmenere

Welcome to a new feature on Bugga.NET – “Varietal in Focus” where we take a quick look at a specific variety used to produce wine. Not too sure where this will lead to, but could be interesting, the very first variety to be examened will be Carmenere inspired by the individual to whom the NWLD tags go out too (you know who you are).

Once thought to be extinct due to the Phylloxera plauge that ravaged Europe in the late 1800’s, it was recently re-discovered in Chile where the vines similarity to Merlot led growers to assume it was the Merlot grape, however DNA testing in the 1990’s revealed it to be Carmenere. The primary difference between Carmenere and Merlot vines are infact the way the grape clusters or bunches grow, the Carmenere tends to have a tighter bunch, whereas the Merlot berries are spread further apart in the bunch.

Today Carmenere is grown predominantly in Chile where it was rediscovered with plantings also found in Washington State and California(USA) and Italy. Australia has some minor plantings of Carmenere, but these are still in their infancy but found across Australia. Chile has shown that Carmenere is capable of producing high calibre single varietal wines, prior to it’s rediscovery in the 1990’s it was typically grown in mixed vineyards with an approximate 50/50 ratio with Merlot (due to the similarity of the vines) – which would mean depending on ripening conditions and the time the grapes were picked (with Merlot typically ripening 2-3 weeks prior to Carmenere) different characteristics would come to the fore.

Unfortunatly in it’s home of Bordeaux like Petit Verdot it is no longer being grown as much as it once was, and is now all but impossible to find. This is in part due to its characteristics of being a late ripener and requiring a higher than average amount of sunlight along with it’s proneness to coulure – a condition that makes fruit set difficult, the French have all but given up on this variety – leaving it to the “New World” to experiment and play with. Although there is hope – as with the global warming enabling some varieties that were previously not productive most years to now be viable for consideration for planting and use in traditional Bordeaux blends.

N describes the Carmenere as follows “Even more interesting is the wine. Has the vegetal qualities of a cab sav, a hint of the spice of a shiraz, and an elegance that I have not seen in a red (well, at least at a sensible price 😉 ). It has become “wine of the moment” for me and will temporarily replace cab sav as my default wine. I’m sure that it’s just a phase and will pass, time heals all :”

Carmenere is also becoming recognised in cooking and one would assume this trend will continue.

Some links to WineLibrary TV episodes that mention and deal with this Variety #465 #363 #359 #239 #268 #21

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