Monday, November 23, 2009

Carmenère turns 15 - at least by its proper name

Vineyards of Carmen Winery, Maipo Valley
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The 15th anniversary of Carmenère

Happy 15th Birthday to Carmenère! Or maybe I should say, Happy Discovery Day, for it was 15 years ago – on November 24th, 1994, to be exact - that the Carmenère grape was correctly idenitifed in Chile by the French ampelographer, Jean Michael Boursiquot.

Carmenère was brought to Chile from France when phylloxera devastated the vineyards in Bordeaux in the second half of the 1800s. As the grape did not provide a meaningful part of the finest Bordeaux wines, most growers gave up on it when they replanted their vineyards. As Chile had a phylloxera-free environment, Carmenère and several other grapes from Bordeaux were introduced to Chilean soil.

However for years, most growers thought the grape was Merlot and treated it as such. Finally, some 15 years ago, the mistake was corrected and since then, there has been greater research conducted with this variety. For a while, it was named Grand Vidure (Carmen in Maipo Valley was one of the first to identify the grape as such), but today all producers label the variety as Carmenère.

Given its higher acidity and more pronounced spice than Merlot, it is surprising that Carmenère was incorrectly identified for such a long time. Because of this mistake, the grape was probably planted in some areas that were wrong for the variety. Carmenère needs a warmer climate, as underripe examples are green and overly herbaceous. Today many of the finest plantings are from Colchagua Valley and Maipo Valley.

Here are notes on a few bottlings of Carmenère available in the market today, both as monovarietal bottings along with a few examples blended with other red grapes:


2008 HACIENDA ARAUCANO Carmenère (Valle de Colchagua) - François Lurton
Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of ripe black plum and tobacco. Medium-bodied, this has a spicy finish (tobacco, clove) with moderate tannins and slightly tangy acidity. Enjoy this over the next 1-2 years. ($12)

2008 MONTGRAS Carmenère Reserva (Colchagua Valley)
Bright ruby red with aromas of black plum and dried flowers. Medium-bodied, this has tasty plum fruit and notes of black licorice in the finish. Enjoy this easy-drinking wine over the next 1-2 years. ($12)


2006 CASA SILVA Carmenère Reserva (Colchagua Valley)
Bright ruby red with aromas of black cherry, coriander, black pepper and vanilla. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate. Big finish with medium weight tannins, ample oak and balanced acidity. Give this a bit of time to settle down. Good varietal character, but a bit too much oak and alcohol. Best in 5-7 years. ($12)

2007 TERRA ANDINA Carmenère (Rapel Valley)
Beautiful bright purple with aromas of black plum and notes of black pepper and clove. Medium-bodied, this is tasty with a finish that has elegant tannins and very good persistence. Very nice value for only $13.

2007 MONT GRAS ANTU NINQUEN Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère (Colchagua Valley)
A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenère. Black currant, blackberry and vanilla aromas. Medium-full, this is rich on the palate and has a lengthy tannins with robust tannins, ample oak and balanced tannins. Give this time to settle down – best in 5-7 years. ($19)


2006 CARMEN Carmenère-Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (Maipo Valley)
Bright ruby red with aromas of sage, black pepper, cherry and menthol. Medium-full wth very good concentration, sensual flavors of vanilla and black cherry and a lengthy, well-balanced finish with harmonious tannins and good acidity. Good varietal character without the bittnerness you might expect. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. ($20)

2006 CASA SILVA Carmenère Reserva “Los Lingues” (Colchagua Valley)
Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of black plum, myrtle and clove. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate and excellent fruit persistence. Youthful tannins, ample oak and balanced acidity. I’d like to see a bit less oak, but otherwise this is an impressive wine that should be at its best in 7-10 years. ($24)

2007 SANTA RITA Carmenère "Medalla Real" (Colchagua)
Bright purple with aromas of black plum, molasses, black licorice and vanilla. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, round, elegant tannins and wonderful varietal character. Best over the next 5-7 years. Excellent value at $20 (and perhaps less in some markets).

2007 MONTES “ALPHA” Carmenère “Marchigue Vineyard” (D.O. Colchagua)
Deep ruby red-light purple. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and black plum preserves. Medium-full with very good concentration. Ripe and forward, but nicely balanced with appropriate oak and acidity and supple tannins. A pleasant note of black pepper in the finish. A very appealing wine to be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years with leg of lamb or grilled pork loin. ($24)


2005 CARMEN Winemaker’s Reserve Red (Maipo Valley)
A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenère and 25% Petite Syrah. Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of tar, blackcurrant, black peppercorn and hints of bitter chocolate. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Elegant entry on the palate and a long finish with silky tannins, lively acidity and nicely integrated oak. Very classy! Elegant through and through, enjoy this over the next 12-15 years. ($44)

2005 HACIENDA ARAUCANO Carmenère “Alka” (Colchagua Valley)
100% Carmenère from vines with an average age of 40 years. Bright ruby red with beautiful aromas of morellino cherry and lavender. Medium-full, this is a beautifully structured Carmenère with lively acidity, subtle oak and fine grain tannins. The lengthy finish features notes of tar, mincemeat and orange zest. This is notable not only for its varietal purity, but also for its finesse. A few producers have turned up the volume of oak with their bottlings of Carmenère, whlie the Lurtons have opted for a more subdued approach with their oak. First-rate, this is approachable now thanks to its elegance, but will be at its best in 10-12 years. ($60)


  1. Great review Tom. Last November 24 here at Carmen we conmemorate the 15th anniversary of the discovery of Carmenere, which happened at Carmen vineyards in Alto Jahue, Alto Maipo. Main speakers were Jean Michel Boursiquot and the Minister of Agriculter of Chile, Marigen Hornkohl. There were also people from other wineries, Wines of Chile, journalists, international importers, government agencies, directors and employees. Alvaro Espinoza, the Carmen winemaker back in 1994 who was with Boursiquot, was present as well.

  2. Great post Tom. As a note, when Carmen first released Grande Vidure, they used that name because "Carmenere" did not appear on the list of grapes authorized for winemaking at the time. Viña De Martino did so a year later, which provoked SAG into slapping them with a fine, but it also forced them (SAG) to recognize Carmenere as a legitimate grape varietal.

  3. Margaret:

    Thanks for this information - very helpful!