Parents & Origin: Bordeaux varieties (Southwest France)
Grape: Small, spherical, dark skin
Flavors: Cherries, blackberries and spice
Notable Regions: Chile, Italy, Argentina, United States
Sweetness: Dry
Body: Medium
Tannins: Medium
Acidity: Medium-High
ABV: 13-15%

The History of Carménère

Carménère is one of the most ancient European wine varietals, having originated as one of the six original red Bordeaux grapes (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot). Some speculate that Carménère may even be the “grandfather” of Bordeaux wines, as it was very popular in France alongside Cabernet Franc until Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot took hold in the mid-18th century. Unfortunately, most of France’s Carménère vines were destroyed around 1867 when a phylloxera plague afflicted almost all European vineyards. While many varieties were quickly replanted, Carménère fell out of favor due to its scarcity and the warmer climate it requires compared to other Bordeaux grapes.

Around the same time, however, Chilean growers in Bordeaux brought Carménère back to their home country, where the milder climate made it especially suitable for the region. Due to the grape’s close similarity to Merlot, much of Chile’s early Carménère production was mistaken for its cousin and inadvertently blended into Chilean Merlot in quantities up to 50%. This confusion lasted for quite some time, as Carménère was not recognized as a distinct varietal in Chile until 1998.

At the same time, a similar mix-up occurred in Italy, where Carménère was introduced in 1990 as what were thought to be Cabernet Franc vines. Producers quickly noticed the difference, and now Carménère has a presence in Italy, despite the near-complete absence of the grape in neighboring France. Today, however, Carménère is above all a Chilean wine, having been embraced as a distinct and flavorful varietal since its official recognition.

Interesting Fact: Carménère has a very unique flavor profile that some compare to IPA beer. Some wine enthusiasts even recommend Carménère as a jumping point into wine for beer fans due to the similarities of its flavors, aftertaste, and complexity.

Carménère Food Pairings

Due to its relative mildness compared to other wines of Bordeaux origin, Carménère in fact pairs with a great deal of dishes.

The Best Carménère Food Pairings

Carménère’s savory flavors pair wonderfully with leaner grilled meat, such as pork and lamb, especially when served with herbal accoutrements like chimichurri, salsa verde, or mint. Any grilled, smoked, or roasted meat will do, however, as well as some hard cheeses and spicy dishes.

Food Pairings to Avoid with Carménère

Like most red wines, Carménère is not ideal for very light dishes that might be overpowered by its character. However, the wine is indeed noted for its versatility; some find it to be a suitable red even for fish or chicken due to its relative gentleness.

Carménère Tasting Notes

Varietal Carménère is prepared from at least 75% Carménère grapes, with any additional grapes usually being Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Much more moderate in flavor and boldness compared to other Bordeaux varieties, it is usually best consumed while young. When produced with grapes at optimal ripeness, Carménère imparts an overall fruity flavor with savory, smoky, and spicy notes. Common aromas include red fruits, berries, and spices.

Carménère's Delicate Flavors

Carménère grapes are quite a difficult grape to grow, and flavor output can be heavily affected by aberrations in the production process. Most prominently, the grapes require a moderate amount of irrigation compared to many wines; over-watered Carménère often has more notes of herbs and green pepper. Temperature can also play a role, as a too-cold climate has risk of plague while too-hot climates produce high alcohol wines with poor balance. Furthermore, Carménère grapes must be harvested approximately three to seven days later than Merlot to achieve optimal ripeness.

Our Selection of Carménère

  • Chile: 2019 Killari Carménère - Cremaschi Furlotti is a fifth-generation Chilean winery that combines Italian heritage with state-of-the-art technology to produce excellent wines like 2018 Killari Carménère–a 94 point Platinum medal winner at the 2019 Monterey International Wine Competition. Killari means Moonlight in Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people’s Quechua language. Brighten your night with this dark red wine’s notes of raspberry, plum, bell pepper, peppercorns, and vanilla.
  • Chile: 2018 Pajarito Carménère - A little bird told us that Chile is the newest international hotspot on the wine scene. Rich and dark 2018 Pajarito Carménère proves it. Pour a glass and enjoy intense aromas of ripe cherries, coffee, and pepper, followed by flavors of dark chocolate and plum jam.
  • Chile: 2017 Bernard Magrez Leyenda Carménère - With origins in Bordeaux, Carménère now thrives in Chile where it is celebrated for its Merlot-esque balance of raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry flavors and slightly herbaceous feel. 2017 Bernard Magrez Leyenda Carménère is a classic Chilean Carménère, and we love it with everything from dark meat poultry to savory bean soups. Esteemed wine critic Robert Parker calls winemaker Bernard Magrez, “…one of Bordeaux’s most interesting visionaries,” and Magrez’s attention to detail and unwavering focus on quality shines in this selection from his properties in Chile.
  • Chile: 2018 Tres Arboles Reserve Carménère - In Chile, winemakers like Sergio Correa Undurraga blend European winemaking traditions with an innovative spirit and a lovely climate to create excellent wines like 2017 Tres Arboles Carménère. This estate-bottled wine is elegant and fruity, with touches of berries, ripe plums, and chocolate, and the varietal’s trademark peppercorn notes. Pair this silky wine with tomato sauces, mature cheeses, and poultry.

Carménère in a Nutshell

Despite its noble origins as an original Bordeaux grape, Carménère never truly found a home until it was transported an ocean away from its homeland. Even then, it still took a century before it was truly recognized as a quality wine varietal. Thankfully, Carménère now has achieved status as one of Chile’s most prominent and beloved wines. Known for its great pairings with grilled meats and savory sauces, Carménère offers a more moderate and versatile tasting experience than most Bordeaux varietals. So whether you want a unique pairing for your next barbecue or simply want to experience the cutting edge in Chilean winemaking, a bottle of Carménère is essential for your collection.

Ready to learn more? Don't forget to check out our other wine guides: