Infobox grape variety
name = Carmenère

caption = Carmenère grapes
species = Vitis Vinifera
also_called = Médoc: Grande Vidure, carméneyre, carmenelle, cabernelle, bouton blanc; Graves: carbouet; carbonet
origin = Bordeaux (France)
hazards =
regions = Chile, Italy, Washington, California
wines =

The Carmenère grape is a wine grape variety originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, where it was used to produce deep red wines and occasionally used for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot.

A member of the Cabernet family of grapes, [ Concha y Toro, "The Chilean Grape: Carmenère".] Retrieved on February 19, 2008.] the name "Carmenère" originates from the French word for crimson ("carmin") which refers to the brilliant crimson colour of the autumn foliage prior to leaf-fall. [, "Carmenère Facts"] by Hrayr Berberoglu. Last accessed on February 19, 2008.] The grape is also known as "Grande Vidure", a historic Bordeaux synonym, [ , Carmenere.] Last accessed on February 19, 2008.] although current European Union regulations prohibit Chilean imports under this name into the European Union. O. Clarke "Encyclopedia of Grapes" pg 61 Harcourt Books 2001 ISBN 0151007144 ] Along with Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit verdot, Carmenère is considered part of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux, France. [ MSNBC,"Wine: A glassful of smoke and flavor".] by Jon Bonné. Jan. 13, 2005.] [, Wine Glossary, "Carmenère grape variety".] by Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. Last accessed on February 19, 2008.]

Now rarely found in France, the world's largest area planted with this variety is in Chile in South America, with more than 4,000 Hectares (2006) cultivated in the Central Valley. As such, Chile produces the vast majority of Carmenère wines available today and as the Chilean wine industry grows, more experimentation is being carried out on Carmenère's potential as a blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carmenère is also grown in Italy's Eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions [H. Johnson & J. Robinson "The World Atlas of Wine" pg 170 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 2005 ISBN 1840003324 ] and in smaller quantities in the California and Walla Walla regions of the United States.


Carmenère wine has a deep red color and aromas found in red fruits, spices and berries. The tannins are gentler and softer than those in Cabernet Sauvignon and it is a medium body wine. [, Resources, Healthnotes: Red wines - Carmenere.] Retrieved on December 16, 2007.] Although mostly used as a blending grape, wineries do bottle a pure varietal Carmenère which, when produced from grapes at optimal ripeness, imparts a cherry-like, fruity flavor with smokey, spicy and earthy notes and a deep crimson color. Its taste might also be reminiscent of dark chocolate, tobacco, and leather. The wine is best drunk young. Hrayr Berberoglu [ CARMENERE]]



One of the most ancient European varieties, Carmenère is thought to be the antecedent of other better-known varietals; some consider the grape to be "a long-established clone of Cabernet Sauvignon." [ Professional Friends of Wine, Grape Profiles, Carmenère] , by Ray Krause and Jim LaMar. Last accessed on February 19, 2008.] It is possible that the variety name is an alias for what is actually the Vidure, a local Bordeaux name for a Cabernet Sauvignon clone once thought to be the grape from which all red Bordeaux varieties originated.

There have also been suggestions that Carmenère may be Biturica, a vine praised in ancient Rome and also the name by which the city of Bordeaux was known during that era. This ancient variety originated in Iberia (modern-day Spain and Portugal), according to Pliny the Elder; indeed, it is currently a popular blending variety with Sangiovese in Tuscany called "Predicato di Biturica" [ C. Fallis "The Encyclopedic Atlas of Wine" pg 144 Global Book Publishing 2004 ISBN 1740480503 ]

The Carmenère grape has known origins in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France [,au., "The Lost Grape of Bordeaux: The Carmenere Grape Story".] Last Accessed on February 19, 2008.] and was also widely planted in the Graves until the vines were struck with oidium. J. Robinson "Vines, Grapes & Wines" pg 198 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 1986 ISBN 1857329996 ] It is almost impossible to find Carmenère wines in France today, as a Phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vineyards of Europe, afflicting the Carmenère grapevines in particular such that for many years the grape was presumed extinct. When the vineyards were replanted, growers could not replant Carmenère as it was extremely hard to find and more difficult to grow than other grape varieties common to Bordeaux. [, "Greatness Attained: Carmenère"] by Michael Franz. Oct 31, 2006.] The region's damp, chilly spring weather gave rise to coulure, "a condition endemic to certain vines in climates which have marginal, sometimes cool, wet springs",Block, S. [ "When I first heard about Carmenere-I was certain it was a hoax".] ] which prevented the vine's buds from flowering. Yields were lower than other varieties and the crops were rarely healthy; consequently wine growers chose more versatile and less coulure-susceptible grapes when re-planting the vines and Carmenère planting was progressively abandoned.

Re-discovering the Carmenère grape


Far from being extinct, in recent years the Carmenère grape has been discovered to be thriving in several areas outside of France. In Chile, growers almost inadvertently preserved the grape variety during the last 150 years, due largely to its similarity to Merlot.

Cuttings of Carmenère were imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux during the 19th century, where they were frequently confused with Merlot vines. They modeled their wineries after those in France and in the 1850s cuttings from Bordeaux, which included Carmenère grape, were planted in the valleys around Santiago. Thanks to Chile's minimal rainfall during the growing season and the protection of the country's natural boundaries, growers produced healthier crops of Carmenère and there was no spread of phylloxera. During most of the 20th century Carmenère was inadvertently collected and processed together with Merlot grapes (probably reaching up to 50% of the total volume) giving Chilean Merlot markedly different properties to that of Merlot produced elsewhere. [, "Mystery of The Lost Grape of Bordeaux solved; (oops)™ now on wine shelves across America".] Schwartz Olcott Imports, December 15, 2006.] Chilean growers believed that this grape was a clone of Merlot and was known as "Merlot selection" or "Merlot Peumal" (after the Peumo Valley in Chile). In 1994, Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot [See Alley, L. [ "The French connection: Jean-Michel Boursiquot."] , November 1, 2001.] from the Montpellier's school of Oenology confirmed that an earlier-ripening vine was "Bordeaux Carmenère", not Merlot. The Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognized Carmenere as a distinct variety in 1998.Caputo, T. [ "Is Carmenere Chile's best hope? Chile's winemakers weigh in". Wines & Vines.] January 1 2004.] Today, Carmenère grows chiefly in the Rapel Valley and Maipo Province. [ H. Johnson & J. Robinson "The World Atlas of Wine" pg 298 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 2005 ISBN 1840003324 ]


A similar situation occurred in Italy when, in 1990, the Ca' del Bosco Winery acquired what they thought was Cabernet Franc vines from a French nursery. The growers noticed that the grapes were different from the traditional Cabernet Franc both in color and taste. They also noticed that the vines ripened earlier than Cabernet Franc would have. Other Italian wine regions also started to doubt the origin of these vines and it was finally established to be Carmenère. Although, in Italy, the varietal is grown mainly in the northeast part of the country from Brescia to Friuli, it has only recently been entered into Italy's national catalog of vine varietals and thus "no district has yet requested the authorization to use it". Therefore, the wine "cannot be cultivated with its original name or specific vintage and the name cannot be used to identify the wine on the label with an IGT, DOC or a DOCG status assignment." [ Terlato Wines International, Ca' del Bosco.] Last accessed on February 19, 2008.] Ca' del Bosco Winery names the wine it produces "Carmenero".

Carmenère in other wine regions

In modern-day France only a few hundred acres of Carmenère officially exist, although there are rumors of renewed interest among growers in Bordeaux.

Carmenère has also been established in Eastern Washington's Walla Walla Valley and in California, United States. [ Sally's Place, "Make Way for the 6th Bordeaux Variety"] by Sara and Monty Preiser. Retrieved on February 19, 2008.] In the 1980s, Karen Mulander-Magoon, the co-proprietor of Guenoc and Langtry Estates Winery, in California's Lake County, brought the grape to the vineyard. This was a joint effort with Louis Pierre Pradier, "a French research scientist and viticulturalist whose work involved preserving Carmenère from extinction in France." Once the vines were quarantined and checked for diseases they were legalized for admission into California in the 1990s, where they were cloned and planted.

In Australia, three cuttings of Carmenère were imported from Chile by renowned viticultural expert Dr Richard Smart in the late 1990s. After two years in quarantine, only one cutting survived the heat treatment to eliminate viruses and was micro-propagated (segments of individual buds grown on nutrient gel) and field grown by Narromine Vine Nursery. The first vines from the nursery were planted in 2002 by Amietta Vineyard and Winery in the Moorabool Valley (Geelong, Victoria) who use Carmenère in their Angels' Share blend.cite web |url= |title=Amietta Angels' Share |accessdate=2008-01-29 |work=Amietta ]

Carmenère has also been established in small amounts in New Zealand. DNA testing confirmed in 2006 that plantings of Cabernet Franc in the Matakana region were in fact Carmenère.


Carmenère favors a long growing season in moderate to warm climates. During harvest time and the winter period the vine fares poorly if it is introduced to high levels of rain or irrigation water. This is particularly true in poor-soil plantings where the vine would need more water. Over-watering during this period accentuates the herbaceous and green pepper characteristics of the grape. The grape naturally develops high levels of sugar before the tannins achieve ripeness. If grown in too hot a climate the resulting wine will have a high alcohol level and low balance. Carmenère buds and flowers three to seven days later than Merlot and the yield is lower than that of the latter grape. The Carmenère leaves turn to crimson before dropping.

Carmenère is produced in wineries either as a single-variety wine(sometimes called a varietal wine), or as a blend usually with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc and/or Merlot.

Distinguishing Carmenère and Merlot

Genetic research has shown that Carmenère may be distantly related to Merlot and the similarities in appearance have linked the two vines for centuries. Despite the similarities, there are some noticeable differences that aid the ampelographer in identifying the two vines. When young, Carmenère leaves have a reddish hue underneath, while the leaves of Merlot are white. There are also slight differences in leaf shape with the central lobe of Merlot leaves being longer. O. Clarke "Encyclopedia of Grapes" pg. 60 Harcourt Books 2001 ISBN 0151007144.] Merlot ripens two to three weeks earlier than Carmenère. In cases where the vineyards are interspersed with both varieties, the time of harvest is paramount in determining the character of the resulting blends. If Merlot grapes are picked when Carmenère is fully ripe, they will be overripe and impart a "jammy" character. If the grapes are picked earlier when only the Merlot grapes have reached ripeness, the Carmenère will have an aggressive green pepper flavor.

Thus, although different, Merlot and Carmenère were often confused but never thought to be identical. Its distinctive differences meant the grape was called a "Merlot selection" or "Merlot Peumal," which was "a geographic reference to a valley south of Santiago where lots of Carmenère was grown" before its true identity was established.


External links

* [ Carmenère Al Mundo] Asociación de Ingenieros Agrónomos de Chile es_icon
* [ Carmenere, lost grape of Bordeaux] "Wines & Vines" article
* [ From Chile, History in a Bottle] The New York Times article

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