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CARMENERE – Rediscovering the wine world’s lost treasure
Many people are unaware that Carmenere is a noble red variety that originated in Bordeaux and, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, had the honour of being part of the classic Bordeaux blends.
That was until the mid 19th century, when a devastating vine disease called Phylloxera wiped out many old plantations across Europe. Fortunately, just before this plague, South American grape growers had started importing vine cuttings from Europe to establish plantations in selected valleys for wine production. One of these valleys was the now famous Maipo Valley, birthplace of many iconic Chilean reds.
Among the noble cuttings that made their way to Maipo Valley was Carmenere, which – as the story goes – got lost, or was ‘disguised’, among other grape-vine cuttings, to the point where it became unrecognisable and winemakers simply forgot about it. This unique vine remained hidden, until the early 1990s, when a French scientist doing some research on the valley’s Merlot plantations realised the long-lost Carmenere was alive and well.
Today, most of the Carmenere around the globe comes from Chile, which has adopted this vibrant red wine as its emblematic variety. Featuring a deep red colour like no other, this fine wine displays luscious red fruits and, in the older vintages, some sweet liquorice. It also has herbaceous and peppery hints, and is seasoned with a range of spices.
Carmenere can be enjoyed by itself or matched with a diverse range of dishes – it’s particularly well-paired with rosemary lamb cutlets and works wonderfully with smoked salmon.
With its soft tannin profile and rounded, full-bodied structure, it’s fair to say that the rediscovery of Carmenere is one of the wine world’s luckiest accidents!
Prepared by: Benjamin Cuevas, Wines of Chile and Argentina