Carménère is one of the oldest noble grape varietals and has a fascinating history. Originally a favorite of Bordeaux, it used to be a main staple for first growths in Medoc, it was wiped out after the Great French Wine Blight between 1858 and 1863. Carménère was a very difficult grape to cultivate as it was, susceptible to many defects like mildew, and turned out was extremely vulnerable to Phylloxera (grape aphid). The parasite destroys the stock and root system of the vines causing them to die.

After the great blight many varietals where grafted on to more resistant stocks, except for Carménère because the clippings did not take to the grafting process. In Bordeaux the grape was replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carménère was thought to be extinct. Until, 100 years later, French ampelographer Jean-Marie Boursiquot, discovered that in Chile the grape had been misidentified.

Back in the 1850’s the Spanish brought grapes to the South American country. Because they were very similar they were misidentified by the Chileans as Merlot. In 1994, Jean-Marie Boursiquot, noticed that a group of merlot was ripening slower and also had vibrant red leaves. It was then that it was discovered that Chileans had been making first class wines not with merlot, but with Carménère!

It soon became so popular that Chile increased its hectors of Carménère from a few dozen to 10,000 hectors which, depending on who you speak to, is 80-90% of the worlds growth of the varietal. Today, Chile has upwards of 20,000 hectors of Carménère.

How come it didn’t die in Chile? Because, Phylloxera never affected Chile in the same way it did France. On top of this, the grape responded very well to Chile’s warm climate and did succumb to its usual defects like it did in the cooler climates of France.

If you’ve never had this varietal it is wonderful! It has characteristics of ripe dark red fruit, spice, soft tannins, and underlying hints of cocoa, black pepper, and bell pepper. It tends to have a higher, but enjoyable acidity level (similar to Pinot Noir) and light to medium bodied. Another plus… ITS REALLY CHEAP! You can get a good bottle for $9-$20! Who says you need to have a fat wallet to enjoy a good bottle of wine?

BONUS FACT: Carménère is a hybrid grape of Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet.

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