It’s Carménère Day. A wine you’ve most likely never heard of. Plus, you will be hard pressed to find French wines of this varietal in Australia. Find out about the grape, why it was thought to be extinct and some Australian winemakers making Carménère.
Why Carménère was thought to be extinct
In fact, the grape was thought to be extinct after France’s phylloxera outbreak in 1867. It wasn’t until DNA testing on grapes in Chile found that what they were under the impression was merlot was in fact Carménère imported from France before the phylloxera outbreak that they discovered the grape had not become extinct at all!
New Zealand was in a similar situation to Chile, where it was growing what it thought to be Cabernet Franc but it turned out to be Carménère.
That said, even though plantings were taken from Chile and replanted in France there is very little if the grape to be found in France. Chile has the world’s most significant plantings with 21800 acres in comparison to France’s 70 acres.
What does Carménère look like?
As you may have guessed from its mistaken identity in Chile and New Zealand, the grape is similar in appearance to Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
What does Carménère taste like?
Fine wines of this varietal are said to have dense, ripe, and powerful flavours of plums, berries, and cocoa notes, along with a creamy mid-palate and fine-grained tannins.
When the grapes are ripe, the varietal brings spicy, red fruit, herbal and smoky qualities to a wine.
According to Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes when Merlot grapes are picked when Carménère 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 Carménère will have an aggressive green pepper flavour.
Other names for Carménère?
The name of the grape depends on where you find it.
In Médoc it is also known as: Grande Vidure, carméneyre, carmenelle, cabernelle, bouton blanc. In Graves it is carbouet, and carbonet.
Where is Carménère grown today?
The grape with its origins in Medoc in Bordeaux is still grown in Bordeaux but in far smaller amounts than before it was thought to be extinct.
Notable regions for the wine are: Chile, Italy, California, North Carolina, Washington.
Australia has small plantings of the varietal in Geelong, King Valley, Murray Darling, Clare Valley, Western Plains and Adelaide Hills.
What are some Australian Carménère wines?
While it’s proven impossible to find any French wine of this varietal in Australia, there are a bunch of Australian winemakers who make Carménère.
Balancing Rock Wines from Wyberba in Queensland’s cool climate Granite Belt is growing the varietal but has not yet made a wine from it – keep them in mind.
Brown Brothers in Heathcote produced its 2015 ‘Cellar Door Release’ Carménère, which was its second release of the varietal.
Have you heard of or tried Carménère before?
If you like French wine you may like to check out our other articles about French wine varietals: