To celebrate Carménère Day, held on 24 November each year, we take a look at the grape, its origins, confusion surrounding it and of course its wines.
Origins and Locations
Carménère is a grape which originated in Bordeaux, France.
The varietal is the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and either Moural or Trousseau.
While the grape may have originated in France, Chile has the world’s most significant plantings of Carménère. It has 21800 acres compared to just 70 acres in France.
Small plantings can be found in Australia in Geelong, King Valley, Murray Darling, Clare Valley, Western Plains and Adelaide Hills.
Of the 5 million cases of Carménère produced around the world, 84% are from Chile. China makes up a surprising 14% where it is called Cabernet Gernischt (which possibly comes from a misspelling of ‘Cabernet gemischt’, the German term for ‘mixed Cabernet’.
The name Carménère
The name Carménère is thought to have been inspired by the colour of the varietal’s autumn foliage. Carmin is the French word for crimson.
Carménère is also known as Carmenere, Cabernet Gernischt, and Carmenere Crni. In Médoc it’s also known as Grande Vidure, Carméneyre, Carmenelle, Cabernelle, and Bouton Blanc. In Graves as Carbouet and Carbonet.
Carménère is part of the Carmenet family of wine-grape varieties. The group also comprises Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon,Gros Cabernet, Merlot, Merlot Blanc and Hondarribi Beltza.
Mistaken for other grapes
The varietal was thought to be extinct after the 1867 phylloxera outbreak in France. However, in 1991, it was found growing in Chile, where it was thought to be Merlot.
In New Zealand, it was mistaken for Cabernet Franc. Similarly, some of China’s plantings of Cabernet Gernischt may actually be Cabernet Franc.
The varietal shares the following characteristics with Merlot which often causes the confusion between the two varietals:
Young, cottony branch
Young leaves have shiny orange-red leaves with a tan coloured surface
Mature leaves are shiny and have 5 lobes
Small clusters and medium-sized rounded grapes.
The grape is the latest ripening of the Bordeaux varieties and has the greatest propensity to retain methoxy-pyrazine green flavours.
When ripened properly in a warm climate, the wines are bold with a deep violet colour, high tannin, and medium to high acidity.
On the nose, the wines can have notes of red and black fruits, spice, smokiness and herbs.
On the palate, you can expect green capsicum, tobacco, leather and maybe even dark chocolate.
Have you tried this wine before? Happy Carménère Day!
International Sauvignon Blanc Day happens twice a year so the wine gets two days of celebration: tomorrow 24th April but the more recognised day is the first Friday in May. By reading about it now, you get the benefit of finding out everything about sauvignon blanc today and finding out which sauvignon blancs to stock up on so you’re ready to celebrate again on Friday 7 May 2021.
WHAT ARE SAUVIGNON BLANC GRAPES LIKE?
Sauvignon blanc grapes are green skinned and produce white wines. They grow best in cooler microclimates and sandier soils and are often quick to ripen.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Sauvignon blanc likely takes its Sauvignon from Savignin from which Sauvignon Blanc is thought to have come. Savagnin in turn may be linked to the word “sauvage”, French for wild. Blanc is simply white.
A SAUVIGNON BLANC BY ANY OTHER NAME…
…is still a sauvignon blanc.
Sauvignon blanc is a possible descendant of savagnin.
Sauvignon blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sauvignon blanc is not however believed to be related to sauvignon blanc rosé mutation found in France’s Loire Valley.
WHAT ARE SAUVIGNON BLANC WINES LIKE?
The typical French sauvignon blanc wines produced in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley are dry white wines. That said, in Sauternes sauvignon blanc grapes are used to produce a sweet wine.
Gravelly soils of the Loire Valley give floral, spicy and mineral flavours to the sauvignon blanc. In contrast, Bordeaux sauvignon blancs tend to be fruitier.
Sauvignon blancs under the AOC Pouilly-Fumé produced in Pouilly-sur-Loire in the Sancerre commune are said to have a smoky, gun flint flavour hence Fumé, the French word for “smoky” being used.
As the soil and the climate have significant effects on the grapes produced, sauvignon blancs grown in other countries also differ remarkably. For example, New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs tend to be higher in acidity than French sauvignon blancs.
SAUVIGNON BLANC IN BLENDS
One of the most common blends for Sauvignon Blanc is with Sémillon to produce Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon blanc is one of only four white grapes allowed in the production of white Bordeaux wine. The others are Sémillon, Muscadelle and Ugni blanc,.
In the northern Rhône Valley, Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with Tressallier to form a tart white wine.
In the Sauternes region, sauvignon blanc grapes are blended with Sémillon to produce Sauternes, a late harvest sweet wine.
WHERE IS SAUVIGNON BLANC GROWN?
In France, sauvignon blanc is mostly grown in Bordeaux and in the Loire Valley.
New Zealand has become the 2nd largest grower of Sauvignon Blanc grapes. In 2013, New Zealand had 16205 hectares of sauvignon blanc vines compared to France’s 26839. New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs tend to be higher in acidity than French sauvignon blancs.
SAUVIGNON BLANC AROUND THE WORLD
Chile is next in place with 12159 hectares of sauvignon blanc vines. Chilean sauvignon blancs are less acidic than New Zealand’s and are closer to the French style.
South Africa, US, Australia, Romania, Spain, Italy and Ukraine round out the top 10 sauvignon blanc growing countries.
WHICH WINES TO DRINK FOR INTERNATIONAL SAUVIGNON BLANC DAY
Popsy & JJ give us their comparisons and recommendation for International Sauvignon Blanc Day.
How are Australian and New Zealand (given they saturate the market) Sauvignon Blancs different to French Sauvignon Blancs?
Northern Hemisphere savvy is quite different from Southern Hemisphere savvy. Firstly, it tends to be less acidic and racy and contains slightly more residual sugar. It has higher viscosity and often can have the textural feel closer more like that of an Aussie chardonnay. They also tend to age for a couple of years longer than Southern Hemisphere savvy.
Which French Sauvignon Blanc do you recommend for Sauvignon Blanc Day and why?
The 2018 La Perriere Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is a text book example of what Loire can produce so brilliantly. It is a wonderful entre to into Loire Valley whites and won’t break the bank. You get baked peach, lychees, passionfruit, and elegant floral hints on the nose. On the palate are lychees and stone fruit, and it just seems to linger on and on and on…. The mercury like texture also blows you away and you would swear there must be some oak treatment yet there isn’t. Just meticulous care by the 4th generation owner operators, the odd stirring of lees during vinification and some Loire Valley know-how and voila – you have some serious liquid!
What would you serve with this Sauvignon Blanc?
This beautiful wine washed down beautifully with some BBQ calamari (click for recipe) in our tasting which was like a dream you didn’t want to wake up from! Against all logic, we tried this in both a Burgundy glass against the traditional aromatic glass and the Burgundy glass was the winner. Somehow the texture and perfume just fared better in it, so what do you know? We just keep learning on the run because we’re wine nuts! And every wine is a different beast so to speak.
Daniel Airoldi from Airoldi Fine Wines chats to us for International Sauvignon Blanc Day.
SPECIAL OFFER: As always, receive a 20% discount on your order from Airoldi Fine Wines when you use the code “Marseillaise” at checkout.
How do Australian (and New Zealander) sauvignon blancs differ from French sauvignon blancs?
Oh la la, that’s a huge question to answer! Let’s say that the French sauvignon blancs are in general more about the herbaceous and lemony aromas whereas Australian and New Zealand ones have more so tropical fruits aromas. It’s difficult and dangerous to generalise! You also need to understand that in France, sauvignon blanc is often blended with other varietals such as sémillon.
Which French sauvignon blanc do you recommend for International Sauvignon Blanc Day?
How do Australian and New Zealand sauvignon blancs differ to French sauvignon blancs?
They are more about aromatics rather than structure, minerality and drive. Quality Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé will age indefinitely if they are stored correctly and the cork gods are kind!
Classic examples of the region. From premier villages within both Sancerre and pouilly Fume with great sites. Both use organic principles, low yields and produce age worthy wines of class and distinction.
What would you pair with them?
Simple, simple, simple, white bait, goats cheese, smoked salmon. I won’t go into detail with accompaniments, just keep it fresh.
Margot from Le Plonque talks #savblanc for International Sauvignon Blanc Day.
Why do we love sauvignon blanc?
We love its freshness, its green and herbal flavours and especially its acidity.
Where in France does Sauvignon Blanc grow?
Sav Blanc grows best in a cool climate, you’ll find it in the north rather than the south. Especially in the Loire valley.
Which bottle should I open?
We highly recommend domaine de Clayou Sauvignon Blanc 2017. Fruity and citrusy, it is very representative of its region. It’s simple, affordable and great quality.
What do I eat with a Sauvignon Blanc ?
Any seafood pairs wonderfully with Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re not a fish lover, we recommend you to try with cheese (for example goat cheese, feta or ricotta) or light meats such as pork or chicken (best when cooked with spices and herbs such as mint, rosemary and garlic).
What’s your favourite Sauvignon Blanc? Do you prefer the French style or the Australian/New Zealand style? Happy International Sauvignon Blanc Day!
You may also like to read our other articles about French wine varietals. Find them below: