Carménère wine is grown from the Carménère grape, and although it is grown in many regions, it is most associated with Chile. The grape originated in the Bordeaux region of France, and is one of the many dark and majestic grapes of the Cabernet family. It is generally considered to be one of the six foundational grapes of Bordeaux, and Carménère wine from Bordeaux may refer to the grape as Grande Vidure.
Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère wine is a deep red, and has a rich aroma of spice and fruit. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, the tannins in Carménère wine tend to be much softer, and it is drinkable at relatively young ages. Historically, finding true Carménère wine was rather difficult, as the grape was generally used as a blending grape. In recent years, however, more and more wineries have begun to produce pure Carménère wine, full of cherry, earth, and in some cases dark bitters.
The history of Carménère wine is shrouded in time, with some considering it one of the oldest European varietals, and some suggesting it was the original clone from which all of the great Bordeaux varietals grew out of. It is possible that Carménère was historically the grape known as Biturica, which was also once the name of the town that is now the city of Bordeaux during the days of the Roman Empire. In the Médoc region of France, Carménère wine was once produced widely, but after a horrible Phylloxera plague swept across Bordeaux in the mid-19th century, the grape vanished from France, and for many years was considered completely extinct.
Thankfully, Carménère wine continued to be produced elsewhere, most notably in Chile, where for many years it was assumed to be Merlot. In Italy, as well, Carménère wine continued to be produced, although there it was thought to be Cabernet Franc. In both cases, one of the key giveaways that ultimately led to the discovery that Carménère was still alive and well was the earlier ripening times. The taste profile of Carménère wine is also markedly different from both Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with a great deal of forward cherry, and gentle tannins.
The greatest Carménère wine in the world comes from Chile, and the country is rightly proud of at long last having a grape it can truly call its own. Like New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc, Germany and Riesling, or Australia and Shiraz, Chile has become virtually synonymous with Carménère wine. It pairs particularly well with meats, especially lean and rare steaks, pastas with meat sauce, sweet duck breast, and rack of lamb. In recent years, parts of the United States and Canada have also begun to produce Carménère wine in small quantities, especially in the Ontario region of Canada.
As might be deduced from the cases of mistaken identity that fooled both Chile and Italy, Carménère wine has some similarities to both varietals. In many ways, describing Carménère wine as somewhere between these two classic wines is a good start. Soft and gentle in the mouth, with lots of fruit and spice, it is a wonderful table wine, and the truly great offerings can compete with the best wines in the world.