Catching Up With Carménère: Your Quick Guide To Vine & Wine

Catching Up With Carménère: Your Quick Guide To Vine & Wine









Chile, Italy, China.  Limited plantings can be found in France, New Zealand, Washington and California.


Soil Type

Sandy or other easy draining soils.  Carménère does poorly when over-watered.



  • Carménère was originally one of the six noble grapes of Bordeaux, hailing from the Médoc region.  However, the grape was believed to be extinct after two sets of plagues virtually wiped out their vines in the mid 1800s  – Oidium (powdery mildew) infection and Phylloxera (aphid or louse) infestation.

  • Carménère is closely related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but shares many features with Merlot.  In fact, this confusion was what lead to “Merlot” cuttings being brought to Chile shortly after the supposed extinction. The mistake was not discovered until 1994, thanks to genetic testing.

  • The plantings brought to Chile thrived tremendously, due mainly to the warm climate and longer growing seasons.

  • Carménère is easily confused with Merlot,  due to the size, shape and color of their berries and clusters; but some distinguishing characteristics include:

    • The leaves on a young Carménère plant have a red-purple hue on the underside, while a Merlot plant will have a white hue.  Carménère leaves also turn the same deep shade during autumn.

    • Carménère leaves are more club-like in shape, while Merlot leaves have more clover type shape.

    • Carménère ripens two to three weeks later than Merlot.


[Image: Wine Folly]



  • In addition to the color of the leaves during fall, Carménère also gets its name from the deep, rich crimson wine the grapes produce.  The French word for crimson is carmin, hence, Carménère.

  • Although it can be produced as a single varietal wine, Carménère is often blended with others to achieve a harmonious and balanced flavor.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot are common.

  • Carménère typically has a high sugar content before tannins become fully ripe; if growing conditions become too hot, the high sugar will produce a high alcohol content, which in turn will make for an unbalanced wine.

  • Oak may or may not be used in the vinification process.  If used, the oak will provide more structure to the wine, and often help to remove/mask unwanted green notes and herbaceous flavors.


Carménère grapes and their signature crimson leaves - find out more about the delicious wine these grapes produce from The Glorious Grape
[Image: Banfi Wines]


  • Carménère is known for its distinct crimson color, often with purple hues.

  • Flavors include red fruits and berries such as cherries, raspberries and plums; and earthy notes such as cocoa, coffee, tobacco, oak, leather, spices and herbs.

  • If the grapes are harvested too early, the resulting wine will have notes similar to bell pepper that is often perceived as a flaw.

  • Tannins are typically softer than a Cabernet Sauvignon, but more pronounced than a Merlot, making for a medium-plus to slightly full bodied wine.



  • Cheese:  Soft, crumbly cheeses (feta, goat, farmer’s, cotija), Mozzarella, Monterey Jack

  • Meat:  Lamb, Roast Pork, Heavily Seasoned Chicken or Steak, Hearty Stews

  • Seafood:  Blackened-seasoned or jerk fish steaks

  • Pasta/Risotto:  Acidic tomato or lemon-caper sauces.  Don’t forget the garlic!

  • Vegetables/Vegetarian:  Peppers, beans, lentils, olives, capers, kale




Let The Glorious Grape know what Carménère you’re drinking in the comments!


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