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The story of the Carmenere varietal is a fascinating tale as it had become the “forgotten grape” in Chile for more than 100 years. It was first imported into Chile from Bordeaux in the early 1850’s.

The phylloxera vine plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vineyards in Europe. In the massive reorganization of European vineyards that followed the scourge, Carmenere was virtually left out of the mix of new vines planted. One of the main reasons was that the Carmenere grape was susceptible to a disease which prevents the vine’s bud from flowering, leading to an unreliable crop. This condition was prevalent in the Bordeaux region where there is a cool, wet spring.

Chile’s climate is ideal for the Carmenere grape and it flourished there. But its identity was lost because it was often planted with Merlot and eventually the Chileans began to call both grapes Merlot. In the early 1990s, experts began to note that even a very moderately priced Chilean Merlot had a strong, earthy and slightly spicier flavour than wines made from the same grape elsewhere in the world.

At first it was thought that the Chileans had developed a sub-variety of Merlot with stronger flavours and more substantial texture. Then it was discovered by French experts that much of the difference resulted from the fact that a lot of what was once thought of as a Merlot was in fact the Carmenere grape.

In 1994 a professor at Montpellier’s renowned school of Oenology discovered that the Chilean Carmenere had been misidentified as Merlot for over a century.

Some winemakers began to separate the Carmenere vines and make a pure varietal wine from them, which tasted very different from their previous "Merlots". Many wine experts now feel Carmenere is the future of the Chilean wine industry.


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