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