Carmenere comes from the word carmine, by the color of the vine leaf before falling. It is one of the six red grapes originating in Bordeaux, from the Cabernet family, (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot y Carménère). The carménère was grown mainly in the Médoc region.
For a long time the carmenere was believed to be extinct, destroyed by the phylloxera plague of the 19th century and in Chile where it had survived, it was confused with Merlot.
It was not until the early nineties that the French Claude Valat, a winemaker at the University of Montpellier, went to study some vines in Vineyard Carmen, in the Maipo Valley, since the winegrowers did not understand why some vines that were believed to be Merlot matured two weeks later. The specialist, after doing several studies, expressed his doubts about whether these strains were really Merlot.
The grapes were larger and the color of the leaves was different, but it took three years and a series of DNA tests by the French ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot so that, finally, in 1994, a conclusion was reached that surprised many: these vines were actually of the old Carménère variety.
Chilean winemaker Álvaro Espinoza He was working at that time as a young wine consultant at Viña Carmen and he witnessed all this process and tells us about it in this program.
At first, this discovery seemed like bad news since Chilean producers sold their carmenere believing it to be merlot, but thirty years later, the carmenere has become an emblem and a gift for Chilean winegrowers, ideal for mixed or varietal wines. (wines made with a single variety), as Álvaro Espinoza explains.
“Here in Chile, which has a warmer Mediterranean climate than Bordeaux, (the carmenere) matures much better and produces wines of great intensity of color and also greater aromatic intensity, it produces very fruity wines with very soft tannins…. it makes a very good variety to be able to mix with cabernet sauvignon or syrah, (the carmenere) complements the other strains in an ideal way ”, he said.
Álvaro Espinoza, who now has his own vineyard, Antiyal, in Maipo Alto (Valle del Maipo, region south of Santiago de Chile) is also one of the most important wine consultants in his country and is known for having one of the best carmenres in Chile, the Antiyal Viñedo Escorial. He tells us in this radio program the incredible story of the carmenere of Chile.