What does a down-on-its luck, premium French blending grape varietal do after it’s been kicked out of its ancestral home for having the sniffles? It merely travels around the world and reinvents itself as the defining varietal of the newest and hippest wine growing nation, of course! Carmenère, say goodbye to Bordeaux and hello to Casablanca!
The transition didn’t happen exactly that way, but then what’s the fun in that? Carmenère really was one of the original six blending varietals of Bordeaux, all the way back in the 1800’s. But then, riding on the roots of some cuttings from America, the vine parasite Phylloxera back-slapped the French wine-growing industry, resulting in widespread vine death and up-rooting of virtually every vineyard in Bordeaux. The destruction culminated during the harvest of 1867. It was here that Carmenère saw the writing on the wall. So few growers replanted the variety that it is virtually extinct in France today. They replanted with the other five varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec), all of which had more consistent flowering in the somewhat damp and cooler local climes.
And so it was a lonely period for poor Carmenère…booted from its home it wandered the world, desolate and devoid of hope. It roamed afar until the day came that it stumbled upon the shores of a land that was upside down from its banished home, a land called Chile. (OK…technically it arrived in mid-1800’s, before the Phylloxera outbreak, but again, I digress.) Here it found warmer and much drier microclimates and plentiful soil, irrigation and eventually, well, money. It began to enjoy a robust resurgence and it was known…as…Merlot?
For its full re-coronation we must step wayyy back, all the way back, into almost the Victorian era of New World wine-growing…all the way back: to the 1990’s. Grunge was on the radio (and its scent upon the air) and a French ampelographer from Montpellier decided to take an exploration to the Southern Hemisphere in 1994. On November 24th in the vineyards of Viña Carmen, while testing the genetic background of what appeared to be a divergent clone of Merlot, Jean Michel Boursiquot made a fascinating and national winegrowing game-changing discovery: this clone wasn’t F*^%ing Merlot, it was CARMENÈRE! All the towns rejoiced, the proud and storied winemaking history of Viña Carmen was solidified internationally and there was much merry-making and drinking of wine.
What? This wasn’t exactly how it happened? Whatever, FINE OK? Just go ahead and read the finely crafted information about the 15th Anniversary of the discovery of Carmenère in Chile from its oldest winery, Viña Carmen, instead! Sheesh…
While you’re at it, try some of these favorites of WineLog members for Chilean Carmenère and cheers!