Happy birthday, Carménère!
And wine is definitely something that I am grateful for this Thanksgiving!
But why is Carménère Day on Thanksgiving? Had you even heard of Carménère wine or Carménère Day?
While yes you can pair Carménère with your Thanksgiving meal, especially if your family celebrates with something red and meaty like prime rib rather than turkey, Carménère really is celebrated each year since 2014 on November 24 because that date is a birthday of sorts for Carménère.
#CarmenereDay is celebrated on November 24 to celebrate the rediscovery of Carmenere in 1994! So happy re-birthday, Carménère!
How could this be? Originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, the Carménère grape produces deep red wines typically used for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot and joins that grape along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec in classic Bordeaux blends. The name “Carménère” comes from the French word for crimson (carman) referring to the color of the leaves each autumn.
But today Carménère is synonymous with Chile, not Bordeaux, and THAT is an interesting story.
As most people know, the phylloxera plague decimated Europe’s vineyards in the 1860s, and actually wiped out all the Carménère plantings; everyone figured Carménère went extinct.
BUT! The plot thickens! It turns out that in CHILE, Carménère and other Bordeaux grapes were planted in the 1850s, pre-phylloxera, and there Carménère was mistaken for Merlot. In fact, Carménère was widely planted in Chile– as ‘Merlot’!
How in the world did they make this mistake about Carménère for 150 years? How in the world did they figure it out?
On November 24, 1994, French researcher Jean-Michel Boursiquot visited the Maipo Valley and basically said, hmm what is wrong with this picture? He identified what was planted as Merlot as Carménère and subsequent tests proved that he was correct.
With the discovery that all that Merlot was actually Carménère, it all started to make sense why “Merlot” from Chile was so different and distinct than other Merlot. And why newer plantings that were actually Merlot were so different from the older plantings that were actually Carménère. Plus you imagine all those bottles of Carménère prior to 1994 were usually labeled Merlot!
By 2009, over 8,800 hectares of Carménère were grown in the Central Valley of Chile; today most Carménère wines are from Chile– and labeled correctly! Today the Chilean wine industry sees much Carménère’s potential bottles alone and as a blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to Chile, Carménère is grown in Italy, California, and Washington, and I bet we see more of it planted in the US in the coming years. Note: Information from Wikipedia and thanks also to this post by Amanda Barnes in Squeeze Magazine. Read more about Carménère styles from Amanda here.
To celebrate Carménère’s unique story, and the “rebirth” Carménère, Wines of Chile launched Carménère Day to entertain and educate consumers with basic information about the variety, its history, and to offer recommendations for wine and food pairings, so Sue and I joined in!
Crazy legs on this Carménère wine!
Overall, we found this Carménère to be a very lovely wine for the price; it stands up to wines that are twice the price. It has a lovely engaging and even nose, not hot or overly oaky. The color has a lovely dark richness to it similar to a Petite Sirah or Verdot; no wonder Carménère is used as a blending grape. It rolls across the palate well with fruits of plush baked plum and currants, plus baking spice and chocolate notes, and the herbal quality of sage. With these herbal qualities, Carménère holds more similar characteristics of cab franc than a minty Merlot!
Well-structured Chilean wines with good acidity and tannins are a great value, easily standing up to the Napa Valley big boys at two or three times the price!
When paired with food, we found a sweet caramel oak characteristic that comes out in the wine with the salami and smoked cheddar cheese. This is a nice prime rib kind of wine because Carménère will stand up to big bold foods including strong cheeses like blue cheese, sharp cheddars, and smoked cheeses. Salamis and cured meat are a natural with this wine. What we found to go perfectly with this Carménère was a cheese from Snowdonia Cheese Company, Beechwood, a beautifully naturally smoked sharp cheddar cheese. When we ate this cheese with this Carménère, it made us want to continue drinking this wine, and then keep eating more cheese! The winery suggests pairing it with “lamb, venison, or boar with good marbling and either grilled or slow-cooked with concentrated sauces that have a touch of sweetness; stir-fried beef and vegetables, preparations with bacon and red-wine reductions” and we could certainly see that as well. I paired it with a rib eye and was a very happy gal! This is easily the most enjoyable Carménère I’ve ever had.
The Carménère grapes are sourced from the Peumo Vineyard in the hills of the Coastal Range along the Cachapoal River using vines from pre-phylloxera stock that are trellised to vertical shoot position. According to their website, deep alluvial soils have “a top layer of clay that retains moisture, which helps control plant vigor and growth, and more importantly, allows the vines to remain active” until the Carmenere will be ripe enough for harvest. The “grapes were destemmed and gently dropped into closed tanks for fermentation over the course of 8 days with traditional pumpovers” and aged 16 months in French oak barrels.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving Day and your Carménère Day!
Sue and I are grateful this Thanksgiving for the wonderful wine opportunities that we have received in the previous year, including the chance to taste and share this beautiful Carménère which is part of their “premium” collection. Coming soon: Marques de Casa Concha – 2014 Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha y Toro as well as their 2012 Flagship “Don Melchor” Cabernet Sauvignon.