Carménère – the Grape Mystére

by | Oct 1, 2018 | Blog, Educational | 0 comments


Many people who come into the winery tell me they have never heard about Carménère, let alone how to say it. Others have heard of it, but don’t know anything about its interesting story. And, they, too, sometimes mutter and choke on the word. So let’s start there.

Since this grape is one of the six original permitted red Bordeaux blending grapes, I’m going with the French pronunciation which goes like this: < car men air >. Of course that will sound very American unless you take that last syllable, put it in the back of your throat and try to gargle it a bit. Really, more like < Car main ehhhrhrh >. There. Put on your beret.

About Carménère

So carménère had a hard life in Bordeaux. It was difficult to grow well, had small clusters of grapes, needed lots of warm weather, and cried a lot. And, kind of like the kid in the group who always got picked last, it, as it took more time to ripen, literally got picked last. This led to it not always making it to the blend on time and it’s gradual exclusion. Then came a couple of really unfortunate events. A bad bout of oidium, a nasty fungus, struck the vines. Following that, in 1857, that non discriminating root aphid and mass grapevine murderer, Phylloxera, (a whole other story) came through France and really did in poor Carm. The vignerons did not replant it. It became virtually extinct in France.

But, the good news is, since winemakers of the time liked to relocate to different countries and bring vines to their new homes, carménère cuttings had been brought to Chile in South America. The weird news is, everyone thought it was some variety of merlot. Don’t ask me. But it absolutely thrived there in the heat and sandy, well drained soil. Until, finally, a professor of ampelography from France who happened to be in town for a conference, was shown a newly planted “merlot” vineyard. That’s when good Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot said, “Really? You think this is merlot?” Or something to that effect. And thus discovered where 98% of the worlds carménère is vacationing.

Yay! A good ending! Because that leads us to the wine itself. Which we now grow in Washington state in the beautiful well drained, sandy soils and sunshine that it loves. And these conditions lead to the elegant, aromatic wine that we love. Well, to be precise, some people love. In the tasting room, I find people either like it, or, they absolutely do not. Typically it’s a deeply colored savory wine with plush tannins and some nice fruit like black cherry and dark berries. But it also has a unique herbal and hot green pepper spiciness.

And, wuddo you know! Northwest cellars has 100% carménère in a bottle just waiting for you to try. I think it’s delicious. Come in and give the 2017 bottling a taste and let me know what you think!


~ Peggy


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